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Have you ever tried one of those meal kit delivery services (think Blue Apron, Home Chef, Plated, etc.)? They are super fun and the food is delicious, but cooking recipes night after night that you’re unfamiliar with takes time, concentration, and patience.

However, as part of meal planning, it is nice to include a new recipe or two each week to keep things interesting. I would never suggest that you need to be cooking new recipes from a website or from a cookbook night after night. It’s exhausting!

If you have the right cookbooks, or online recipes, it can be fun, simple, or give you a new twist on one of your favorite dishes.

I wanted to share some of my favorite cookbooks for meal planning with you. You may want to try one out, or you may be inspired to take a new look at your cookbook stash!

Cookbooks For Meal Planning

The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook

The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook is my all around favorite cookbook for meal planning. Recipes are focused on whole grains, produce, legumes, seafood, lean meats, and nuts. It’s a great book to hand to a family member and ask them to pick something out. Every recipe is fully tested which is what America’s Test Kitchen is well-known for. The beginning of the book provides an overview of the Mediterranean diet as well as meal planning and pantry staples. You will want to be prepared with a liter-sized bottle of extra-virgin olive oil as you start cooking from this book. Extra-virgin olive oil is called for in just about every recipe by the tablespoon-full 🙂

Although the Mediterranean diet is consistently reviewed as U. S. News and World Report’s Best diets, it’s not really a diet. The Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle that you can live for the rest of your life.

Some Favorite Recipes:

Tzatziki (pg 19) | Baba Ghanoush (pg 20) | Cherry Tomato Salad with Feta and Olives (pg 97) | Parmesan Farrotto (pg 130) | Greek-Style Garlic-Lemon Potatoes (pg 222) | Sauteed Chicken Cutlets with Romesco Sauce (pg 290)

The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook

The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook was also created by America’s Test Kitchen which means the recipes are fully tested. If you know the basics of cooking, you can create some pretty amazing vegetarian meals with this book. Though I do not follow a vegetarian lifestyle, this book provides so many options for making vegetable side dishes at home. After all, who doesn’t need more delicious ways to eat vegetables? Some recipes take some time and a number of ingredients. As with any good vegetarian cookbook, sauces, spices, and fresh herbs are used throughout to amp up the flavors. And it works! Note that there is some overlap with the recipes in the Mediterranean cookbook, but there are still plenty of different options to try.

Both this cookbook and The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook note the “Fast” recipes with an icon. “Fast” means 45 minutes or less which is helpful. It still might take longer than 45 minutes if it’s the first time you’re making the recipe, but I like having a guide.

Some Favorite Recipes:

Black Bean Burgers (pg 374) | Roasted Poblano, Black Bean, and Zucchini Enchiladas (pg 30) | Zucchini Fritters (pg 41) | California Barley Bowl with Lemon-Yogurt Sauce (pg 181) | Farro with Mushrooms and Thyme (pg 188) | Crispy Spiced Chickpeas (pg 432)

Barefoot Contessa Family Style

I love Ina Garten’s approach to entertaining. And her Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook reflects it. She keeps it simple. Just a few recipes and only one recipe that requires hands-on cooking once the company arrives. Her recipes never disappoint. That’s why this book is one of the cookbooks for meal planning I look to when I am having company over.

Almost all recipes feature a photo of the finished dish. They are easy to follow. I’ve learned that she tests each recipe after it’s written, then watches someone else test the recipes. This way she can tweak the steps making sure they’re crystal clear.

This book has an incredible number of delicious recipes. The dessert chapter is certainly packed! I think it’s the biggest chapter 🙂 But it’s fun to make a special dessert when you friends or family over and Ina knows how to do dessert!

Some Favorite Recipes:

Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes (pg 58) | Parmesan Chicken (pg 82) | Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash (pg 86) | Roasted Winter Vegetables (pg 110) | Challah French Toast (pg 187) | Broccoli and Bow Ties (pg 205)

Mad Hungry Family

Lucinda Scala Quinn of Mad Hungry is basically the Queen of making delicious comforting recipes at home. Not only does she take everything you love eating from a restaurant or processed foods and teaches you how to make them from scratch, but the recipes are straightforward and easy to execute. As she grew up with several brothers and three sons, she is accustomed to feeding really hungry people. And Quinn’s recipes reflect that. You will feel satisfied and just plain good after eating her food.

Some Favorite Recipes:

Spaghetti and Simple Tomato Sauce (pg 120) | My Mujadara (pg 134) | Steamed Yet Crispy String Beans (pg 152) | Fresh Tomato and Corn Mélange (pg 158)

Bob’s Red Mill Breakfasts

Bob’s Red Mill Breakfasts is a great book for some new breakfast ideas. All are made with 100% whole grains. There are many hot cereal and porridge recipes using different types of grains – not just oatmeal and cream of wheat here! Also included are recipes for granola, smoothies, breakfast bars and cookies, muffins and breads, pancakes and waffles, and eggs.

Some favorite recipes:

Eight-Grain Muffins (pg 83) | Buttermilk Buckwheat Pancakes (pg 104) | Broccoli, Quinoa and Feta Omelet (pg 124)

Bread Illustrated

Bread Illustrated is one of those “passion project” books of mine. I love to bake. It helps me relax. The smell is amazing. Hot bread with butter can’t be beat. And the process of making bread from flour always amazes me. I never quite believe it will work and then I take out this super cool loaf that looks halfway decent and somewhat close to the picture in the book.

If you have ever thought about trying to bake bread, but weren’t sure where to start, this is the book for you. Since everything America’s Test Kitchen puts out is thoroughly tested, you are starting with a strong recipe. Also each recipe includes the main result picture and then several pictures of the process. This is key with bread baking. How else would I know what it should look like when it’s been kneaded enough or ready to bake?

I am working through this book in order, recipe by recipe until I attempt all of the approximately 100 recipes. Apparently they get harder and more complicated as the book progresses.

However, you know how sometimes a cookbook is worth it based on a single AMAZING recipe? Well, the very first recipe in Bread Illustrated is THE RECIPE that justifies the purchase even if you never cook another recipe from it… ever again. Trust me, just make the Quick Cheese Bread and thank me later. So whether I make it through the whole book or not, I’m good with the Quick Cheese Bread.

Some favorite recipes:

Quick Cheese Bread (pg 41) | Almost No-knead Bread (pg 52) | Thin-crust Whole-wheat Pizza (pg 184) | Deep-dish Pizza (pg 188) | Pitas (pg 216)

In Closing

There was a time when I was quick to snap up a new cookbook. It got a little out of control. As I age, I am learning to carefully select the ones that get to stay in my cookbook shelf.

Happy eating!