Play This Game, Plan Your Dinner

January 11, 2017

It's easy to be hard on yourself in January: A "new" year (and a newfound desire to exercise) coincides, at least on the East Coast, with the bleakest weather. And there's the urge to cook healthfully and inexpensively but little post-holiday, post-cookie energy to do it.

You're due for a little fun! And if that fun is useful, too, even better. So why not play a game to get weeknight-appropriate meals (that are also landing pads for dregs and leftovers) on the table? We're talking about a dinner-destined version of the word game you loved most from the back of the school bus. Let's just call it "It's _____ For Dinner!"

We came, we played, we pasta'd. Photo by James Ransom

Dinner, The Word Game

You can be as silly or resourceful as you'd like. Here's how it works:

  • Download the blank PDFs (either all together or one by one: pasta, chili, fried rice, grain bowl, lentil soup). Print them, if you want.
  • Gather your friends or dining companions, young and old, and some pens.
  • Fill in the blanks with what you have lingering in the kitchen (the last tablespoons of teriyaki sauce; the scallions that deserve a second chance)—or interpret them as a dreaming-off point to inspire a combination you've never cooked before.
  • If you need a (sometimes wacky) idea, use the "Hints & Winks" at the bottom of each PDF.
  • Cook it; eat it; love it—and save the evidence of how you made it forever. (Alternatively, send a copy/photo to someone who loves you and ask that they make it for you. That works, too.)

We Started For You!

Multi-Bean Chili:

Download the blank PDF here to play yourself.

Fried Rice (& Then Some):

Download the blank PDF here to play yourself.

Grain Bowl

Download the blank PDF here to play yourself.

Lentil Soup

Download the blank PDF here to play yourself.

Baked Pasta:

Download the blank PDF here to play yourself.

Show us how you'd fill in the blanks in the comments below, and use the hashtag #cookintheblank wherever you're posting (on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, the bulletin board in you're office). We'll be watching...

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Hannah
  • Adam Janofsky
    Adam Janofsky
  • mcs3000
  • Rhonda35
  • Sophia Henkel
    Sophia Henkel
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Hannah January 27, 2018
This has been really useful, a fun game for the whole family! Thank you!
Adam J. January 12, 2017
Can this be Food52's next cookbook?
Kenzi W. January 14, 2017
mcs3000 January 12, 2017
Love this!
Rhonda35 January 11, 2017
So fun - and helpful for those days when my brain has left the building!
Sophia H. January 11, 2017
I really love this and it's great when the brain is tired or you need to figure it out fast.
Cookie January 11, 2017
Adorable and helpful. A good reminder that the best recipes are basic; a few complimentary ingredients and a couple basic steps. Thanks.
Connor B. January 11, 2017
I love this. (Also, I'm making that lentil soup for dinner tonight.)
Bill S. January 11, 2017
Well done! It's rare to see something on a food blog that is innovative and clever!
navahfrost January 11, 2017
Love, love, love. This is great for my kids who are now old enough to take advantage of this clever idea. They have gradually started cooking and this is going to get them very motivated. Thank you!
Ali W. January 11, 2017
Cristina S. January 11, 2017
Well, this is awesome.
Beth January 11, 2017
what a fun idea! and a great way to get experimenting with unexpected-yet-edible food combinations... can't wait to try it out!