The Secret to Meal Planning for the Absolute Beginner | Plus 50 Theme Night Ideas for Your Meal Plan

May 7, 2020 | Blog, Meal Planning

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Meal Planning didn’t come easily for me.

I tried everything, but every time I sat down to plan my weekly meals I felt like I had such a huge task ahead of me because it took forever to make the plan.

Every time I would tell myself that I was going to plan the meals quickly this time… but it didn’t work.

I tried looking through my cookbooks. But everything looked good, and I couldn’t decide.

I tried scrolling through Pinterest. But I would find myself still scrolling much later with hardly any progress made.

I would give up on meal planning and try to decide at the grocery store and get food that sounded good, looked good, or for just in case I felt like making it. But we would spend so much more money on food because we never felt like eating the “just in case” food and it would just sit in the back of my pantry.

I tried giving up and just asking Ross what he wanted for dinner. He would always answer “lasagna” AKA my least favorite food to make or to cook…

Then one day I thought of a different plan.

We had been married for 5 years and had a new baby and meal planning hadn’t become any easier for me. But now I had new motivation to figure this out.

I wanted my daughter to grow up remembering special meals that we ate together, instead of me throwing together the most convenient food every night.

I wanted her to remember that we had fun cooking together, instead of me staring into the pantry and fridge for inspiration only to decide on the quickest thing.

And I wanted her to learn to eat new food willingly, instead of being stuck in a food rut because we only ate the same 3 meals all the time.

So I sat down to figure out if there was a way I could meal plan without having to meal plan all the time… and it turned out that there was.

I decided that I was going to plan out my entire year of meals so that I wouldn’t have to think about it again through the year, and all I would have to do is make a grocery list every week.

I know, I’m kind of crazy! Who thinks that if they don’t enjoy doing something that they should do it a whole bunch and see if they like it better? Apparently this girl!

But as I sat down to plan my meals for the next year, I stumbled upon the greatest Meal Planning Hack of all time!

I knew that I needed to organize my meal planning in some way to make this more efficient, so I decided to assign each day a Theme. And to my surprise, it worked!

How it Works

When you meal plan with theme nights, all you do is pick one theme for each night of the week.

Technically you could choose 14 and have a bi-weekly rotation, but if you want to meal plan for a longer-term, I suggest choosing only 7. It’s just easier to keep track of!

Then when you meal plan, all you have to do is choose a meal that corresponds to that theme.

So, for example, if I chose to have a Thai Food Night on Thursday, then every Thursday of the year I would choose a Thai meal for that night.

Why It Works

One of the main reasons that we struggle with meal planning as moms is the decision fatigue that we have from making decisions for ourselves and our families all. day. long.

When you meal plan with theme nights, it reduces the choices you have to make for each night of your meal plan.

Instead of having every meal that has ever been made as an option, you have narrowed down the type of meals that you are searching for.

So if we had that Thai Theme Night on Thursday, we would look through our cookbooks or on Pinterest for Thai Food (or Plant-Based Thai Food in my case). Then for each dish that looked good, we would simply put it on the calendar on any Thursday that we wanted to.

This also solves another common problem with Meal Planning.

Often the reason we can’t decide on a dish is that they all look so good.

When you meal plan with theme nights, it’s ok if you want to make them all!

Just flip to the next week on your calendar and write down a different meal that you want to make.

Now you already have a head start on Meal Planning for next week (or next month if you find a few!)

How to Start

To start meal planning with theme nights, just pick 7 theme nights for your week!

I compiled a list of 50 theme night ideas for you, but if you have any other favorite theme night ideas that I forgot to mention, put it in the comments below! I’d love to hear your ideas!

Be sure to grab the Easy Meal Planning Checklist and check out Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning for a step-by-step guide to completely simplifying your meal plan!

50 Theme Night Ideas for Your Meal Plan

I’ve broken down the theme nights into categories so you can see how much you can do with Theme Nights.

You can choose 7 theme nights from one category, or you can choose one from each category. There is no right or wrong way to do it!

The only suggestion I make is that everyone has a Leftover Night on their calendar every week, or at least some plan for how to incorporate their leftovers, but you can check out this post for more ideas on that!

Specific Meal Theme Nights

This type of theme night is when you choose one specific meal that you make every single week. We use this type of theme night for Tuesday nights in our house.

Every Tuesday, we eat our homemade, vegan macaroni and cheese.

Why do we do the same exact meal every Tuesday night? Because Miss Claire has swimming lessons on Tuesday and Thursday nights. So I know that I need easy meals on those nights.

Having Macaroni and Cheese every Tuesday was an easy choice for our Tuesday night theme because it’s easy, it’s healthy, and our whole family loves it.

Here are some specific meal ideas to get you started:

  1. Macaroni and Cheese
  2. Haystacks
  3. Burgers
  4. Special K Loaf
  5. Green Curry
  6. Daal
  7. Lentil Soup

Variety Meals

In this type of theme night, you use the same base of the meal, but can change anything else about it.

For example, you could have a pasta night. The only thing that stays the same about pasta night from week to week is that it has pasta in the meal.

One way that you can customize a pasta night is by changing the type of pasta that you use. For one pasta night you could use spaghetti, another elbow macaroni, another bow ties, another pinwheels, another pappardelle… you get the idea.

Another way that you can customize a pasta night is by changing the type of sauce that you use. You could have pasta with red sauce, with pesto sauce, with alfredo sauce, with veggies…and so on.

Here are few Variety Meals ideas for you:

  1. Pasta Night
  2. Casserole Night
  3. Sandwich Night
  4. Soup Night
  5. Pizza Night
  6. Salad Night
  7. Potato Night
  8. Rice Night
  9. Taco Night
  10. Curry Night
  11. Cold Cereal Night (Another One of Ross’s favorites!)

Category Theme Nights

For the category theme nights, the genre of the food stays the same, but the base can change.

The example that we talked about in the into, Thai food on Thursday nights, is an example of this type of meal planning.

And within the theme of eating Thai food, on Thursday nights, there can be a log of variety. You could have Pad Thai, Pad See Ewe, Red Curry, Yellow Curry, Green Curry, Pineapple Curry, Pumpkin Curry, Curry Noodles, Thai Basil Stir Fry… you get the idea!

  1. Thai Food Night
  2. Italian Food Night
  3. Asian Food Night
  4. Indian Food Night
  5. American Food Night
  6. Ethnic Food Night
  7. Comfort Food Night
  8. Fried Food Night
  9. Build-It Meals
  10. Breakfast for Dinner
  11. Picnic Food Night
  12. Dips and Crackers/Chips

Different Protein Nights

If we did a specific protein night at our house, it would look like having a tofu, tempeh, or beans night. But you could also do this with meat.

With this type of theme night, the only thing that stays the same is the type of protein you choose to make.

Protein night Ideas:

  1. Tofu Night
  2. Tempeh Night
  3. Beans Night
  4. Chicken Night
  5. Beef Night
  6. Seafood Night

Seasonal Theme Nights

You may want to have 1- 3 nights of the week that change with the seasons (I wouldn’t recommend more than 3 nights for simplicity’s sake).

On these nights, you would choose one type of meals for spring (maybe salads) a different type for summer (like grilling), something different for Autumn (like soups) and something different for winter (possibly casseroles).

Seasonal Theme Night Ideas:

  1. Tailgate Food
  2. Grilling Food
  3. Fair Food
  4. Picnic Food
  5. Soup Night
  6. Salad Night
  7. Sandwich Night

New Meal Night

We are foodies in our family. We enjoy talking about food, eating food, and trying new food.

My two-year-old usually asks me what we are having for supper several times throughout the day.

Because of this, I make a new meal every Wednesday night

But you could further narrow this down if you want to try new meals from your amazing-looking “someday I’ll eat this” Pinterest Board, you could use the cookbooks you already have, you could try new restaurants or just a new meal at your favorite restaurant where you always order the same thing!

  1. New Meal from Pinterest
  2. New Meal from Cookbooks
  3. New Restaurant Night
  4. New Type of Food Night
  5. New Meal at your Favorite Restaurant Night

No-Cooking Nights

Everyone needs a night off! In my house, this is Leftover Night on Thursday nights.

If your family likes to go out to eat, write it on the calendar. It will be easier to cook at home more if you know that you get to go out to eat on a night or two during the week.

If you tend to grab fast food so much that it is hurting your budget, choose a fast food night so you can still enjoy it without doing it all the time.

  1. Leftover Night
  2. Out To Eat Night
  3. Take Out Night
  4. Fast Food Night

Family Choice Nights

There are several ways that you can do a family choice night. You can either have it be a family favorite, or you could assign a night of the week to a specific person.

If I had a “Ross’s Favorite Night” at our house, he would probably choose lasagna a lot mixed in with some Breakfast for Dinner Options and a few Cold Cereal for Dinner Nights. (Sorry, Ross, I’ll try to cook more lasagna!)

But this can be a fun way to get your children involved in the meal planning too! Give each child a night of the week, and every week they get to pick the meal for that night.

  1. Family Favorites
  2. Mom’s Choice Night
  3. Dad’s Choice Night
  4. Kid’s Choice Night
  5. Grandma’s Best Recipes

Snack Food Theme Nights

We do snack food nights on Saturday nights at our house because we usually eat a large, late lunch and aren’t in the mood for a big dinner. And we often play board games together on Saturday nights.

If your family has a game night or a movie night every week, this is a great meal with easy set up and clean up!

  1. Snack Food Night
  2. Chips/Crackers and Dips
  3. Popcorn and Smoothies
  4. Cold Cereal Night

What Theme Nights are you going to use in your meal plan? Leave a comment and let me know!

Don’t forget to grab the meal planning workbook to organize your meal plan!

Are You Ready to Stop Feeling Stressed About Meal Planning?

Then check out Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning!

In Set-it-and-Forget-it Meal Planning, you will learn how to plan your meals without overwhelm, spend less time in the kitchen, and feed your family healthy meals (while still having time for yourself!)

Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning walks you through my unique method for setting up your meal plan so you will never have to start from square one again!

Plus you will receive a Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning Template and email support from me anytime you have questions.

I hope to see you inside the course!

(Or if you are more of a do-it-yourself kind of gal, you can just grab the Set-It-and-Forget-It Template and work through it yourself. 🙂

You May Also Enjoy…

If you want a step-by-step guide for setting up your meal plan, check out How to Begin Meal Planning When You Don’t Know Where to Start.

For ideas about how to eat everything you buy, read How to Work Leftovers into Your Meal Plan.

If you want to learn more about Dicision Fatigue, check out Why Is Meal Planning so Difficult.

For Quick, Healthy Breakfast Ideas, read How to Get Started Planning Quick Healthy Breakfasts.

And if you want to see how I plan my meals, check out The Crazy Way I Meal Plan!

Enjoy the Giggles