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 choose the meals quickly this time… but it never worked.
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 try meal planning at the grocery store. Buying food that sounded good, looked good, or for just in case I felt like making it. But we ended up spending so much money because we never felt like eating the “just in case” food… so it would go to live in the back of the pantry… forever.
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 eat…
Then one day I thought of a different plan.
We had been married for 5 years and had a new baby. 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 decided to figure out if there was a way that I could meal plan without having to meal plan all the time… and it turned out that there was!
My first plan of attack was to choose meals for my entire year. That way all I would have to do is make a grocery list every week.
I know, I know, I’m kind of crazy! Who thinks that if they don’t enjoy doing something, they should do a whole bunch of it to see if they like it any better?
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!
(If you’d like to see a full breakdown of the crazy way that I meal plan, check out this post!)
How it Works
When you meal plan with theme nights, all you have to 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 plan your meals, 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 amount of choices that you have to make.
Instead of having every meal that has ever been invented 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. 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 that 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 keep writing different meals in your calendar on the right day of the week.
How to Start
To start meal planning with theme nights, just pick 7 theme nights for your week!
To get you started, I’ve compiled a list of 50 theme night ideas for you!
And if you prefer to watch instead of read, check out this video!
50 Theme Night Ideas for Your Meal Plan
I’ve broken down the theme nights into categories so you can easily sort through them.
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 this!
The only suggestion that I’ll make is that you have a Leftover Night on your calendar every week, or at least some plan for how to eat your 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’ll 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 my oldest daughter has swimming lessons on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, so I know that I need easy meals on those nights.
Pro Tip: Be sure to look at your Weekly Routine when you are choosing your theme nights!
Macaroni and Cheese was an easy choice for our Tuesday Night Theme because it’s easy, it’s cheap, it’s healthy, and our whole family loves it.
When I was growing up, my aunt made Tacos every Friday night. I loved it because I knew that if we went to visit them for a weekend, I’d be getting some delicious tacos, and I knew exactly when I’d be getting them!
Here are some Specific Meal ideas to get you started:
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Tater Tot Casserole
- Green Curry
- Lentil Soup
Variety Meal Theme Nights
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 could 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.
Or you could customize a pasta night by changing the type of sauce that you use. You could have pasta with red sauce, with pesto sauce, with alfredo sauce… and so on.
Here are few Variety Theme Night ideas for you:
- Pasta Night
- Casserole Night
- Sandwich Night
- Soup Night
- Pizza Night
- Salad Night
- Potato Night
- Rice Night
- Taco Night
- Curry Night
- 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 Ew, Red Curry, Yellow Curry, Green Curry, Pineapple Curry, Pumpkin Curry, Curry Noodles, Thai Basil Stir Fry… you get the idea!
Here are some Category Theme Night ideas to get you started:
- Thai Food Night
- Italian Food Night
- Asian Food Night
- Indian Food Night
- American Food Night
- Ethnic Food Night
- Comfort Food Night
- Fried Food Night
- Build-It Meals
- Breakfast for Dinner
- Picnic Food Night
- Dips and Crackers/Chips
Different Protein Nights
If we did a specific protein night at our house, we would have 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.
Here are a few Protein Night Ideas:
- Tofu Night
- Tempeh Night
- Beans Night
- Chicken Night
- Beef Night
- 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:
- Tailgate Food
- Grilling Food
- Fair Food
- Picnic Food
- Soup Night
- Salad Night
- 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.
I think it’s great for kids to be used to trying new things… and it gives me a chance to try those recipes I’ve been wanting to!
Here are some New Meal Theme Night Ideas for you:
- New Meal from Pinterest
- New Meal from Cookbooks
- New Restaurant Night
- New Type of Food Night
- New Meal at your Favorite Restaurant Night
Everyone needs a night off! In my house, this is Leftovers Night on Thursdays.
If your family likes to eat out, write on the calendar which night you will go out to eat. It will be easier to cook at home more if you know that you get to go out on a specific night every week.
If you tend to grab fast food so much that it is hurting your budget, choose one fast food night a week and stick to it!
- Leftover Night
- Out To Eat Night
- Take Out Night
- 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.
- Family Favorites
- Mom’s Choice Night
- Dad’s Choice Night
- Kid’s Choice Night
- 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 so we aren’t in the mood for a big dinner. Plus snack food pairs great with the play board games we like to play 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!
- Snack Food Night
- Chips/Crackers and Dips
- Popcorn and Smoothies
- Cold Cereal Night
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
- Create a Breakfast Rotation
- Create a Lunch Rotation
- Create a Snack Rotation
- Choose Theme Nights
- Create Rotations for Each Theme Night
- Fill in Your Meal Planning Calendar
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 the Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning Workbook and Spreadsheet 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 check out my DIY Meal Planning Resources!)
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!