Theme night meal planning is a fun and easy way to tip your toes into meal planning and you can even get your family involved in the process! Check out the end of this post for a free printable of the theme night ideas in a cut-out pattern.
Back in my college days, and probably for a couple of years after that, my grocery shopping method consisted of picking out whatever looked good to me. Occasionally I would have a recipe or two that I would get ingredients for, but there was never a method to the madness that was my cart full of groceries.
I would come home and unload all of my groceries. And then I would search through my fridge or pantry a day later and decide that I had no food to eat. Or that all I had on hand were snacks and that I couldn’t make a meal out of anything.
Does this ever happen to you? The frustration of feeling like you have no food but yet your bank account shows that you should have food based on you low money balance.
I have an answer for you….. meal planning!
Now before you start telling me about how you don’t have the time or you don’t know how to meal plan, I want you to just stop and take a deep breath.
The excuses are always endless but once I started meal planning I noticed that my grocery bills were lower and the “I don’t have anything to eat in this house” thought started occurring less and less. When you create a meal plan for the week (or month!) you will have a list of groceries that you need. Having that list at the grocery store will hopefully encourage you to stick to your list and resist impulse buys! Check out this post on stocking your pantry or how to make a grocery budget to find out more on saving money on groceries!
Meal planning in general is something that I could talk about for days. There are tons of different methods and opinions out there about meal planning. And I love reading and learning about them all. But what I want you to understand is that what works for someone else might not be the best fit for you. This could mean that you need an entirely different method or that you just need to implement a few tweaks.
I want to introduce you to theme night meal planning. This method is based on the idea that you pick a theme for each night of the week and then make a meal based on that theme.
The first thing that probably comes to your mind is Taco Tuesday! (any other taco and/or margarita lovers in the house or is it just me?!) This meal planning method takes it a step further and plans out not just one day, but your entire week!
The best part is that I give you a list below of 30 theme night ideas to get you started! Fill out your information below to get my free printable sheet of all 30 theme night ideas to help make your meal planning easier!
Is Theme Night Meal Planning for Me?
As previously mentioned, there is not a “one size fits all” meal planning solution that will work for everyone. That being said, I do think that everyone could at least incorporate a little bit of this idea into their meal planning.
You need to be trying this method if you have ever had any of the thoughts or questions below!
- I am stuck in a meal-making rut and have made the same 5 meals for the last month.
- I have absolutely no clue or inspiration for what I should make for supper tonight.
- I want to start meal planning for my family but I have no clue where to start.
- Why do all of the meal planning ideas on Pinterest seem to take so much work?
- Why do none of the meal planning ideas that I find seem to be a good fit for my family?
If you have ever thought any of these things then you are not alone! Using theme night meal planning will help bring some structure to your meal planning, can spark ideas for new meals to make for your family, is easy to implement if you have zero meal planning skills or even if you consider yourself a master of meal planning, and it can be easily tailored to meet your family’s taste preferences and schedules.
How Does Theme Night Meal Planning Work?
To put it simply, pick a theme for each meal and then pick a recipe that matches that theme.
If you are new to meal planning, then I would recommend that you start with doing one week at a time. Once your confidence builds up and you start to get the hang of meal planning then you can starting planning two weeks or even a month at a time!
Where to Find Recipes?
I have a confession to make. I am addicted to food magazines. At one point I was getting 5 food magazines a month! I would rip out my favorites and recycle the rest of the magazine. Between those magazines and Pinterest I had an overflow of new recipes to try.
It was overwhelming! And some of the recipes from the magazines called for ingredients that weren’t normal pantry staples for me and were pretty expensive to buy. I have since narrowed down my magazine subscriptions to Taste of Home and All Recipes because most of the recipes have tasted good and use common ingredients.
If you don’t have this same obsession then finding new recipes to match up with theme nights could be tough. Here are some recommendations on where to find new recipes!
- The first and most obvious is your own recipe box. I would actually start here and try to have at least 3-4 recipes that you are familiar with when you are starting out.
- Look in cookbooks. Again, start with what any that you already have. Check out garage sales to find some cookbooks for cheap. Check your local library to see if they have any cookbooks. If you end up liking a recipe you could decide to purchase the cookbook from a retailer or just write down the recipe.
- Look at food magazines. You could subscribe to Taste of Home, Food Network, All Recipes, Rachel Ray, or any others out there. Be on the lookout the next time that you are in your doctor’s waiting room and spot a food magazine on the table. If you find a recipe then snap a picture of it with your phone.
- Look online for recipes. I would recommend Pinterest or allreicpes.com. Pinterest has a huge selection but can be overwhelming sometimes. Allrecipes.com has an option where you can put in ingredients that you have and it will come up with recipes to make with those ingredients.
- Ask for suggestions on social media. This could totally be done in person as well, but ask your friends and family for their favorite recipes.
Tips for Implementing Theme Night Meal Planning
One of my favorite themes from the list below is Leftovers. While I do take leftovers for lunch at work, sometimes leftovers can pile up in our fridge faster than I can eat them. Having one night a week designated to eating leftovers helps to ensure that they get ate before they go bad! You can even setup a “Leftovers Buffet” and have each family member pick which ones they want to eat that night.
Plan your theme nights based on your schedule, not based on what sounds the catchiest. Soupy Saturday may sound cool but if you have plans for most of the day and the soup needs to simmer for two hours then that isn’t a great fit.
Do your kids have soccer practice on Thursday evenings? Maybe a sandwich night would be best so that the meals are portable and could be eaten in a car. Or maybe those are crock pot days so that the meal is ready as soon as you get home.
I also try to take into consideration the weather if I am planning any “grill out” nights. Our grill is on our deck, which has absolutely no roof. If it is 100 degrees out that day or if it is raining then grilling out probably isn’t the best idea.
Another schedule item to keep in mind is what you will feel like when you are cooking. I don’t plan any elaborate or difficult to make recipes on Monday because chances are good that I will want to get to the after-dinner wine as quickly as possible. Maybe you are used to eating out on Fridays? I would highly recommend doing the “Take Out Fake Out” for that night. Try to recreate your favorite restaurant dish on these nights.
Theme Night Ideas:
- Farmer’s Market Round-Up – try to incorporate one or all of the ingredients that you picked up from the farmer’s market. Stir-fry’s, quiches, or omelets are a great way to incorporate a large number of veggies.
- Meatless – Any dish without meat. This could be as simple as grilled cheese with tomato soup or you could try to focus on using non-traditional protein sources as “meat”. Think tofu-nuggets or wild rice burgers.
- Pasta – anything with pasta!
- Take Out Fake Out – try to recreate a favorite dish from a restaurant. There are tons of copy-cat recipes on Pinterest where people have come up with their own recipes for their favorite restaurant meals.
- Tortilla Night – this is similar to taco night but turns out there are lot more things to be made out of tortillas than just tacos! Think quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas, pinwheel wraps, tacos, etc.
- Turkey – any dish with turkey!
- Asian – this is pretty broad but any dish that has an Asian theme to it. Stir-fry’s, dumplings, fried rice, Thai peanut sauce, etc. This list literally could go on for forever.
- Sandwiches, Wraps or Burgers – Not everyone is a burger person so I decided to throw all three of these into one night.
- Breakfast – quite possibly my favorite category of food is breakfast foods! You could break this down even further and have a designated waffle/pancake night, omelet night, etc.
- Slow Cooker or Pressure Cooker – The point here is to have recipes that can accommodate your schedule. Slow cooker recipes can be ready when you get home. Pressure Cooker recipes can be made like a slow cooker recipe, or if you are running behind, pressure cookers can cook foods in a less amount of time than traditional cooking methods.
- Casseroles – anything in a casserole dish!
- Seafood – fish, shrimp, lobster, or anything that swims.
- Grill Out – bust out that grill and get some char on your food.
- Beef – any dish with beef!
- Leftovers – use one night a week to eat up all of the leftovers in the fridge. You can try to sell this to picky eaters as a leftover buffet where they get to pick their own meal!
- Kid’s Cook – find an easy recipe that your children can help you to cook or cook entirely by themselves.
- Kid’s Favorite – one child or family member gets to pick their favorite meal for you to make that night.
- Pizza – anything with dough and covered in pizza sauce and cheese.
- Soup – soup, soup or soup. The soup could be paired with a sandwich night if your family wouldn’t find soup as a meal filling enough.
- Try It – time to pull out one of those new recipes that you have been dying to try.
- Food on a Stick – think foods like corndogs or kabobs. Try to reinvent the kabob by taking one of your favorite meals and making it into a kabob.
- Nachos – chips, cheese and whatever else your favorite nacho toppings are.
- Pork – any dish with pork!
- Sheet Pan Dinner – any meal that can be made on a sheet pan. Try to save yourself from washing a ton of dishes by making the entire meal on one sheet pan.
- Finger Foods Only – have an assortment of appetizers or chips and dip, or a cheese and meat tray. Anything that you can eat with no utensils (toothpicks not included!)
- Bar Night – no, I am not referring to having a liquid only meal of alcohol. Examples would be a potato bar, burrito bar, sub sandwich bar, nacho bar. Each family member gets to assemble their plate with exactly what they want.
- Salads – chopped salad, Caesar salad, garden salad, potato salad, etc. You could even do two or more salads.
- Chicken – any dish with chicken.
- Muffin Tin Foods – any food that can be made in muffin tins. Pinterest has a ton of great ideas for this. Examples include Mac-N-Cheese muffins, mini quiches, mini meatloaves.
- Zoodles – grab a spiralizer and turn your favorite veggies into noodles.
What are some of your favorite theme nights that I need to add to my list?