Super Easy Meal Planning With Dinner Theme Nights

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Meal planning isn’t a favorite pastime for most people. And it can be very time-consuming. Plus, it takes so much thought and energy. You have to decide what you want to eat for the week, find recipes, make a grocery list, and go to the store. So exhausting!

Not to mention all the time you have to spend cooking what you planned so you don’t end up throwing out the food you bought because it went bad. 

It’s no wonder the food budget is one of the easiest parts of a household budget to bust. 

And no wonder many people despise meal planning.

However, when you do your meal planning with dinner theme nights, it can make it much easier and help you despise it less.

If you despise meal planning less (even a tiny little bit less than you did), it will be easier for you to stay consistent with your meal planning and continue to eat at home, saving you boatloads of money.

If you have kids, eating at home as a family is even more important! According to an article in the NY Times, children tend to be healthier when they eat dinner with their parents. They tend to have lower rates of obesity, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of substance abuse.

Those facts alone can help get you motivated to start meal planning so you can eat at home more, have healthier kids, and of course, save money. Plus, saving money on your food costs is key to staying within your budget, paying off your debt, and reaching your money goals.

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Easy Meal Planning With Dinner Theme Nights

Here are some ways using dinner theme nights can make your meal planning effortless:

  • It will help you quickly decide on the meals you want to make. Once you have a food theme night rotation and your family’s favorite meals, it’s a matter of filling in the blanks on your meal planner.
  • It will help you be quicker at cooking your meals. After you have a few different meals for each theme night, the more you make them, the quicker you will get at making them. You will become more efficient in the kitchen because you won’t have to read recipes constantly.
  • It will help you create your grocery list more quickly. Again, once you learn the meals that will be in your theme night rotations, you won’t have to look back at the recipe to check for the ingredients that you need to put on your list.

Today I’m going to give you a big list of dinner theme night ideas. I will also give you some examples of what we eat under some of the different themes.

I have created a cheat sheet for this list of dinner theme ideas, and it’s included in my Meal Planning Guide. You can use this free guide to create a meal-planning binder.

The Meal Planning Guide includes:

Meal Planning Guide
  • Cheat sheet for dinner theme nights
  • Monthly meal planner and sample monthly meal plan
  • Weekly meal planner with grocery list section
  • Favorite meals list
  • Inventory list for pantry, fridge, and freezer
  • Tips for meal planning success

If you would like this free Meal Planning Guide, you can get it here.

Or, if you just want the list of dinner theme ideas, you can get it below.

As a bonus, I included a bunch of easy side dish ideas so you can get started with your meal planning right away.

    As you will see below, some of the food ideas I give you for the themes could possibly go under more than one theme. That’s because some themes are named for the main dish, and some themes are named by the type of cuisine.

    When you start meal planning with dinner theme nights, you will only be picking a couple of themes off of this list that you think your family would enjoy the most.

    Real quick: If you absolutely hate meal planning or you have tried it, and you just can’t seem to figure out a system that works for you, you should take a look at $5 Meal Plan.

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    All you have to do is check off the things you already have and head to the grocery store to get the rest.

    Most of the meals work out to be around $2 per person.  And it’s only $5 a month!  

    So if you would like to check it out, they have a free 14-day trial you can sign up for here.  

    Let’s get started with dinner theme night ideas.

    Ideas for Meal Planning with Dinner Theme Nights

    Fish or Seafood Night

                    Tilapia, salmon, tuna melts, tuna steaks, flounder, haddock, crab cakes, salmon cakes, tuna patties, shrimp

    Chicken Night

                    Salsa chicken, BBQ chicken, stuffed chicken, breaded chicken, chicken marsala, honey garlic chicken, rotisserie chicken, chicken parmesan

    Ground Beef Night

                    Meatloaf, shepherd’s pie, Sloppy Joe’s, homemade hamburger helper, goulash, hamburger steaks with gravy, chili mac, stuffed peppers, Jamaican Patties

    Pasta Night

                    Baked Ziti, spaghetti, ravioli, tortellini, lasagna, stuffed shells, fettuccine alfredo, garlic butter linguine

    easy meal planning with dinner theme nights

    Pizza Night

                    Frozen pizza, make your own pizza, make your own stromboli

    Meatless Night

                    Look for recipes using quinoa, rice, beans, lentils, vegetables, and pasta for a meatless night.

    Bowl Night

                    Serve your protein in a bowl with rice, beans, lentils, quinoa, vegetables, or pasta to make it “bowl night.”

    Taco Night

                    Chicken tacos, beef tacos, fish tacos, burritos, taco casserole, taco salad

    Leftover Night

                    Raid the fridge to eat up all the leftovers from the week.

    Kid-Friendly Night

                    Chicken nuggets, fish sticks, mac-n-cheese, pizza, sliders/hamburgers, grilled cheese & tomato soup, make-your-own nachos, chicken patty sandwiches, hoagies, hot dogs.

    Sandwich Night

                    Rubens, tuna melts, French dip sandwiches, knock-off Beef-n-cheddars, hamburgers, chicken or tuna salad, sausage sandwiches, club sandwiches, BLTs.

    easy meal planning with dinner theme nights

    Soup Night

                    Try homemade or use canned soups. Some homemade soups to try are turkey noodles, black bean soup, ham and bean soup, chicken rice, beef, and barley soup.

    Casserole Night

                    Ham and potato casserole, tuna noodle casserole, chicken noodle casserole, chicken pot pie casserole, chicken with broccoli and rice casserole, taco casserole

    Stir Fry Night

                    Use your wok (or skillet!) to cook up some delicious stir fry.

    Burger Night

                    Hamburgers, veggie burgers, sliders, black bean burgers, turkey burgers

    Wrap Night

                    Make wraps with your favorite kind of lunch meat; chicken Caesar wraps, or veggie wraps.

    Tex Mex Night

                    Besides tacos & burritos, you could make quesadillas, enchiladas, rice & beans, Spanish rice, Mexican pizza, taco casserole, nachos, Mexican lasagna, and Mexican quinoa.

    Asian Inspired Night

                    Besides stir fry, you could make beef with broccoli, Asian chicken, honey garlic chicken, egg rolls, egg roll in a bowl, chicken teriyaki, fried rice, lo mein, sweet and sour chicken, crab rangoons, and orange chicken.

    easy meal planning with dinner theme nights

    Grill Night

                    Use your grill for burgers, steaks, chicken, pork chops, flatbread pizzas, sausage, pork tenderloin, and ribs. You could also try foil packets for fish or a wood plank for salmon on the grill.

    Instant Pot Night

                    Some of our favorite meals to make in our instant pot are beef with broccoli, creamy vegetable soup, ranch chicken tacos, steaks with gravy, turkey breast, ham & bean soup, and honey garlic chicken.

    Slow Cooker Day

                    Prepare your favorite meals in your slow cooker before work, and your meal will be ready when you return home.

    Breakfast for Dinner Night

                    Our favorites are pancakes, Belgian waffles, scrambled cheesy eggs, home fries, sausage & gravy over biscuits, omelets to order, and creamed chip beef.

    Baked Potato Night

                    Have a baked potato bar so everyone can choose their own toppings (bonus: use up leftovers as toppings!).

    Vegetarian Night

                    Focus your meal on vegetables and wholesome grains.

    Salad Night

                    Get all the fixings and let your family build their own salads.

    There you have it. Twenty-five different dinner theme nights for you to help you become a meal planning pro.

    You, however, only need to pick a couple of themes that will work for your family.

    You don’t even need to pick seven themes if you don’t want to. I really only use 3 or 4 themes consistently to help me complete my monthly meal plan.

    For example, the themes I use on a consistent basis are fish night, chicken night, pasta or meatless night, and sandwich night.

    In my house, Mondays are fish nights. The four rotations I use for our fish night are salmon, tilapia, salmon cakes, and tuna melts. My Mondays are done for a month. It’s as simple as that.

    Tuesdays are usually chicken night, but chicken night. I will rotate things like salsa chicken, BBQ chicken, chicken pot pie, stuffed chicken, and chicken tacos.

    On occasion, I will also put Instant Pot honey garlic chicken or Asian chicken on the meal rotation.

    easy meal planning with dinner theme nights

    Wednesday is pasta night. My go-to’s for rotation are frozen ravioli, spaghetti with either meatballs or chicken parm, Italian sausage tortellini, tortellini bake, baked ziti, and Swedish meatballs with egg noodles.

    We love cooking up something super simple on Friday nights after a long, busy week at work. So I generally will put some kind of sandwich on for dinner on Fridays.

    The sandwiches we eat most often are meatball sandwiches, chicken patty sandwiches, sausage sandwiches, grilled cheese, and tomato soup, & club sandwiches.

    After I have all my theme night meals filled in, I go back and fill in the blanks with other things my family requested or new recipes to try.

    You have to take into consideration appointments, sports practices, working late, etc., in your meal plan. If you don’t, it will be much harder to stick to your plan.

    So if you are looking at your calendar and you see you have a busy night coming up, plan something really simple (I mean grilled cheese and tomato soup type simple) or plan to have leftovers that night.

    Now let’s talk about side dishes!

    easy meal planning with dinner theme nights

    Meal Planning with Dinner Theme Nights: Side Dishes

    Everyone does side dishes differently. Some people may only eat a type of starch with their protein, while others may only eat vegetables alongside their proteins and skip the starch altogether. 

    If you typically have either a starch or a vegetable with your main course, come up with a list of side dishes that your family enjoys and pick from that when you are creating your meal plan.

    If your family is like my family and you eat both a starch and a vegetable at just about every meal, it may be easier if you come up with a couple of starch side dishes and a couple of vegetable side dishes that will be your go-to for each theme.

    For example, when you have some kind of fish for dinner, plan to have a noodle side dish and a salad.

    If you are having a chicken, plan to have a rice side dish and your family’s favorite vegetables.

    If you are having tacos, keep it simple with black beans as a side dish or black beans and rice if you like both.

    You get the idea. If you keep everything extremely simple for yourself, it will be easier to stick to your meal plan.

    Try not to spend too much time deciding on your side dishes since that will add quite a bit of time to your overall meal-planning routine.

    When I go back through and add my side dishes to my meal plan, it literally takes me a second or two to decide what to make.

    Also, don’t plan any side dishes that are too complicated during the week. Save those for the weekends when you have more time.

    Final Thoughts on Meal Planning with Dinner Theme Nights

    When you complete your meal planning with dinner theme nights, you are developing a dinner rotation schedule that will help you create a meal plan you can easily stick to.

    Sticking to your meal plan is key to keeping your food budget under control. Not only will meal planning help prevent phone calls to your favorite pizza shop or evening drives through the drive-through, but it will also help you to keep your grocery bill down.

    If you are looking for more ways to save on your food expenses, check out my post on 12 Easy Ways to Cut Food Expenses.

    Also, if you don’t have Ibotta yet, you absolutely must get it! It is a cash-back app that is free to download and use. There are no subscription fees or pushes for in-app purchases, which is awesome.

    Plus by signing up through my link, you can receive up to $20 in welcome bonuses!

    If you don’t have Ibotta, you can sign up here.

    If you would like my printable list of food theme nights, you can get it below. It includes my list of 25 theme night ideas, plus I included a bunch of easy side dish ideas as a bonus.

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      Did I forget any dinner theme nights? What theme nights do you use when meal planning? Let me know in the comments!

      25 Awesome Dinner Theme Night for Meal Planning
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