Meal planning theme nights – or meal planning templates – are super popular right now because they help you get dinner on the table quicker and easier!


(This post probably contains affiliate links. My full disclosure policy is quite boring, but you can read it here if you’d like!)

If you don’t want to bother doing this yourself, and just want it semi-done for you – grab the Ultimate Theme Nights Recipe List! These are the most popular, kid-friendly recipes for all the theme nights. Check it out here.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Taco Tuesday (who hasn’t??). Theme night meal ideas are gaining popularity in the meal planning world because they’re simple and limit your options of “what’s for dinner?”. Who knows where they came from, I’m assuming the party world because everyone loves a theme party, right?!?

There was always that kid in elementary school who had the themed birthday party.

Costume party.

Pony party.

Makeover party.

Gosh, I hated those. Just gimme a piece of cake, some pin the tail on the donkey, and call it a day. Open your present already and let me go home with my goodie bag filled with tiny toys my mom’s going to throw out by this time next weekend…

Ok, so I might not have liked birthday parties as a kid… what can I say, I was extremely shy!

Well now that I’m older (and a tad more outgoing), I kinda like theme parties. Especially if they involve costumes or 80’s music. I could dress up like Olivia Newton John and perform Let’s Get Physical all. day. long.

You didn’t realize we were going to be bonding over 80’s music and meal planning, huh? Lucky you.

Anyhoo.

Before we get started, you can grab the Ultimate Theme Nights Recipe list for super cheap right here – it has all the theme night ideas from the freebie below plus all the recipe ideas you’d need for those themed dinner nights!

Dinner theme nights just make your life easier – if you know that Wednesdays are One-pot meals or Fridays are Freezer meals, then you have less decisions you have to make!

If you didn’t snag the Ultimate Theme Nights Recipe List above, make sure you download the free list of Theme Night meal ideas – there’s a worksheet in there for you to plan your theme nights and a list of over 42 themed dinner ideas – and let’s get physical started!

1. Choose your dinner theme nights based on HOW instead of WHAT

I know, I know. Taco Tuesday is suuuuuuper popular but I personally think creating a meal plan that revolves around how to prepare your meal is easier than what you eat. Mainly because it will work with your schedule better. Think slow cooker instead of Spaghetti Sunday, grilling instead of Taco Tuesday, 30 minute meal instead of Meatless Mondays, etc.

Who am I kidding? I’ll never give up Taco Tuesday. Ok, maybe that one’s the exception to the rule!


So how do you choose your dinner theme nights for your meal plan?

You decide based on your routine. If you know you get home late on Monday nights, you need a 30 minute meal or to use the crockpot. If you have to leave right after dinner to get to baseball practice every Tuesday, you need to use an indoor grill pan or a sheet pan (this one is amazing and super cheap!) recipe so there’s virtually no cleanup. #sheetpandinnersrock

Of course you can have exceptions, or variations of your theme night. If you want to use your crockpot 3 nights a week, maybe one night is chicken in the crockpot, one night is soup in the crockpot, and one night is pasta in the crockpot. That would be a really good way to narrow it down!

My only exception is that in the winter I have soup days and in the summer I have salad days. Alright, we’re up to 3 exceptions. #rebel


So take a look at your calendar over the next month or two and see what recurring nights you have commitments. We’re not necessarily talking about specific appointments here, just a general overview of your weekly schedule.

Write those on the blank Theme Nights worksheet.

2. Don’t forget a leftovers day!

Unless you know your family will either have no leftovers, or they’ll eat all the leftovers for lunch then I highly suggest a standing leftovers night. It just makes things simple.

Write it on that same worksheet.

3. Use your themed dinner ideas with a monthly meal plan

Theme nights work best with a longer-term plan, like a whole month. I’m all about saving time and doing things efficiently so if you’re sitting down to meal plan for the week, spend an extra 10 minutes and do the entire month while you’re there!

If you need a monthly meal planner, you can get one in the Freebie Library!

Plus, when you’re using theme nights you can quickly and easily create an entire month’s worth of meals because you’re only looking for 4-5 recipes for each theme. Before you know it, your entire month is filled!

You know what makes this super easy? The recipes already being chosen for you – like in the Ultimate Theme Nights Recipe List! These are the most popular, kid-friendly recipes for all the theme nights. Check it out here.

4. Add your themed dinner recipe ideas vertically

Once you have your themes all set and your monthly meal planner ready to go, write your recipes under the appropriate theme night. Work vertically – meaning fill up one theme night before moving on to the next – to make it easier.

If you’re planning for a whole month, you’ll need 4-5 recipes under each theme.

 

5. Search for easy family-friendly recipes

Where do you normally find recipes? I go to my recipe box first and then usually Pinterest.

  • Pinterest – make your search specific (not “chicken recipes” – instead search “30 minute chicken pasta recipes” or “slow cooker chicken soup recipes”). Follow me on Pinterest, I pin lots of easy dinner ideas (but not thousands!) and they’re well organized!
  • Library – look at some cookbooks or magazines. This cookbook from Racheal Ray is one of my hands-down favorites! That and the Better Homes & Gardens magazines (that have a specific food topic) are both really good places to start.
  • Social media! Seriously – your friends will love to share recipes if you ask for a crockpot recipe or their favorite 15 minute dinner. Try it!


6. Fill in your monthly meal planner

Now you can take your theme master list and transfer the meals to your monthly meal planner. You can do it in the order you added them, or use my Pro Tip below to change it up a bit.

Pro Tip: If you want to grocery shop every two weeks, put all the meals that use fresh produce in weeks 1 and 3. For weeks 2 and 4, you can put the meals that use frozen or canned produce, or more shelf-stable items like onions, potatoes, etc.

 

7. Create your grocery list

Now that you have your entire monthly meal plan, you’ve organized your meals into fresh/frozen produce lists, you can create your grocery list for the entire month!

Don’t forget to snap a picture with your smart phone (and make it a favorite!) so you can always reference your meal plan and grocery list!

Download your free Theme Night Meal Ideas list below or make it even faster with the Ultimate Theme Nights Recipe List!

 

Dinner theme nights make meal planning super fast! Free printable with lots of meal planning theme night ideas!