When it comes to meal planning, one of the hardest things is staring at a blank calendar and having no idea where to start. With thousands of recipes to choose from, different family preferences, and a packed schedule, creating a meal plan from scratch can feel overwhelming. Plus it can take hours! We have all been sucked into the internet recipe black hole, spending hours searching for recipes and realizing that we have wasted a whole day without getting close to putting a meal plan together.
That’s why I rely on theme nights to create meal plans. Not only does it save me a ton of time, it’s also makes dinner time really fun. My family is always excited to see what’s on the menu for Slow Cooker Sunday, Taco Tuesday, and more.
Before we look at themes, don’t worry about getting too creative. A theme could be something as simple as Chicken Night, Pasta Night, Asian Night, etc. It could also include things like Family Favorite Night. The most important thing is that it is something that helps you create a meal plan more efficiently and effectively.
Here’s a look at a sample weekly meal plan, made up of theme nights.
Sunday: Slow Cooker Sundays
On Sundays I love to use my slow cooker to make a big, comforting meal for my family. Since the slow cooker does all the heavy lifting for me, I can throw something in Sunday morning and then spend the day with my family. When we get home, dinner is ready, which is a pretty amazing thing. Additionally, since you can cook large portions in the slow cooker, I always double the recipes so I have leftovers for easy lunches during the week.
Here are some recipe ideas for Slow Cooker Sundays:
- Slow Cooker Tomato Balsamic Chicken
- Slow Cooker Barbacoa Beef
- Slow Cooker Balsamic Brown Sugar Pork Tenderloin
- Slow Cooker Sausage and Gnocchi Soup
Monday: Pasta Night
Mondays are always tough so I love having a comforting meal on our meal plan that is quick and easy to prepare – pasta! In our house this usually means a healthy pasta dish with a big green salad. Sometimes this could also be a lower carb pasta dish that uses spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles or a hearty soup.
Here are some recipes healthy ideas for Pasta Night:
- Lemon and Broccoli Pasta with Shrimp
- Turkey Sausage and Broccoli Pasta
- Low Carb Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta
- One Pot Caprese Pasta
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday
We are obsessed with Mexican food, so Tuesdays are always reserved for healthy Mexican recipes. Sometimes this is tacos, but it could also be fajitas, burritos, quesadillas, or Mexican inspired grain bowls. Since taco fillings make great leftovers for lunches, I always make a few extra servings to have for lunches.
Here are some recipes healthy ideas for Taco Tuesday:
- Baked Chicken Fajitas
- Citrus Marinated Steak and Pepper Tacos
- Chipotle Shrimp Tacos with Cilantro Avocado Slaw
- Poblano Pepper and Pinto Bean Tostadas
Wednesday: Quick and Easy Chicken
By Wednesday, I am usually in need of something quick and easy to prepare since I tend to drag on hump day. Chicken is a universal favorite in our house, so Wednesday we almost always have some kind of quick and easy chicken dish. And when I am really stressed for time, I’ll hack a recipe and use rotisserie chicken or pre-cooked chicken sausages so I don’t even have to worry about cooking the protein.
Here are some recipes for Quick and Easy Chicken Night:
- Roasted Balsamic Chicken Thighs and Vegetables
- One Pan Lemon Garlic Chicken and Asparagus
- Healthy Greek Nachos with Chicken
- Grilled Basil Lime Chicken Breast
Thursday: Healthy Homemade Take Out
Thursdays I like to mix things up and make a globally inspired dish. Usually I look for Asian recipes but we also mix it up with Indian, Mediterranean, or Latin inspired meals that are inspired by our favorite take-out dishes. Since we had chicken the night before, I usually make something with beef or pork. It’s a fun way to introduce your family to new foods in your weekly meal plans.
Here are some recipes for Healthy Homemade Take Out:
- Healthy Mongolian Beef
- Helathier Kung Pao Chicken
- Black Olive and Feta Turkey Burgers
- Roasted Poblano Cheeseburgers
Friday: Fish and Seafood
We like to have fish or seafood once a week and it almost always happens on Fridays. I rotate between different fish and shellfish, usually based on what looks best and is on sale.
Here are some recipes for Fish and Seafood Recipes:
- Baked Blackened Tilapia
- One Pan Roasted Salmon, Asparagus, and Sweet Potatoes
- Crispy Shrimp Burgers
- One Pan Cod, Sweet Potatoes, and Zucchini
Saturday: Leftovers or Dinner Out
By Saturday, I am ready for a break from the kitchen so we usually have dinner out or eat up whatever is leftover at home!
When thinking about theme nights to help you create a meal plan, think about your family’s preferences, schedules, and needs. Try to choose themes that will work for you and make meal planning easier. Here are some other theme nights to consider:
- Breakfast for Dinner
- Burger and Sandwich Night
- Global Cuisine Night
- Meatless Monday
- Chicken Night
- Pork Night
- Beef Night
- Seafood Night
- Pizza Night
- Salad Night
- Soup Night
- Rice Bowl Night
- Asian Night
- Lazy Leftover Nights
- Casserole Night
- Appetizer Night
- Family Favorites Night
Curious about what this would look like with actually recipes. Check out this sample menu below.
- Sunday: Slow Cooker Balsamic Brown Sugar Pork Tenderloin with steamed brown rice and veggies of your choice
- Monday: One Pot Caprese Pasta with green salad
- Tuesday: Citrus Marinated Steak and Pepper Tacos with black beans and Roasted Mexican Squash
- Wednesday: Roasted Balsamic Chicken Thighs and Vegetables
- Thursday: Roasted Poblano Cheeseburgers with Baked Skinny Fries
- Friday: One Pan Roasted Salmon, Asparagus, and Sweet Potatoes
- Saturday: Dinner out!
A few more important lessons for efficient meal planning:
- Get Everyone Involved: It can be stressful to be the “one” in charge of choosing and planning every meal for your family every week. Instead of bearing all the responsibility, get your whole family involve. Have your spouse or children pick out recipes for different theme nights. You can even take it one step further and have them cook or help with dinner prep for the meal they choose.
- Start Small: If you are just starting with meal plans and/or cooking at home, don’t start by planning out every single meal. Instead commit to planning out 3-4 meals to start and slowly build from there.
- Saving Money and Waste Less: One of the biggest benefits of meal planning is the amount of money you save only buying things you need. In fact, most people save about 40% on their grocery bills when they go to the store with a list. Plus you will have much less food waste since you will be utilizing everything you are buying.
- Busy Nights: Make sure to plan ahead for particularly busy nights when you know you may not have time (or the desire) to cook a big meal. On those nights, try to choose recipes that can be made in advance or prepared quickly.
- Get Help: While theme nights are a great way to make meal planning easier, it still can be hard to find the time to search for recipes and create a shopping list. If that’s the case for you, consider trying a meal planning service that does the hard work for you.