Meal planning is a great way to save money and time, eat better and reduce dinner time stress, but deciding what to make each evening can be hard. Theme nights make meal planning so much easier AND make dinner times more fun and varied too.
As anyone who knows me will know, I am a huge fan of meal planning! I strongly believe meal planning can save you time and money, be better for your health and will dramatically reduce that pre-dinner time ‘Aaaargh, what am I going to cook today??’ feeling.
But one of the downsides to meal planning can be meal planner’s block…
What do I mean by meal planner’s block? I mean that feeling, when you sit down on a Sunday night (or whatever day you do your meal planning) and stare at a blank meal plan and wonder what on earth to make that week…kind of like writer’s block…but for meal planners!!
And meal planner’s block can lead to one of two things…planning more or less the same meals every week, week in week out…or just throwing out the whole idea of meal planning entirely!
But there is another way…
Today I want to teach you a trick that will make meal planning so much easier…and more fun, it will ensure you have more variety in your diet, while still enjoying all your old favourites and crucially it will mean that never again will you suffer from meal planner’s block…
What are theme nights and how do they relate to meal planning?
Quite simply it’s all about assigning each evening meal of the week a different theme. So, for example, Monday night could be leftovers night, Tuesday could be Mexican night, Friday night could be fish night and Saturday night could be curry night.
It means that when you sit down to plan your week of meals, the week already has some shape to it – you are not staring at Tuesday evening and having to choose out of ‘all the meals in the whole universe’, but instead looking at Tuesday night and getting excited about which of your Mexican favourites you are going to have…will it be Chicken Fajitas? Or Lamb Tacos? Or Pork and Sweet Potato Chilli? Or will you try something new from that Mexican cookbook you always keep meaning to try something from?
Instead of looking at Saturday blankly, you can get excited about curry night and all the possibilities that holds – will you have Chicken Jalfrezi? Or Lamb Bhuna? Or Vegetable Korma? Or maybe you’ll decide that this week you are going to have a night off and get takeaway curry instead!
In a flash, theme nights turn meal planning from a chore…into a super fun activity! (And super fun mealtimes too!!)
It also means you can keep all those meal planning promises to yourself, that you made and then never quite got round to…like so many of us do!! Perhaps you decided that this year you would eat more vegetarian meals, or more fish, or try more new recipes…theme nights make this so easy…you could plan a regular vegetarian night on a Wednesday, or a regular fish night on a Friday, or a regular ‘try a new recipe night’ on a Sunday…or whatever you fancy!!
Not only do theme nights make meal planning easier and more fun, but they can make mealtimes so much more fun too – soon your family will look forward to the different evenings and maybe even get involved and/or make requests. Having theme nights can start wonderful family traditions that everyone can look forward to and enjoy…
So how does theme night meal planning work in practice?
Meal planning using theme nights is really simple, but so effective! Here’s how to do it…
Step 1: Choose your themes
First decide which nights are going to have what themes… the themes can be anything you want them to be…cuisines – like Italian or Mexican, recipe types – like leftovers, roast dinner or vegetarian, main ingredients – like chicken, fish, pasta or beef…
You could also have a regular ‘try a new recipe’ evening, or weave in a regular ‘date night’, or if your family likes to get a takeaway or go out for dinner each week, that can be one of the themes too.
Need some inspiration? I’ve listed loads of theme ideas at the end of this post, along with links to my recipes for each theme to help inspire you!
Once you have your themes written down (and remember you only have to do this step once, next week you will use the same themes), you can move on to the next step…
Step 2: Plan your meals
Now you have your themes, you can set about planning which meals to make each day, without getting ‘meal planner’s block’, so for example…you might see that Wednesday is your regular vegetarian night. Now all you have to do is decide which vegetarian meal to choose: will it be a regular family favourite or a new recipe you want to try? Your choice is vastly narrowed, and you will be able to decide much quicker what you want to have.
After a few weeks of using the same theme nights you will have built up a bank of recipes that you will be able to choose from, which will make your selection even easier.
Step 3: Create mini grocery lists (optional)
The third step is one that is optional, but one that I highly recommend – especially if you are going to stick with this idea of using theme nights to help you meal plan.
For each recipe you put in to your meal plan, make a mini grocery list. You could do this on index cards, or in a note book, or a bullet journal…however you like to get yourself organized.
For the first few weeks, this will take a bit of time and effort, but over time you will build up a ‘recipe bank’, which will make meal planning super fast.
So, for example, if Saturday night is curry night, after 4 weeks of using this theme night method of meal planning you will have a mini grocery list for 4 different curries, then it’s just a case of selecting the one you want to make and moving on to the next step…
Step 4: Make a grocery list
If you’ve made mini grocery lists, this step is very quick and easy. But don’t worry if you haven’t – it is still pretty straightforward, it just might take a little longer.
Grab a piece of paper or a notebook (or you could type it up on the computer if that’s more your thing) and write down the main sections of your local supermarket (grocery store)… ideally in the order those sections appear in the store.
I use the headings: Fruit and Veg, Meat and Fish, Dairy and Chilled, Storecupboard. But you may want to use slightly different headings to suit your needs (and supermarket) better.
Then use your mini grocery lists (or the recipes themselves, if you haven’t made mini grocery lists) to fill in the main grocery list.
(And don’t forget to add to your list any other bits and bobs you may need for breakfasts, lunches, desserts, drinks, household essentials etc.)
Step 5: Check your cupboards
The next step is to go round your kitchen with your grocery lists, checking the cupboards, fridge and freezer to see what you already have. Say you have planned in two pasta meals this week, so have 600g (21 oz) pasta written on your list…but then you check your cupboards and find you already have a 1kg bag, you can go right ahead and cross pasta off your list. Or say you plan to make a curry and wrote garam masala on your list, but then when you go to the cupboard you find you have plenty of garam masala, you can cross that off your list too.
Make sure you don’t skip this step…it will ensure you don’t end up with like 3 pots of garam masala and 5 bags of pasta in your cupboards (which fall on your head every time you open your pasta cupboard) AND it will also save you money at the till and ensure you don’t waste food too.
In theory you could check each ingredient as you write your shopping list, but I find it a much more efficient use of time to write my shopping list first and then check my cupboards afterwards. Otherwise you are going to be getting up every 2 minutes to check to see if you have something in the cupboard or fridge.
Step 6: Go shopping
Yay, now you can head off to the shops (or sit in front of your computer if you prefer online shopping) and, armed with that fab list of yours, you can buy everything you need for a whole week’s worth of theme nights. By having a well written list you can ensure you buy just what you need and don’t get swayed by all those tempting special offers…and you won’t end up dithering in the shop or marching backwards and forwards because you’ve forgotten something. Your whole shop will be more focused and purposeful, and you will waste less time, money and food!
Step 7: Enjoy all those fun theme nights and delicious recipes
Your shopping done, you can enjoy eating all those delicious meals and have all the fun of your theme nights to share with your family…safe in the knowledge that you have everything you need and that you won’t keep needing to pop to the shops midweek…and you won’t be throwing away lots of food at the end of the week either – yay!
Step 8: Do it all again next week!
The next week you meal plan using theme nights you will find it so much easier. For starters you will already have your theme nights set, so you won’t have to do step 1 again (well…unless one of your theme nights really bombed!!)
And also, I can almost guarantee you will have some more ideas flowing! Maybe while you had your chicken fajitas on Mexican night you already decided that next week you would like to do a beef chilli or fish tacos. Maybe during ‘new recipe night’ your family got talking about what new recipes they’d really like to try… I am pretty sure you will have quite a few ideas by the time you sit down to meal plan for week 2!
Better still, after a few weeks you will have built up a bank of recipes for each theme night, so it won’t be a case of thinking what to have, but rather picking from your recipe bank…and if you’ve already created mini grocery lists for each recipe then meal planning is going to get super fast (and super fun) for you!
Meal planning theme night examples
The only problem with theme nights is sometimes it can be a little tricky deciding on the themes! But don’t worry…I’m here to help! Here are 35 different themes you could try, along with links to my recipes (where possible) to help give you inspiration for what to cook on those nights.
At the end I’ve also included 2 example weeks for you to see how theme nights could work in practice…
Country / Region themes:
Middle Eastern night
Recipe type themes:
One pot night
Slow cooking night
Roast dinner night (n.b. you could do this for Sunday lunch instead if you wanted)
Main ingredient themes:
‘Try a new recipe’ night
Carpet picnic night
TV dinner night
‘Use up stuff in the fridge/freezer’ night
I’d love to hear your ideas for themes!! Drop them in the comments so we can all help each other 😀
Sample theme night weeks for meal planning
Monday: Leftovers night
Tuesday: Curry night
Wednesday: Vegetarian night
Thursday: Slow cooker night
Friday: Fish night
Saturday: Mexican night
Sunday: Roast for lunch / takeout night for dinner
Monday: Pasta night
Tuesday: Chicken night
Wednesday: Date night
Thursday: One pot night
Friday: Pizza night
Saturday: ‘Try a new recipe night’
Sunday: American night
And you don’t need to stick to themes just for dinners…you could try themes for lunches and even breakfasts if you fancy!!
Need more help with meal planning?
Then do check out my post on How to meal plan for a week in 10 easy peasy steps – it takes you step by step through the whole meal planning process. Alternatively, if you are ready to take meal planning to the next level, then why not check out my guide to how you can meal plan for a month in UNDER ONE HOUR?
Still not quite sure about meal planning?
Then do read my 20 Reasons Why You Need To Start Meal Planning. I pretty much guarantee you’ll be popping back to this post after you’ve read that one!!
Free 4 Week Easy Dinners Meal Plan!!
And don’t forget, if this all just seems like too much work and you wish someone would just do it all for you…then you can download a copy of my FREE 4 Week Easy Dinners Meal Plan HERE!
I’ve planned out 4 weeks of easy dinners – that’s 28 different meals in total, all picked from my most popular recipes. I’ve also provided 4 master shopping lists, 1 for each week AND created all the mini shopping lists so you can easily make swaps and changes AND there’s a full guide and an FAQ section.
Happy meal planning!
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I love this post Eb! My kids are really keen on burger night. And pizza night of course. I usually do make your own pizzas at least once a week, the kids love it. They also love a carpet picnic but we call it a lounge-nic!
Eb Gargano says
Haha – yep, mine love pizza night too. We don’t really have a regular burger night, but I like that idea!! Lounge-nic – pahahaha. That’s just brilliant. I love all the little family words, that every family has, but don’t mean anything to anyone else. 😀 Eb x
mummy here and there says
I like this idea and sounds much more fun way to enjoy food X #brilliantblogposts
Eb Gargano says
Thanks – it’s so much fun. Makes meal planning way more fun too!! Eb 🙂
Jo Allison / Jo's Kitchen Larder says
What a great post Eb! Theme nights are the way to go and help you avoid making same old things again and again plus make meal planning more exciting! x
Eb Gargano says
Thanks, Jo. It definitely makes meal planning more fun and, as you say, means less of that getting into a rut with the same meals every night. Eb x
Jacqui Bellefontaine says
What a brilliant way to make meal planning easy. I think your post on meal planning is the best I’ve seen. You even have a die-hard non-planner like me think maybe I should be lol.
Thank you for linking to #CookBlogShare
Eb Gargano says
Aw, thanks so much Jacqui – that’s such a lovely comment, especially coming from you! I am proper chuffed 🙂 I am pretty passionate about meal planning and, though it’s not for everyone, I really do think it has the power to make life so much easier and less stressful for the vast majority…and really good way of getting out of the rut of cooking the same old, same old every week (not that I think that’s ever going to be a problem for you!!) Eb x