Meal Planning 101: Using Theme Nights to Streamline Your Meal Plan

Tell me: what is the first emotion that comes up for you when you think about meal planning? Is it excitement? Adventure? Or is it overwhelm? Stress? Frustration? No matter how you feel about meal planning, I find that a little bit of planning ahead can be so helpful, whether that’s the morning of or planning for the week. This post talks about some of the tips for successful meal planning.

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In today’s post I want to talk about theme nights and how you can use these to your advantage. I don’t use the typical theme nights (ie taco Tuesday, Italian, etc.), but I like to think about about the actual dish I am serving. Here I list the themes I use in my meal planning. When I meal plan at the beginning of the week, I try to use one of these themes each night. I hope you find them helpful!

  1. Chili/ one pot: This is probably a theme we use most often. Why? I am a huge fan of one pot meals. Luckily, the rest of my family feels the same way. I typically make these in my Instant Pot, but they can be made on the stove if you don’t have one. Some of my favorites include this sweet potato and black bean chili, and this butternut squash curry. Fine one and love it so much you want to include it all the time? Have it on your meal plan weekly!

  2. Sheet pan meal: This trend has been huge over the past couple of years, and rightfully so. I love the concept of putting all of your ingredients on one sheet pan, placing it in the oven and dinner is ready to go. Often times I will do some sort of meat or fish with roasted vegetables on the same pan. I love to create a marinade I can use on both the protein and veggies. Some of my favorites include a citrus marinade with lemon, garlic powder, oil and salt and a savory marinade with soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and oil. Often times I will also mix roasted potatoes with the veggies, or make a separate grain like rice or quinoa. This broccoli and tofu sheet pan meal is a favorite.

  3. Casserole: I use the term casserole loosely. I love the idea of stacking different foods together to create some sort of “bake.” Some of my favorite casserole dishes include this chicken broccoli casserole, pumpkin casserole and this enchilada bake. It’s basically deconstructed recipes that you put together, but the variety can be a boost to your meal planning.

  4. Frozen: I have no shame in the fact that I purchase frozen foods. Some of our favorites include fish sticks, meatballs, pot stickers, rice and veggies (mostly from Trader Joe’s). As I meal plan, I think about what my evenings are looking like throughout the week. If I have a really busy night, that’s usually when frozen food shows up.

  5. DIY taco or salad bar: One of my favorite nights of the week. I will put out lots of different foods and let the family have at it. Some ideas include a taco bar: tortillas, lettuce, cheese, beans, chicken, tomato and onion; salad bar: lettuce, chopped veggies, beans or protein, cheese, olives, avocado; or baked potato bar: baked potatoes, cheese, tomatoes, sour cream, protein. You can see all of these DIY meals include some of the same foods - many of which I almost always have on hand!

  6. New recipe: This may not be for everyone, but most of the time I really enjoy cooking. I try to make one new recipe a week, usually looking at Pinterest for inspiration. I love when this is a recipe I can get my kids involved with as well. Some new recipes I have tried recently include a chickpea and avocado salad and a baked eggplant parmesan.

  7. Leftovers: Similar to my frozen weekly dinners, leftovers tend to make an appearance on busy nights as well. I will usually pull together a few things from previous leftover meals. I am a huge fan of repurposing leftovers, so I do this when I can as well.

  8. Pasta: My family loves pasta. We usually have a pasta inspired dish once per week. Some weeks this includes white pasta with marinara sauce and veggies, other times I include a protein based pasta like Banza or a lentil based pasta. If I have some extra time and ingredients, I might make an easy pesto or marinara sauce from scratch.

I hope you’ll let me know your own ideas and how these themes work for you!

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Rachel Rothman