Meal Planning: Use Theme Nights to Make Life More Enjoyable

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This week on LifeasMOM is all about Loving Life — finding ways to help each of us enjoy life a little more. And of course, meal time is a delicious part of that.

Plan a fun Valentine dinner

I am a sap. Not the very sappy, teacher-ish, Valentine clothes. Yes, I once owned that sweatshirt — and wore it every Valentine’s day. My toddlers loved it.

I don’t own the sweatshirt anymore, but I am still sappy — especially when it comes to Valentine’s day. Long time readers will know that our Valentine dinner is the same every year — the same menu as the first meal I ever cooked for my husband before he was my husband. If it’s Valentine’s day, then it’s Chicken Parmesan!

This year we’re having Stuffed Chicken Parmesan with Spaghetti and Red Sauce.

That was one easy meal to plan. What about the rest of the month?

Well, since I stocked the freezer with some new freezer meals, I’ve got a good variety of choices. And with my meal planning pages in my planner, it took a matter of minutes to type in the meals for the rest of the month. I just clicked on the fillable fields, typed in my menus, and printed that out. Now a nice list of meals is displayed on my refrigerator door.

Theme Nights Return

To further simplify my meal planning, I’m going back to theme nights. My Fall meal theme nights worked really well, but then I fell off the wagon when Christmas came. And you know, the Pantry Challenge was a hodge-podge of meals.

Time to get back to easier mealtimes!

Date Night: Easy Dinner

One night a week my brother comes over to watch the kids while hubs and I head out for a quick dinner for two.

When a babysitter is on duty, it’s nice to have a quick and easy meal for them or me to pull together. Some that I am drawing from this month: pasta with red sauce, beans and rice, and sandwiches.

Grilled Chicken

Marinated chicken is one of the easiest freezer meals I make. And chicken breasts or chicken tenders are often on sale, making it economical, too. Plus, we don’t easily get bored of it since there are so many ways to dress it up: Grilled Chicken Tacos, Quesadillas, and Asian Chicken Salad with Noodles. This is a great weekly theme for us.

Cookbook Night: Another Easy Dinner/Planned Take-out

As you know, I am working on a cookbook that is due to my publisher in June. So, we have decided as a family to dedicate one day a week to Cookbook Night. It basically means I get a hall pass from dinner prep and clean up and sequester myself in the office to write. This is the ideal night to have another easy dinner, like grilled cheese sandwiches, or planned take-out.

Pizza Night

Pizza Night is a regular fixture in our weekly routine. And now that not one, but two friends have told me how life changing it is to use parchment for baking pizzas (no clean up), I am looking forward to more delicious — and tidier — pizza nights. It’s been awhile since we had the Jalapeno Burn or Burrito Pizzas, so I’m planning for them this month.

Soups, Stews, and Chilis

I’ve decided to bite the bullet and press on with Soup Night, regardless of the whines, moans, and groans that might come my way. Soup is a frugal meal and a great way to disguise vegetables, so we’re going to enjoy some different soups and stews — even if it kills us.

Meat and Potatoes Night

In a household of five men, you can’t go wrong with meat and potatoes. It’s filling and if there’s one thing I’m learning is that it’s best to keep my children full! I’ll be combining the cooked chicken and beef that I made for freezer cooking in different ways to make filling meals with potatoes and veg on the side.

Chef’s Choice

I reserve the right to serve whatever strikes my fancy at least once a week. It could be Shrimp Tacos or Poblano Chile Enchiladas or the aforementioned Chicken Parmesan. Yum! It will probably be weird. And my kids will probably eat side dishes, but I’m okay with that.

What kind of theme nights are YOU featuring these days?

Don’t forget to visit Menu Plan Monday for more ideas about meal planning.

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  1. I guess I’ve never thought of them as “theme” nights, but I do have my regularly scheduled meals that make my life easier by knowing what to fill in on all of those nights when I need to meal plan! I plan for a month at a time – and sometimes it seems daunting to think up 30 different meals. So rotating is what saves me. And they are all pretty much things my kids will eat so I know there won’t be any fighting over eating dinner or not.

    So we have our standard homemade pizza night (try for at least 1 a week) Spaghetti (which I rotate weekly with a raviolli night) Nachos, and Popcorn night. Popcorn night is a go to meal when it’s just been a blah day and Mommy needs a break from cooking. We let the kids watch a movie, drink something sugary and enjoy some family time. That leave me with 3 nights a week to plan (much easier!) 1 night a week right now is either crock-pot dinner or soup night, both cooked in the crock but can vary if it spreads to two nights or not. And Friday night dinners is a giant dinner night that encompases grandparents and an uncle, which my Mom and I rotate each week (giving us off a night every other week!)

    I’m planning on switching out nachos night with taco salad night every other week. No arguing over what we are eating for dinner I feel saves me in the end, even if our dinners aren’t very exciting. We also switch in breakfast night (usually pancakes, and either eggs or turkey bacon) – it just depends on how I’m feeling about cooking, and what the kids are asking to eat too! Sometimes it’s easier to make pancakes for dinner, than it is for breakfast!

  2. Just wanted to comment that I started theme nights when you first mentioned it, and I’ve been going strong ever since! This has been the best meal planning tool I’ve tried.
    Sun- Soup/stew (made in crockpot Sat, then reheated on low while we’re at church Sun morning- no cooking on Sun!)
    Mon- Pasta
    Tues- Meat/potato
    Thur- Rice
    Fri- pizza/Mexican/bun
    Sat- leftovers

    Love it! especially the planned leftovers- I only have to cook 4-5 times/week!

  3. I just recently started using the idea of theme nights. I had tried it before but didn’t like having a theme for every night…I never followed it and it wasn’t fun. 🙂

    Just recently though I realized we do pizza night once a week and pancakes for breakfast every Sunday morning. We enjoy these meals and look forward to them, so why not have one or two other themes throughout the week? 🙂

    This month I’m experimenting with Monday being pasta night…I’m already loving how it’s made menu planning so much easier!

  4. Right now we have three nights a week that are predictable… Tuesdays are our Homemade pizza nights. Thursdays are our breakfast for dinner nights. We also have Wednesdays as our leftover nights, because we start church activities at 6 and we need everyone fed quick so they get to choose from whatever leftovers we have (including pizza night the night before, if there is any…). The other nights haven’t quite materialized yet but we’re working on it. Crockpot Sunday was a hit when our church schedule included late meetings, but that’s changed.

  5. I too have been using theme nights for a while and it really does take the guessing out of what to have. Even if I fall off the wagon and forget to make the menu for the week, knowing I have ingredients for just the basics for each night makes it so much easier.

    This is our Spring theme menu!
    Monday – Pasta
    Tuesday – Taco Tuesday
    Wednesday – Dinner at church
    Thursday – Roasted Meats
    Friday- Pizza Night
    Saturday – Soup, Salad and Sandwiches
    Sunday – Leftovers or Dinner out

    Thanks for giving us an outlet to share!

  6. Hubby has just started a new medically-supervised diet, so it’s altered our eating somewhat. But here’s my ‘informal’ plan:

    Sunday: crockpot (easy eating after church)
    Monday: Leftovers – hubby has a grad class so it’s just ds#3 & me
    Tuesday: chicken. No extra activities (at least until baseball begins).
    Wednesday: Pasta
    Thursday: some kind of beef
    Friday: breakfast
    Saturday: cook’s choice 🙂

  7. I’m having a real struggle with my four-year-old who is turning into the world’s pickiest eater by the day it seems. After a few very frustrating dinners where we almost started world war three, I took a step back (saying a prayer or two as I did) and decided I needed to adjust. I thought I could develop his palette and that he would love food as much as I do, but my husband advised that maybe I was expecting too much of him, he is only four after all. And although he may love food as much as I do later in his life, at the moment, chicken nuggets is where it’s at for him. Also forcing the issue is not productive and may impart negative feelings about food, the reverse of what I’m trying to instill.

    So now, I’m planning meals strictly with my son in mind. Our themes for each night revolve around what I know he likes to eat. To get vegetables into his diet I spend one Sunday a month pureeing vegetables and freezing them in ice cube trays, and then I add them to various meals throughout the week.

    Monday: Pasta.
    Tuesdays: Salmon (the one fish he loves, but will try tilapia and see how that goes down).
    Wednesday: Breakfast for dinner, usually buttermilk pancakes but other breakfast meals also go over well.
    Thursday: Sandwiches, thankfully he’s all in to these.
    Friday: Nuggets, what can I say – He loooves them and would eat them for every meal if he had his way! I serve them with carrot sticks and dips which he also enjoys.
    Saturdays: Easy going, whatever we feel like, pizza, haystacks, our takeout.
    Sunday: Proper Sunday dinner, usually a roast, vegetables and starch.

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