Are you overwhelmed by a blank meal plan calendar and don’t know which recipes to choose?
Theme nights give you a template to start from when you plan meals week to week.
You’ve probably heard of “Taco Tuesday” or “Meatless Monday”.
Every day of the week is assigned a category and when you sit down to make your menu all you do is plug in meal ideas that fall under each category.
In this article, you’ll get ideas for theme nights and for creating a weekly meal plan using this method.
This method is great if you’re overwhelmed by the infinite recipe options out there. It takes some of the pressure of deciding what to make from week to week out of meal planning.
You can go broad to give you more options with food categories such as “Chicken” or “Soup” or choose a theme like “Taco Tuesday”.
Starting with general food themes gives you more variety so a rotating menu won’t feel as repetitive. But more specific themes like “Mediterranean” or “pizza” reduce the decision-making by narrowing the options available.
Whether you like to plan meals for the week or plan a month ahead, a theme night template simplifies the process. When it’s time to plan, you list recipes under each category. Before you add anything to your grocery list, go through your pantry to see what you already have.
Then, look for recipes that primarily use those ingredients and plug them into the categories.
You might think theme nights will end up boring and repetitive but you don’t have to eat the same recipes every week. In a way, using a theme as a starting point can inspire you to try flavors and dishes you wouldn’t normally eat.
Planning theme night meals should fit your family’s preferences and schedule. Involve your family in brainstorming ideas to make sure everyone’s preferences are included in the monthly menu.
List of Theme Ideas
Here are a few ideas to start with. Use these as an inspiration to come up with themes and recipes that fit your culture, lifestyle and family’s needs.
- Breakfast for Dinner Thursdays – Choose favorites such as omelets, pancakes, or breakfast burritos for a fun twist on dinner.
- Soup and Stew Sundays – Experiment with a variety of hearty soups and stews, from classic chicken noodle soup to lentil curry.
- DIY Pizza Fridays – Set up a pizza station with various toppings and let everyone create personalized pizzas.
- Grill Master Wednesdays – Take your cooking outdoors with different grilled dishes, including meats, veggies, and even grilled desserts.
- Bowl Saturdays – make customizable bowl meals – think grain bowls, poke bowls, or even ramen bowls.
- Fusion Cooking Night – Combine elements from different cuisines to create unique and exciting fusion dishes.
- One-Pot Wonders – Simplify your cooking process with one-pot meals such as casseroles, stir-fries, and slow-cooker dishes.
- Tapas and Small Bites Tuesday – Create a spread of small dishes. Kids especially love the mish-mash of small bites to choose from.
- Sandwich Night – You can go with the humble sandwich for quick familiar meals or experiment with paninis, hot or cold sandwiches or different flavor combinations.
- Comfort Food – Rotate classic comfort foods like mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, shepherd’s pie, pot pies and meatloaf.
- Mediterranean Monday: Try dishes inspired by Greek, Italian, and Spanish cuisines.
- Around the BBQ World: Grill up dishes inspired by barbecue traditions from Texas, Carolinas to Korea.
- Salad Bar Saturdays: Set up a salad bar with an array of fresh ingredients and dressings for a healthy and customizable dinner.
- Pasta Night: Find new recipes that go beyond the old favorite of pasta and meatballs.
- International Flavors: Trying dishes from around the world.
- Build Your Own Burger Night: Create a burger bar with toppings and condiments.
- Vegetarian Delight: Enjoy plant-based meals with lentils, tofu or beans and veggies.
- Tex-Mex Fiesta: Tex-Mex cuisine with tacos, enchiladas, and more.
- Stir-Fry Extravaganza: Create flavorful stir-fries with different protein and vegetable combinations.
- Family-Style Italian Night: Share large platters of pasta, pizza, and antipasti.
- Asian Fusion Adventure: Combine flavors from different Asian cuisines in one meal.
- Quesadilla Night: Experiment with fillings for a fun and cheesy dinner.
- Seafood Sensation: Incorporate various seafood dishes for a taste of the ocean.
- Homestyle Potluck: Each family member prepares a dish for a shared potluck-style dinner.
- Grilled Cheese Night: Elevate classic grilled cheese with artisanal bread and different cheeses.
- DIY Waffle Bar: Create sweet and savory waffles with an array of toppings.
- Comfort Food: Dive into classic Southern dishes like fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread.
- Fajita Fiesta Friday: Enjoy sizzling fajitas with a variety of protein and veggies.
- Charcuterie Night: Indulge in a variety of sliced smoked meats and cheeses with crackers, fruits, and spreads.
- Vegetarian BBQ Night: Grill up flavorful vegetarian and plant-based BBQ options.
- Kebab Night: Skewer and grill a variety of proteins and vegetables.
- Vegan Mexican Fiesta: Create a spread of vegan Mexican delights such as black bean tacos, guacamole, and vegetable fajitas.
- Plant-Powered Pasta Night: Enjoy a variety of vegetarian and vegan pasta dishes with creative plant-based sauces and toppings.
Here’s a four week rotating menu with a few recipes I’ve tried and love. Use this as a starting point to inspire ideas. Make the menu your own and experiment with categories and recipes your family likes.
Don’t forget to plan a leftover night if you don’t pack extras for lunch. You can repurpose ingredients into new meals or reheat them for a quick dinner.
- Honey garlic chicken stir fry
- Baked chicken quarters, coconut rice and roasted squash
- Sesame chicken, broccoli and rice
- Lemon chicken, risotto and sautéed spinach
- Homemade Vegan Lasagna with Tofu Ricotta
- Lentil soup and roasted mixed vegetables
- Instant pot cauliflower curry
- Veggie burgers, baked fries and cucumber salad
- Spaghetti Squash with Mushrooms, Kale and Cashew Alfredo
- Rice and beef skillet casserole and roasted maple carrots
- Beef tacos, tomatoes and lettuce
- Beef and rice stuffed peppers
- Herb roasted pork tenderloin, asparagus and baked sweet potato
- Chicken and broccoli pasta with pesto sauce and garden salad
- Baked Ziti and Caesar salad
- Pasta Bolognese and roasted cauliflower
- Rigatoni with sausage and kale and roasted mini peppers
- Cioppino, garlic bread, grilled mixed vegetables
- Shrimp fra diavolo and green beans
- Linguine with clam sauce and sautéed kale
- Salmon with lentils and roasted zucchini
- Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese and steamed broccoli
- Slow cooker pulled pork, potato rolls and coleslaw
- Slow cooker vegetarian chili and cornbread
- Slow cooker chicken cacciatore, sautéed red peppers and broccoli
- Roast chicken, baked potato and butternut squash gratin
- Roast turkey, sourdough dressing and roasted root vegetables
- Roast beef, mashed potatoes and peas
- Pot roast with carrots and potatoes and garlic biscuits
About Jennifer Messineo, MS, RD
I’m a food loving Registered Dietitian. I help families plan meals, reduce food waste and save money on food!