If you follow me on any type of social media, you've probably figured out that I'm slightly obsessed with food. Besides eating, I love cookbooks, trying new recipes, and cooking from scratch. But I also have those little things called a full-time job and a family, which often derail my aspirations of putting a beautiful, yummy meal on the table every night because I'm just too tired or scatterbrained or starved by the time I step into the kitchen.
For that last decade, meal planning on the weekends has been a key component to me getting healthy food on the table. (I even blogged about here and provided a free printable you can use for meal planning.) Every Saturday or Sunday, I'd take a chunk of time to flip through cookbooks and magazines to see what appealed to me that week. I like trying new things and get bored easily, so often, the majority of the meals were ones I hadn't made before.
But over the last year, things have gotten so busy, that my normal weekend planning time has shrunk and when I don't get a chance to plan the meals, the week is shot food wise. We end up eating out or picking up from a drive thru and just generally eating stuff that isn't so great for us and cost more money. So I knew I needed a solution to streamline things.
One obvious solution is to cook the same things on rotation. However, because I like trying new things and get bored easily, I was a little scared of that. That would feel more like drudgery than an activity I enjoy. But I thought there had to be some way to incorporate both. After a little research, I stumbled upon the concept of theme nights for meal planning.
Theme Nights for Meal Planning
This isn't a new concept, but it's one that I never gave much thought to. I figured it would mean eating the same thing all the time, and that's not my jam. However, I realized after reading a few different posts, that the themes could just be a framework. It doesn't have to be "spaghetti night", it can be "pasta night" which could mean an endless variation of pasta dishes. But it would give me a starting point when making a list. It would give me structure with variety/flexibility built in.
So, this past weekend, I sat down and made a two-week rotating schedule of theme nights. Here's the pic but here's the basics if you can't read my handwriting.
MONDAY: Pasta, Salad, & Bread
TUESDAY: Tacos, Beans, Rice/Veggies (I'm changing this to Mexican night so I'm not limited to tacos). Here are some of my favorite recipes: Sheet Pan Beef and Black Bean Nachos, Homemade Taco Bell Mexican Pizzas, Salsa Picante)
WEDNESDAY: Roasted Chicken & Veggies (There are endless recipes for different seasonings and sauces for roasted chicken. Here are some of my favorites: Superfast Crispy Chicken Thighs, Piri Piri Chicken, Sumac Chicken,
THURSDAY: Beans and Rice (Red Beans and Rice are a staple since I'm from New Orleans, but we also love black beans and white beans.)
FRIDAY: Breakfast for dinner
SATURDAY: eat out
SUNDAY: Asian/Indian (This is a good choice for Sunday because we love both of these cuisines but often the meals take more prep than I want to do on a weekday.)
MONDAY: Sandwiches/Burgers, Oven Fries, Salad
TUESDAY: Flank steak & veggies (even though this seems like it wouldn't have variation, I love serving flank steak with different sauces. Two of my favorites are chimichurri sauce and cilantro green apple chutney. This week I served the steak with fresh pico de gallo.
WEDNESDAY: Soup/Slow-Cooker Meal with Bread
THURSDAY: Stir-Fry or Rice Bowls
FRIDAY: Homemade Pizza (or buy your own crust and let everyone top it with what they want.)
SATURDAY: eat out
SUNDAY: New recipe (this gives me room to play with new recipes that don't fit a theme)
Creating Go To Lists of Items to Plug Into Themes
Obviously, if you do this, your own themes will look different depending on what you and your family like. But I tried this method this week and I have to say it was SO MUCH QUICKER to meal plan. I also started keeping running lists of the categories within the list. So, for instance, I'll have a list of veggie sides that I can pull from for the nights where it says "veggie." Then I can just plug one in based on what I'm craving or what goes best with the meal.
Roasted Sweet potatoes
Roasted zucchini, onions, and red peppers
Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Sautéed shredded Brussel Sprouts
Same will go for each thing. So I'll have a list of options under Mexican night. Under beans and rice, that could mean Red Beans & rice with sausage. Or it could mean Black Beans and rice with pico de gallo. And if I have time and want to pull new recipes, I can.
The Crazy Week Emergency Plan & List
The next thing I decided to make playing off this concept was the Crazy Week Emergency Menu and Pre-done Grocery List.
There are some weeks that are just too insane to even pick things within the themes. Those are the weeks I just need to get something on the table and put zero thought into it. So I'm making a bare bones menu plan for those weeks and am making a typed, easy to grab pre-done grocery list that will cover all the meals. So that might mean something like: spaghetti, beef tacos, french toast, bean burritos, and burger and fries. So easy things to make, but things I can make healthier than going through a drive thru.
That will give me a back up if I just don't have time. The menu is already done, the list is done. I can even order straight from Amazon Fresh if I don't have time to make it to the store. Done.
So this is what I'm going to experiment with going forward.
Do you do any kind of meal planning or theme nights? Do you think you'd find this helpful? What are your favorite go to meals?