Menu planning can be challenging sometimes, especially when you’re busy running your household and all of the other things that you do in a week. One thing that I’ve used from time to time to help my menu planning is to come up with a monthly menu plan that takes advantage of themed nights.
If you find yourself also having trouble with menu planning, this themed menu nights might hep your planning! By using it, you are giving yourself some parameters for when you’re scheduling dinners for the week or month. If there are different theme nights, it helps to narrow your choices and can give you more focus. (You might also benefit from these 10 must read monthly meal planning tips.)
How I Make a Monthly Menu Plan with Theme Nights
You don’t have to make a monthly menu plan in order to take advantage of themed nights. When we have used themed nights as the inspiration for menu planning, however, we have used a monthly plan. It just worked best for us like that.
I made a simple spreadsheet grid that was four rows and seven columns in order to plan four weeks at a time. In each box, I had a small typed notation of what theme that night was to be. You might find that some themes are ones that you want to use once a week and others are just once a month. That was one of the benefits of planning four weeks at a time.
After I made this simple grid, I made two copies of it. I then laminated both copies. That way, I could write on them with Sharpie markers and reuse the same papers. Sure, you could write on them with dry erase markers, but I like that with Sharpie markers, the information didn’t accidentally get wiped off. (To clean them off, just use a little rubbing alcohol.)
Why two copies, you may ask? It’s so that I could plan for the next set of weeks without needing to erase what we were currently doing!
Another option might be to plan two or three months all at once and then just rotate between menus every four weeks! You’d never have to think about menu planning again.
10 Themed Night Ideas for Your Menu Planning
Large/Traditional Family Meal (or what we called “Feast”)
This is perfect for those Sunday meals that might come a few hours after church. At our house, we call it a feast, because that’s what Noah always used to say when we had a large meal with lots of choices that also usually involved having family or friends over. “It’s a feast!” he would declare.
Of course, if you really love foods of a variety of ethnicities, you can break it down and have Italian Night, Mexican Night, Asian Night, and so on. If your family is a little less daring, you might want to keep it to just one night per week and switch up what type of cuisine you choose.
We liked to break it down into a few specific types of cuisine.
It’s pretty open-ended for a theme, but that kind of makes it fun. Does this mean a standard lasagna or does it mean a pesto cream sauce over a fancy shaped pasta? It’s up to you.
Easy Meal or Pizza Night
If there is a certain night of the week that you know will always be crazy, it’s handy to have one day of the week where you know you can get away with sandwiches, leftovers, or pizzas (homemade, frozen, or delivery – your choice or mix it up).
Side Note: Of course, sometimes you have whole weeks that are crazy. That just happens sometimes. Earlier this fall, I think we had a whole week in a row where we had sandwiches for dinner just about every night because one of our kids was in the fall play at school, one was busily helping to plan a church retreat for other teens, and the other was preparing for a dance performance. As wonderful as meal plans are, sometimes you have to be flexible and do what works at that moment.
If there is a certain protein that you know that your family loves, you have a lot of recipes for, or you have a lot of, then it might work to set up one night a week with that particular protein in mind. Our family really likes chicken, so we have a “Chicken” meal listed twice a month. It doesn’t mean that we don’t eat chicken other days, but it’s our very open-ended category involving chicken.
There is a lot of talk about doing at least one meatless meal per week to save money and as a good thing for your health. We have ours written down on Fridays and we actually called it “Meatless or Seafood.” We don’t stick to it all the time, but it’s nice practice for when we have to for Lenten Fridays.
On a one month plan, I only add this once because it is not a favorite of most of the kids. If your kids love soups, then you might be able to get away with this more often.
This is another once a month addition. In a three month rotation, each of the kids gets to pick the meal plan for one night, as long as it isn’t too crazy. In our house, the crazy meal ideas are more likely to come for our youngest wanting to recreate things like “best dinner ever.”
For me and my natural domestic-challenged self, this would be too stressful to put on the calendar weekly. However, I do have it on there once a month and it helps us try some new recipes and see what we want to add to future months or what we never want to eat again. I find a lot of these recipes in cookbooks or on my “Lunch and Dinner” Pinterest board.
Breakfast for Dinner
While breakfast for dinner is not typically on the top of my wishlist, our kids love it. Sometimes it’s as simple as scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon. Other times, we go all out and have pancakes, fried potatoes, eggs, and more.
Do you use themed nights on your menu planning? If so, what are some of your family’s favorites?
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This post was originally published on August 27, 2013. It was most recently updated in October 2016.
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