35 Theme Menu ideas to make meal planning easier!

Theme menus!

Meal planning is the key to healthy eating and eating on a budget. It’s also the key to de-stressing your life. You exchange time for peace. You invest time, say, on Sunday to plan what you’re going to eat. That way on Thursday night you don’t have to worry about what is for dinner as you’re driving to soccer practice. You’re already stressed and having to figure out dinner is a bummer. That might mean you spend more time and money at a drive thru.

MEAL PLANNING TO THE RESCUE! It’ll help you in those moments. It can be tough to get started though. Theme menus are a great way to brainstorm ideas and to give you some training wheels as you try something new.

If it works for Sheldon on Big Bang Theory, it can work for us! With a little adjustment. He had Thai on Monday, Cheesecake Factory on Tuesday, Thursday Pizza night and Friday was Chinese takeout night.

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I have three kids and a budget. I also don’t have his metabolism. My first theme Menu looked like this:

Monday: Chicken

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday

Wednesday: Salmon (me), Macaroni & Cheese (kids) and Broccoli (all)

Thursday: International day (unstuffed egg rolls or Korean beef or Stir Fry or Pasta)

Friday: Pizza movie night!

Saturday: Soup or grill

Sunday: Crockpot meal

Here are 35 different Theme Menus idea that might help make your meal planning a little easier. You could plan out much more than a year if you wanted to try them all without repeating too often!

Themes by day of the week are popular, especially if they include alliteration:

  1. Taco Tuesday (My love of the Lego Movie requires I mention this first).
  2. Meatless Monday.
  3. Meatloaf Monday.
  4. Mexican Monday (fajitas, enchiladas, empanadas, anything will do except Menudo. Just no).
  5. Make Ahead Monday. (Freezer meals–helps deal with manic Monday)
  6. Take out Tuesday.
  7. Pizza Friday.
  8. Throwback Thursday (leftovers) .
  9. Slow Cooker Sunday (It’s easier to relax if you don’t have to tend to cooking!).
  10. Smokin’ Saturday (Grill! BBQ!).
  11. Souper Saturday (Winter alternative to grilling on Saturday).
  12. Nacho night (I’m game for this to be ANY night of the week).
  13. Something new Sunday.

Category Themes:

  1. Breakfast for dinner!
  2. Casserole night.
  3. Burger night.
  4. Sheet pan dinners (I love one dish meals).
  5. One pot dinners (this is particularly great with the Instant Pot).
  6. Salad / raw food night.
  7. Chili night (there are SO many varieties!)
  8. Bowl night (think Chipotle!)
  9. Sandwiches.
  10. Bar night / DIY night (There are so many things that are DIY-able like a Taco Bar, a Baked Potato Bar, Salad Bar, Frito Pie bar, Mashed Potato Bar, Chili bar).
  11. Kid choice night (This can be an opportunity for fun and also more work soooo).
  12. Traditional foods (things you ate or your parents ate as a kid…old school).
  13. Fend for yourself night (Mamas, this is a top choice if your kids are older).
  14. Zero-Based Pantry night (Like a zero based budget, at the end of the month you clean out the fridge/pantry and eat whatever is left for dinner!).
  15. Keto night.
  16. Paleo night.
  17. Low carb night.
  18. Vegetarian night.
  19. Vegan night.
  20. Whole 30 night.

You can also theme around certain foods in order to ensure variety. Proteins & starches are good choices to theme around. You keep the same basic item, use different recipes to keep it new and fresh!

  1. Chicken, seafood, beef, vegetarian, pork, turkey.
  2. Pasta (spaghetti, chili mac, Alfredo), rice (chicken fried, sticky, paella, risotto) beans (chili, bean soup), potatoes (baked, diced, mashed), bread/toast/sandwiches, tortillas (tacos, quesadillas).

Now, here are two additional resources for you on the topic of meal planning:

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A Printable to make your own theme menu! Just shoot me your email below and it’ll be in your inbox!

 

 

 

A video that shows you how I meal plan.

I’d love to help you come up with a meal plan! I’d love to help you on your fitness journey! Just reach out and let’s get started.

 

How to eat healthy and avoid making your family hate you at the same time

Making the whole gang breakfast, lunch and dinner can be a daunting task any way you slice it (I’m so funny). Adding in a lifestyle change to healthy eating can bring with it a learning curve.

Just because you decide to go healthy and make awesome choices for you and your health does NOT always mean those immediately around you will support that choice. In fact, you might be confronted with lots of whining, eye rolling and other generally discouraging behavior.

HOWEVER, it’s important to stick to your guns and stay the course. Very often, your progress and positive influence will bring them around-that is the end game!! But maybe not immediately. In the meantime, try to blend your new awesome habits with your family’s trenched-in habits.

Here are six strategies to fake it til you make it:

 

Make it a salad.

One of the first things I noticed once I really started paying attention was how much bread/lame carbs my family ate. I actually think I overcompensated for being a mediocre cook by ensuring there was yummy bread/potatoes/etc at every meal.

Once you’ve set them up with that amazing habit, they will not easily want to give it up! But, if you’re serious, you certainly can. Take your scrumptious meals and load them onto some spinach or romaine. This way you can still make one meal, but you can also not ingest those crappy carbs right before bed (hello fat!).

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Here are some examples:

  • Taco night for them = taco salad for you.
  • Sloppy joe night =sloppy joes on crisp romaine leafs.
  • Meatball subs = Meatballs & marinara on-wait for it-crisp romaine leafs.
  • Pulled pork is delicious enough, you don’t NEED the bun.
  • Do the same for meals you might normally put over noodles or mashed potatoes. 

It’s not rocket science but it is a small change that will yield big results.

Add on the junk-FOR THEM.

My kids eat decently but we take our cues from Mary Poppins.

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So, good food = medicine. Ketchup, ranch, post dinner cookie = sugar. See what we’ve done here? Others are probably better about this than I am. But I’m still on this journey and for me, getting chicken, salmon, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower down their gullets is what matters most, if there is a little something EXTRA I can live with that.

For the older eaters in the family, this might mean a little extra butter, a creamy sauce, cheese or some other such shenanigans. Just make your plate before adding this stuff in. And if it comes up, I also bake my chicken/fish without breading. But I bake it right alongside theirs. No more or less work. #winning

 

Nix the crap.

Make the same meals you always did, just nix the crap-FOR YOU. Just make the decision that you are a strong confident woman and do it.

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Don’t make enough for you. Dish the crap out to your families plates (sounds so evil, but remember, we will bring them around) so you won’t be tempted. This is the primary reason I only buy the regular size macaroni & cheese. If I went family size there’d be enough for me to eat it. But this way, they are fighting over it and-honestly-it also keeps their portions low.

  • Kung Pao chicken, rice & steamed veges. (we can talk about rice, but let’s just not have it for dinner for now, ok)
  • Steak and baked potatoes green beans.
  • Breakfast tacos unstuffed: Leave out the tortilla and hash browns, add less cheese.

 

Always have something worth fighting for.

This trick is mostly for the little ones. But it also works on the overgrown ones too. Let’s say you’re on the 21 Day Fix and your amazing meal plan (you’re welcome) has offered you salmon and broccoli. Your family can eat that. Maybe they won’t, I don’t know. But you know broccoli and macncheese go together just fine. So, make ONE meal but feed them the macaroni as an incentive. My kiddos get one scoop until they finish the “good stuff” and then they can have the rest. But that incentive works really nice.

This is an important concept if you’re trying to bring your family on board. Try to always have something on that plate that you know they already love. It makes the other stuff worth fighting for.

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Make it easy and accessible.

Once you make the leap, you likely ingest a lot of information so you can really begin to understand what clean(ish) eating is all about. Your family might still be in the dark. So even if they WANT to help you or join you, they might not know how. This is where meal prep can come in. Make it obvious and EASY. If you have cooked chicken, veges, fruit and whatever else readily available in the fridge, that will increase everyone’s success rate. When you manage to get everyone on board and healthy habits are abounding, you can back off. But in the beginning, it’s important to be OVER PREPARED. That means stocking your fridge and pantry with:

  • Pre cooked, pre-portioned meals (i.e.chicken, veges and sweet potato)
  • Pre sliced, portioned vege snacks (carrots, celery, edamame, sweet peppers)
  • Ready made snacks (i.e. deli/cheese roll ups, yogurt & berries, oatmeal muffins, pre-portioned nuts)
  • Plenty of easily consumed fresh fruit (apples, bananas, pears)
  • Fresh fruit snacks made easy (orange slices, washed strawberries & grapes, diced pineapples
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Hat tip.

Educate them!

Each person in your household has different motivations, find out what they are and use those to your advantage. My son wants to know all the whys/science/facts.

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So I try to give it to him, even though I often wonder if he even understands. But he certainly regurgitates it, so I guess some of it is getting through. My middle daughter just wants to be as big as her brother and do awesome at gymnastics. So we talk about how the food makes her strong and her bones grow taller and muscles get bigger. My baby girl has no choice in the matter and pretty much eats anything I put in front of her (proof that I accidentally taught my bad habits to the older ones, oops). 

My husband is more interested in not taking on any of the genetic medical issues we both have in our family, so that motivates him-however begrudgingly he might admit it. Sarcasm helps too.

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There you have it, hopefully these little strategies will help you be successful with healthy habits while avoiding being strangled in your sleep by the ol’ familia.

Meal prep

Okay today let’s talk about meal prep/planning. I know it can seem overwhelming or even soul-crushing. LOL. I choose not to see it that way. Here’s how I look at it:
  • It saves time throughout the week. Meals are ready to go! (Meal prep is the new fast food.)
  • It saves guesswork throughout the week. No wondering what everyone is going to eat.
  • It saves money one by cooking from scratch but also from going out in a pinch.
  • It’s fun. I put music on and maybe even add in a glass of wine. Once I commit to it, I enjoy it.
  • It’s a great way to be active on the weekend. It gets you off the couch and gets you mentally prepared and ready for the coming week.
  • It’s good family time. Chris grills and the kids help pack their lunches. We do it together and we all have buy in for what we are eating. It’s empowering but it’s also a way to teach/learn about nutrition and healthy habits.
So, with that said let me lay out my process. Everyone does it differently according to what works for them.
  •  I do one meal at a time. I am a “great” multitasker but not the best finisher. So I have to MAKE myself finish one thing at a time. That way if I do get interrupted or side tracked, something might’ve gotten done! That means doing the dishes too.
  • First I bake oatmeal muffins and/or pancakes for the week/month depending on how ambitious I am feeling. Everyone but me eats them for breakfast. I also used to bake egg muffins for the week as well. But I like them fresh and once I got the habits down I was able to work back to having time/willpower to make my eggs, toast and spinach each day. Everyone but me eats their oatmeal whatever, fruit and greek yogurt for breakfast (except on the weekends when I make breakfast tacos and french toast).
  • Then I season/cook the meats and veges for the week. That typically means chicken breasts and lean hamburger meat. The chicken breasts I usually use kickin’ chicken by weber and the meat is either chicago steakhouse by the same or fajita seasoning (sliders or fajita bowls). Veges get olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
  • Pack lunches.
  • Kids: Every other day, the kids get meat (With ranch or ketchup, go with what works!), cheese, vege (typically green beans/broccoli/carrots), fruit (grapes/pineapple/unsweetened applesauce) and some sort of carb (crackers typically). On the off days they get PB&J (healthiest bread they will stand/I can afford. Zach WILL eat Ezekiel bread along with sugar free/natural as possible pb&j) along with the fruit & vege.
  • Adults: Meat & vege. That means either chicken and veges (Squash/broccoli/etc) or burrito bowl with veges like onions, tomatoes, jalapeños, etc). Chris gets double meat & veges and a carb (rice, bread, pita) because he is two calorie levels up.
  • We get everything prepped/organized/planned for dinners. I typically cook dinner each night but when I don’t I will prep freezer meals whether they are going in the crockpot OR in the oven.
  • Finish dishes, put everything away, take picture and pat myself on the back. LOL
That’s how I do it. What are your tips, strategies, ideas, questions?
Here are some links for how other people do it as well! I am fascinated by this process because I’m weird. Maybe you’d like to read about how others do it too. I love meal prep pictures. Organization porn is my weakness.
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