Making dinner used to be a fun event in my home. I would come home from work, change clothes, turn on music, pour a glass of wine, look at what I had in the fridge and decide on what to make for dinner. After all, I had plenty of time to prep, cook, and eat dinner. It did not matter that I came home at 6 pm (or even later some days). Of course, the one detail that I am leaving out of this story and you may have already guessed, is that I did not yet have children. Family dinner is another story.

Once I had my kids, the way and when dinner happens drastically changed. It was a lot earlier in the day for one thing. But, I pray that is a function of me having younger children. I also did not have the time to leisurely decide and prepare dinner. My kiddos are super hungry right when I pick them up. They beg and plead for a snack (a second one as they just had one at school) but I do not want to give them even more food. I want them to eat dinner. Isn’t that what every Mom and Dad everywhere wants? That meant I needed to have a good handle on what I am making for dinner long before I pick them up and most of the prep work better be done before I step in the front door.

Solve Family Dinner with these Theme Night Ideas

In comes the idea of family dinner theme nights to save the day. I am a big believer in meal planning. It saves me time during the week and if done right, a ton of money. I try to make a plan for the entire month of what we will eat. That makes it easier each week when I grocery shop as I know what I plan to make for the week already. I can simply look at my pantry and refrigerator, check out what is on sale, make my list based upon my meal plan and shop.

Making a Plan

The first step in this easy dinner plan is to choose what theme you are doing what days. I listed enough examples for one month of ideas below if you complete one of each theme.

Using Themes to Plan Your Family Dinner


Notice that the categories are very broad. This give you flexibility in deciding what works for your family.

For example, Mexican could mean tacos or quesadilla or something else more authentic like empanadas or tamales. If you are picking pasta you could make penne with marinara or elbow mac n cheese. For soup it could be as simple as chicken noodle soup or a more hearty chili with rice. It is up to you!

Each of these categories could yield enough choices for several months. It just depends on how much variety your family can / will eat. If your family does not dig variety that is OK. There are a million different chicken dishes, casseroles, pizzas and pastas to choose from.

Themes Picked, Now What?

So, now you have picked themes that you will use to plan. Next, you need to narrow down to the actual dish you will make what from each category. I would recommend getting the family together to talk about meals that you plan to make and what they will eat. I also have a master list of all the meals we make and generally like.

Below, you will see an example of two weeks of meals based on the themes above.

Solve Dinner with Themes and this Monthly Meal Calendar

Tips to Fill Out your Family Dinner Calendar

Before you fill out your finalized calendar, I found it is much easier if you already know what you have in the house to eat. I tend to spend a small amount of time checking the pantry and refrigerator / freezer, no more than 10 – 15 minutes and pulling out my phone to use the Flipp app for ads. Between the food in the house and what is on sale, I use that to formulate my shopping  list. The list includes what I have run out of for the week and then the items I will need to complete meals for the next week or weeks.

This calendar even has a handy spot to keep your list. I put mine on my command center where i can see it everyday.

One thing to keep in mind is that even though I have written out what we are eating for the week, I am not set in stone for eating a certain theme on a certain day. For example, I can easily move pizza or pasta to another day if the kids are whining about what I plan to make. I do however let my kiddos know that we will be eating the intended meal the next day like it or not.

Sometimes there is a shelf life issue with certain foods, then you may not have as much flexibility around that specific meal. If you are concerned about that, then it may not make sense to use that meal in your family dinner planner.

Want to take your meal planning to the next level? Check out the new Family Meals Game Plan This is a workbook with over 60 pages to help you and your family plan meals. It is easy, intuitive and infinitely useful! The best part is it is on sale right now!! Check it out.

Family Meals Game Plan


Additionally, you can find a free Solve Family Dinner printable for the Family Dinner Monthly Calendar. Just click on the picture and it will open up as a PDF for you to save or download. With this easy to use calendar and the free printable packet above you should have dinner whipped into shape in no time!

Stuck in a dinner idea rut? Use these 30 Theme Night Ideas to plan dinner each month. Unlimited dinner ideas await.

Want to save money on your grocery bill? Check out my post on how to cut your food costs.

Get a handle on your Grocery budget and save more money than you might believe.

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