Thankfully, meal templates—or theme nights—not only make shopping and prepping for family meals a snap, they can serve as a great jumping off point for a variety of creative menu ideas. By taking some of the rush out of getting dinner on the table, you get to focus on the most important ingredient: relaxed time with your family.
Theme options are endless and can be suited to your family’s tastes and nutritional needs. And even though you’re serving the same type of dish, you’ll be surprised how different each variation can be. Change themes up regularly or stick with them until your ideas run out. The trick is to pick mealtime labels that inspire you, and leave the rest of the family eagerly anticipating dinner.
Americans eat a lot of meat, often to the detriment of consuming other nutrients, so it can actually be quite good for you to skip it every so often in favor of meals that derive protein from other sources.
Peas, beans, quinoa, wild rice and other ancient grains are all packed with protein, as are eggs and many leafy greens. Try sweet potato and black bean chili, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato basil soup, or top-your-own veggie pizzas for meals so hearty, no one will even miss the meat.
Fun Fact: Meatless Monday was originally Meatless Tuesday and started during WWI as a way for Americans to aid the war effort by conserving food and the energy it took to prepare it. This can be a great catalyst for conversation about the origins of foods and their impact on our bodies and the planet.
While not very original at this point, it has to be included because, well, tacos! Seasoned chicken, beef, shrimp, pork, fish or veggies can be tucked into a hard shell, rolled in a soft shell, layered in a lasagna that subs tortillas for pasta, or over a bed of mixed greens.
Taco burgers? Yes, please! There are so many ways to taco that Tuesday never gets old…or boring. For added measure, turn up the table talk by keeping taco Tuesdays tech-free.
Who says waffles need to wait until morning? Having breakfast for dinner hits that hump day sweet spot perfectly! Kids and adults will love choosing from toppings like maple syrup, nut butter, pecans, strawberries, whipped cream and powdered sugar. Or take the savory route with a side of chicken tenders, or a cornbread version topped with chili.
For fun finger food ideas, try making waffle pizzas using crescent rolls, tortillas or canned pizza crust with marinara on the side, or quartered waffle iron quesadillas with a side of salsa or queso.
Bonus: Make this a night when “dressing for dinner” means a family pajama party!
By Thursday, leftovers are often stacking up on fridge shelves. Repurpose remaining taco meat or chili by stuffing it into a baked potato or ladling it over a serving of corn chips (nachos or chili pie, anyone?) Or keep it simple by putting it all out there as-is, and letting everyone “order” something different from Monday through Wednesday’s dinner surplus. Challenge the kids’ creative thriftiness by taking ideas for reusing leftovers in a new way. “Waste not, want not” is a valuable message for kids to learn.
Eating fish offers many nutritional benefits, which is why it’s a recommended part of a healthy diet. But turning young eaters into fish fans can be a challenge. That’s why regularly exposing kids to the different tastes, textures and, yes, smells of fish is a great idea.
Even picky eaters love dipping finger foods, so try starting out with lightly breaded fish sticks served with homemade tartar sauce or ketchup, and graduate to knife-and-fork fare with milder fish like wild-caught cod, halibut or salmon, which tastes sweeter and takes a flavorful marinade really well.
Weekends should be for relaxing, but they’re usually jam packed with sporting events, birthday parties and all the errands that couldn’t be squeezed in during the week. If not eating out or getting take out, break out the slow cooker for a hands-off, fix-it-and-forget-it meal.
Roasts, casseroles and even dessert will have the house smelling increasingly divine as dinner lazily cooks itself, and you can use the extra time to plan a family game night or find a favorite movie on Netflix. Invite the kids’ friends or other families over to join you!
While not everyone has Sundays off, it’s still a good time to do a little prep for the rest of the week. Make extra portions of your protein for use on upcoming days. After all, it doesn’t take any longer to cook 12 chicken breasts than it does four, but it’ll save precious minutes when you’re taco-ing up Tuesday two nights later. Simmer shredded precooked chicken or other meat you didn’t eat Monday in a saucepan of taco sauce while you prep the rest of the meal and hear about everyone’s day.
By // Stacy Barry
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