Do you struggle to meal plan? Tried a million strategies that only leave you feeling like a failure? Finally, here's how you can SUCCEED at meal planning!

Do you have trouble deciding what to fix for dinner each night? Have you tried a few menu planning strategies and not been able to stick with any of them? Do you feel like a failure when it comes to how to succeed at meal planning?

You’re not alone! I’ve been attempting to meal plan in some way, shape, or fashion since getting married over 5 years ago. After 5 years of failing time after time, I was pretty convinced I just sucked at menu planning. I’d make a plan, but wouldn’t stick to it, and I’d have rotting spinach and tomatoes on my hands. Or I’d forget to make a plan at all and be scrambling to make a grocery list when we finally ran out of milk and eggs. Uuuuggggg…

Enter theme nights!

I cannot for the life of me remember which blogger first introduced me to the idea of thematic meal planning several months ago, but I wish I could shake her hand. This strategy is the ONLY thing that has worked for me so far! I’m finally SUCCEEDING at meal planning! Huzzah!

Basically, what thematic meal planning means is you take each night of the week and assign it a “theme,” which is just a certain category or type of food. Then, create a list of all the recipes you know how to make (or want to try!) that fall under that theme. When it’s time to menu plan, take a look at your list, pick one item for each themed night, and BINGO! Meal Planning DONE!! Meal Planning with Theme Nights is SO FAST & EASY!

I have my 10-15 meals I know how to make for each of my 4 “themes” printed out beside my calendar, so it’s easy to quickly plan out 2-3 weeks’ worth of meals at a time. Then, I use a dry erase marker to check off what we’ve eaten until we’ve gone through the whole options list. At that point, I erase, and we start again. (I only plan for dinners. Lunches are dedicated leftovers times!)

Our current themes schedule

Below is what a typical week has looked like for us this winter:

  • Monday – Soup & Sandwich (Mondays are my bread-making days!)
  • Tuesday – Pasta
  • Wednesday – Leftovers
  • Thursday – Pizza
  • Friday – Friendship Meal
  • Saturday – Crockpot/Instant Pot/One-pot Meals
  • Sunday – Leftovers

You’ll notice we have two days where the theme is simply “leftovers.” I cannot tell you how much food used to go bad in our fridge just because I would forget to PLAN to eat leftovers! The “Friendship Meal” is when a good friend of ours brings us a meal once a week, which has been super helpful while I’ve been in chemo and Erik has been job hunting. When money is tight, it’s even MORE frustrating to waste food, so this plan has been a lifesaver for our budget as well as my sanity!

Now that the weather is beginning to change, I’ll probably switch out one or two of our themes for something more seasonally appropriate. We’re probably not going to want hot soup & grilled cheese once a week when it’s 70+ degrees outside. It might be time to switch to salads. 🙂

The Goal

We’re also wanting to start doing more Nourishing Traditions/Paleo/GAPS-style meals to try and ease us into a healthier eating plan. Eventually, we want to do the GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) diet to heal up all my gut issues, my husband’s lipomas, and our daughter’s random eczema patches. But since we do eat a fairly SAD diet (Standard American Diet) currently, it’s going to take a while to get to doing GAPS and not make us all crazy in the process. (If you have experience with going GAPS from SAD, PLEASE comment or contact me and let me know how you did it!)

For now, I’m just happy I finally found a meal planning system that works for us! I have MUCH less wasted food now than we used to, so our budget is much happier. And I’m spending significantly less time doing all the planning and list making, so *I’m* much happier! Win-win all around. 🙂 Hooray for Thematic Meal Planning!

It’s FREEBIE Time!

To encourage you to try this awesome meal planning strategy, I’ve created a FREE, completely editable, Thematic Meal Planning Spreadsheet! I can’t wait for my ink to arrive (Come on, Amazon! My printer needs that INK!), so I can print this bad boy out and have our NEW themes ready to go for warmer weather. My ugly old spreadsheet worked just fine for the winter, but I’m getting pretty excited about creating PRETTY organizing tools now. Must prettify all the things! 🙂

Any who, grab your FREE planning spreadsheet below, and don’t forget to send me some feedback if you see ways to improve it. I’m always looking for ways to make things better and easier for you!

Have you ever tried using thematic meal planning? What was your experience? I’d love to hear how it works for you in the comments!

Do you struggle to meal plan? Tried a million strategies that only leave you feeling like a failure? Finally, here's how you can SUCCEED at meal planning!

As a former University Resident Director, Career Counselor, Certified Personality Trainer, and high school Spanish teacher, Laura has quite the “scattered” background — with one underlying theme: education! She writes to teach and inspire women on topics related to faith, family, and lifework. She is also a resume writer, specializing in resumes for moms, career changers, and new graduates.

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