A Magical Hack For Making Weeknight Dinners Less Soul-Crushing

Uncategorized Oct 04, 2021

by Jenny Jiles

Unless you’re someone who takes All Day Sunday To Meal Prep, figuring out what to make for dinner on a Wednesday is one of the most soul-crushing decisions a human being (cough, woman) can make.

We are tired. We are juggling 19 thousand emails and children and tasks and deadlines. We have approximately .003 seconds in the day to really consider what we want to eat, what’s good for us, what the people in our life will actually consume, and yet, paradoxically, we are drowning in options.

So, dear reader, I’ve hacked it.

My solution? Theme nights. I’ll say it again, this time in all caps. THEME NIGHTS! I even added an exclamation point for emphasis. So here’s the deal. By assigning dinner themes to nights of the week, it means that you never have to wonder what in the hell you’re making for dinner ever again. Because it will already be decided for you. By taking 5 minutes now to organize your weeknight themes, you can change your entire week, month, year, life.

Here we go:

1. Theme Night Weekly Planner PDF. You can print this PDF, and if you’re half-insane like me, laminate it.

2. On the back of this PDF, write down a few family favorites, meals you know how to throw together in a few minutes, or can easily learn (i.e. sheet pan roasted salmon and broccoli). Even if you can’t boil water, i know you got something.

3. Assign themes to your weeknights on your PDF. Theme nights, with meal ideas below. I tend to lean towards alliteration, like Taco Tuesday, because it helps my brain remember the game plan. Simplicity is the key to this whole thing coming together in a way that you can replicate, week after week.

  • Taco Night (or Taco Tuesday)- Tacos, Burritos, Quesadillas, TaquitosSheet Pan Fajitas

  • Burger NightBeef Burgers, Salmon Burgers, Black Bean Burgers 

  • Pizza Night- Build your own, Pita Pizzas, Calzones, Cauliflower Pizza, Delivery Pizza 

  • Chicken Night- Roasted Chicken, Honey Mustard Chicken Thighs, Crispy Chicken Tenders, BBQ Chicken

  • Asian Night (or Wok Wednesday ;) Stir Fry or Fried Rice, Sesame Noodles  

  • Soup Night- Chicken Noodle Soup, Tomato Soup, Lentil Soup, Minestrone, Chili

  • Fish/Seafood Night- Panko Crusted Cod, Seared Salmon with Lemon, Salmon Cakes

  • Pasta Night- Pesto Pasta, Easy Bolognese, Broccoli & Bowties 

  • Party Board Night- Glorified snack board with fruits, vegetables, proteins, carbs, dips

  • Vegetarian Night (or Meatless Monday)- Any of the recipes previously mentioned, but without meat in them.

  • Slow Cooker/Instapot Night- Pick recipes to go with your appliances, so you actually use the appliance

  • Throw Down- It’s a night for leftovers and to use what needs to be eaten in the fridge or freezer. It’s like your own Chopped Championship that limits food waste, but with less drama and prize money.

  • Take Out/Dinner Out- Leave a couple days for these, because we need them. 

Even if you only know how to pull apart a rotisserie chicken and microwave some Trader Joe’s organic rice, that’s great. Just top it with a Primal Kitchen Sauce (like Teriyaki, Cilantro Lime, or BBQ Ranch) to change up the sauces depending on your Theme Night. And throw some vegetables on a sheet pan with some olive oil for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees, why dontcha. Dinner complete.

4. At the start of your week, assign your family meals from the back of the PDF, to the days of the week on the front, based on your themes set in place.

5. Keep your themes the same each week to super simplify or change up themes every month or seasonally (swap Summer Salad Night for Winter Soup Night). 

Et voila. You now have thrilling themes that fit your lifestyle. Fewer options = More Happiness. And here is an additional strategy to jump start your theme-filled life:

1. Cook 4 nights a week, then have 1 night for leftovers “Throw Down”, 1 for Takeout and 1 for Dinner Out. We all need those nights.  

2. Write down 8 meals you know how to make. 

3.  Assign 4 meals to this week, and 4 to next week. Leaving 3 nights for themes listed in #1.

4.  Then repeat that 2-week plan for as long as you’d like it. 

There is no reason to over-complicate your weeknight meals. We’re creatures of habit, so keep it simple. If you enjoy cooking and learning new recipes, save those for the weekend. 

Trust me with this. No more endless searching on Pinterest for recipes you’re never going to make, and no more pressure of continually coming up with something new. Stick to what works in your home. Just add a theme and assign it. Then move on with your life.


Jenny is a writer, cooking coach, and host of Cliffs Notes Kitchen, where she shows how simple, bite-sized shifts with minimal effort, can create lasting changes in your health. You can find more of her articles here.


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