When it comes to making sure the family has a nice dinner every night, I can’t say that I am successful 100% of the time. Not to say no one gets fed, that’s what fast-casual restaurants are for, but there are plenty of times where my day flew by way to fast and I don’t have the energy to even begin to think about creating a meal. Thankfully I stumbled on a great way to help me navigate the whole dinner process while in one of my internet search rabbit hole sessions for the quickest meal plan: theme nights.
The only thing I found to be an issue with any kind of theme night is that you still have to go through the pain of actually thinking about what to make. This usually includes the “what’s in the refrigerator” stance followed by a thorough scan of the pantry – way too much time. I decided to take theme night even further and create staple recipes that I can alternate so the kids feel like I’m mixing it up.
Staple recipes are ones you can make really well with no thought. I have about 10 go-to staple recipes myself. This can range from a full-on crockpot meal to Velveeta Mac and Cheese – whatever is easiest for you. It doesn’t have to be from scratch, as long as your kid will eat it you are good as gold. Kids can be hard to please and trying new recipes on little ones has done nothing but prove to be a waste of time for me and I am pretty sure many of you empathize! Below are my theme nights and their corresponding staple recipe strategy.
- Pasta + Spaghetti Sauce = Meatball Monday: Mondays are the worst so this day is geared towards the easiest meal anyone can make. Boiling some pasta, throw in some spaghetti sauce and BOOM. Dinner served. Some days I get real fancy and throw it in a baking dish, throw on some cheese and call it a pasta bake – the kids think this is genius, and I roll with that.
- Taco Tuesday: Mexican is also a quick and easy meal to put together, no matter what kind of eater you are. I usually line up all of the ingredients so the big ones can fix their own tacos. If we are feeling traditional, I will brown some ground beef and throw in some taco. If we are feeling pescatarian, fish sticks go in the oven or I sauté some shrimp. For vegan, we stick with black beans for protein. All one-skillet options that don’t require much prep work. If you are feeling fancy, try enchiladas (tacos you put in the oven and dump sauce on) or quesadillas (basically a tortilla grilled cheese). If you are really not feeling cooking, grab something to go from your favorite fast-casual spot – bonus if you can find one that has family night.
- Wild Card Wednesday: By the middle of the week I’m hitting a slump, so Wild Card Wednesday is usually me throwing together whatever is quickest from my staple recipe catalog like a tuna casserole. When the kids got to be a little older, Wednesday was their day to cook for themselves. This meant pizza, grilled cheese, or chicken nuggets with fries. All super simple things they can make with the toaster oven.
- Thursday Thaw: Thursdays are made for leftovers, or at least they are in our house. My husband is not a fan of leaving idle food in the fridge and there is almost always something leftover from the other nights I’ve cooked. The thaw part comes in for those who cook a big meal and freeze a portion of it – I haven’t reached that level yet but I kind of aspire to it and encourage it to those who I know would benefit from it (like some of you). Thaw also comes from my love of Birds Eye Voila family meals, which I am quick to throw in the skillet.
- Fast Food Friday: On Fridays, we have chicken nuggets and fries or pizza. It can come for our freezer or our local fast-casual joint.
Now, I know I mentioned fast-casual restaurants a few times, this is not to say that my kids are living off fast-casual food – only that I recognize how many of them there and am aware that I have options that don’t include the standard Happy Meal from McDonald’s (for the record, my kids asked me to stop buying them McDonald’s years ago on their own). There are great fast-casual restaurants out there that have tasty kids meals, so use them!