A while back, I was talking with my soon-to-be sister-in-law, and she mentioned that she had become devoted to using meal templates to plan weeknight dinners. It revolutionized her family's meal planning — it saves them time, makes grocery shopping easier, and gives the kids something to look forward to each night.
We're all familiar with Taco Tuesday, but what's next after you've taco-ed on Tuesday nights? Here are 20 more ideas. While these meal templates might not have names that are quite as catchy, I think you'll love them just as much.
The idea is simple: Assign a food theme to each night of the week (I prefer keeping it to weeknights) for the next month. After a month's time, keep with the same theme or change it up for the next month. Even though you're eating the same types of dishes, you'll be surprised at how varied your meals can be. Here are some meal template ideas to spark planning!
20 More Ideas for Meal Templates
1. Pasta Night
There's no shortage of options when it comes to pasta night. Go for a simple plate of spaghetti with no-cook tomato sauce, a hearty lasagna, or anything in between.
- Spaghetti with No-Cook Tomato Sauce
- Pasta with Cauliflower, Sausage & Breadcrumbs
- Creamy Zucchini Fettuccine
2. Salad Night
No wimpy salads need apply. Making extra also means you've got lunch for the next day.
3. Chicken Night
There are so many delicious choices here, you could even toss this in twice a week.
- Chicken Tikka Masala
- Chicken Ragù with Bacon
- Pan-Seared Chicken Thighs with Blistered Tomatoes & Basil
4. Rice Night
This pantry staple might be simple, but it has the versatility to give you a range of meals, from fried rice that uses up other leftovers to an elegant risotto.
5. Vegetarian Night
This is a favorite in my house, and it lends itself to so many different meals. Start with a grain, bean, lentils, or even tofu, and get creative from there.
- Tomato-Braised Lentils with Broccoli Rabe
- Braised Coconut Spinach & Chickpeas with Lemon
- Bryant Terry's Grilled Vegetable and Tofu Kebabs
6. Stir-Fry Night
Another favorite of mine where meat is optional; this is a meal that typically comes together really quickly.
- Thai Ginger Chicken Stir-Fry
- Michael Natkin's Spicy Stir-Fried Zucchini
- Tofu Chickpea Stir-Fry with Tahini Sauce
7. Sandwich Night
I'm not talking about a plain ol' ham and cheese sandwich, although you can certainly go that route. Instead go for something a little heartier, or maybe even a warm, toasted sandwich.
8. Soup Night
Plan ahead and this can also double as "freezer-meal night" if you make a big batch.
- Chicken Soup with Fennel and Farro
- Ina Garten's Wild Mushroom & Farro Soup
- Vegetarian Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup)
9. Egg Night
Use this as a way to bulk up a lighter meal, or go ahead and make eggs the main course. Eggs cook quickly, are inexpensive, and lend themselves to many ways of preparation.
- Spiced Lentils With Egg
- 3-Egg Omelet with Quinoa, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Spinach, and Goat Cheese
- Crustless Quiche with Summer Vegetables
10. Pork Night
From thick-cut chops and ribs, to tenderloin and meatballs, you've got plenty of choices when it come to pork. A big pork shoulder can also cook away all day in the slow cooker for delicious pulled pork sandwiches.
- Pork Chops in Port Wine Sauce
- How To Make Roasted Pork Tenderloin
- Pork Tenderloin in Tangy Tomatillo Sauce
11. Grain Bowl Night
Take a night to center your dinner around your favorite whole grain. Many cooked whole grains can be frozen, so make extra for the following week.
- Farro Salad with Roasted Eggplant, Caramelized Onion, and Pine Nuts
- Grain Salad with Tomatoes, Corn and Basil
- Wild Rice Bowl with Red Lentil Curry and Spinach
12. Steak Night
Go ahead and treat yourself to a healthy dose of red meat once in a while. Go for a big steak that just needs salt, pepper, and a sear, or you can turn an inexpensive cut like flank steak into delicious fajitas.
13. Pizza Night
Because there's definitely no better way to end the week! Remember you can go beyond the traditional tomato sauce and mozzarella combination. Try using pesto or even BBQ sauce as a base.
14. Slow-Cooker Night
This is your ticket to a nearly hands-off dinner.
15. Chili Night
Okay, so maybe chili doesn't excite you in the middle of August, but come January, this is a welcome addition to the dinner lineup.
16. Breakfast for Dinner
We did this once in a while when I was growing up, and it was always such a treat. Plus most breakfast items, like eggs and flour, are pantry staples if you want to avoid a mid-week trip to the grocery store.
- How To Make the Lightest, Fluffiest Buttermilk Pancakes
- Monte Cristo Waffles with Warm Raspberry Sauce
- Green Shakshuka
17. Fish Night
Fish typically lends itself to a quick-cooking dinner that's light and works well with a simple side or salad. Try to time fish night close to a grocery store run so the fish doesn't sit in the fridge for a few days before you cook it.
- Foolproof Salmon Baked with Olive Oil & Herbs
- Fish Tacos with Quick Cabbage Slaw
- Nobu's Miso-Marinated Black Cod
18. Casserole Night
Brace yourself for the most comforting dinner of the week! Casseroles are also a great way to use up little bits of leftover protein or slightly wilted vegetables.
19. Burger Night
Whether you go with your favorite meat or opt for a meatless burger, the choices here are almost endless. Remember, you don't need a grill for a good burger — a cast-iron skillet or frying pan works just fine!
20. Leftovers Night
Set aside one night later in the week (Thursday is a good one), and take advantage of all the leftovers in the fridge to both save money and give yourself a break from cooking. Call it smorgasbord night to make it sound more exciting.