Dinner Theme Meal Planning

Dinner Themes

One of the tricks that has got me through meal planners block, is theme nights.

I don’t mean elaborate themes, I just mean creating a template for yourself that will make meal planning, in all aspects, a little less stressful.

What is a theme?

A theme is whatever idea you want it to be. Some of the examples I have used are:

Countries of the world

Jewish dishes from around the world

I love Africa

Cooking shows I love


Success and failure

Some were harder to follow than others. For example, the dinner from Russia was a total disaster! Vareniki- I don’t know what I did wrong, but they were totally inedible.

Vareniki- a russian dumpling, ravioli type meal, this was an epic fail

Others, like my cashew nut chicken, are such a hit that they now appear on my meal plan once a month.

Cashew nut chicken
Chicken and cashew nut stir fry, a hit

The homemade pasta that I learned to make from watching MasterChef and Gordon Ramsay were another rebounding success.

Homemade pasta
The first successful batch of pasta

How to decide

Using current trends to create themes is another easy method. Meat free Monday, Banting and LCHF (low carbohydrate, high fat) recipes are another method. You don’t have to follow the diets themselves, just some of recipes that your family might enjoy.

A basic template can actually be used when changing lifestyle eating habits to control your food choices.

Meal Plan
My monthly meal plan

Creating a template for your plans can sometimes be difficult and other times quick and easy. However, once created, the actual meal planning time is cut almost in half. Monthly Menu Planner and Shopping List

Decide what night you will be eating which type of meal. Here is a basic example of a template.

Monday- Meat Free

Tuesday- Mince (any kind)

Wednesday- Fish

Thursday – Chicken

Friday – Red Meat

Saturday – eat out

Sunday – pizza

Weekly menu planner and shopping list

Love it or hate it

Whether you love cooking or hate it, whether you are a contender for MasterChef, or you can barely boil water, what a template allows you to do is cook within your preference.

I am one of those people who love cooking. I am also a pretty good cook and love to try new recipes. Thankfully I have a family who like to eat and aren’t too fussy about their food choices.

I use meat free Mondays to make mac and cheese, tuna or vegetable lasagne’s and often to experiment with vegan recipes.

For mince night, I have a standard set of about 10 recipes, some more involved than others, which range from Chilli Con Carne to Sloppy Joes, Taco’s, Bolognaise, Cottage Pie, Shepard’s Pie, Mince Pie, Meatballs, Meatloaf and a few others.

For fish night, I have a few standards that I dare not alter too much. Haddock and Spaghetti, Hake and Basil Pesto, Grilled Fish and Chips, Crumbed Fish Cakes and Crumbed Fillets. There are a few more but I don’t make them often as they are either too expensive or the majority of my family don’t eat it.

Chicken night is another favourite meal and I can use this to try out new recipes.

Red meat night could mean stews or roasts and is another time where I can play with recipes.

As you can see my family are definite carnivores. Saturday and Sunday nights, we eat whatever is going. In a house full of teenagers this means they are mostly all out on Saturday night and we pretty much scrounge in the fridge for left overs or we have eggs or I will make pizza for supper. Sometime it is simply soup and toast.

Find freedom from the stove

Your template does not restrict you, it actually allows you to play around. You don’t need to follow a recipe either. If you know that tonight is mince night, you can take your meat out the freezer, come home and make whatever you want.

Another advantage is, if you have a whole lot of recipes you like, you can plot them for a month or more into your chosen nights.

Why not give it a try and see how easy meal planning can be?

Why a meal plan is important when you diet

Diet Plan

The diet plan

A 7 day meal plan is included in practically every diet known to woman kind and a few men.

Every diet has one
Almost all diets come with a meal plan

Dieticians draw one up for you, Weighless® and Weight Watchers® have full books of weekly meal plans. Then there is The Real Meal Revolution, the Atkins diet, the Hollywood diet and about 100 others. Also the diet for bodybuilders who are trying to build muscle, they also have to stick to a strict eating regime in conjunction with their weight training.

Body Building
Serious contenders meal plan too

Why do they all have meal plans? The answer is simple, knowing ahead of time what you are going to eat for the week helps you better to stay on track.

While nothing will beat will power itself, it is still easier to stick to your diet with a meal plan.

Meal planning for good eating habits

When I first started meal planning for my family, it had more to do with budgeting, food waste and time management than anything else. Once we started this new way of life, my husband and I stumbled across a benefit that was obviously known to those who create these diets. We both lost weight!

It doesn’t matter if you are with a dietician, following a popular diet or trying to go it alone. Meal planning is the best way to start your new healthier lifestyle.

An important step to meal planning for weight loss is to plan right after breakfast. This is because you are no longer hungry and you will be able to plan with your brain instead of with your stomach. If you are not hungry, you will make better food choices on your plan.

1, 3, or 6?

For most households, planning dinner is often enough but if your plan is for weight loss or weight control, it is important to plan not only your 3 meals for the day but also your snacks.

This planning also helps if you are combining good eating habits with gym. You can plan your carb intake to coincide with your cardio workout and your protein intake to fit in with your weight training.

Understanding the basics of calorie control and the difference between good and bad carbs will help you plan your meals better.

Are you trying to get healthy or lose weight this year? Why not try a meal plan, whether it is from the dietician, or a book, or you are doing it yourself? Without it you will get nowhere.

What you need to know about going on diet

Are you thinking about changing your life by going on a diet? Over the next few weeks I am going to be looking at various diets but will not be making pro or con statements on any of these topics.

losing weight with meal planning
losing weight with meal planning

Unless the specific diet, for instance, says ‘drink 30 glasses of water a day and don’t eat any food’!  Something like that is not only extremely dangerous but it would be negligent of me as a healthcare professional to ignore.

Informed choices

I will discuss the essence of the specific diets, or lifestyle changes, and give you a few tips on how to follow these, if YOU choose the particular diet which I am highlighting.

I am not a dietician, or a fitness guru, or anything like that; I do have over 25 years of nursing experience and have kept up with my reading as to the changing way the world looks at nutrition. I know what works for me and my family, not what will work for you.

I will, however, make this statement. Before you embark on any form of diet or vigorous exercise program, please get a medical check-up.  Make sure you do not have any underlying conditions which can be affected by your diet, especially if you are going on a fast weight loss diet and using diet supplements.


Diet is a bad word! It has very negative connotations. If you are looking to lose weight in a hurry, be careful, I found this article on rapid weight loss interesting. http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/rapid-weight-loss?page=2.

Replace the word diet in your vocabulary with the term “eating plan” and see the change in how you perceive your new way of life.

This is what should be in a balanced meal
This is what is considered a balanced meal (choose a good carbohydrate like couscous or baby potatoes)

It is definitely a case of what we put in our mouths make us fat! Years ago I read a wonderful book, with great recipes, called ‘French Women Don’t Get Fat’ by Mirelle Guiliano. It appears to be true that, despite the rich foods and wine that the French eat they do not gain much weight. According to http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2920219/How-fat-country-nations-highest-obesity-rates-new-maps-surprise-you.html France has a less than 10% obesity rate amongst women compared to South Africa’s 31% and the USA and Saudi Arabia’s 33%!

Change your lifestyle

Changing to a healthy eating plan means different things to different people and, with so many options out there, I thought it a good idea to present these different diets/ eating plans to you, so that YOU can make an informed decision.


Exercise is always a key ingredient to a healthy lifestyle.  Almost every dietary pill, or supplement, or plan, states that they work best when combined with exercise. Being the right weight for your health is something that we should all try to achieve.  One of the most important things to remember is the fat and muscle are not the same weight.  So even though your scale may not change, if you are doing even a little over your normal amount of exercise, you should see a change in your waistline. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/rr-cardio-vs-weights

When you are exercising remember that even if your scale is not changing the way you want, your measurements are almost surely going down!
When you are exercising remember that even if your scale is not changing the way you want, your measurements are almost surely going down! 5lb = 2,2 kg

Here are the links to my meal and menu planners, that you can print for free and use as part of a healthy eating plan.



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Food for Thoughtful People

Food for life

Food is not only a big part of Jewish life, but is necessary for everyone. If you are a working women, coming home and still having to make dinner can tempt you into buying fast food.

As part of the cooking section of Kasheringyourlife, I  be posting recipes that help you stretch your meals and will not cost you a fortune. Most recipes will also not take more than 30 minutes to make.

I will be posting my own recipes as well as recipes from guests, the topics will be wide ranging and so will the cost of these recipes. Not all the recipes will be healthy and some will definitely fall under the indulgent category.  They will also range from novice to experienced, vegan to carnivore, and everything in between.

Is there any heathly food left?

If you read Facebook, you will notice that just about everything from tap and bottled water, to certain previously healthy foods, has come under discussion.  All the adverse effects and ‘poisons’ are highlighted to such an extent that it feels like we may be better off not eating anything and just taking a pill.  Just about everything causes ADHD, eczema, constipation, diarrhoea, and even, G-d forbid cancer, (spit three times here!).

I try to be conscientious about the foods we eat but eating healthy is often very expensive. The dietician costs money, the diet clubs cost money, recipes that are healthy often don’t cater to the South African palate or the ingredients are not available here and the measurements are imperial (USA) when we and most of the world use Metric.

guide to converting metric to imperial

I dislike exercising at the gym, as I hate being around sweaty people (all those germs- sorry I am nurse). I lack the discipline to exercise at home.  I know I am not alone in this. Exercise is great, it makes you feel good (once the pain stops) and it gives you energy. You won’t always lose weight while exercising because you may not be doing the right type of exercise.  What happens to the people that are too large to go to the gym and too shy? How do they get healthy?

food and excersise

BMI vs Body weight

I do not go by how much you weigh but I do go by your body mass index (BMI), this is especially good with teen girls, as peer pressure to be thin is very strong.  I remind my girls, as long as your BMI is within the healthy zone, whatever you weigh is the right weight, up to the age of 20.  Also go by your clothes. Those very tight waists on your skirt or pants – are they a little more comfortable, then great.

The formula to work out BMI is your weight in KG divided by your height squared (e.g. 55kg/ (160cmx160cm)= BMI), this is only for adults over 20 years old. www.cdc.gov has a downloadable Excel,  BMI calculator to work out the acceptable children’s BMI.

Please note that this is only a guide, pregnant women and athletes should not use this formula. Muscle weighs more than fat. Your BMI also does not indicate your percentage of body fat or muscle mass ratio. This would need to be measured by a qualified person. It does mean, however, that you could have a skinny person who is ‘overweight’ due to the amount of body fat they carry, or a large person who is ‘underweight’ as they do not have enough body fat.

I needed and still need to lose weight, so I spent a lot of time on the internet trying to work out how to go about this. Calorie counting has come up over and over again as a way to lose and keep your excess weight off.

Here comes the problem. We live on a tight budget, we also keep kosher and as stated I don’t exercise. Walking to Shul doesn’t count as exercise. Sorry.

The exorbitant price of kosher meat has always been in contention. I will not be getting into the subject on this.

For a lot of people it has become more and more difficult to cook with meat and fish is even more expensive per kg than meat.

Over the past few months I have been following a blog called http://www.loseweightbyeating.com/.  In it Audrey talks about her journey from 125 kg to 68 kg in one year.  She is unable to do a lot of exercise due to a medical condition. She designed her own weight loss program using calorie counting and meal planning. I am down 3kg with very little effort and no exercise.

The first thing to do is to plan your meals for the week or month ahead.  Secondly, count your calories. Women may consume between 1200-1400 calories per day and men 1800-2200 calories per day.  This also depends on your job.  If you have an office job, use the lower number in the range, if you are active, then you use the higher number, but never less than 1200 for women and 1800 for men.  Thirdly, increase your water intake (a problem for me as I really dislike the taste of water) Audrey suggests fruit infused water – not flavoured water. Lastly, and definitely very important, increase your physical activity.

Before putting children and teenagers onto a diet, they must, at least, see a dietician but should also see a paediatrician. Teenagers should also, as a guide, consume the same calories as an adult.

Remember, the more active you are, the more calories you burn. So even if you sit in a chair and watch TV, you can do simple things like leg raises and tightening your abdominal muscles (tummy muscles). http://www.rd.com has a nice set of exercises to do while cooking, but you can really do them anytime.

arm chair exersises

I have posted a mince recipe on the recipe page of the blog, with a calorie count.  It is suitable for diabetics and hyperactive kids as it has a low GI (Glycaemic Index) count. It also uses much less meat that normal.  It is really delicious.  I have adapted it from the book ‘Eating for Sustainable Energy’. Basic Mince recipe

Do you have ideas on how to cut costs and improve your health without cutting the quality of the food your serve, if you do please share with us?