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The key to consistent dinnertime at home is meal planning. The hard part of planning any meal is figuring out what to have. If you wait until the end of the day, it is too late. You may be too stressed at that point to even decide, let alone shop for ingredients and prepare the meal. Then it is too easy to just buy processed, packaged foods; stop at the deli; pick up fast food; or go out to dinner. None of these options works as well day after day, week after week, as having the family sit down together over a meal prepared at home. That's where my plan comes in. What is my plan? I devised "theme nights" as a place to start, and I have been planning meals around these themes for almost 30 years. In my family these are our themes:








These themes are easy to carry out and will keep you consistent in having dinner together as a family. And you know what else? The themes make dinnertime more fun for your children.

I must emphasize that "theme night" does not mean having a "party" every night at dinner. The night's "theme" is merely the starting point for deciding what to have for dinner. Just turn to that chapter and choose a recipe. I rarely carried the themes any further than that. No special centerpiece. No theme music. No party hats.

Still, my children always looked forward to our theme nights. The greatest part was that they-and Dad-knew at the end of a hard day that there would be dinner on the table. And they knew it would be something they liked, because all of the recipes are tried and true and delicious.

This plan will get Dad and/or Mom home on time from work, and get kids helping in the kitchen. If parents are working outside the home, then teenagers can get the meal started before they get home. Younger children can help set the table and encourage other family members to be home for dinner. This will bond your family and create the atmosphere that we all want in our homes.

Using theme nights makes menu planning so easy. All you do is go to the chapter for the night you're planning, and choose. There are more than a dozen recipes for each theme, so its not as if every Tuesday Italian Night is going to be the same lasagna. Plus, there are chapters of salads, breads, side dishes, and desserts, so you can mix and match till your heart's content.

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