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10 New Dinner Theme Night Ideas Kids Will Love

updated Oct 4, 2023
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Whether you’re a diehard meal planner or a seat-of-your pants dinner prepper, theme nights bring a certain sense of order and a lot of fun to dinnertime. Good ol’ pizza and taco nights are the reigning champs of the theme-night game, of course, but the arena is full of worthy contenders. I talked to a dozen caregivers to get their fun, creative, and totally doable suggestions for theme-night ideas that keep kids happy. (Parent tip: Print out a calendar of your theme-night schedule for the fridge to make meal planning a breeze!)

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Taste Test Night

Something about putting on your lab coat (literally or figuratively) and taking a scientific approach to dinner encourages even the most hesitant kids to try foods they might not normally eat, for science. Mother of three, Syreeta C., says, “It’s amazing what they will eat when it’s part of a taste test.” Her kids have tested and ranked raw and cooked vegetables like bok choy, radishes, and purple carrots; fruit, like guava, papaya, and starfruit; and even tinned fish. Use little portions (silicone muffin liners are great for this) to create the spread. Round your meal out with the standards, like rolls or roasted potatoes, and some fruit (unless you’re taste testing fruit, in which case, maybe some chicken nuggets!).

Make it fun with score cards, and then compare notes to determine the best and worst of the bunch. Bonus: By paying attention to what they like, you’ll have a better idea of what ingredients will (theoretically, at least) be welcome at other meals.

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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Dinner + A Movie Night In

Perfect for a weekend night with a little more time to spare, pop in a favorite family movie and pair it with dishes inspired by that film, like ratatouille for the Disney movie of the same name, a big pot of gumbo for The Princess and the Frog, or Hawaiian chicken skewers for your 1000th viewing of Moana (just me?). It takes a bit of planning, but you can batch up a few ideas in separate envelopes, then pick them out when it’s time to go shopping! (Check out this great TikTok account for more Disney menu ideas.) 

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Super-Cute Mini Food Night

Miniature foods were a hot trend a few years back, but they’ve still got big appeal, especially for kids, according to mother of two, Kyra N., who introduced the diminutive theme when her kids (now in high school and college) were still little themselves. 

Trader Joe’s has a great selection of hors d’oeuvres that fit the bill, including mini quiches, croissants, and samosas. Or, you can find or make your own sliders or mini tacos. Throw in a few miniature veggies, like sweet snacking peppers or, if you can find them, cucamelons (bite-sized cucumber-y melons). And don’t forget mini ice cream cones or ice cream sandwiches for dessert. The Toll House mini chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches are a particular favorite.

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Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Fond of Fondue Night

Fondue feels like an extravagant affair, but busy mom Chastity H. wisely points out, “the only work involved is chopping up the dippers and heating the fondue pot,” and that’s a pretty strong argument for a very fun meal. 

The Hise family doubles down on their fondue fix — a cheese course for dinner, with crusty bread, pretzel rolls, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and apples for dipping. Then they swap out the cheese for chocolate, using dark chocolate melting wafers. Strawberries, apples, bananas, pineapple, and pound cake all get dunked in chocolatey goodness. Let your little ones know that the fondue pot will be hot, and provide assistance if necessary. The long-handled fondue forks can be a fun challenge for kids, and remember if someone drops food in the pot, they’re supposed to give a kiss to the host (only if they want to!).

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Jetsetter’s Delight Night

Sneak in a little geography and spin the globe for an international night. The premise is simple: Pick a spot on the map, and then cook the foods of that region. This one requires some planning, so pick your country before you head to the grocery store, and research dishes from that part of the world. It’s a great way to get the kids involved and learning through the lens of food. And, if you aren’t quite so adventurous, write a few cuisines you’ve mastered on scraps of paper, add them to a bowl, and let kids draw one out!

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Credit: Meghan Splawn

Picnic in the Park (or Living Room)

Picnics are relaxing and charming, and who doesn’t want to feel relaxed and charmed on a Wednesday night? Picnic night is blissfully carefree. Arguably the least work-intensive idea here, all you have to do is fill your basket with ham and cheese on baguette, pasta salad, and some fresh fruit and throw down a blanket in the backyard. Or, if it happens to be winter and it’s dark at 5 p.m., lean into those picnic vibes in the living room. Add some music via Bluetooth speaker for a bit of a festive flair.

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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

Superhero Night

Busy caregivers are basically heroes, but even they need a hero of their own once in a while. Enter: hero night. The kids dress up in capes and masks (bonus activity: Have them make their own masks while you’re preparing dinner) and everyone comes together for hero-style sandwiches. You can make your own or outsource a six-foot hero if you’ve got a big crowd to feed. Giant sandwiches are objectively thrilling, no matter how old you are. At dinner, talk about what kind of superpowers everyone would have and who their supervillains are. This idea is especially fun if you’re celebrating an accomplishment (maybe your kid learned to write a new word, scored an amazing goal, volunteered to help a friend, etc.). 

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Spuds Aplenty

The humble baked potato is a blank canvas for a myriad of toppings, from the traditional butter and sour cream to more inventive toppings like steamed vegetables, chilli, sautéed mushrooms, and any kind of cheese you can dream of.

Baker G. says her two kids, Lilly (9) and Beau (6), love it because they get to pick their own toppings (they gravitate towards cheese, sour cream, and salsa). She loves it because, “everyone’s happy, and it’s an easy dinner.” There’s a reason baked potato bars are now an entertaining must! This is also one that is perfect for leftovers: Just add your toppers to a bento box and bring it out the next day.

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Tea for Two (or More)

Veronica La Marca, the registered dietician and certified diabetes educator behind Eat 2 Grow, says tea party night is a hit for her two girls (aged 2 1/2 and 5 1/2). The girls dress up in their tea-party finest and sit down to a meal of sandwiches, fruit, and pretend tea. La Marca says it works equally well for lunch or dinner, at the table, in the park, or even on the living room floor. You could even let them “invite” their stuffies and dolls. Bonus: While you’re prepping dinner, the kids can make invitations and deliver them to their honored guests. 

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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Family Favorite Night 

Kids love feeling like they’ve got input in the meal planning process, so writer Thao Thai came up with a brilliant way to let everyone’s voices be heard: “While my daughter loves anything cheesy (she is at least 80% Velveeta, I fear), I love seafood. My husband enjoys comfort food, like chili and meat braised for hours in a slow cooker,” Thai explains.”So, as a compromise and a lesson in trying new things, we began adding our favorite dishes to a planning app. At the beginning of the week, we take one item from each of our lists — like plain cheese pizza for the kiddo, shrimp pasta for me, slow-simmered carnitas for my husband — and add them to the joint meal plan. It not only makes meal planning way easier (3 meals down!), but it also ensures that everyone has a role in the chore.”

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