Check out this secret weapon that makes getting a healthy meal on the table a snap – a meal plan and calendar combo for organizing menus, food shopping, and meal prep. Use your bullet journal, planner, or a giant wall calendar to schedule your menus.
Why Use a Meal Plan Calendar?
A calendar helps by providing exact details about a meal rather than you having to guess what you’ll prepare for dinner or any other meal – and which days are best for you to prepare ahead.
Just like you plan your vacation by the help of calendars, you can also build healthy eating habits by using a calendar rather than simply winging it. You’re more likely to stick to a health or weight-loss plan when you’ve prepared ahead.
Here are some of my best tips for using this handy tool that can bend and stretch to do whatever you want:
1. There are many meal prep calendar ideas or even printable calendars to help ease your way into the world of eating wiser and saving money besides, so don’t settle. No longer will you have to open the refrigerator or freezer door and try to create a meal from any scraps you happen to have available.
The trick is choosing just the right planner for your family and diet preferences.
2. Free meal-planning templates are available online to help you plan your meals, buy the groceries you’ll need and even some that will consider your budget. By using these convenient ways to plan your meals ahead of time, you’ll be able to enjoy more time doing what you want to do.
3. Some meal prep calendars go as far as to provide shopping lists and worksheets for you to print out and better organize your menus and grocery shopping for the week.
4. You’ll even find fun and attractive calendars that you can print out and attach to your refrigerator or some other part of your kitchen so the family will know which meals are coming up next.
That way, nobody will order pizza for lunch if they know it’s on the schedule for dinner — unless they really, really like pizza!
5. Whether you use a computerized meal planning calendar or a hang-up erasable one, see if it’ll do double-duty somehow. For instance, some calendars will even help you keep track of coupons and remind of which nights you have events – such as kids’ games or meetings.
6. If you’re new to meal planning, it may be best to take it slowly at first, until you find your bearings. Plan just a couple of days ahead, say, before you shop for a month’s meals.
7. Trying to lose weight? Pre-planning your meals by using a meal prep calendar leaves the guesswork out of portions and avoids nutrition shortfalls.
8. Cravings will become a thing of the past because you’ll know what you’re having and when — if you’re hungry now, you’ll know that the next meal is just around the corner, and that it’s going to be delicious! That way, there’s less chance of getting so hungry that you grab something from a vending machine or the kids’ Halloween candy stash.
8. Shopping will be a cinch. You’ll have the exact ingredients you need for meals that you know you’ll actually want to eat, rather than tossing out. The stress of shopping for specific diets is one reason why so many people fail in their quest to eat healthier or lose weight.
9. A meal prep calendar can eliminate the stress and becomes a valuable tool in meeting your goals, but no need to be chained to it. Sometimes the best laid plans are thrown off, so allow for flexibility in planning — and following — your meal calendar.
10. Every so often take a good hard look at the meal calendars you prepared in the past. What worked and what didn’t? Do you have the same few dishes on frequent rotation? (That’s easy to do when you have a finicky crew — once you find a meal everyone likes, you hit Repeat!)
If you’d like more ideas about how to meal plan in a planner, check out my ultimate guide Meal Plan with Your Bullet Journal & Save Recipes. It will make it easier to switch up recipes so that you and your family don’t get sick of one particular menu item.
Before you decide which meal(s) you’re going to prep ahead of time, take a close look at your daily schedule. Are you a single mom or dad with hectic mornings and not enough time to prepare a healthy breakfast for the kids?
Decide Which Meals to Plan Ahead of Time
Or, perhaps you have trouble gathering around the table in the evening for a nutritious and well-planned meal. If you find yourself stopping at McDonald’s or ordering pizza, you may benefit by planning the dinner meal ahead of time.
Lunches can also change for the better when planned ahead. If you usually go out for lunch, you’ll save money by pre-planning a lunch you can both enjoy and that will be much more nutritious for you than fast food or restaurant meals.
Kids quickly tire of cafeteria food and will thank you for a lunch they’ll enjoy and a nice change from the norm. Are you or your family gaining unwanted pounds from eating fast food or restaurant meals?
The meals that you tend to go through the drive-through for are the ones you should consider planning ahead. Think about which meals you can benefit most from if you planned ahead – and which will provide the most nutrition and fewer pounds.
Everyone wishes for more time in the day to enjoy other pursuits. More family time, exercise time, relaxation and so much more can be accomplished by taking a few hours or one day a week to shop and prepare meals for the week ahead.
Choosing the best meals to prepare ahead can be as simple as assessing your stress level when trying to provide tasty and healthy meals for your family. If you’re more stressed in the morning when trying to get off to work and school, then consider breakfast as your main plan-ahead meal.
If worrying about spending too much money on lunches or not getting a good value in matters of nutrition is bothering you, begin by planning lunches. Many choose dinner as their favorite meal to plan ahead.
That’s easy to understand when you consider how busy most families are in the evening. Kids are often coming in to eat a various times because of sports of study schedules – or you may be too tired from the long day to prepare a nutritious meal and opt for pizza or fast food.
You can turn your meal frustration around by thinking ahead and choosing to prepare ahead at least one meal during the week. You’ll transform a time-consuming and dreaded task into a quick, easy and delicious meal to enjoy.
Want more details about how to actually plan a day of meals and snacks? Here is a break down for you — rejigger it according to your tastes, diet, lifestyle, and budget.
Meal Prep Breakfast Ideas
Experts agree that breakfast is the most important meal of the day – especially for children. If you’re a mom or dad who wants to give the kids (and yourself) nutritious and delicious breakfasts, there are a few things that might make the meal prep process go smoother and faster.
On busy mornings when you barely have time to look in the pantry for ideas, it’s nice to have a plan. Pre-planning the breakfast meal can make the usual morning hassles run much smoother and you’ll feel better all day because you know you and your family got the fuel they needed to perform the best they can – whether in school or at the job.
Use ingredients such as whole grains, low-fat dairy and protein and fruits and veggies to ensure a healthy and tasty breakfast to tide you over until lunchtime, keep you from using the drive-thru at a fast food place, increase productivity and alertness and spending money needlessly.
Your first thought in breakfast planning and prep is to gather some well-made and FDA approved storage containers and bags. Then, take a few minutes to plan meal that you and your family will enjoy.
This will help immensely when you head to the grocery for the ingredients. Make a list of ingredients you’ll need for the recipes and pay attention to the staples that you can purchase in bulk and the sales, if any, on items you’ll need.
An evening or a day (depending on the prep times for recipes) should be all you need to prep the breakfast meals. Prepping may consist of boiling grains such as oatmeal, slicing and washing fruits and cooking some complete breakfasts in advance so you can add fruit and other items to make it complete.
A good idea for an easy prep breakfast which can be grabbed at the last minute before you leave in the morning include baked oatmeal, a great source of fiber and a good tool for lowering cholesterol.
Find a good variety of recipes and prepare them ahead. Use your blender to whip up delicious fruit smoothies using fresh fruits such as bananas, mango and blueberries. Add extra nutritional value with veggies such as cucumber and yogurt or coconut milk to make it creamy.
Bagels are exceptional breakfast choices. Make or add low-fat spreads to enhance the flavor and nutritional value or add an egg, spinach and turkey bacon to make it tasty and filling.
Midday Meal and Lunchbox Ideas
Whether you’re having lunch at your desk or overlooking a beautiful waterfall, a little planning ahead will make it a more enjoyable – and nutritious experience. It’s also likely you’ll save money by avoiding those expensive lunches at nearby restaurants – or drive through fast food.
You’ll also avoid that afternoon slump in energy and brain power if you plan ahead to take filling, but healthy lunches that perk you up rather than take you down. It will do wonders for your productivity.
One great idea for pre-planned lunches is to combine a protein, vegetable and carb so you’ll be getting a balanced meal. Some great proteins to choose from include eggs, chicken, tofu, steak or fish.
Great lunch veggies are abundant. Choose from broccoli, cauliflower, snow peas, lettuce, zucchini and so much more. And for a carb, you’ll find good choices in potatoes, brown rice, cous cous and quinoa.
There are so many ways to prepare them, you’ll never run out of ideas or new tastes. Mason jar salads have become the trend for healthy and filling lunches. Online recipes are everywhere, but one good concoction includes lettuce, chicken, avocado dressing, corn, black beans and tomato.
This “Mason jar taco salad” stays fresh and is a delight to look forward to at lunchtime. Containers are an important part of your lunch meal pre-planning. Mason jars are great and sturdy plasticware is also a good choice for soups and meals you need to heat in the microwave.
Flour tortillas are a great choice for all types of healthy wraps. Be creative with versatile ingredients such as rice, chicken and quinoa and healthy veggies. They’re also easy to eat and less messy than many choices.
Add fruits such as mandarin oranges and strawberries to your salad for a healthy and tasty way to get your fruit quota – and nuts such as walnuts and pecans can add a bit of crunch to jazz up a boring salad.
Don’t forget the old standby, sandwich, choice. You can prepare them ahead of time and choose ingredients that are low in calories and rich in nutrients. Tomato, hummus and spinach or low-calorie chicken salad on whole grain bread are great lunchtime choices.
You never have to let your lunches become boring. There are so many great choices from which to choose – and they’re easy and less time-consuming to prepare. Let your imagination soar and you’ll never dread having to eat a boring lunch again.
Meal Prep Dinner Ideas
How many times have you left work or are running late from appointments or other obligations and realized you had no plan on what to serve your family (or yourself) for dinner?
About that time of day, you’re likely tired and the last thing you want to do is stop by the grocery store to grab ingredients you’ll need for a healthy meal. So, you give up and pick up your family’s meal at a drive through or order pizza.
With a little pre-planning you can avoid that scenario and take the stress off your dinner preparation while providing you and your family with healthy and delicious meals. And, you’ll save money too.
Even if cooking intimidates you, you’ll find that many dinner ideas don’t require a gourmet touch – or even spending lots of time in the kitchen. Plus, pre-planning makes evening cleanup a breeze by using containers that are easily washable or disposable.
Chicken is a great pre-planned option, but can get boring if you have it a few days per week. One way to vary the taste is to use foil dividers in your pan to separate the chicken pieces, then use various seasonings (barbeque, honey mustard or grilled) to give yourself a couple of different tastes from one pan.
Chop or slice a variety of veggies in advance and use them in a sauté’ mixture or for a quick and easy salad combo. Zucchini and butternut squash noodles will last for up to 5 days in the refrigerator and if you seal onions or peppers properly, they’ll last a good amount of time, too.
Muffin tins can be used for make-ahead quiches and frittatas, which can be heated in the microwave when ready to serve. Grilling out on weekends is a great way to prepare ahead.
Grill some kabobs and then freeze and bring out during the week for a real treat. Don’t forget dessert. Make-ahead sorbets or yogurt and fruit cups are tasty and healthy treats. Mason jar salads can be a complete meal if planned properly – and your family will love the way the entire meal appears in the Mason jar.
Begin your pre-planned dinner meals with your own recipes. You’ll know the end results and you won’t be overwhelmed with so many new ideas at first. Also, begin by planning only one or two dinners per week.
After you experience the benefits of pre-planning and cooking, you’ll likely want to branch out and explore different options. Meal prep is a wonderful concept that helps you enjoy more time relaxing in the evening so you experience less stress.