Weekly meal planning can be a huge factor in helping to keep you organized, so that you can feed your family the most affordable, nutrient dense meals. Here is how I used weekly meal planning to save money while improving the quality of our home cooked meals.
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Meal Planning Mondays
On Monday mornings I grab a cup of coffee, take a long look in the fridge and freezer, sit down with my cookbooks and a copy of my meal plan template, and jot down a 2-week meal plan for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. I re-evaluate the plan at the beginning of each week, since invariably, meals get skipped due to meetings, errands, surprise visits, etc, and then get pushed to the following week.
Using a Template
You can download a free copy of my meal planning template here, but if you’d prefer to shop around, there is one essential component that I would look for.
Look for a free template that has a section for “tasks to do to prep for next day”.
This means that on Monday I have a space to write ‘make sauteed kale and mushroom egg muffins‘ so that during the Tuesday morning breakfast-and-get-out-the-door rush I’m not trying to MAKE the muffins, just reheat and serve.
Evaluating for Nutrient Density
When I first began using my fancy new template, I wanted to visually see how well I was using homegrown and local foods in my meal plans, so I used different colors of highlighters to signify the meals’ origins.
Meals that included homegrown components were highlighted in green, orange meant that a meal contained locally-derived components, and yellow meant a meal included both. After collecting meal plans for about a month, I discovered that 7 days out of the week I was using homegrown items, while 6 days of the week I was using locally-grown items.
Or you could say that out of 21 possible meals in the week, 17 of them contained a homegrown component, while 9 of them contained a locally-derived component. This is great for nutrient density, but perhaps deadly on the pocketbook.
Food prices change with seasons and availability, so regularly evaluating where you buy the groceries you can’t grow yourself and comparing prices can be really helpful to lighten the load on the budget.
Evaluating for Cost Effectiveness
In my post about affording quality food, I identify that the next step after creating meal plans is to tally up the ingredients you need to buy, and list the top 10 most eaten household ingredients.
Here are the lists that I’ve come up with for our household.
Top 8 Homegrown Ingredients
These items were the most highly utilized homegrown items in my menu planning.
- collard greens
- green beans
Top 10 Fresh Purchased Items
These are the items that I will be comparing around the city for the most economical and nutrient-dense options.
- apples –
- avocados +
- deli slices
- ground beef
My goal is to retain my weekly meal plans in a binder, so that we can look at our eating trends over time. This larger study will probably affect our Top 10 list and will be useful in our budgeting process down the road.
Dirty Dozen and Clean 15
The last thing I did was refer to the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists and remind myself which of my top ten items I must absolutely purchase organic/ local/ chemical-free, and which ones can be purchased in their conventional form without worry, if the price happens to be cheaper.
I noted items in my list above with either a plus (clean) or a minus (dirty).
*Carrots and lettuce have a star notation because chances are good that our use will exceed our homegrown supply.
We purchase our pastured animal products from a local farm. And since we bought a chest freezer, we can buy the meat monthly to get the best prices.
Following my plan in my post about Affording good food, my next step is to coordinate a big Cost Comparison Day, and drive around town to compare prices at the various possible grocery shopping venues nearby. I’m excited to see what I come up with. We’ll see if I will be able to afford our top 10 items in their most nutrient-dense form and stick to our grocery budget, or if I’ll need to pare back from 10 to a smaller number.
Update: See my results of keeping meal records and comparing grocery prices for an entire year. (Hint: Huge savings!)
Do you use a template for meal planning? How do you save money on quality food in your house? Will you take the Top 10 Plunge?