Weekly meal planning can significantly improve the nutrient density of your diet, help you manage the garden harvest, and save you money. Get my FREE weekly meal planning template with a sample weekly menu, and see how my household saved $1,000 in one year using our data from a year of meal planning records.
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Most of us want to have healthier food in our family’s diet. When we fail, time is usually the culprit: Modern life is busy. How can we make time to prepare healthy meals amidst all that life throws at us?
Establish a Meal Planning Routine
Menu planning can help you establish a routine. For example, I spend an hour each Sunday reviewing the previous week’s meal plan and drawing up a meal plan for the week to come. We try to reserve Sundays as a day of rest and family time, but taking just one hour to think ahead has helped me start the week on an organized note.
3 Benefits of a Meal Planning Template
Writing a weekly menu plan and keeping the meal plan records in a 3-ring binder has helped me in so many ways. Here are some things I discovered.
1. I discovered a rotation of ‘go-to’ dishes.
Every Sunday I print a copy of the template and write down a weekly menu. To begin, I first take inventory of items in the fridge that need used up before expiring, and meals that were planned for the previous week but didn’t get used due to unexpected meetings or other engagements.
I incorporate those items into the first meals of the week. Fresh produce from the garden or nearby farm, pantry items, and frozen meat items are all mixed and matched for a variety of meals.
After committing to this meal planning routine for over a year, the best thing that happened has been a development of a rotation of dishes that are easy to make and are enjoyed by everyone. In the beginning there was trial and error to find just the right chicken wings recipe that everyone liked (for example).
Now the meal planning sessions don’t take very long at all because I know exactly what recipe I’ll use for the chicken wings when I take them out of the freezer.
The 3-ring binder is a record of previous weeks, so if I forget which recipe I usually use for the sirloin roast, it’s easy to find again.
Now when we make a 6-month pastured meat order from our local farmer, we purchase the same cuts of meat every time (the most cost-effective cuts), and we already have a recipe ready to go for each.
There are still opportunities each month for spontaneous and creative meal creations, but to be successful on a busy schedule, it’s the go-to recipes that make the meal plan successful as a whole.
2. By tracking our meals, I learned how to evaluate our meals for nutrient density.
Seeing the menu plan on paper is an easy way to scan for nutrient density. We focus on colorful, whole food meals that offer a variety of healthy proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins and minerals, and fiber.
Green Vegetables: I make sure that we eat at least two servings of green vegetables each day, and I rotate the variety depending on what we have from the garden.
Protein Sources: I also make sure that the protein sources are varied. If we start the week with chicken wings for dinner, I’ll follow it with a couple days of beef burgers or fish filets.
Starchy Vegetables: Our favorite colorful and healthy starches around here are butternut squash, beets, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and turnips. We have one serving of these each night.
- Beets–A variety of recipes
- Butternut Squash–A variety of recipes
- Recipe: Turnip Hash Browns and Bacon and Turnip Scramble Recipe
- Root Crops–A variety of recipes
Food sensitivities are the culprit in many health issues ranging from an irritating ache or pain to serious autoimmune disease. By keeping a record of your diet, your functional medicine doctor can help you evaluate your diet for trends and possible diet-health connections.
3. I discovered how to save money and time.
It’s simple to create a grocery list and buy only what you need when the weekly menu is already planned. By studying meal plan records, I discovered what our most expensive grocery purchases were and came up with alternatives. Here’s how we started saving $100 a month from the grocery budget.
Also, the meal plan template allows me to plan ahead for the prep work. Batching my cooking and food preparation into one or two sessions per week means that I’m not in the kitchen day after day, even though our meals don’t contain any packaged, convenience products.
For example, I’ll get out my 12-quart steamer pot and steam two giant batches of green beans to last us all week for dinners. When everything is made ahead like this, all I need to do is heat it up on those busy nights when we’ve worked late and everyone is hungry.
Also, I seriously don’t know where I’d be without my Crock-pot.
The lesson is simple: Make a big batch of a recipe that will last 2-4 meals (or more). Our dinner for the last three nights has been ham, cabbage, and carrot stew. Meal plans that show a different menu for every meal of the week aren’t realistic, especially for busy people!
Because your diet won’t be as varied with this batch-cooking model, however, be sure that each meal is chock-full of healthy proteins, fats, and vegetables.
Get the Meal Planning Template & Sample Menu
Download the free template either as an Excel spreadsheet or as a PDF. Both versions include my sample menu plan.
TAF Weekly Meal Plan Template (Excel)
A Year of Weekly Meal Planning in Review
When I set out to write down a weekly meal plan for an entire year, I had three goals:
1. Develop a routine to help me prioritize time for making healthy, homemade meals.
Here’s how I did: I’ve always had some sort of meal planning practice, but I was never good at sticking to it. This was my first year of planning meals for EVERY DAY of an entire year. Using the template and sticking to an hour planning session every Sunday was extremely successful.
The meal plan helped me choose 1-3 times each week to batch together the cooking and meal preparation. This is especially helpful in the summer when I’m processing a lot of vegetables from the garden.
2. Prioritize homegrown and locally-grown items.
Here’s how I did: 50% of our meals included homegrown components and 64% of our meals included locally-produced items. We’re proud of this accomplishment and of course, hope to continue to improve.
3. Save money through more efficient choice and use of ingredients, and by eating out less.
Here’s how I did: We spent $1,000 less last year on groceries and dining out compared to the previous year, by analyzing our meal plan records and making economical substitutions for the most expensive items. We spent most of the savings on building up our storage of emergency food and water preps.
And although we did not keep track of how many times we dined out the previous year, we averaged just 2 meals out per week last year. This includes eating away from home for family trips, holidays, and special occasions such as out-of-town visitors. Because of our deliberate effort to reduce dining out expenses, I’m sure it was an improvement.
Read more about Meal Planning and Budgeting (the tactics that helped me save money!!!):
All in all, weekly meal planning can help your family eat healthier meals and reduce the food budget, too.
Share your meal planning tips below!