Weekly meal planning can help improve your diet and save you money. Get my FREE meal planning template and see how I saved $1,000 on groceries in one year.
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My specialty is permaculture design, and typically this expertise is used to design super-efficient gardens and homesteads. I used these same design ideas to create a super-efficient weekly meal planning system. Now I’m able to use up my garden produce and create healthy meals that save me time and money.
Establish a Weekly Meal Planning Routine
Menu planning can help establish a routine. For example, I spend an hour each Monday (Meal Planning Mondays) reviewing the previous week’s meal plan. Then I draw up a meal plan for the current week. 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.
Benefit #1. Discover a rotation of ‘go-to’ dishes.
Every Monday I print a copy of the template (see below) and write down a weekly menu. First, take inventory of items in the fridge that need used up before expiring. Next, make note of 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 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 the 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 recipe that everyone liked for a given item.
For example, I must have tried a dozen chicken wing recipes before I found one that was consistently good and that everyone in my house liked. Now the meal planning sessions don’t take very long 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 (and the recipes I used), 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.
Benefit #2. Track your meals and evaluate them for health.
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: We have one serving of colorful and healthy starches each night.
Benefit #3: Discover 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 and saving grocery receipts, I discovered what our most expensive grocery purchases were and came up with alternatives.
Batch your food prep for serious time savings.
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: How I Saved $1,000 on Groceries in one Year
When I set out to write down a meal plan each week for an entire year, I had three goals:
Goal #1. Develop a routine for making healthy, homemade meals.
Here’s how I did: I’ve always had some sort of weekly 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 Monday 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.
Goal #2. Prioritize homegrown and locally-grown items.
Here’s how I did: 50% of our weekly 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 increase what we can produce in our own gardens.
Goal #3. Save money through smarter shopping 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 weekly 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.
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.
Need more homestead kitchen ideas?
- How to Make Garlic Powder
- How to Preserve Tomatoes in Small Batches
- Kale and Sweet Potato Soup + More Kale Recipes
Are you looking for strategies for your permaculture garden? You’ll find loads of information in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
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!