Planning Ahead: Weekly Menus

One of the biggest obstacles to eating well is finding a way to eat food prepared from home. But in our hectic 24/7-world, finding the time and the motivation to buy and prepare healthy food can be a challenge. While in a burst of inspiration, you may find yourself stocking up on great produce with every intention of turning it into nutritionally dense, antioxidant-rich, delicious meals, almost as often, that wonderful produce ends up in the garbage by week’s end due to time constraints and waning motivation as life’s challenges get in the way of good intentions.

But the truth is, until you prioritize eating well and sustainably, making at least half your meals at home, you will likely continue to struggle with your health and your weight. When you eat out, you are consuming more sugar, fat and sodium than you would ever consume from a homemade meal, unless of course you are a fan of Paula Dean. Even if you are minding your portions, restaurant and take-out food is designed to keep you hungry, addicted, and ultimately, overweight.

But it’s not just your body that suffers from take-out and fast food. So does your wallet. And if you add up all the money you are spending a week on on-the-run breakfasts, take-out lunches, and dinners out, you will see that your whole life would benefit from a menu overhaul and a little planning ahead. Creating a weekly menu from the amazing fresh fruits and vegetables that are bursting from the Farmer’s Market stands is easy enough with just a few staples and some simple ideas.

For about $75 you can easily prepare 15 out of 21 meals (or more!) for a single person from home. If the average cost of a takeout meal is approximately $15 and you eat 10 meals outside your home, which is easy to do, then you are spending twice that amount on unhealthy food that is keeping you from looking and feeling your best.  If you’re thinking that 10 meals outside the home is an exaggeration, then consider this: if you buy your lunch out during the workweek, that’s five meals already. Grabbing breakfast at Starbucks on the way to the office every day is another five. And if you order takeout or have dinner with your friends even twice a week, there are another two, which adds up to 12. In NYC, 12 meals outside the home is actually considered pretty good. There are many here who eat every single meal from some sort of take-out place, throwing away good money and taking in food that can compromise their health.

As you see, $75 is an utter bargain and ultimately, an excellent investment in your health and in your life.

Basic Staples, And How to Make this Work

To make this workable for you, you’ll need to find about 5 to 7 recipes that you enjoy and are easy to make. These will be your core staple recipes and you can add or subtract recipes from this list seasonally, or, to add variety. To make it even more cost effective, these recipes will have interchangeable ingredients, meaning, some of the recipes will call for similar ingredients, but prepared in a different way. Once the menu is settled, you’ll want to post your menu for the week somewhere in your kitchen, based on the ingredients in your fridge.

For example, here is my weekly menu for the week of July 15th:

For $75 I have the ingredients I need to make myself 4 green drinks, 5 detox smoothies, enough gazpacho for three meals, salad supplies for three dinners, eggs for three breakfasts and raw granola for another three breakfasts. I also have enough fresh produce to make Vietnamese Spring Rolls, with almond butter and rice paper that I bought on previous shopping trips. I also got myself a coconut so I can make coconut yogurt, which will provide an additional two breakfasts.

For a $75 investment, I have enough food for about 20 meals plus four green drinks. That is a huge amount of delicious healthy food! And, because I have written down the weekly menu on my kitchen chalkboard, I know what I have on hand and it is easy enough to pull it together. And not one of those meals takes more than 15 minutes to make. If you watch TV or spend time surfing the Internet, then you have 15 minutes to prepare your food.

If making 15 meals a week from home feels like a lot for you, then start with breakfast, as it is generally easier than the others to prepare. Or if the mornings are too rushed for you, then plan to bring lunch. Choose whichever works best for you and commit to doing it for a month. As an added incentive, take the $15 you would otherwise be spending and put it in an envelope somewhere. If you were buying five lunches a week at $15 a pop, at the end of the month you’ll have $300 that you didn’t otherwise have and that you can now spend on something of value.

Eating meals prepared from home is unfortunately, a dying concept. The cost to our health and our wallets is clear enough. But in addition, by relying on takeout, processed, refined and fast food, we are supporting an industry that is literally making us sick. We vote more with our dollars than we do with our voices. By investing in fresh, delicious food and taking the time to prepare it, you are casting your vote for health, sustainability and a vibrant future. All it takes is a little planning, a clear intention and a little follow through. Trust me, the 15 minutes it takes is absolutely worth it.

Share Your Thoughts...

16 comments on “Planning Ahead: Weekly Menus

  1. AvatarPeggy

    I am unable to view the example of your 7day weekly menu
    is there another area it may have peen poster ?

    1. AvatarBarbara Mendez RPh MS Post author

      Sorry for the delay Peggy and the absence of the menu…. we are in the process of putting the finishing touches on the new site for a relaunch and some of the links got broken and are irretrievable. I will check to see if I can find it for you and if I do I will email it to you directly…. stay tuned 🙂

  2. AvatarTerry

    Hi Barbara,

    This is a great help to me, I’ve been trying to eat healthier due to medical issues, but, been relying on cereal allot because of a hectic schedule and how tired I am after work or trying to get ready. I really appreciate this blog.

    I will work on it, and let you know how it goes. Just one thing, I can’t have any citrus or acid, so I will substitute.

    Food for thought, Whole Foods Store just came out w/ a “Zen” salad mix. Asian greens baby spinach, and baby kale. It’s really good especially in a veggie juice mix.

  3. AvatarJon Sheppard

    Thanks for the reinforcement Barbara!! I have been trying to prepare at least half of my weekly intake of food at home. Although it has been a challenge , I feel soooo much better just making the effort. Presently I am only being successful here and there but feel great eating clean foods that I feel good about and am saving a few dollars here and there. I have been successful in making my own green drinks and feel “ahead of the game” with just those. many thanks!!


  4. AvatarJorge Mendez

    Great blog!
    Following your example, I just made a huge amount of soup with leftovers in my fridge. With no meat or fats of any kind.
    I had a package of frozen vegetables at home (carrots, corn, broccoli an cauliflower, string beans, etc.), added some onions, green peppers and garlic, added some zucchini and eggplant that I had leftover in the kitchen. Added some organic vegetable broth and water and cooked it till everything was tender. Let it cool and then put it in the blender until it was creamy.
    When serving, I added a dash of cooking sherry wine and salt and pepper. I must say it tasted great! Your mother said so!
    Your Dad

  5. Avatarsukey pett

    I cannot imagine how people lose weight and at healthfully if they don’t cook at home. While eating out can be a treat, it’s awfully challenging on a daily basis. I believe the act of cooking for oneself is one of the greatest forms of self-nurturing a person can do. It’s not just about the food. While I have not costed my budget out, depending upon where you live, you might even be able to cook for a bit under $75 a week per person. While I realize often talking of food shopping at Wal-Mart is verboten, I am among other things a chef, and they sell excellent bags of frozen fish, salmon and haddock in particular, as well as trout, that are about five dollars for a bag of 4-6 wild caught individually cryovacked fish filets. This is a great way to get fish into your diet. Another thing I do when menu planning is buy a huge package of boneless chicken breasts, brine them over night and roast them in the oven. I individually freeze and wrap some of the cooked ones and the rest of them are on hand for grab-and-go lunches and dinners. Menu planning can seem daunting but once you get the hang of it, it’s fun. Soup is another easy thing. Try this; break two heads of broccoli into florets, cook in lightly salted water til al dente an remove and refresh. Keep the broccoli cooking water, remove from head, put broccoli back in, puree and add salt and pepper to taste. A healthy soup for pennies.

    1. AvatarJasmine Kanter

      This is very inspirational Sukey. Thank you for all these tips – I am printing this page so i can save them! And thank you Barbara for another great motivational blog!

  6. AvatarLisa

    I agree! I cook almost all of our good at home and it is both cost effective and healthy! Smoothies for breakfast. Salads and pasta for lunch, your spring rolls for snacks and tofu tempeh or beans for dinner. And this time of year is bursting with fresh produce fr the farm and of course corn! It is so easy everyone should do it!

    1. AvatarBarbara Mendez, RPh, MS Post author

      I know! This is one of the many things I admire about you! That you can cook so much from home while still engage in an active life, raise a child, stay happily married….. it is easy and manageable and will make such a difference in the way you look and feel~ Thanks Lisa! I hope all is well with you!

      1. Avatarlisa

        thank you! and what is amazing is that before i didn’t cook at all! remember you used to give me recipes? i would nod my head and shove them into the drawer. proof that things change and if i can do it anyone can!


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