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.