Have you ever used a meal planning service?
Back in 2013, I spotted a Groupon for an eMeal subscription at 90% off retail rate – just $10 for an entire years’ worth of menus and recipes! As a frugal cook, I couldn’t pass that up. Being the slacker that I am, though, I didn’t USE the meal plans until last fall (2017). I just saved the PDFs that were emailed to me every week in a folder and kind of forgot about them.
Now that we are on the road and have more limited pantry space – and often a longer drive to a grocery store – the meal plan really helps me organize the weekly grocery runs and eliminates dithering about what to make each night.
Meal delivery services like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh really aren’t practical when your mailing address changes frequently. I have the time to shop, and appreciate the opportunity to select my own produce or make a substitution when an item is on sale. And honestly, the few times I did use these services back in Detroit, I wasn’t very happy with the condition of the produce.
The Basic Plan
Each weekly menu contains 7 dinners. That’s perfect for our needs; most days Shawn doesn’t eat breakfast, and I’ll make us a simple soup or sandwich lunch. We don’t use all 7 meals. Most weeks we’ll go out to eat for dinner once, and eat leftovers or “snacks” for another meal. And, I’ll admit, some of the meals are just not to our tastes.
Each meal includes both a main dish and a side dish. The main is usually chicken, pork, steak or fish, but occasionally vegetarian like a quiche. The side dish is generally a vegetable or salad.
Most recipes include no more than 5-7 ingredients (not including spices, oils, etc.) and take anywhere from 20 – 60 minutes to get the meal on the table. There are occasional slow cooker recipes included.
The meal plan I selected includes two servings of high-protein, low-carbohydrate meals. As a low-carbohydrate menu, no potatoes, corn, rice, pasta, or breads are included. The recipe includes the net carb count for each recipe if you’re tracking these things.
Each week’s menu plan includes a shopping list and a list of staple/pantry items that will also be needed.
A few of the meals made in our RV kitchen.
How we use the Plan
On Sunday nights I open and print the week’s menus. I’ll usually scratch off the meals that don’t appeal to me, then scratch off the matching ingredients on the accompanying shopping list. Then I’ll add any other grocery items we need to the shopping list and hit the stores on Monday morning.
We don’t adhere strictly to the pairings of the main and side dishes as written. We’ll mix and match, or substitute a different menu item from a past recipe. A lot of the salads are not to my taste, so I’ll swap out a different salad or vegetable combination instead. And sometimes I’ll cook my own favorite recipe, as long as it doesn’t contain the “forbidden” starches. (Last week’s off-the-plan dinner was a delicious split pea and ham soup. Yum!)
Our favorite menu items make it into the recipe book that I found at the local thrift shop for $1. 😊
What I’ve Learned
- New combinations like spinach and garbanzo beans sautéed with garlic – yum! Mashed cauliflower (instead of mashed potatoes) even satisfies Shawn.
- I (now) like meatloaf! We’ve had two meatloaf recipes that have been very good, I think it’s the secret ingredient. 😉
- We still crave carbohydrates and sweets on a regular basis. We haven’t made a huge effort to cut them out entirely, just to reduce them, so I suppose that’s not surprising.
- By cooking from scratch 95% of the time, I’m controlling how much sodium, sugar and unpronounceable chemicals we consume. It’s astonishing how much sodium and sugar hides in prepared meals and sauces!
- I make fewer trips to the grocery store, reducing our fuel costs because I have what I need to cook that week’s meals.
eMeals is still available as a service, and it looks like they’ve expanded their product lines even further. Groupon still offers several half-off options. If having someone else plan out your meals and maintain a grocery list would make your life easier, give it a closer look.
Note: I wrote this post pre-Christmas, 2017. We’ve recently made the switch to a Mediterranean-style DASH diet, adding whole grains back into our diet and cutting the meat significantly while watching portions. I’m still using some of the eMeal recipes, and need to get back on-track with planning the meals in advance. We’re slightly spoiled right now in the Houston area, but I know planning is going to be key as we continue to roam the country and have a harder time finding large grocery stores within a reasonable distance.
Have you used a meal planning service? Which one would you recommend? What did you learn?