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?
Andrea keeps me well fed… 😉 The meal planning is great IMHO as it offers us some variety and makes the shopping easier for Andrea.
This looks pretty awesome. I’m culinary challenged to begin with, and it’s so easy to lose creativity in choosing different meals. This might be a solution for me. Thanks so much for the information.
Always happy to help! I have found allrecipes.com to be really useful, too, as I can save the recipes I like, and others who have made the dish describe what they did/didn’t like as well as any recommended modifications. I’ve bought 2 new cookbooks but haven’t delved into them yet.
Great post Andrea! I have never subscribed to meal planning services. I have occasionally signed up for recipes to be emailed to me, but it seems like so many of them are things that either Jim won’t eat, or I won’t eat. Limited space in the rig has relegated meals to either the microwave or slow cooker. Since our inverter went on the fritz today, we’ll be eating out or eating cold. Gonna have to stop some place today to warm up my leftover Buddy’s pizza, and Chicken Lemon Rice soup from Senate Coney Island.
Wow. Not having a stovetop would severely limit me! Luckily Shawn will eat just about anything, as long as I don’t make ethnic food too often. That’s one nice thing about an Instant Pot (or similar tool) — I can saute in it, too. Perhaps you can give me some tips about eating healthy when dining out?? That seems to be when we really splurge.
Well, eating healthy tips on the road: It’s hard, witness the reference to Buddy’s Pizza and Senate Coney Island! But, then again it’s favorite food when we get to the Detroit area. Lately we have not been too good about watching what we’re eating on the road.
When dining out, we generally look for items that have calorie counts on the menus (there’s a few places that put them on their menus).
Meats & Chicken – we try to stick to grilled (without sauce) and leaner cuts of beef.
Salads – we use olive oil & vinegar (lots of times I will make my own dressing and take it in with me), downplay cheese and croutons. I watch carefully just what’s put on salads because calories can add way up there quickly depending upon ingredients.
Veggies – steamed or grilled fresh veggies, or sautéed in olive oil with spices.
I tend to avoid fried foods unless I’m going to a favorite place for fried chicken (Hen House in Illinois)
For fast food – we prefer Chick-fil-A They have grilled chicken sandwiches, nuggets, and some great salads. I like their kale side salad, which has a lot of fiber (something that the Dr told me I need to beef up on). We love their diet lemonade.
We watch sugar content too. I make my own Chai Tea latte mix and use liquid stevia to sweeten it, I figure it costs me about $.20 per serving, and less than 20 calories per serving – I can drink it to my heart’s content. Lot’s cheaper than Starbucks! But, right now we seem to be frequenting Starbucks too much, as Jim is on a Starbucks kick, and I join in with him – their stuff is packed with calories.
It’s much easier to control things when you can cook them yourself.
All good tips. We’re trying to just cut down on the fast food, period – but Shawn really loves the Sonic corn dogs and tater tots, so we spring for it sometimes. Those menus are a good way to help him learn about calorie counts! Sonic has a diet green tea that I really like, especially with a shot of their (also diet) mango flavoring. He’s also still using the Keurig, but is contemplating reducing the coffee intake or cutting it out altogether. We’ll see how that goes…. 😉
Loving the blogs! You are on point with the hot topic of meal prep. 😉 I am going to start doing this as soon as we complete this phase ( back on the austere one). Our diet coach just pointed me to skinny taste.com which also does a weekly meal plan & is on Pinterest and Facebook. I am also looking forward to using my new air fryer as so many people I know swear by them.
Hi AmyLynn! Thanks again for the encouragement. It’s amazing how much content is available for free. Check out HungryGirl.com. It’s one of the few daily newsletters that I like enough to continue receiving. Loads of low-calorie recipes, including many which “make over” foods we love. I’ll admit I haven’t tried any of them yet, but I’ve saved quite a few of the recipes on Pinterest and Word documents! She highlights new food products too.
I have several friends who love their air fryers. We have no more room for appliances (!) and fried foods are one category that we really don’t miss. Let me know how it works out for you!
P.S. This article came through on Greatist.com, the other daily newsletter I read. https://greatist.com/eat/air-fryer-recipes
I’ve kind of done everything as far as meal planning services. My favorite was the pricey Terra’s Kitchen meals. eMeals was OK but I couldn’t really ever find a plan that fit (healthy, tastes great, adventurous but not weird, and mostly simple prep).
With regard to diet, I found sugar to be the biggest saboteur in my struggle to eat healthy. When I quit it – and I’m not talking just dessert – I quit jonesing for carbs so bad. 9 grams or less per meal and 27 total per day max is the ideal. Start checking nutrition labels and you’ll see how out of whack most packaged food is.
In order to get through the cravings while adjusting to no sugar, I ate whatever – as long as it wasn’t sugar or simple carbs. Almonds, potato chips, popcorn, etc.
I might have dessert a few times a year now, but it seems like every time I do I want to make microwave mug cake every day for three days after!
Sugar is definitely my downfall. Straight C12H22O11 in soda and candy. I can go through streaks where I don’t crave it, but they don’t last long. I’m weak.