I actually love cooking. I have been cooking on my own for the majority of my life and these days, we have dinner at home at least 6 out of 7 nights. That’s why when I kept hitting a brick wall every week at the grocery I was baffled. This should be easy right? I like eating. For whatever reason, my kids aren’t picky eaters. We don’t have any major diet restrictions. Planning dinners for the week should be a piece of cake! But it really wasn’t- I was filled with dread every time I’d pull into that grocery parking lot and would emerge an hour later with what amounted to mainly snacks and overly processed food. I needed to get into meal planning.
If You Fail To Plan, etc.
Whenever Mr. Sort Of would ask what’s for dinner, I’d grit my teeth. I don’t really know and I’m not planning to think about that until 10 minutes before I start cooking because I have decision fatigue from an entire day of solving problems for four other people. It was actually painful to try and think what I should make that night, let alone the weekend before going to the store. I needed someone to just tell me what to do and when to do it and that is when I discovered these amazing meal planning services- all the work done for me and not one single choice to be made at 5:30. If you can follow a recipe, you can totally ace using a meal planning service.
Choices, Choices: Narrow it Down
Over the years, I’ve tried a handful of different meal planning services. Each one offers something a bit different, at different price points, but all include basically the same things: a collection of meal recipes (usually dinner) and the grocery list to go with it. Let’s go through my top three favorite choices and programs I’ve personally used. (By the way, if you decide to sign up using any of the links below, you’ll be contributing to my own meal planning service fund- these are affiliate links!)
Once a Month Meals
The idea here is simple- cook up a bunch of stuff and chuck it in your freezer for any time during the coming month. I loved the idea of this from the get go, mainly because of the organization of it all and how I didn’t have to participate in creating that. OAMM offers a variety of different menu types which include a grocery list, things to prep ahead (like dicing veg or browning meat), instructions for your prep day- what to cook when so that nothing is trying to overlap in your oven/instant pot/crock pot/whatever, recipes, freezing and thawing instructions and a freezer inventory list. Most plans will take the better part of a day to prepare but you end up with around 20-25 dinners, a dozen or so lunches and a handful of breakfast options for a month- all you need to do is figure out what to thaw when! (OAMM just announced they are closing membership at the end of October 2018 and it won’t open again until 2019. If you’re interested in joining, lock in this year’s price ASAP!)
This is my current go to and affordability and selection is key here. With eMeals you can choose any menu you like from their 23 different options– whoa nelly yes, 23 options, which include things like breakfast, lunch and special occasions as well as all the different diet choices like vegetarian or heart healthy all the way down to a Paula Deen themed menu. And, you can now pick and choose between the meal plans so if you want to be Paleo, sort of, you can and when that doesn’t work out you can go back to budget friendly (one of my favorite plans). You can even choose from all of the meal plans and include a little of each thing every week. eMeals has also cornered the market on meal plan apps- from within the app you can see your shopping list, follow your recipes (in a nice big visible font!) and even order groceries for the week right there on your phone. And the app is super-intuitive and not buggy. You cannot beat the services eMeals provides for the price.
The Fresh 20
Take 20 whole food ingredients and make a week of it- this is definitely the simplest, most streamlined meal planning service I’ve used. You get your recipes for the week and a grocery list of just 20 items (plus some pantry staples), many of which are used more than once a week. So, let’s say we have a pork loin on Monday, then on Wednesday we get pork tacos with the leftover pork you shredded up after dinner. The Fresh 20 focuses on whole food options and shows you how to do things like make your own ketchup, but you can also Sort Of this one out too to save time (I 100% have never made my own ketchup).
Save Your Sanity, Seriously
I know it’s nuts to think that you could actually cook dinner for your family 6 or 7 nights a week and not be completely exhausted by the end, but meal planning services are such a colossal time saver the expense. Plus, at around $20-$40 depending on the service and plan, is completely worth it. Not to mention, you don’t get sick of the same two dozen or so recipes you normally rotate through. And don’t worry, plain old taco night or a birthday celebration out to eat are still an option if you just swap out one or two nights of planned recipes.
I love cooking and I have a decent amount of good kitchen instinct and even make some things my family loves, but removing this one little thing from my plate and having it mapped out for me every week has saved this mama a lot of sanity. Plus, if I’m just following a recipe, it’s easier for me to drink a glass of wine in the kitchen while I slave away.