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Is a Menu Planning Service Worth it? I Didn’t Save Money But Did Gain Value.

Is a Menu Planning Service Worth it?  I Didn’t Save Money But Did Gain Value.

IMG_4199Ever feel like you have a pantry full of staples and a refrigerator full of food and yet “there is nothing to eat”?  If you have teenagers, no doubt you’ve heard that multiple times, usually accompanied by standing in front of the refrigerator holding the door open for 5 minutes at a time.  After a busy day it can be hard to find the energy to come up with a balanced dinner or even execute one that you have planned.  Enter menu planning services.  E-meals is one that is frequently advertised on the radio stations I listen to and I took advantage of a Groupon to purchase a plan.

My current situation is that we are empty nesters so I don’t have the pressure of putting dinner on the table for a family every night.  I will say that when my kids were in middle school/high school, regular family dinner time became an impossibility due to activity schedules, and my own work schedule.  I have had the e-meals plan for almost 2 years.  Yes, I did renew when they offered the groupon rate at the end of my term.  I have tried the low carb, lowfat, organic, crock pot, clean eating, and Mediterranean plans.  Here are my thoughts.

I spent more money on groceries by following the e-meals plan.  On some plans, like the organic, quite a bit more, but please keep reading.  Going into the experience, I was a coupon clipper, what’s on special, look for the meat reduced for quick sale, grocery shopper.  I had a somewhat stocked freezer and pantry.  I think part of the reason that a menu planning service saves you money is that it keeps you from eating out and picking up fast food.  We rarely do either.  One thing that increased my cost was that I found myself buying something where a small portion would be used in one recipe, like Hosin sauce, and the rest was wasted because I didn’t know what to do with it.  I also found more expensive types of fish and meat on the plans than what I normally buy.

Even though I think I spent more when using this meal planning service I still think it has value.  If you end up eating out, picking up fast food or buying convenience foods in the store, then this type of plan could save you a lot of money.  If you are already the frugal ninja grocery shopper you may not save money.  Here are my pros and cons.

Pros:

  • E-meals menu planning service got me out of a rut and had me trying thing I would never have tried.
  • I found some awesome new recipes by using the plan
  • I loved the shopping list
  • I could delegate to the husband to make dinner if needed and all the instructions were right there.
  • I loved the ability to try different menu plans
  • The plan got me organized for the week and I didn’t have to think about it after the shopping was done.

Cons:

  • I don’t like broccoli or cauliflower or kale, etc and had to make a lot of substitutions.
  • My husband is allergic to seafood and I had to make substitutions.
  • Menu plans didn’t seem to be friendly to what was seasonal in the stores.
  • We have tried to eliminate all processed foods, mixes, any grain products not 100% whole grain, etc from our diet-I had to make substitutions.
  • I haven’t found a menu plan that really fits our eating style: low carb was too low carb and low fat used a lot of “fake” food.
  • Some plans had nutrition guidance (like the number of carbs) but for others no nutrition information was provided.  This is important to me and my family.
  • I have a garden and the plans didn’t allow me to plan meals that use what is available from my garden.
  • I think it takes a little more time in the actual “prep/cooking” phase to make something unfamiliar.
  • Sometimes I’d be buying something where a small portion would be used in one recipe, like Hoisin sauce, and the rest was wasted because I didn’t know what to do with it.
  • We used the meal plans for 2 – I missed having leftovers (yes I said that) but I thought a meal plan for 4 would have been overkill.
  • A set menu plan doesn’t always allow you to take advantage of sales and specials, especially if you are working with a set budget each week and don’t have money to buy extra things that are on sale but not on that week’s plan.

Bottom line:  if you eat out a lot or even if you stop at the store on your way home from somewhere to “pick up” something quick for dinner, a menu planning service will save you money and reduce stress.  And, there are other reasons that a menu planning service like e-meals might be worth it (variety, specific dietary needs, organization).

If I could add a few suggestions to make e-meals better I would suggest:

  • Add nutrition information to all meal plans.  Knowledge is power and what a great benefit that would be for people tracking specific nutrition information.
  • Add a “do ahead of time” list to each meal plan.  In the mean time you can do this on your own.  When you get home from the shopping trip, look over the recipes.  You can probably chop vegetables; assemble spices or pre brown ground beef, etc so that your meal prep time during the week is even faster.
  • Help me use the leftover specialty ingredients that I purchased with suggestions or by using that ingredient in multiple recipes.
  • Add a “once a month cooking” plan that allows me to shop, cook and freeze entrees for an entire month with weekly list for fresh sides.  I always loved the idea of once a month cooking.
  • Don’t have so many sides with broccoli and cauliflower (sorry).

I hope to return and add some thoughts on other menu planning services.  Do you have a favorite?



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