Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review: meal-planning service

Have you kept your resolutions? Are you thinking about making new ones?

If you follow this blog, you know I haven’t kept to my resolution to update weekly.

If one of your resolutions has to do with meal planning, I have a review for you that may be helpful. It is never too late to adopt this skill that will be so helpful in running your household smoothly.
I have been a meal planner for years. I look at my calendar and figure out which nights are busy and will need a quicker meal. Some nights might be a church or family dinner for which I will have to take a covered dish. Some occasions mean we will be eating out. I look up all the recipes, take note of the ingredients and make a grocery list for that week. I don’t just think about dinner, I consider lunches and sometimes breakfasts.

There are some meal planning services that will give you a week of dinners and a grocery list. is one that I tried is focused on saving money and it makes up the menus and lists based on a particular store’s weekly sale. I chose Wal-mart because that was the closest store to my home of the ones they offered. I signed up for the service because I had a discount code from finance guru Dave Ramsey. It lasted for 3 months. I did not renew when it was over.

I signed up to try it in October 2011, a month when I was so busy I thought I was going to lose it. In a way, it was nice to hand the meal planning and list making off to someone else. I had to make some modifications. There were some choices that I knew my family would not eat and some that I just wrote off as way too unhealthy. (There are plans that adjust the selections for people with dietary concerns or who have small families. The plan I purchased was not one of them.) If I had followed the plan strictly, I would’ve spent about $87 a week for just dinners. This didn’t take into account what I would spend for lunches or breakfasts or for household products such as laundry detergent or dog food. I don’t think I spent more or less than what I usually spend.

I don’t care for many of the plans from Emeals. I think there is too much meat, but perhaps that reflects the Standard American Diet. Either in an attempt to cut costs or cut time, the recipes use a lot of convenience/processed products such as condensed soups. That doesn’t always equate to the healthiest choice.

I have put some recipes in a different post and linked them.

Here is an example of a typical week on the plan:
Monday: Nacho Chicken & Rice Wraps with corn on the cob (1 1/2 pounds chicken)
Tuesday: Rancho Catfish with mashed potatoes and peas (1 pound catfish)
Wednesday: Elegant Pork Steaks with salad (2 pounds pork)
Thursday: Famous Chili with cheesy chips (1 1/2 pounds ground chuck, 1 pound Italian sausage)
Friday: Apricot Chicken with steamed rice and broccoli (2 pounds chicken)
Saturday: Chicken Penne with penne and sauce and Italian salad (1 1/2 pounds chicken)
Sunday: Tater Tot Veggie Casserole with rolls (1 1/2 pounds ground chuck)

Another drawback is the plan doesn’t account for leftovers. Our family of three had leftovers from the chicken and rice wraps for days. We do not need to make this much food for 7 days. But the plan does sometimes save some meat prepared for one meal and uses it in the next day’s. See Italian Beef and Beef’n Gravy Over Buttered Noodles.

Other times the meal doesn’t make enough food for a man’s appetite or it would be more suitable for a light lunch than a substantial dinner. For example, grilled pimiento cheese sandwiches with potato chips and orange quarters.

Sometimes the meal wasn’t a “recipe” so much as a suggestion: purchase garlic and herb marinade mix for chicken then cook the chicken in a slow cooker and serve with buttered noodles you boil from a package and serve with canned or frozen green beans. (Left)

The best part of the plan is having someone else make your menu for the week and write your shopping list. But if you think about it, once you’ve been planning your meals and making lists of ingredients to purchase for a few weeks, you can write your own rotating plan of menus. You won’t need to subscribe to a service.

I did get a couple of ideas from the program, but I won’t subscribe again. I can do this myself and put in many more lighter and meatless choices to balance all that meat.

But it’s not all negative. There were a couple of recipes that I added to my repertoire. Potato and Shrimp Stew and Baked Potato Soup served with Muffins, which reminded me of Slow Cooker Cheeseburger Soup, a Weight Watchers recipe.(Below is the Emeals version, cooked on a stovetop.)

Sometimes the best inspiration just serves to remind you of things you already know.
No matter how I plan meals there is a great comfort in knowing every morning what is for dinner that night and that you have all the ingredients to make it.

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