Have you tried a meal-planning recipe subscription?
August 24, 2012 3:39 PM   Subscribe

If you've used a meal-planning service: how was it? Do you recommend it? I read this article in the New York Times and am intrigued. The companies mentioned in the article are Saving Dinner, the Fresh 20, the Six O'Clock Scramble, and eMeals.
posted by The corpse in the library to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I tried eMeals through Groupon. I chose the 'vegetarian, any store' plan. I found that the meals were not nutritionally complete and rather boring. For example, this week we have such wonders as Hummus Pitas w/ New Potatoes (store bought hummus w/ greens & tomato on pita, boiled new potatoes w/ butter dried rosemary optional), Easy Pasta & Italian Green Beans (pasta, jarred pasta sauce, basil optional & green beans, grape tomatoes halved, olive oil and season salt) and Black Beans & Yellow Rice w/ Fried Plantains (I'll leave you to suss out the ingredient list).

I had signed up because I was really struggling to come up with new ideas for dinner meals. As you can see by my examples from this weeks plan, eMeals was not the solution. I don't even open their emails anymore.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:54 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I liked "Saving Dinner" although it worked better for me to buy the cookbook since there would be at least two main dishes per week that my family wouldn't eat. What I did like was the the meals were easy to prepare, appealing to mainstream American eaters, reasonable cost and good nutrition. I also liked there was often a simple extra step that made it just a little dance, "recipe" food instead "Mom threw something together" food.
posted by metahawk at 6:16 PM on August 24, 2012

I haven't, and I'd really like to know more about them, myself, from some people who have first hand experience.

I was inspired by your question to go googling around about meal planning and grocery list planning, and came across a blog that sort of holds your hand through doing a week's worth of meal planning. I am a grad student, quite poor, and really need to figure out a way to have food here in my home that I can always make into a meal. But... even $7 a month for a subscription meal planning service seems like kind of a lot. I guess one of the features of some of these is that they can retrain you to eat more healthy, nutritious food, though. If I make a list, it's probably going to be something like:
  • Salad! With walnuts and cranberries!
  • Tuna casserole
  • Cookies
  • Cookies
  • Cookies and beer (Friday!)

posted by Made of Star Stuff at 6:19 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

oops "made it just a little fancy" instead of a little dance. I would be scared if my food started dancing. :)
posted by metahawk at 6:20 PM on August 24, 2012

I don't know if this is on-topic enough, but I used the meal planning provided on the blog 120 dollar food challenge for a few months and really liked it. She blogs 14 main meals and a few desserts each fortnight - one a day - and costs out each of them and tags them by ingredients. When I was using it, I'd go back to the previous 14 day cycle and create a shopping list from that. The meals are really delicious - this is foodie style cooking, but they are made with simple ingredients, and still price out very cheaply (she aims for $120 for four people for two weeks but it never worked out that low for me). They don't repeat very often (if ever?) so are less boring than some of the subscription meal planning I looked into. Also, she sends them out in a mailing list if you prefer.

The only disadvantage might be that she aims to use local in-season produce, and she's in Australia, so that might need a bit of substitution for you if you aren't. Or you can use archives from six months previously.
posted by lollusc at 6:25 PM on August 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

I liked "Saving Dinner.". One of the nice things she does is create a weeks worth of meals, without leftover parts. For example, if a recipe calls for half a bell pepper, there will be another recipe that week that uses the rest of the pepper. (I think I was getting meals-for-two, so i was more likely to use small amounts in a given recipe.)
posted by vitabellosi at 6:40 PM on August 24, 2012

Women's "service" magazines do this too... Notably Woman's Day, which has previous months (with recipes and shopping lists) on-line for free.
posted by kmennie at 6:41 PM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've tried Saving Dinner and multiday menu + shopping list articles in both Cooking Light and Clean Eating magazines. I found that I spent a lot of time substituting and scraping dinners no one liked into the disposal.

In the end, I found it much better to just devote a chunk of time to making my own system. We tend to eat simple food (marinated & grilled chicken/fish/veg + salad in summer; roast or soup/stew + simple side in winter), but we are fussy about it. Here's what worked for us:

1. collected the recipes I know my family likes into one place and then roughly sorted them by season (summer/winter/all)

2. figured out which frozen/shelf stable items I need to keep on hand to make those meals. Stock up.

3. file recipes by which perishable item is required to make it, or "pantry only".

4. shop for X days of perishables, keeping an eye out for sales and things that look especially good.

5. come home and make X days of fantastic meals -- and be easily able to put together some pantry-only dinners if I can't make it out.

We get a farm share half the year, which covers all the side dishes -- salad/slaw/saute will make something tasty out of just about anything they deliver. When we are out of season on the farm share I buy a similar amount of whatever looks good in the produce section and treat it the same way.

I keep a separate menus for entertaining and holiday meals, complete with shopping lists.
posted by apparently at 6:02 AM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I used Saving Dinner several years ago. I signed up because I thought it would make it easier if someone else decided what we were going to eat for supper, but then I came to realize that we are more picky than I thought we were. If you can look through a supermarket recipe magazine and to every recipe say, "that looks good/great", then it might work for you. Having kids (which we don't) might make a difference too.
posted by artdesk at 3:00 PM on August 25, 2012

I tried Saving Diner and it was awful. We made 3 dinners and they were probably the worst 3 meals I've ever cooked.

Now we use Dream Dinners. The meals are not as yummy as when I cook, but it's nice to have the larder stocked for the month. I do a lot customizing and making the dishes more spicy.
posted by 26.2 at 10:18 PM on August 25, 2012

I really like Once a Month Mom its a free site with a monthly meal plan that you bulk prepare over one day. I love eating out of the freezer all month, its so easy.
posted by saradarlin at 1:40 PM on August 26, 2012

We did Saving Dinner for a while, using the regular plan and the vegetarian plan when it became available.

What I liked: It was nice to have the shopping lists, which really streamlined the weekly trip (and made us actually make the trip instead of living off of more and more limited meals from the pantry). It was also good because if my husband got home before I did, he had a plan for what to start making. Without a plan, he had trouble starting since he didn't know if I had something in mind already. Although, there were only two of us, we used the six serving plan, which gave us our dinner and lunch the next day. There was always something if we had an unexpected guest for dinner. I liked the change in habit to have frequent green salads.

What I didn't like: It was hard to use seasonal produce or to take advantage of sale prices because they weren't on the list, so it cost more. The meals took longer to make than our usual minimalist cooking. I felt like it didn't make good use of leftovers, like a bit of extra sauce, or the remainder of a can that only got half used. We made up for this by having a "clean out the fridge" meal once a week.
posted by SandiBeech at 9:58 AM on August 30, 2012

Try out Mealime if you're looking for a simple meal planning service! I'm one of the co-founders, so feel free to ask me any questions or email us at hello@mealime.com :)

Here are the basics:
- You receive a 4-recipe and a 6-recipe meal plan each week, both accompanied by a shopping list. So, you can decide to cook less or more depending on your weekly schedule!
- All recipes are tested to ensure that you can make them in 30 minutes or less.
- Pictures of all recipes included for inspiration!
- Mobile-friendly shopping lists & recipes so you don't have to worry about printing.
- Free 14-day trial so you can see if it's a good fit for you before you pay.
posted by Maria Golikova at 7:43 PM on June 2, 2013

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