I've recently been making use of a website called e-mealz to help me with meal planning and shopping lists. And time for true confessions: I don't like to cook. I also don't like to do meal plans. Three of my four kids are monumentally picky eaters (they come by it honestly, because I'm fussy too.), and the other kid has a tiny appetite. I feel like I am failing my long-suffering DH with my culinary ineptitude, because I know he gets tired of the same five meals I know how to make. I don't mind grocery shopping, but I am not very good at efficiency with my shopping list. So I hoped that e-mealz would help me solve some of my mealtime maladies.
Getting started is really easy.
1) Choose a plan - there are several options available so you can choose a plan based on how large your family is, what grocery store you shop at most often, and your dietary considerations (low-carb or gluten-free menus, for example). I chose a generic menu for a family of 6, and the "Any Grocery Store" option.
2) Each week a new menu and shopping list is posted. You simply print out the menu and grocery list and the meal planning is done for you! All you need to do is decide which day you'll enjoy which meal. It's a two-page document that you can save or print. I usually did both. The shopping list details the main ingredients (meat, poultry, pasta, vegetables etc) needed for each meal, along with the quantities. At the bottom of the shopping list are the pantry staples needed for that week's meals, so you can add those to your shopping list if you are running low. Beside each item on the shopping list is the number for the meal(s) the item is needed for. So if you are substituting or leaving out any of the meals, it's easy to adjust the quantity that you need to purchase, or cross the item off your list. There's also room to add your own items to the list. I rarely took this copy of the grocery list to the store with me, but did use it (sometimes) to make my own shopping list.
3) The instructions for the entree are on the menu plan and they are all EASY recipes. And when I say "easy" I mean they are pretty much goof-proof. Very few ingredients, and the instructions fit in that box in the third column in the screen shot below. No strange ingredients you've never heard of, no fancy chef's tools needed, no kidding.
What we liked best:
- the recipes were simple and not time-consuming to prepare. Honestly, if you can fit the instructions in that little box on the page, how hard can it be, right? I did not have any of the recipes "go wrong" which means they must be truly dummy-proof! And even better, I didn't hear complaints about those recipes. Some of them (Crispy Almond Chicken, Fish Filet Parmesan, and Spaghetti Casserole come to mind) became instant favorites.
- there are recipes using the crockpot, the grill, the stovetop, and the oven, as well as "grab and go" meals. I wasn't limited to just the stovetop when I followed these menu plans.
- the recipes did not make use of unusual ingredients that I'd have trouble finding in the store or wouldn't ever have another use for.
- the cost of a subscription is very reasonable, in my opinion, and if it saves a little time and effort and money in the kitchen and at the grocery store, it is WELL worth it!
What we weren't crazy about:
- the plan I chose made use of rice as a side dish over and over again, and I'm pretty much the only person in my family that likes rice. It was a simple matter to substitute mashed potatoes or a pasta side dish though.
- since one of the main goals is to reduce time in the kitchen, the recipes also regularly relied on convenience foods such as canned biscuits or 5-minute pasta packages.
- recipes that include shrimp as an ingredient. Maybe it's just me, but shrimp does not say "economical" to me. Not only that, but only two members of my family would eat shrimp, and I'm not one of them. I think there was one seafood recipe each week, but if that seafood wasn't tilapia filets or tuna, I wasn't willing to go there.
Knowing that I would get a new meal plan to check out every Wednesday morning really helped me get into a discipline of planning my menus and my shopping. I loved having the easy recipes handy to choose from, and having a starting point to build my family's menus from. Unfortunately, none of the specific grocery store menus are stores available in my area, so I had to use the "Any Grocery Store" plan and this meant that it didn't gear the menus and shopping to what was on sale each week. For that reason, I decided that I won't continue to use e-mealz for now. But I will be watching for new grocery stores to be added, and if one of my local favorites is available, I think I might give it another try. Even using the menu plans for just a few months is valuable, in my opinion, because I now have a collection of simple, economical recipes and accompanying shopping lists to work with.
My biggest problem was my own personality. True confession: I don't like being told what to do. So it went against my grain to just do what the printed menu and shopping list said to do. I had to do it "my way" as ol' Blue-Eyes said. All well and good for adjusting the menus to our family's preferences, but as you can imagine, it added time and work to the uber-simple e-mealz concept. So yeah, I sabotaged myself. LOL And I bet it would be a lot easier if it was based on Safeway or Wegman's or another grocery store that's local. By the way, they offer meal plans that serve only 1 or 2 - and I couldn't help but think this would be a great thing for a young person just moving out on their own, or a newlywed couple just starting out. I probably would have LOVED something like this my first couple years of marriage, and probably would have developed better meal planning habits! And you can give e-mealz as a gift, so I would consider it as a bridal shower gift or housewarming gift. Another great use would be as part of a home ec course for a middle or high schooler.
Would you like a mealtime makeover from e-mealz? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website www.e-mealz.com for all the details. Membership costs $15 for 3 months, which works out to about $1.25 per week. There are plenty of menu options - meals for 1 or 2 people, or for families of 4 to 6 people; vegetarian, gluten-free, low-carb, or low-fat menus; several specific grocery store chains or a generic store.
Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog for more info and to read reviews from other Crew members.
Note: As part of the TOS Homeschool Crew, we were provided with a complimentary 3-month subscription in exchange for our honest opinions.