Food Friday: Menu planning and organization

A few years ago, there was a rage for those dinner preparation places where they came up with the recipes and you stopped by and assembled your own meals in a storefront to take home and cook later. I tried it a few times but never really stuck with it because I thought the price was a little high for what you got. I still get one local place’s email newsletter, and it seems like they’ve gone almost entirely to assembling the meals for you, which you just pick up. Since most of them end up being frozen anyway, I’m not sure what advantage this gives you over meals available at the grocery store – unless you have someone with food allergies in your household and this is the best way to avoid items that are common in traditional prepared foods.

I have been a subscriber to emeals (which used to be called e-mealz) for a year or two now. They have several meal plans and grocery lists, tailored either to sales lists at particular stores, or for particular kinds of diets. Right now I get their Clean Eating plan for 2, but I used to subscribe to the WW points-compliant plan (I think it’s called Portion Control or something along those lines, so they don’t get sued by Weight Watchers). I rarely use the whole week’s menus as planned, but it’s a nice starting point for basic but tasty meals so that I’m not doing the whole “crap, what’s for dinner” thing every evening. It also helps me not go nuts in the grocery store and stick to a list.

I think emeals would be particularly helpful if you had several kids you were trying to feed, and/or you’re on a very tight food budget. If the subscription were more expensive, I might not continue with it, because I don’t use it exactly as it’s intended, and the recipes are pretty basic ‘middle America’ stuff. But the cost is quite low, about 5 bucks a month, and lord knows I spend 5 bucks a month on sillier and more pointless things. (If you’re interested in trying emeals out, follow this link and I can get a tiny referral bonus.)

I recently signed up for a trial membership with Plan to Eat, which is a service that integrates recipes, shopping lists and meal planning on a website and mobile access. It has some recipes but the focus is on the planning process and going from recipes to a shopping list to the actual cooking every day. So far I only used it for a few days, and probably would have stuck with it if it had a full-on mobile app rather than a mobile website*. I like the idea of having all my recipes in a searchable place and integrating meal planning, schedules, and a grocery list. I still haven’t decided whether I will sign up for a paid account at Plan to Eat or not.

I’m curious, do you use a meal preparation service, any high-tech tools, or are you a ‘cook by the seat of your pants’ kind of planner?

*The Plan to Eat folks explain in their FAQ that they’re not planning on developing mobile apps, because they’d need to make one for each platform rather than one mobile site which works for all smartphones. Totally logical of them, from their point of view, but as a consumer of the service I don’t care about their logistics, I care that having a dedicated app would be handier and easier to use.

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