I couldn’t be more excited to introduce you to one of my most-very-best friends. Her name is Jess, and she was a massive part of the foundation of Made Frank. Honestly, it wouldn’t exist without her. And bless her heart, she weekly, (ahem, daily), answers my questions about ideas, posts, strategies and how to be better at my life in general. She doesn’t know it, but I’m totally recruiting her to share her vast knowledge on how to be a more efficient human as often as possible. She also loves Jesus and is an amazing wife, mother to daughter Clara, and mentor to many. I could go on for days. Suffice it to say, she is something special. Oh, and did I mention our husbands are besties too? (Don’t kill me for that word).
One of her super-human powers is finding and sifting through systems and methods to come up with the best. She happens to be a professional librarian whose job is to learn best practices and systems. So when she asked if I thought you all might want to hear from her about meal plans, and which ones she thinks are valuable, I said, duh. I really think that was my actual answer. Thanks, Jess. LYLAS.
When I first started cooking in earnest, it was right after college. I had a sourdough starter, I sprouted beans, I made bone broth, and I learned old traditions for cooking real foods. Fast forward a decade: my husband cooks more often than I do, and I now count buying organic ketchup for our toddler as a victory. Planning, shopping, prepping, and cooking meals is no longer the leisurely adventure that it used to be–I just don’t have the time!
About 6 years ago I began testing pre-made meal planning services. Here’s how it works: you sign up for the type of meal plan (Vegetarian, Paleo, Traditional, Gluten-free, etc), you then download PDFs of shopping lists and recipes. No thinking necessary!
A few things to know about these types of meal plans:
- If there are meals that you and your family do not care to eat, you can eliminate specific meals from the weekly plan with ease.
- Most of these services charge a subscription. Even though the subscription fee is very, very much worth the time I save thinking and planning on my own, I saved the PDFs in a Dropbox folder. Then, instead of renewing the yearly subscription, I just rotated through the previous year’s plan (since they rely on seasonal foods).
- It may take a hot minute for your family to get on board with trying new dishes. That’s okay! I encourage you to persist. Don’t hesitate to explain how this new system lightens your mental load and stress level. And if outsourcing meal planning to a service doesn’t work, outsource it to your spouse or kids (if they’re old enough, obvi).
Pre-Made Meal Plans, Recipe Keeping Systems, and Other Resources
And now, the list! Please note that this list is not exhaustive, and as Pinterest will tell you, there are a million services like this. These are the meal plans that I have either a) used personally, or b) researched enough to have almost purchased and used.
Pre-Made Meal Plans
Probably the most well-known service, These guys are great because they have the most options. You can choose the type of food (Clean Eating, Paleo, Gluten Free, etc), the number of people, and even the grocery store (great for when you’re real broke and can only shop at Aldi). They also frequently have Groupons, so it’s a great deal! $30/year = $0.60/week = less than a penny an hour… which makes it compelling to not have to spend time manually meal planning. Oh, and they have an app!
One of my absolute favorites! We used this one for about a year. You only buy 20 fresh ingredients every week (or every 1 1/2 – 2 weeks if you’re like us). Everything is made from scratch. I actually learned a lot about cooking this way. You do need a well-stocked pantry to make it work, and they provide resources for that as well.
Haven’t tried this one, but I’ve come close to trying their low carb plan for those seasons when we want to *ahem* be more disciplined about managing weight.
Haven’t tried this one either. In addition to 6-week meal plans (classic, gluten free, paleo/whole30), she also has a “20 Meals for $150” series. And store-specific plans. I’ve been wanting to try her one of her Costco or Aldi plans.
These are two plans that I’d like to try in the future. They both focus on traditional and fermented foods. One day when I have more time… then I can be a real hippie again. 🙂 I do want to get back to baking my sourdough bread, and I’d love to learn more about fermentation.
Just saw an ad for this on Instagram! All their plans are Paleo + Gluten-free.
Ok! This is what we are currently doing! So, technically this plan will take you into the realms of freezer cooking. I did a TON of searching before I decided to try their eCookbooks. For instance, Once A Month Meals is super popular and the recipes are by and large very healthy. But what I didn’t like about Once a Month Meals is that for many recipes, you have to cook the food, freeze it, then cook some more after you take it out of the freezer. With the New Leaf Wellness plans, you do ZERO cooking beforehand and then everything goes straight into the crockpot! Winning! The recipes are based on whole, real foods, and they come with printable labels and nutritional info for every meal. I now combine online shopping with Zaycon Fresh, which means that I’m spending even less time shopping and prepping.
Recipe Keeping Systems and Meal Planning Apps
If you prefer more customization, there is, of course, PepperPlate, which is free! I have tried it on and off for years, though it has yet to stick completely. This is a great option if you love collecting recipes from all over the interwebs. You add the recipes, it creates a shopping list!
I’ve also read great reviews of Plan To Eat.
I tried Real Plans–which is kind of a hybrid between a recipe keeping system and pre-made meal plans. Even though I love many of the blogs the recipes are pulled from, the whole system ended up being a bit too high maintenance for my needs: I loved how powerful and customizable it was but didn’t have the time to tweak it to my liking. The customer service was super great; they issued me a refund promptly. I also tried it very soon after they launched, and it looks like they’ve made improvements! *Note from Paige. Ditto to this. It is amazingly customizable, but I just couldn’t handle the follow through.
- Stackable meal prep containers: These are stackable, uniform, and light weight! We use them for taking lunches to work. For lunch we either have leftovers from our crockpot dinners, or a simple combination of chicken breast, broccoli/green beans, and sweet potato (which I also cook in the crockpot!). *this is an affiliate link
- momAgenda Weekly Planner Pad: This is what I currently use to communicate with my household about what we’re eating for the week. It also helps us to coordinate schedules and keep track of the foods available for snacking.
Phew! That’s what we got for you. But we wanna know… what meal planning services do you use and love? Do you have a different system that works for you and yours? What are your strategies for outsourcing this task?