A few weeks ago, one of our members asked if I had any “dinner recipe” ideas. Meghan Walsh is pregnant, with an under-two year old at home, and not much in the mood lately to put much thought into her family’s dinner-time meal. But, she says, her husband has probably had his fill of grilled chicken and salad, and would probably appreciate some menu changes.
I think Meghan’s problem is one that is shared by a lot of busy moms, and as athletes it can be a source of added grief because we want to make sure that we’re feeding ourselves and our family members a diverse and nutritionally dense diet. Often, the key obstacles that get in the way of our efforts to do so include: a ) busy schedules, b) small children to tend to, and c) a lack of ideas.
As I thought about Meghan’s dilemma, I was reminded of another conversation I had several months ago with one of our other members, Corinne Williams. During one of our weekend runs, Corinne asked me if I had ever tried using the Fresh 20 program. I told her no, that I had never heard of it, and she proceeded to give me the run-down on it and how she and her husband and son had been regularly subscribing to the program for some time.
The Fresh 20, described online as “Budget Friendly Meal Plans For Busy Families,” is exactly that. It’s a meal planning service designed to help families and singles eat fresh, healthy, and inexpensive meals each week. They take care of all the guess work for you, so all you need to do is buy the ingredients and prepare the meals, which by the way are so simple that your kids can help. Or if they’re older, you can even have them prepare the meal for you. Corinne occasionally asks her teenage son to cook dinner if she’s busy; she simply leaves her IPad open on the recipe page and he follows the directions.
Meal planning services might be just the solution for busy moms and also for those of you who are single active duty members. Listed below is a comparison of five different meal planning services – take a look and see if any might be a compatible fit with you and/or your family’s needs:
The Fresh 20
- 20 ingredients/20 minutes – should take less than 20 minutes to do all your shopping. Nothing is processed or frozen, to ensure that you are not eating preservative-free foods.
- Step-by-step guide is provided to help with preparation for each week’s meals
- Meal plans are posted on Fridays – that gives you the weekends to shop and prepare for the following week
- 5 meals per week
- Options for Classic, Gluten-Free, Veggie, Dairy-Free, Kosher, and Singles
- 3 months for $18, or12 months for $54
- Mission is to help anyone, even those who have never cooked before, to learn how to create quick, healthy meals. Jess Dang, the founder of Cook Smarts, describes the program as being like the “Home Ec” class that you never got to take.
- When you subscribe to Cook Smarts, you get access to all their meal plans, dating back to May 2013. That means you can switch out any meals that you don’t like from your weekly meal plans.
- Four meals are posted by Friday morning of each week; you’ll receive an email in your inbox. Paleo, Vegetarian, and Gluten-Free options are all available. When you click on the link, it will take you to the menu and once you check the selections you want, a grocery list will be generated for you.
- A “Make Ahead” option is available for those who would prefer to spend a little time in the kitchen on the weekend preparing in advance, and less time on week nights making the meals.
- Short videos are available for you to watch and follow along as you cook the meals; the idea is to teach you how to cook as you go, i.e. how to dice onions, or slice chicken breasts, etc.
- Average weekly cost of groceries is around $75 for a family of four
- Not the best service for singles (cooking for one)
- Cost for 3 months of meal plans is $21, 6 months $42, one year $72 (Best Value)
The Six O’Clock Scramble
- Meals for each week, including sides and a grocery list
- All meals should take no more than 30 minutes to prepare, and some take as little as 20 minutes.
- Recipes and instructions are easy enough to be followed by younger members of the family, or teens at least. Or, maybe your spouse likes to cook too.
- Recipe modifications are provided for picky eaters, and also for adventurous eaters.
- Meals are balanced, healthy, and budget-friendly.
- Meals can be customized to accommodate the following needs or concerns: weight loss, vegetarian, food allergies, gluten free, kosher, dairy free, and low sodium
- Cost is $29 for 3 months, $49 for 6 months, and $97 for 2 years
No More “To Go”
- 5 meal plans, with sides plus a bonus weekend recipe
- A grocery list that’s sorted into categories to make shopping quick and easy
- Tips to help you modify the meals if you have Vegetarian, Gluten-Free, or picky eaters in the family
- A variety of different cuisines – using lots of different proteins, as well as fresh, seasonal produce and ingredients free of preservatives
- What’s unique about No More “To Go,” is that all the meals are first taste-tested by real families (tested by all age groups – adults, teens, young kids), and only approved if they pass the “dinner table” test.
- Cost is $7 for 1 month, $18 for 3 months, $34 for 6 months, or $64 for 12 months
- Recipes each week for 5 dinners, 1 or 2 desserts, and 1 snack
- Emphasis is on organic meats, vegetables, organic dairy, healthy fats and oils, seeds, nuts, some fruits, and unprocessed sweeteners
- Options available for Gluten-Free, Paleo, and Grain-Free
- An organized grocery list is provided, as well as tips for getting food on the table quickly
- Cost is $6 per month for the Classic, Gluten-Free, Paleo, and Grain-Free plans, or $8 per month for an All-Access plan which includes meal plans for all four categories.
Most of these services offer sample meal plans that you can try for a week or two before deciding to commit to a subscription or not. I tried the Fresh 20 Gluten-Free weekly sample plan and was really impressed with the quality and taste of the meals, as well as the ease involved in both shopping for the ingredients and preparing the meals. If you’re tired of stressing over dinner-time meals (what to make that’s healthy and delicious, and how to feed your family without breaking the bank), then I encourage you to try one of these meal planning services for at least a month and see if it doesn’t make a difference.