I did some research, looked at websites and their week-long free sample menus. After sampling TheFresh20.com, I looked to eMeals.com next. The first annoying thing is that it requires a credit card to sign up for the free trial. In the name of blogging, I made an account and downloaded the first week's menu -- they do have a vegetarian plan.
My initial reaction was horrible, entirely based on their signup question: How did you hear about us? Some of the options to click were "Dr. Laura" and "Dave Ramsey" which immediately made me want to puke. (I'm sorry, I know many of you love Dave Ramsey, but I think his budgeting plans are just plain common sense. And it's not Jesus who helps you out of debt, but, whatever I digress...) So, yeah, I was turned off my that, but I went ahead and got the menu.
I could tell just by looking at the grocery list that I was not going to like eMeals.com. Like many vegetarian menus planned by non-vegetarians, this one was heavy on the carbs and the dairy -- definitely not a well-balanced, healthful meal. It was also 3-4x the $$$ amount of groceries than TheFresh20 and included lots of processed foods.
I checked out a few other sites. But...
David and I have a lesson we've learned on our many travels. If you see a restaurant that looks good that you think you would enjoy eating in, go on in. Don't walk around for another hour until you get lost and hangry and wish you had just gone on in to the first place you liked.
As I'm a grownup now, which means I take my own advice (most of the time), I'm going to just stop hunting for the perfect meal plan.
What I LOVE about TheFresh20.com (and no, they are not giving me anything to promote them):
- Vegetarian menus that are vegan or easily-made vegan. Translation: it's not just pasta and cheese every night.
- Inexpensive grocery bills. My weekly bill has been $50-60
- It's generally non-processed. The most processed food that has been on the list has been tortillas and cans of beans -- both of which are very easy to make/soak at home should I choose to.
- The shopping list. (Every meal site has this, but for you newbies to online-meal-planning-sites, they give you a shopping list every week. It's a basic perk, but saves me so much time.) It prevents impulse-buys, wasted food, and also means someone else could do your grocery shopping for you (in my dreams, I send the nanny to the store on Monday mornings).
- The meals for the week are designed to eliminate wasted food. You don't have half an onion in the back of your refrigerator because if one recipe uses 1/2 an onion, a later-that-week recipe will use the other half.
- The variety -- sometimes it's Mexican, sometimes Asian, sometimes classic America, sometimes a one-pot-meal, sometimes a salad. I've cooked three full weeks worth of menus, with no repetition.
- There are only five meals in the weekly menu (each serves four). It's perfect for my family of 3, with a husband who travels a lot. We just buy some eggs and bagels and fruit to improvise breakfast, and all of our meals are covered.
- It's seasonal. The veggies are based on what's in season ("Fresh" 20, I suppose), so lately it's been lots of peas and asparagus.
- It's delicious. Even my 2-year-old has loved every single meal we've made. I felt kind of like an ass when we brought a risotto to the pool for dinner last week and he told a nearby adult, "I'm eating risotto, it's not macaroni and cheese. It's risotto made with peas and mint that I picked from my garden." But I'm thrilled he's loved the meals.
- It's balanced nutrition. They have nutritionists who look at their meals to design balanced meals. So I feel good about what I'm feeding my kiddo.
- The meals are quick and easy. Nothing has taken over 35 minutes to cook so far.
- The time-saving. All the sites have this in common, but I can't emphasize enough how much I have loved it. I don't constantly think about what in the world I will feed my boy. Dinner is not a total surprise anymore.
I only bought a 3-month subscription because I wanted to see just how long I would stick to it. But honestly, the fact that dinner isn't stressful, that I have enough leftovers for lunch and that it helps me stick to a budget, has relieved so much mental-chaos from my life ... well, I think it's going to stick.