Product Review: Meal Plan Services

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Hi everyone,

Kiran Dodeja Smith

I’m Kiran and I’ve known Lisa for years…I’ve watched her start this blog from Day 1 and have been thrilled to see her success – not only for her, but for others as well. I don’t have to tell you what a great resource it is!

Unlike Lisa, I’ve been reading food labels for almost 20 years. Hopefully that won’t date me too much! All kidding aside, eating “healthy” has been a longtime goal of mine; eating “real” has come in more recently.

I have a family that includes four kids under the age of 8. Getting a healthy meal on the table is always a goal, albeit not always an easy one. So after seeing so many meal planning services, I decided to try out a few. I’ve checked out and tried five of the big ones that appeal to me.

If you’ve ever been curious about meal plans or wondered which one may work for you, I’m hopeful that this can help. I’ll start with a summary chart, but be sure to read on for the details of each plan!

 

Meal Planning Service Customizable Ease of Preparation
(5 is easiest)
“Real” Food Rules Changes Required Regular Price

No More ‘To Go’

no 4 out of 5 Few $6/mo. (for 3 mos.*)

Deliciously Organic

no 4 out of 5 Very few $9.99/mo.*

Plan to Eat

yes Depends (you choose your own recipes) Depends (you choose your own recipes) $4.95/mo.*

The Six O’Clock Scramble

yes 5 out of 5 Moderate $7/mo. (for 3 mos.*)

The Fresh 20

no 3 out of 5 Very few $5/mo. (for 3 mos.*)

-*Additional options available (i.e. 6 months, 1 year, etc.)

Meal Planning Service Shopping List Included Shopping List Cost/Week
(5 is easiest)
Free Trial Number of Meals Provided Available Meal Plan Tracks

No More ‘To Go’

yes $100-$125 Free week sample 5 plus snack Classic

Deliciously Organic

yes N/A Free sample plans available 5 plus desserts and snack Classic, Gluten-Free, Grain-Free (paleo)

Plan to Eat

yes Depends (you choose your own recipes) 1 month free trial Unlimited N/A
(choose your own recipes)

The Six O’Clock Scramble

yes $70-$80 2 weeks free trial 5 Classic, Customizable (to special dietary needs)

The Fresh 20

yes $75 Free sample plans available 5 Classic, Gluten-Free, Vegetarian

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No More ‘To Go’

History:

Though this service may be the newest player on the block (on my list), meal planner Stacey Stabenow has been planning meals for years. Friends of the Texan mom of three were always amazed at her meal organization that included a whiteboard in her kitchen with the week’s meals planned out. After being urged by others to offer up her service, her business was up and running with quick success. Stabenow tries all of the recipes ahead of time to make sure they work and admits that she doesn’t do casseroles. “I don’t do canned or boxed,” she also says.

My take:

No More ‘To Go’ is a great happy medium of the plans, if you will. Though it errs on the healthier/ “real” side, it’s still a great realistic plan. Weekly meals within the plan include one pasta dish for the week and one ethnic (think Tex-Mex/Italian or Chinese) dish as well. Each meal has photos (a fave of mine) and each also has a Kid Note (great for us moms – includes suggestions on spices/etc.), a Vegetarian Tip (how to make it vegetarian) and Gluten Modifications for those who are gluten-sensitive.

Personal likes:

  • Great “clean” feel.
  • Love that she tries each meal with her kids first.
  • Enjoy the photos.
  • Each recipe has a meat, starch and fresh vegetable.

Would like to see:

  • One of the weekly recipes with fewer ingredients for the super busy nights.
  • A few less “real food” substitutions needed.

The real deal (my meal):

It didn’t take long for me to choose my meal; one look at the Crispy Fish Flatbreads with Spicy Tarter Sauce with a Spinach and Bacon Sauté and I was sold. Per Lisa’s suggestion, I substituted whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs and used ghee instead of canola oil. I was actually able to find some whole-wheat flatbreads at my grocery store, which I incorporated. Relish (in the homemade tartar sauce) needs to be without high fructose corn syrup or artificial dyes, and I used a local egg in preparing my fish and local spinach in the salad. The preparation was straightforward and while my husband and I enjoyed the sandwiches, my kids were actually more fond of the spinach sauté!

Crispy Fish Flatbreads with Spicy Tarter Sauce with Spinach Bacon Saute

Crispy Fish Flatbreads with Spicy Tarter Sauce with Spinach Bacon Saute from No More ‘To Go’

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Deliciously Organic

History:

It all began with a 25-year-old mother of two who was suffering from debilitating migraines. After beginning to slowly change her foods to organic, she noticed immediate changes. But switching to all organic food wasn’t that delicious to begin with. Over time, Carrie Vitt adapted recipes to make them tastier and more desirable … this turned into a blog, which she began in 2009, and then a cookbook, which she released in January 2011. Vitt shares her successes of her family overcoming severe asthma, eczema, IBS and migraines in her blog, where she also offers meal plans.

My take:

If you’re looking for “real food,” Deliciously Organic fits the bill. While going through recipes, many sounded appealing to me. Three meal plan tracks are available: Classic, Grain-free and Gluten Free. I went with the Classic route and was pleased to see a variety throughout the weeks that I viewed. One of the five meals was a vegetarian meal (think Penne with Spinach, Peas, Goat Cheese and Walnuts), and I was pleased to see a fish dish or perhaps one incorporating pork chops or something out of the “norm” that we (ok, I) generally get stuck in. Chicken breasts can only get so exciting after a while!

What I loved about Vitt’s recipes was that she spiced up something that could be basic with a few key ingredients to give it a fresh, new twist. To change things up around the house, I opted for Baby Greens with Avocado, Oranges and Red Onion and Baked Sourdough Bread with Olive Pesto.

Personal likes:

  • Beautiful photography.
  • All meals sound appealing.
  • Follows real food rules – not many substitutions needed.
  • Dessert and snack recipes included are a great bonus.

Would love to see:

  • Search function.
  • While I love the variety of ingredients used, costs can add up.

The real deal (my meal):

I was pleasantly surprised with the ease of preparation of this meal. Most of the ingredients I already had on hand, aside from Pecorino Romano cheese and black olives. While Lisa would surely suggest using whole-wheat sourdough bread, I could only find white sourdough from my grocer’s bakery. Unfortunately my kids were not crazy about the pesto – I think I have the only kids in the world who are not a fan of cheese. But my husband loved it and I was overjoyed to have a solid salad recipe that my kids enjoyed. The dressing made the difference, no doubt.

Baby Greens with Avocado, Oranges and Red Onion, Baked Sourdough Bread with Olive Pesto from Deliciously Organic

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Plan to Eat

If you’re anything like me, you have a plethora of recipes that you like to make. Sure, you add some to your collection – but you have those that stay in the rotation, and some that you’re really fond of but you somehow forget. Enter Plan to Eat, a website that lets you store them all, import new ones, and plan your monthly meals. It’s a disorganized head-of-the-kitchen’s dream-come-true, a service I can’t believe I only recently found out about.

History:

Developed by a husband and wife team, Plan to Eat has been noted as a site that has revolutionized meal planning. As opposed to sending you meal plans each week, this is an organizer that lets you organize and plan your own meals.

My take:

Personally, I love this service. I became a member of a CSA (a.k.a. Community Supported Agriculture) program this summer at a local farm and therefore have seasonal vegetables to work with each week. Though some of the other meal plan services utilize seasonal fruits and veggies, searching for and uploading recipes that can incorporate my weekly selection is a necessity for me. I also have finally found a place to store all of my recipes that I’ve been making for years. Oftentimes my husband will comment on a dish that I made at some point, which of course I have completely forgotten about. The various cookbooks, cutout recipes, and printed papers now have a place where I can store them and find them – and not forget them.

Recipes can be added from over 100 websites and blogs. A brand new component allows you to add recipes from any site/blog with a bookmarklet. You can share recipes with friends on the site and see their recipes as well.

One of my girlfriends and I always discuss cooking and meals. We “friended” each other on Plan to Eat and now I can see the meal that she referenced earlier in our conversation, and she can see mine. Once you have recipes added, you can easily drag and drop them into a calendar to make your monthly meal plan. From your calendar, an automatic shopping list is made.

The real deal (my meal):

I received a large head of cabbage in addition to kale from Poplar Ridge Farm and was in search of a meal where I could utilize both. I remembered a meal that I had made with chicken and cabbage a few months back but was unsuccessful in finding it again. Determined to not let this happen again, I uploaded this new recipe that I found into “My Plan” and put it on the schedule.

Sesame Braised Chicken and Cabbage through Plan to Eat

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The Six O’Clock Scramble

History:

Aviva Goldfarb started The Six O’Clock Scramble back in 2003 after struggling to put a nutritious dinner on the table for her own family. A mother of two, she created the site to provide easy recipes that can be made in 30 minutes or less.

My take:

The site is great for anyone who needs to get dinner on the table in a hurry and also those who may not wish to have to buy 15 new ingredients for one meal. Let’s be honest: some of us are more excited about cooking than others. If you’re not in love with it or you don’t have the time you’d like to devote to it, this is a great meal planning service for you. It’s the most comprehensive of the bunch, offering search functions, reader ratings, and such.

Personal likes:

  • I love the search function. For example – I had two large zucchini’s that I needed to cook up. I did a search of “zucchini” and came up with numerous options.
  • I personally really like the rating system. Why is it that seeing 4 or 5 stars somehow makes a recipe more appealing?
  • It caters to many different diets – Vegetarian, Food Allergies, Gluten Free, Kosher, Dairy-Free, Low Sodium, and Weight Loss plans available.
  • Nutrition information. While Lisa doesn’t talk a lot about this, I liked finding this information.
  • The recipe box is great for saving recipes.

Would love to see:

  • In terms of eating “real food,” I found myself having to make a number of substitutions. Maybe a “real food” track?
  • With so many extra features/choices being offered, options abound. If straightforward simplicity is your thing then this service may not be for you.

The real deal (my meal):

With a busy week up ahead, the Turkey and Spinach Enchiladas seemed the perfect fit for our family. My family is a huge fan of anything Mexican, and I loved the fact that it incorporates spinach within. With just 7 ingredients, all which I had on hand, it was simple to throw together.

To follow the “real food” rules, I made a few substitutions: I used whole-wheat tortillas, local ground beef (in lieu of ground turkey), my own recipe for homemade salsa (what a great way to get some seasonal, fresh tomatoes incorporated) and fresh tomatoes as a side and topping.

The consensus was unanimous: the meal was a hit. So much so, that my husband made sure to tell me to keep the recipe and to make it again.

Beef and Spinach Enchiladas from The Six O’Clock Scramble

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The Fresh 20

History:

The Fresh 20 was created in 2009 when Melissa Lanz quit her day job to promote good eating habits for her family. The former Internet marketing exec was tired of takeout and thus created a solution for her family, which in turn has been eaten up by tens of thousands of others.

My take:

There’s something about The Fresh 20 that just appeals to me. The branding is spot on, in my opinion. It’s clean; it’s simple – just like the recipes it offers. The claim to fame for this meal plan service is that you use only 20 ingredients to create 5 healthy meals each week – no preservatives, processed food, or frozen ingredients. The estimated cost of each meal is $15.

Each week you get a pdf file that includes 5 meals, your “make aheads,” a shopping list, and your recipes. There are three options available – Classic, Vegetarian and Gluten Free. I chose the Classic plan and from that I chose Oven Roasted Salmon with Rosemary Canneli Beans with Kale and Tomatoes, though I was very tempted to try the Fried Farro with Crispy Fried Egg and Kale.

Personal likes:

  • Almost all of the meals sound appealing.
  • I love that they use seasonal foods.
  • I already have most of the ingredients on hand.
  • It’s just enough ingredients where I’m not psyched out.
  • The archives are available for members.

Would love to see:

  • Photos of the meals. Not necessary, I know, but I find them appealing.
  • A search function.

The real deal (my meal):

The meal I prepared actually looked nice enough for me to serve to company, so I prepared it for 6 adults and 5 kids. With that being said, I was very impressed with the turnout …and perhaps I’m slow in the kitchen, but it took me a while to prep and cook. I’m not sure I could personally spend that much time on a regular weeknight every day of the week. In terms of “real food” rules, I only substituted olive oil for grapeseed oil.

Oven Roasted Salmon with Rosemary Canneli Beans with Kale and Tomatoes from The Fresh 20

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Well there you have it! Providing real food for your family can definitely be easier with a little help from a meal planning service or pre-planning of your own. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below … are there any meal planning services you personally love? What meal plan features are most important to you?
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