This is a guest post by blog team member, Kiran. To learn more about Kiran, check out our team page!
A few years ago I did a review of various meal plans, and I can honestly say that I found positives to each and every one of them. But, for that review post, I only made one meal from each service. I later realized that the true benefit and idea of The Fresh 20 (an affiliate partner of ours) is the concept of cooking for a week; it focuses on 20 fresh ingredients (hence the name) that you use to make 5 dinners. Many of our readers are huge fans of the service, so I decided to give the full week a try myself.
I got the email for the upcoming week on a Friday. Though they offer various options (Classics / Gluten Free / Vegetarian / For One), I opted for the Classic Plan. Our week (that I adjusted slightly based on leftovers) included the following meals:
- Monday: Scallion Meatballs with Brown Rice & Snow Peas
- Tuesday: Pesto Crusted Mahi Mahi with Roasted Potatoes & Broccoli
- Wednesday: Asian Nachos
- Thursday: Lamb Burgers
- Friday: Broccoli Quiche Wontons with Arugula Salad
I personally eat very little meat, but my husband is a huge meat eater (don’t get me started), and I certainly offer it to my kids. At first glance, I thought that the menu looked really interesting with lots of variation – something to suit us all. I took the shopping list that The Fresh 20 provided to Whole Foods and found the items very easily. The shopping list is categorized into sections of the grocery store, and it includes the associated recipe number – for example, the Scallion Meatballs are indicated with a “(1)” and an estimated cost is given. I found their cost estimates for food to be pretty accurate, which was helpful!
The way the list was organized made shopping very easy, and if you wanted to substitute, you could do that easily as well. In my particular case, we have 6 people to feed so I bought extra fish for meal #2 and also doubled the lamb since I knew the Lamb Burgers would be a hit with the hubs. I also know that while Friday’s recipe looked really good, and realistically I could have made it over the weekend, I prefer to cook 4 days out of the week and have leftovers on the 5th. It’s just a personal preference. So I opted out of those items.
After shopping, I came home and started prepping. You also get a very organized list that suggests what to prep for each meal. For this menu, I was to grate ginger and chop veggies for Meal #1; next I was making arugula pesto and blanching broccoli florets for Meal #2, etc. Knowing that I had a very busy week ahead, I actually ended up preparing the meatballs for Meal #1 and even putting the ingredients together for the Lamb Burgers to try to stay ahead of the game. While I was at it, I also peeled and cut carrots for the week, cut a cantaloupe, etc. – things that weren’t on my Fresh 20 menu, but what I knew our family would need during the week for lunches and such.
This preparation took me all of 1-1.5 hours maximum – and remember that I threw in extra prep that was not suggested from the service. And I’m not gonna lie – I stood peering at my refrigerator after the fact, extremely happy with myself that I was beyond ready for the upcoming week, knowing that we were going to have good meals that I would not have to slave over each night. My week was really, really easy for many reasons: first and foremost, I didn’t have to think at all. The meals were already pre-determined, and the directions were all there. And on that note, they were all together in one nice little packet that I printed out (though you really can just look at it on your computer/iPad/etc.). I didn’t have to search one cookbook for one recipe, my iPad for another, etc. And the third biggest benefit for me was that the “day of” cooking was very minimal. I literally cooked brown rice and sautéed snow peas on day 1. And day 3 was simple assembly/baking of the nachos – super simple.
So what did I think?
As for taste, my husband was a fan of every meal. I tried a bite of the meatballs and liked them so much that I ate a few for dinner, even though I rarely eat turkey. I had the full mahi meal; I did not do the nachos (I’m lactose intolerant) nor did I do the lamb burgers – so I can’t say how they were. But the two meals that I tried were really good – different, in a good way. My kids liked most of the meals but picked out the red pepper in the pesto potato salad and also on the nachos. Three of my four kids were not fond of the lamb, but with that being said, I don’t know that they’ve ever had lamb in any type of meal anyhow. It could’ve been a taste thing. My husband absolutely loved them. I personally loved that the sides offered me some good options even if I didn’t want to eat the meat portion – for instance, the Lamb Burger meal had the pesto potato salad (with asian pear, red pepper, carrots, etc.) that was a great side for me to have (alongside some other items).
Though I really like to plan my own meals based on what’s on sale, what’s in season or what requests I have from the fam, in trying this service, I realized that I spend a lot of time meal planning, researching, etc. And I’m certainly not as organized with specifying my days to do these tasks. Generally I meal plan on Sundays – but getting this list on a Friday allowed me to shop during the weekend and then chop/etc. to start the week off fully prepared, a huge plus. I also really liked the variety of the weeks. I signed up for a 6-month membership which gives me access to the current week as well as the past two weeks – so in the case that you didn’t particularly like a week, or if you really liked a former week, you can simply decide to do a different one.
And truth be told, if you printed out each week, you could create a binder full of meal plans for the future and repeat as you like. As a side note, full year subscribers get access to all archives so you have many weeks to choose from should you want to – but for me, I don’t want to choose; one of the benefits was those decisions already being made. I loved the focus on minimal ingredients that are used throughout the week. What a novel and completely realistic idea! I don’t like to have a lot of food waste, and this ensured that we did not. I also feel that the meals are very in line with our real food rules – another factor that is very important to me. And finally, the cost to sign up is so minimal – an annual membership is $54 – just $1.04/week. Or you can sign up for 3 months for $18 ($1.50/month). I found that after I used it 3 weeks, I was excited to see what was up-and-coming the next week. I’m glad that I tried it and definitely recommend it.
If you’ve tried The Fresh 20 or currently use it, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!