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!
29 thoughts on “Review of The Fresh 20 Meal Planning Service”
I used TheFresh20 quite a bit last year with my family. Everything we ate we really loved! It was way less ingredients than emeal (which we were doing too.) Granted, get ready to do a lot of chopping in the kitchen. There is quite a bit of prepping and I usually did it each day, which was tedious. I left it for a few months. My grocery bill did go up for those months and planning became a headache. I then discovered one of my kiddos was showing signs of wheat intolerances. I went back to TheFresh20 and my kiddos have loved what I’m making. We will skim through the archives and the big kids take turns each week picking out the weekly plan. I think I’m going to add the paleo too. I’m so grateful for TheFresh20!
I tried the first week and am debating joining-
pros-it solves the planning issue-it truly does save you time. My grocery shopping was a breeze, and I did not have to spend anytime on Sunday planning for the week. So that is HUGE, and one big reason I want to join. Another plus is that you have less items to buy because everything overlaps. Sure, you can plan to do this on your own, but that extra step means several more minutes in planning. So, doing it this way, I went to the store for the dinner stuff, and then I went a separate time for the other weekly needs(breakfasts, snacks, lunches). I typically go to the grocery 3 times or more in a week, so this was nice. Seasonal ingredients is great as that corresponds with our garden/farmers market.
cons-cost…my meals averaged 5.20 per person, and that is NOT counting any of the expensive pantry ingredients, which I already had on had. This is probably not more than I would normally spend, but I was hoping to save money. Another con was that not all the meals were a hit. My family liked most, but the cooking method for the mahi-mahi did not really do that beautiful fish justice…I know, it’s a week night meal, but my husband cringed over it-the fish was 30.00 dollars, and it was just okay, when it could have been great. And, I find that the veggie servings are on the light side, so if you want to eat more than a 1/4-1/2 cup, you need to cook more. Salt was an issue-def need to just season to your taste as the salt in the recipes was slight.
I signed up for the For One plan and I’m pretty satisfied with it. Lots of variety and I also seem to have a lot of leftovers. I usually double the seasonings because the recipe as is often seems to be lacking in flavor. That’s my preference though and some may be happy with the seasonings as listed. I do love having everything planned out and cooking and deciding what to eat is no longer a chore for me. I recommend.
May I ask you, how much do the ingredients for the For One plan usually cost?
I’ve been using the For One plan since it came out and I love it. It’s great for when I have company over too, I can easily make dinner for the both of us. Otherwise, I’ll have leftovers for lunch the next day which works out great.
Numerous times I’ve duplicated recipes to bring over to family. I’ve also found it’s easier for me to scrounge something up at the last second because I’ll remember a similar recipe I’ve made with ingredients I have on hand. I can now navigate a grocery store in 30min. flat. Plus our neighborhood farmer’s market is opening this weekend and I’m super excited to get all my producer there.
I HATE planning, I want to eat whole foods, and I really like cooking, so it definitely works for me.
I’ve tried other services and their recipes aren’t as healthy, or they don’t give you enough info (um hello, how long does it take to prepare this?). Sticking to Fresh 20.
I live out in the boonies (45 min to the nearest Walmart and 1.5 hrs to the nearest Whole Foods). Does this service have a lot of “boutique” ingredients that I couldn’t get?
Not to worry. I really don’t think that it does, and there are often substitutions listed (i.e. with the lamb burgers, you can use another meat if you don’t have access to ground lamb). I am in the middle of another week and my family continues to be pleased. HTH!
Currently, I’m using Chef Plan http://chefplanapp.com/, which is quite simple and stress free, but will try this service and the Google calendar integration soon :-)
I first signed up for the classic plan and really liked it. I had to make subs because I don’t like fish, but other than that, I loved it. I then signed up for the gluten free plan because I was changing my diet and didn’t much like that one. I felt like they were kind of thrown together, nothing like the classic plan. I have been thinking about signing up again, but under the classic again and just changing out what I need to.
As soon as I clicked on the link and printed up the sample menu, I knew I’d have to at least give this a try. I’m doing some elimination work right now, trying to figure out everything that I can/can’t tolerate (gluten, eggs and oatmeal are right out so far) but my challenge has been keeping the family sane while I’m doing this. I really think this will help with that, and then I can substitute/swap as I know is best for me and my family. I feel so blessed to have come across your site! Keep fighting the good fight for good food.
My grocery bills have definitely gone down allowing me to buy better food (I can actually shop at Whole Foods and not take out a second mortgage!). What this has saved me from is that “oh, this looks good, I’m sure I will cook it” purchase that I am throwing out at the end of the week. I just hated that. So buying only exactly what I need is priceless. The second huge bonus for me is as a working mom of a preschooler and an infant, when 5:30pm rolls around, I’m not panicked about what’s for dinner. I still have to cook slightly different items for the 3 year old, but because our main meal is pre-prepped, I am no where near stressed. I agree, there are some nights I don’t cook, but I make that decision on the weekend when I’m shopping, and cross out those items so I still don’t over buy. We usually eat out on Fridays so the vegetarian meal is the one that often falls by the wayside, which is fine for my very-meat-eating husband. I’ve recommended this site to several folks, who also love it.
I LOVE the Fresh 20. I heard about it from 100 days of real food the first time you mentioned it. I investigated and a friend told me that she found a coupon on Groupon, and sent it to me. With the Groupon, we paid $24 for an annual subscription. We are in our 2nd year of using Fresh20 and really appreciate the simplicity of it. When it came time for us to renew our annual membership, we didn’t debate long. It was worth it – even if we don’t use it every week, the menus have really gotten us to try new things, and taught me how to cook some foods I avoided (because I wasn’t sure what to do with them). I haven’t found groceries to be more expensive at all – even with buying organic. The meals are so well planned that you use all the stuff you buy (no more 1/2 a bunch of cilantro turning to brown mush at the bottom of your veggie drawer)! I love how organized the grocery list is and how it lists out all the prep you can do ahead. It really is a time saver on week nights. We often make a few substitutions – less spice for the kids (5 and 8) and about half the time only do 4 of the 5 meals. But the time this service saves me on meal planning and scouring recipes for “real food” ingredients is totally worth it! The recipe for the homemade BBQ sauce was AMAZING. There are some meals that we make again and again – and occasionally there weeks that just don’t appeal to us, but overall the menu planning gives us a break from the same old routine. We often think that a recipe doesn’t sound good, or doesn’t look appetizing, and then it turns out to be the most delicious combination of flavors! So our rule is to just trust the recipe and try it. A few of my single friends were interested and were excited to hear that they have an option for meal planning for one! Several of my friends subscribe now (after continually asking about my lunch leftovers), and we’ve even gave a few annual subscriptions as gifts last year.
I have been using this service for about 6 weeks after learning about it on 100 days of real food. I have found it to be a bit hit or miss – we had a couple of weeks that were AMAZING and others that were so-so. But that is all personal taste;) However, my one gripe is that I also use Plan to Eat and the recipes cannot be imported into Plan to Eat. I have to manually enter them in order to create my grocery list that my husband and I can both access (because I have other groceries to buy – breakfast, lunch, snacks, etc).
Oh no! I use that too and was wondering about that
We have been using The Fresh 20 since you reviewed it last time, Kiran! We are on the gluten-free plan since my husband is sensitive to wheat. It’s been wonderful. We are in a small town without a lot of restaurants and its been great to have so much variety and different flavors. The recipes sometimes look daunting or that the flavors would be terrible together. But I have learned to trust her! Nearly every time I am surprised at how good it is and glad that I stuck to the recipe. I can’t recommend it enough.
Maria – this is such a great testimonial. I’m so glad that you gave it a try and that you like it! I agree – sometimes I look at the recipe and wonder how it will turn out … but it really turns out great. So glad you are also enjoying:).
Overall I have liked the Classic Plan. I feel better about having an actual plan to eat healthy. Even with the prep though, some of the meals take a long while to cook. I also don’t think the proportions would be enough to always feed 4 (usually enough for dinner for me and a very hungry husband) and leftover lunch for me. I always read the recipes ahead and usually tweak them and add a little to make them a little tastier.
We’ve been on The Fresh 20 Since October and I LOVE it. It took me way too long to menu plan on my own. There is no going back now! Our grocery bills have gone DOWN since signing up and we waste a lot less food. I’ve been really militant about trying every single meal that is on the menu even if I don’t think I’ll like it. Some of the ones I think I won’t like have ended up being my favourite in the end. My only complaint is there is usually a meal that seems more like a side dish or a lunch to me (like just a salad or a wrap). It’s enough food for me but my husband usually rummages around after dinner for more food.
If this comment posts twice, I apologize. I think I deleted the first one on accident. We’ve been using this service for about 6 months now and just went to the annual plan. It’s been great for us! I would say my husband and I have like about 98% of the food and our kids (7, 3, 2) anywhere from 80-90%. It’s really broken us out of our rut and inspired us to try new foods and flavors. There’s only been a couple times when I didn’t use that week’s plan mostly because we wanted to have a few old favorites but also because we weren’t crazy about the options. I do substitute sometimes and slightly alter especially if it’s extremely spicy. We only make one meal for us and our kids and when they know there is no other option, they tend to eat at least part of it eventually. If they won’t even try it, there is no other option given. Kids do eat when they’re hungry! I mostly shop at Whole Foods and the farmers market and I haven’t noticed a change in my cost. In fact, it’s less some weeks and I attribute this to the no food waste mentality.
Stephanie – I so agree with what you said. It does break you out of your rut and surprisingly kids DO eat the food if that’s what there is! And I also love the no waste mentality.
Thanks so much for your comments. Regarding costs – as mentioned, each line item has a cost estimate with it. The meal plan is designed for 4 people, but my family has 6 – so I made some tweaks (increased some items). I honestly bought other foods in addition to these foods. Because I had extra items and also doubled some ingredients, I don’t know that my food bill would be accurate to share. However, each of their estimates were right on track. The Fresh 20 estimates for the week was $72.50 for the 5 meals. I would say that my costs were $82 (remember that I shopped at Whole Foods and bought organics). And even though I didn’t make that 5th meal, I had almost every ingredient for it (since you use the 20 fresh ingredients that you purchase). Let me know what other questions I can answer. I truly enjoyed this service and have used it now for a few weeks – especially during this busy end-of-school time!
My family wasn’t crazy about it so it didn’t work for us. Some of the ingredients weren’t easily accessible so I found myself substituting more than I cared too. I guess I much prefer websites, such as, Plan to Eat and just going through the blogs I love and creating my own meal plan.
I also do love Plan to Eat and use that often for my own planning. We are so lucky that there are so many good services out there, right?!
Great, informative post! My main question is the same as 2 others’: what would you say your Whole Foods bill was for the 4 meals you shopped for? I just signed up for Hello Fresh http://www.hellofresh.com because I received a $40 off coupon, making the final cost of $29 too good to NOT try (they deliver the ingredients AND the meal plans, but it’s only 3 dinners for 2 people). I’ll probably cancel after that first shipment, but this sounds like something I might try!
Yes…I want to know about costs. Love the idea of a plan laid out but my budget has been tough. Trying to find ways to stay on budget and still eat well.
One of my friends uses this service and loves it! I have been thinking about trying it since I have been short on time lately. I am curious as to whether your grocery bill was higher than usual by doing this plan.
What does the average cost of groceries look like each week for the Fresh 20?
I use it! I find I don’t usually want to do all 5 meals, so I cut and paste into google calendar, where I have a separate meal planning calendar and make my own list from there. I did do all 5 1 week and loved the easy planning. I’ve definitely liked the variety and many easy meals.
I subscribed in February and love it. I am using the vegetarian plan and my son is less than thrilled but oh well. I cooked for the kids and now it’s time to cook XOR me and our overall health. The plan has really allowed me to stick to my new year goal of clean eating and has been a huge cost savings as well. I never knew how much food was wasted before due to my poor planning. We eat out far less often as well – another HUGE bonus.