Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: E-Mealz

Each time I sit down to meal plan, I print off a blank calendar for the month, and write in some standard meals, e.g. tacos, hamburgers, and spaghetti. Then I pull out my recipe books, review clipped favorites or recipes I’ve been wanting to try, and even surf recipe websites in an attempt to come up with enough interesting meals to fill in the rest of the days.  It is quite the process that I often drag out over days, and I hate it.  Absolutely hate it.

I’ve thought about planning weekly, but feel it is almost better to take my suffering all at one time rather than endure it four times a month. So, I continue to go on as normal and fantasize about having a personal chef to both plan and cook for me.

E-Mealz, which is recommended by financial guru Dave Ramsey, is a subscription service that provides a weekly meal plan and shopping list. The idea is that the service will save money in the long run by avoiding costly dinners out and planning meals around store sales. There are twenty-eight different meal plans are available. A list of meal plan options and samples are available here. The weekly plan includes ingredients and instructions for one meal a day, with suggested side dishes.

How it works is fairly simply.  Subscribers select a meal plan that suits their family.  Once a week, a new plan is available on the website for download and/or printing.  The entire plan is two pages, with the recipes on one page, and the shopping list on the other.

E-Mealz isn’t a perfect system.  A perfect system would be that personal chef that works for free.  However, unlike my other options, E-Mealz is fairly practical.

What I liked:
  • Easy recipes – There are no overly complicated recipes.  Older kids could easily take over some of the cooking!
  • Catagorized shopping list – Grocery items are listed in five categories: Deli/Produce, Meats, Dairy/Refrigerated, Frozen, and Canned/Bottled/Packaged.
  • Meals specified on grocery list – Next to each item is a number that signifies the recipe that requires that ingredient. This makes tweaking recipes or accounting for items on-hand very easy.
  • List of staples – At the bottom of the list are all the staples needed for each recipe.  I often forget to check my supply on staples and get in a bind come preparation time.
  • Variety – New meals are provided each week.  Some recipes are cycled again, but only about every 5-6 months.
  • Ease of use – Nothing complicated here.  Simply print and go.
This Poppy Seed Chicken dinner from the Any-Store meal plan was a hit with my daughter.
What I disliked:
  • Easy recipes – Yes, this was also in the “like” list.  However, sometimes the recipes were too easy.  One “recipe” was simply a purchase of precooked ribs from the deli with a can of beans and frozen french fries.
  • Finding a plan – It was hard to tell if you’d like a plan from the sample menus. I was not happy with my first plan and switched after several weeks. Subscribers are allowed to change plans one time during a 3-month subscription.
  • Needing to substitute – My family can be picky, and I definitely had to substitute some meals every week.
  • I didn’t save on grocery expenses – I didn’t find a great cost savings. Many of the items were convenience or packaged items.  Also, when I shop sales, I purchase sale items in mass quantity and stock up my pantry for maximum savings.  This program isn’t designed to save that way.
  • I would have preferred that my meal plan arrived via email rather than needing to go to the site to retrieve it.
Despite some of the cons, I liked E-Mealz quite a bit. Yes, I had to substitute or tweak some meals, but it was easy enough to replace with an old stand by or leave out ingredients. With the grocery list items labeled with the corresponding recipe, it was quick to cross off items no longer needed when substitutions were made.  And the time and fussing it saved…oh, my.  One week was particularly busy and I desperately needed to get groceries, but with no real time plan.  I grabbed the E-Mealz plan, quickly did a few tweaks, and headed to the grocery store while my son was at a sports practice. I had about an hour in the store to accomplish my shopping and did so easily. While E-Mealz didn’t save me a lot on actual grocery cost, it did save me time and sanity, both valuable things!

Simple Chicken Kabobs
I’m not sure that I would use a subscription service like E-Mealz indefinitely or exclusively, but I can definitely see using it to avoid cooking ruts, to help during very busy seasons, or to act as a starting plan to tweak.  Sometimes I just need reminders of other simple recipes to use, rather than get stuck in the taco/hamburgers/spaghetti rut. At $5/month (purchased as a 3-month subscription at $15), even if I only put part of the plan to use, it is worth it to me. Plus, if I opt to not use the plan for that week, I can always download the plan and save it for another week and/or use the recipes that look promising from the unused week as substitutions for another. I plan to put E-Mealz on my Christmas list to extend my review subscription. There isn’t much I need as far as things, but I certainly could use some more time!

To learn more or to purchase a subscription, visit the E-Mealz website.

See what others have to say about this product by visiting the official TOS Crew blog!

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

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