One of the big benefits of meal planning is that it saves time! No time is wasted contemplating what to make for dinner, and when you start cooking you already know you have everything you need on hand and ready to go!
But if you really need to save time, you can up your game with these helpers.
Meal Planning Services
Meal planning services are perfect for super busy families. But they do require some give and take when it comes to the meals you’ll be eating. If you’re family isn’t picky, this could work really well for you.
The way they work is pretty straight forward. Basically, you pay a fee (usually weekly or monthly) and completed meal plans are made available to you. They usually focus on dinner, but some services will allow you to add other meals.
A popular and super convenient meal planning service is eMeals. At just $5 or $10 a month (depending on your plan after a 14-day free trial), it’s really a full service program.
eMeals provides more than just a list of meals. They also provide recipes for each meal, a grocery list for your week, and they’ll even base your grocery list on your favorite store. AND, you can even transfer your list to a grocery delivery service like Instacart.
eMeals is super flexible too. They have 20+ meal categories to choose from, including 30-Minute Meals, Budget Friendly, Clean Eating, Kid Friendly, Paleo, Vegan, and you can add breakfast and lunch if needed. If you don’t like a meal that is put on your plan, you can take it off. And you can switch between meal categories any time you want.
Plan to Eat
Plan to Eat is another service at a decent price ($4.95 or $3.25 a month after a 30 day free trial period).
Plan to Eat is more of a meal planning tool rather than a full service provider. The website and app allow you to build your own meal plan using recipes you already know your family loves. You add the recipes manually or import them from the internet into your recipe bank and then drag them into your calendar to plan your meals.
Plan to Eat also builds a grocery list for you, and allows you to create multiple lists for multiple stores. So you can put the ingredients on the list for the store at which you typically buy them. For example, you can put your milk on your Aldi list, eggs on your farmer’s market list, and ground beef on your Costco list, if that’s where you happen to buy those items.
Plan to Eat is a great option for families with dietary restrictions, specific food preferences, or picky eaters because you have full control over the meals in your plan. They also have fun challenges and let you connect with friends on the platform so you can easily ‘borrow’ recipes.
There are several other meal planning services out there too, but these are the two that I’ve found offer the most for the best price.
Prep Ahead Meal Planning
Choosing meals that can be prepped in advance can be a huge time saver on busy nights. Having simple prep done, like chopping vegetables, making sauces, or even cooking meats takes time consuming steps out of making dinner.
There are different ways to do this.
You could have a ‘meal prep day’ where you do everything you can do ahead of time on one day, like Sunday.
Or if you’re home, you can prep for dinner in the afternoon (while your little kids are napping and your big kids are at school).
Another form of meal prepping is to cook once for multiple meals. I like to cook a bunch of chicken to use in multiple meals, like shredded for tacos and chopped for salads.
I also like to plan for using leftovers in other meals. So using the chicken example, I might make double the chicken for tacos and use the leftovers in a stew. The stew will cook quicker because the meat is already cooked.
Freezer cooking is another popular time saver. I like having a few freezer meals on hand to pull out in a pinch. Freezer meals are full or partially cooked meals that store in your freezer for several weeks.
These are also nice to have on hand to take to family and friends in need, like when someone has a baby.
Another option is to have items fully prepped and frozen and ready to cook. This would be more like ‘freezer prep’ than ‘freezer cooking’. I like having chicken breasts frozen in a zip-top bag with a versatile marinade that I can pull out to grill or bake. I also like having chopped onions and peppers frozen and ready to throw into some ground meat or a soup or stew.
No-cook meals are, as you might guess, meals that require no cooking. My family loves ‘sandwich night’ with deli meats and cheeses. As a side, we have fresh veggies or a tossed salad. Another favorite of mine is ‘big salad night’.
No-cook meals are a great way to use leftover meat too. Grilled chicken is so good on a big salad!
Meal Delivery Services
Meal Delivery Services take much of the prep and the shopping off your plate (pun intended, ha!). But like some meal planning services, you’ll need to be a bit more flexible and adventurous with what you’re willing to eat.
You’ll receive meals delivered and ready to cook, so you will still need to cook dinner. But much of the prep is done for you. And you only get the amount you need of each ingredient, so you don’t have to go buy a unique ingredient for $10 and only use 1 teaspoon.
Home Chef is a popular meal delivery service that allows you to pick a minimum of 2 meals from 16 recipes each week. Their meals are designed to be ready to eat in 30 minutes or less, so it’s a fantastic option for saving time. Meals start at $9.95 per serving. You can view the current menu without joining to decide if you like what they offer.
Hello Fresh also allows you to pick a minimum of 2 meals from 15 recipes each week. Hello Fresh recipes indicate prep and cook time, so you can make sure you are picking meals you’ll have time to prepare. Some are quick (like 20 minutes) and some aren’t so quick (like 45 minutes). Meals start at $9.99 per serving. Bonus: they offer wine as an add-on!
Blue Apron is a little more economical at $7.49 per serving to start. The menu selection is a bit more limited though, at just 8 options to choose from. They focus on quality, responsibly sourced ingredients, like sustainable seafood, which is something I really appreciate. And they offer wine too!
Green Chef is higher priced at $10.49 per serving, but focuses on certified organic ingredients. They also offer good variety with gluten-free, vegan, and keto plans (among others). The recipes at Green Chef look a little more exotic, so be prepared to try new things with this service.
* * *
Do you have a favorite meal planning or dinner time time saver? If so, we’d love you to join our community on Facebook and share! (It’s also a great place if you DON’T have tips and are looking for some to use yourself!!) Hope to see you there!