Friday, October 14, 2011

Crew Review: E-Mealz.com

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I've said previously that I can do a decent job juggling two of my responsibilities as a homeschool wife and mother:  homeschooling and eating healthy meals or homeschooling and keeping up with laundry, but not all three in the same week.    

Take your pick, I been known to say (almost sincerely). Do you want clean undies or dinner this week?

Since trying E-mealz.com, we've been eating healthy and having clean laundry!


The inspiration behind E-mealz is just so commonplace in my circle of friends (homeschoolers or not) that anyone of us could have written it ourselves: we want to prepare healthy food with minimal time planning and preparing so that we can enjoy these fleeting moments with our kids. 


Just so you know where I'm coming from:  a few Febrarys ago, I scoured my recipe boxes and cookbooks and found dinner meal that at least 80% of the family would eat.  I made sure I was using meats that were regularly on sale (boneless, skinless chicken breast goes on sale about every 4-5 weeks here) so that no week would break our grocery budget.  I created a three week menu rotation so that planning and purchasing was simple and straightforward:  look at the day, see what we're supposed to eat, and cook it. This system worked wonderfully for 3 or so months until summer, when it was too hot to turn on the stove. I tried to come up with a modified, summer-friendly menu plan, but it took too much work -- and I'd rather be outside with the kids!

Come fall, the menu plan worked well enough again, but I was getting a little bored of the options I'd given us.  Three weeks wasn't enough variety anymore. That fall was busy.  I just didn't have the energy or time to invest a few hours into finding new, exciting dinner ideas.  Instead, I went extreme and abandoned all planning whatsoever!

I have been winging it ever since.  But it hasn't been smooth and it isn't pretty.  Let's just say, the kids have stared at the computer monitor one too many times waiting to see the Dominoes.com progress bar announce that our pizza is out for delivery:

All this is to say that E-mealz has been a huge blessings these past few weeks.

OK, so how does it work? After signing up and logging in, (the service is $15 for 3 months of recipes) you pick from one of the site's 28 meal plans:

(This is just the selections from the Family plans.  There are also plans for 1-2 people.).

Second, you download your menu plan for the week. Menus are rolled out on different days of the work week - I get my Low Carb meal plans each Wednesday. Last week's is always available, so when you first sign up, you'll have two full weeks (14 days) worth of dinner ideas right off the bat.  You'll be able to print out a menu plan that looks like this sample and the third page is your shopping list. (PS- don't forget to set up a folder on your computer to save the menus!)

When I first get my shopping list, I decided which meals I'd try and which I wouldn't (all the meals we've tried have been delicious and easy to prepare).  Next, I went through my pantry and freezer to cross off items I had on hand.

Then I went shopping -- with a plan!  It feels awesome to have a plan again! (And I loved that the shopping list was categorized, making it much harder to forget items.)

Because we are having the usual "crazy fall," my shopping for one week of e-mealz is lasting for 9-10 days.  But when we aren't running around crazy-like, we are eating a well-balanced dinner with yummy flavor.  We even tried some new things that we decided we liked!  My kids liked the Turkey Sausage and Shrimp Gumbo.

Did you hear that, universe:  they liked gumbo!


You can see from the meal plan selections that some are meant to correspond to specific grocery stores to help save $$  by following specific store sales cycles.  Unfortunately, none of these stores are in the New England area, so I chose to get the Wal-Mart menu to try.  Using this, the shopping list said I'd be purchasing about $90 worth of food for 7 dinners.  That's $12 per dinner -- a LOT cheaper than a delivery pizza every night. Some of my shopping lists have been as low at $79 -- bring the cost per dinner for a family of 4-6 to $11.30 per dinner.

They have options for gluten-free, low carb, portion control (probably helpful for Weight Watcher lovers), low fat and vegetarian.  During your subscription period (3 months), you can switch your plan once.

Here's a few pictures of some meals we've had:


Salmon with honey dijon glaze and acorn squash

This was a delicious Greek steak wrap with cucumber sauce, peppers and onions.
I love the side dishes we've been having with E-Mealz.  Here was a garbanzo bean salad.  Everybody ate it and Luke even *liked*it!

The recipes are very forgiving and flexible.  Don't have the exact cut of meat?  Use what you can find or have already.  Forgot the fresh cilantro? I've found that subbing dried spices has not ruined the recipes at all.

Pros:
  • We don't get bored by eating the same thing week in and week out
  • Well balanced meals
  • Most meals leave enough leftovers for lunch for my husband the next day!
  • Recipes have been easily adaptable to meat our specific tastes and food on hand (I added some yellow squash to the Italian Skillet Chicken because I had it and needed to use it up!)
  • The side dishes (every day's menu has a main and side dish), have been so yummy and such a wonderful change for us.  If and when I make a great meal, I usually forget to be inspired with a side dish.  I have yet to be disappointed with one of these! 
  • Since we started this at the end of August and are now in fall, I've noticed seasonal meals and vegetable -- lots of grilling in August and September (with tomatoes and cukes!) and more soups and stews (so far) in fall.
  • Endorsed by Dave Ramsey.
Cons:
  • No store-specific plan for the New England area
  • You can only switch plans once per subscription period-- so choose wisely! (but they do have adequate samples available from all the plans, so you are not choosing blindly)
  • Does not come with a personal chef (just kidding on that one)!
  • Total cost per meal might still be a little pricey for those on a super strict food budget.  But, I read an interesting blog post on their website about how the plan fits in with budgeting.
This has honestly made my life so. much. easier. 

I cannot over emphasize this fact:  Having a plan for dinner for the week really make home schooling better. E-mealz is such a blessing in this house and home! And this is from someone who has never thought it worthwhile to pay a  subscription fee (small or not) for menu planning -- but I've seen the light!

One other quick thing before I finish:  I do not have any food allergies in this house to worry about, so E-Mealz is really easy for us.  But I know there are several TOS reviewers that must cook around significant food allergies, so I really want to encourage you to head over to the Crew Review and read some other reviewers who need to follow specific diets for health reasons.



    Thanks to E-mealz for a free 3-month subscription to their service for my honest opinion about their product. This was a delicious review!

    2 comments:

    Sara @ Embracing Destiny said...

    Great review! The pictures are nice, too. I also like that Domino's tracker. LOL

    Our Country Road said...

    The greek wrap looks so yummy!! I hear you on not being able to homeschool, make healthy meals and do laundry in one week. Glad to hear its working for you!