Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Meal Planning: E-Mealz Feed your family for $75 a week?

Meal planning is one of the hardest aspects of running a household. This is why I created this site, because I am rarely prepared to answer the daily question, "What's for dinner?"

In my ongoing quest to find a system that works to keep my family well fed, our budget in check and keep myself ahead of the game someone recommended E-Mealz. E-Mealz is a website that does your meal planning for you. They have defined six goals:
  • Spending time with your family
  • Save time and money
  • Serve delicious food
  • Save yourself from multiple and last minute trips to the grocery store
  • Stare at your children across from the dinner table rather than into the
  • pantry looking for a dinner idea
  • Lose weight without preparing separate meals for the family.
E-Mealz is a subscription-based website that creates a concise meal plan (with recipes for the week all on the same page) as well as a shopping list based on sales and organized by aisle. They have a variety of diet options including weight-watchers, vegetarian, and low-fat in addition to lists for typical American family-style dining. You can view samples of the menus here.

I decided to try out E-Mealz and see how it works for my family, but I didn't want to invest the money ($15 for 3 months of menus) to subscribe until I knew whether this would work for us. The website promises a dinner budget of $65-85 depending on which menu choice you make and what store you shop to feed 4-6 people per week.

I printed off a sample menu and went shopping. The sample menu I chose was based on sale prices for July 2006, and the estimated total was $68.90. Normally I keep my pantry well-stocked and I am working to grow a lot of my own produce so there were some menu items I did not need to purchase. I wondered how this list would hold up at today's grocery prices.

I came back from the store having spent $112, but my shopping included staples for my pantry that were unrelated to the dinner menus, such as breakfast and lunch items, strawberries for making jam, fresh produce & healthy snacks for the kids, and toothpaste. Sitting down with my calculator I can see that I spent a grand total of $61.25 for items on the dinner list, without shopping around for sale prices. I omitted from the list bagged salad, head lettuce (lots of lettuce in my garden), frozen biscuits (I can make biscuits from scratch for pennies from my food storage), green beans (already in my food storage), and ground chuck (in my freezer.).

So, I didn't do too bad, considering my shopping list was based on prices 3 years ago! But I still came in $12 over my normal weekly grocery budget of $100 when I included breakfast, lunch, and kitchen staples in my shopping.

The good news is I have fresh food for 7 days with no emergency trips to the store or last minute "let's just go out to eat, I can't think of what to make." I'll check back in a week or so to update you on whether my family liked the food.

Have you tried E-Mealz or a similar meal planning resource? How did it work for you?