Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dinner anyone?

There are many areas of my life that I find a daily struggle but the biggest issue seems to be dinner. Years ago I felt like I had it under control. I made homemade snacks, had dinner on the table promptly at 6:00 and for the most part enjoyed buying, planning and cooking the meals. These days with three different school schedules and activities, I find it hard to plan decent meals much less have the energy to prepare them. What happens is that at 5:00 I think:

SELF: You really should have thought about dinner hours ago. What are you going to do now?

SELF: Maybe a grilled cheese or scrambled eggs or sloppy joes or....

SELF: No we had those last week.

SELF: You always have to go and ruin it by reminding me what a slacker I am.

SELF: Well, it isn't my fault you don't have it all together.

So what we do in this situation usually is go out to eat. But then what happens is no one wants to eat at the same place and afterwards I feel remorse for feeding my family horribly prepared food and spending a fortune in doing so.

This year I vow to take a different approach. I have tried menu planning before but it hasn't worked for me. So I thought that perhaps I was going about it the wrong way. So I did what I do best and Googled it. I came up with several really interesting sites that have their own menu planning software. All of them provide you with weekly entrees and shopping lists. Some of them allow you to substitute your own. I have reviewed each website and come up with an overview of each. I hope that those of you who also struggle with meal planning will find this interesting. For those of you who don't then please come to my house and cook for me.

1. The Dinner Planner website emails you a weekly menu each Friday to include recipes for entrees, side dishes and desserts.
  • There are a couple of different meal options including family friendly and heart healthy recipes.
  • They also include six bonus kid friendly recipes for the pickiest of eaters (yes, that would be my children they are talking about).
  • The shopping lists are color-coded (Monday’s meal ingredients are green, Tuesday’s are red, etc.), and are easy to follow.
  • Each of their recipes is rated on ease to prepare and clean-up.
  • Also include are links to money saving grocery coupons.
  • At the end of each three-month subscription, you receive a printable Dinner Planner e-cookbook with all the recipes you made.
  • You can instant-message questions through the live-help chat from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST
  • You can look at a free sample menu complete with recipes and grocery list.
  • The cost is $10 for a whole 3 month subscription.

2. RELISH! is a weekly menu planner aimed at helping busy families put wonderful meals on the table every night. They claim to provide "No sloppy casseroles or expensive kitchen blunders". Their recipes are for "everyday food...with a gourmet twist".

  • Build your weekly menu from a list containing the following categories: Kid-friendly, Vegetarian, Super Quick and Simple Gourmet.
  • All dinners require 30 minutes or less prep time.
  • They have slow cooker recipes, savory soups, hors d'oeuvres and creative family night dinners.
  • Monthly freezer menus are part of the subscription
  • A grocery list is provided to make shopping easy.
  • Recipes have all been tested and menus are easily modified.
  • Nutritional information provided.
  • Try out their service with a free weekly menu that you customize.
  • A Relish! subscription is only $7 per month.

3. Dinewithoutwhine (I really like this name) claims to be a menu planning service aimed at busy families. Their money back guarantee states that they will give you a full refund within 14 days of subscribing "If You Find That You Do Not Have Less Stress In your Life, Save More Than $6.95 A Month At The Grocery Store, Or Have Better Quality Family Time By Using Our Menu Planning Program; Or If You Are Un-Happy For Any Other Reason" .

  • Recipes have commonly used ingredients
  • Menus are kid friendly and budget conscious
  • You can choose from family friendly, healthy and vegetarian meals.
  • Create your own custom menu with just the click of a button.
  • Menus include main dish recipes for dinner every night of the week, suggestions and recipes for side dishes, brunch ideas for Saturday and Sunday. As a bonus, two dessert recipes are included each week.
  • Recipes can all be prepared in an hour or less.
  • Each menu includes a grocery list (categorized by aisle) that includes all the necessary ingredients to prepare the recipes in the weekly menu plan. All you have to do is cross off any items you may already have on hand - add breakfast, snack or lunch items you may need and you're ready to shop.
  • $.01 one week trial offer then $6.95/month or $19.95 for 3 months, $39.95 for six months, $74.95 for a year and $139.95 for a lifetime membership.

4. Saving Dinner sends a weekly e-mail with five or six entree and side-dish recipes that fit your family’s preferences (choose from regular, vegetarian, low-carb, frugal, crock-cooking menus, and others), plus serving suggestions and a shopping list.

  • Recipes include nutritional information
  • Recipes are timed to maximize the current season's harvest
  • Menus include do ahead tips
  • Each recipe comes scaled for two or six people.
  • Sign up for a free newsletter with sample menu
  • Cost is $10 for three months, $18 for six months, $30 for one year.

5. The Six O'Clock Scramble was named the "Fastest and Freshest" by Real Simple magazine. It has also been recognized by "O" Magazine, Working Mother and The Washington Post.

  • Every Wednesday, five entree recipes with side-dish suggestions and a shopping list are e-mailed to you
  • The weekly menu contains a list that highlights the required amounts of staples, like sugar and oil, down to the teaspoon
  • If you don't want to use one of the recipes, you can swap it for any recipe in your recipe database to fit your family’s tastes and schedule. Your grocery list is automatically updated with your choices.
  • The simple, seasonal recipes pack more flavor with fewer ingredients in less time than those of other services.
  • Meals can be prepared n 30 minutes or less.
  • Tons of informative articles and ideas on eating healthy
  • Cost is $29.50 for six months, $54.50 a year.

6. Meal Mixer by More Thyme has been noted as "the most detailed menu planner available" by Real Simple Magazine. Each week Meal Mixer creates a new menu specifically for your tastes, diet, time, and family size.

  • It is quick and easy to change your menu (swap recipes & meals, change serving sizes, etc.) if needed.
  • You print your plan (shopping list, menu, and recipes), giving you everything necessary to save time and money shopping, prepare tasty and healthy meals, and manage your weight.
  • Custom menus are based on your taste, diet and time preferences for as many dinners, lunches and breakfasts that you need for the week.
  • Grocery lists are generated from the recipes on your menu. You can also add anything else you need to buy to the list.
  • Tasty recipes are formatted for easy reading in the kitchen, and scaled to the number of servings needed for your diet and family.
  • You can use their recipes or yours.
  • Nutrition and diet tracking help you effectively manage your weight.
  • Cost is $90 a year (but watch for sales promotions)
  • You can get a free 10 day trial which includes all of the above plus the e-magazine Meal Mixer which has health, kitchen and cooking tips.

There are many other websites that offer weekly menus for free. Among them are Rachael Ray and Epicurious.

I find that each website has something good to offer but finding one that works for you is going to be a matter of personal preference. With the low cost of most of these, it might be good to try out a couple to see what works best. I'll be testing some of these recipes/menus to find out which one(s) work for me and my family. Now I am off to Google "someone to cook for you" and see what I come up with.


Marianne @ More Thyme said...

Hi, thank you for mentioning us. Our annual cost is only $52, not $90.