Wondering what the best meal planning service is? Analyze these 6 factors to find the one that's best for your family.
Food is important. Not just for nutrition, but as a way to come together.
When life is at its busiest, when your job is crazy or you have young kids at home, joining together for a daily family meal can be a lifeline. Family dinners build connection and they can feel like a moment of calm, a much-needed pause, in a life that feels like it never slows down.
But so often, they don't. So often, trying to create that ideal version of family meals we all have in our heads is a source of constant stress, rather than joy.
Is this meal healthy enough? Are my kids getting enough variety? How many times have we had takeout this week? What the heck is for dinner tonight??
Fortunately, it doesn't have to be like that. Fortunately, there's a magical little thing called a meal planning service just waiting to help you out.
What is a meal planning service?
As dual working parent homes (and single-parent homes) have become more common, it's gotten more difficult to plan and execute daily meals you can feel good about. Even for families with a stay-at-home parent, with extended families becoming more spread out, there's simply less support available on a daily basis.
Meal planning services have emerged to help fill this gap.
For many of us, we like the actual cooking part. It's the never-ending cycle of finding interesting, nutritious recipes that gets old. The constant question of what's for dinner causes low-level stress that is just plain draining.
Not to mention, finding the time to actually cook. Even if you like cooking, getting home at 6 PM and rushing to get something on the table before the kids have to go to bed isn't fun for anyone.
Meal planning services relieve decision fatigue. If you find a meal planning service you can trust, they take away the mental strain of always having to think of something to serve. Services vary, but they generally send you a weekly meal plan with recipes and a grocery list.
With multiple options to choose from though, how do you know you're choosing the best meal planning service for you and your family?
6 Secrets to the Best Meal Planning Service (for You!)
1. Determine Your Goals
First determine what you're looking for in a meal planning service.
Do you simply want recipes sent to your inbox every week?
Do you want an emphasis on budget-friendly meals or healthy meals?
Do you want to learn some new cooking skills and techniques along the way?
Write down your top priorities to make sure you find a service that matches your goals.
2. Define Your “Diet”
I don't mean “diet” in the restrictive sense of the word, but what kind of food are you looking to feed your family?
For example, Prep Dish offers gluten free, paleo,low carb and our new super fast meal plans. However, many of our subscribers are just focused on “clean eating”.
How you eat and how you feed your family are highly personal decisions. Not all meal planning services focus on healthy eating. If clean eating is a priority for you, make sure it's the focus of your meal planning service, not just an afterthought.
3. Set Your Budget
Of course, as with any purchase, you'll need to pick a budget you feel comfortable with.
Keep in mind that meal planning can drastically cut down on the amount of food you waste, as well as the frequency with which you get takeout.
For instance, in our weekly menus, we make sure that you don't have any half-used produce. No half onions sitting in your fridge, no meal plans calling for just a couple of tablespoons of parsley and leaving you to figure out what to do with the rest.
We make sure each grocery item gets used so that it doesn't wind up in your garbage.
All of this is to say, you might actually save money with a meal planning website, even after you factor in the subscription cost.
As subscriber Karianne said:
4. Look for Quality
Before you commit to a meal planning website, determine who is creating the recipes.
Can you trust that the recipes will actually be good?
If it's a healthy meal planning service, is there an expert making sure the meals meet the desired guidelines (low carb, Paleo, etc.)?
As a chef, registered dietitian and, most importantly, mom of two, quality is important to me! I know it's important to you too, especially when it comes to feeding your family.
That's why our recipes are all RD-approved. I want our subscribers to know when we say something is keto or AIP-approved, they can trust that.
5. Prioritize Community
If you have a question about your meal plan, is someone available to answer it?
If you have an allergy, can anyone help you figure out a good substitution?
If you have a picky kid, can anyone advise you on how to alter a recipe?
Look for a meal planning service that includes top notch customer service and a vibrant, supportive community.
Our Facebook community is actually one of my favorite parts about Prep Dish. I frequently go on there to answer questions myself, as I get a major boost from reading everyone's supportive comments.
We also have the best customer service team, always available to help. So if you accidentally forget an item at the grocery store or need a dairy-free version of a recipe, it's never a problem.
Even if you just need a little morale boost, someone to cheer you on for your hard work in the kitchen, our members love sharing food pics, kitchen wins and, of course, challenges in our Facebook group.
6. Choose a Realistic Option
I've saved perhaps the most important for last.
No matter how good a meal plan is, no matter how healthy or delicious the recipes, if it won't realistically fit into your lifestyle, it won't help you.
If the recipes are too elaborate or the meal plans don't offer any tips on how to fit in the actual cooking, you likely won't use them regularly.
How I see it, people looking for a meal planning service are busy. They're looking for someone to take a bit of the work off their plate. They likely get home late, have little time to cook during the week and need some serious efficiency in their meal plans.
That's why I designed Prep Dish as a meal prep meal plan service. While not all of our subscribers use the meal plans this way, all of our menus are designed to prep-ahead.
This means you spend 1-2.5 hours each week prepping healthy meals for the week. That way, weekday meals require only 20 minutes or so to assemble and finish.
So every week, subscribers receive not only a meal plan with an organized grocery list, but a “prep day” plan and a “dish day” plan. These instructions lay out exactly what you need to do to meal prep healthy food for the week.
What does this look like?
Organized Grocery List
Subscribers receive an organized grocery list every Friday.
Each item is coded according to which dish it's used in. This way items can easily be crossed off if a subscriber is skipping one of the meals
We also send weekly emails with tips and substitutions for dairy-free, pork-free, nut-free and vegetarian diets!
Detailed Prep Day Instructions
Subscribers also receive a weekly “Prep Day” plan.
This details how to use the meal prep meal plan for maximum efficiency.
Users wash and chop produce, make sauces and marinades, etc. to make the whole rest of the week super easy!
Easy to Follow Dish Day Plan
Lastly, we send weekly “Dish Day” instructions.
This component outlines the (minimal) steps to complete each meal on the day you plan to serve.
We've also recently added what we fondly refer to as “Super Fast” meal plans each week. These are really geared toward the quick meal prep so many of us need these days.
In addition to weekly gluten free, paleo and low carb keto meal plans, subscribers now receive a weekly super fast meal plan designed for the busiest of weeks. These menus still boast healthy, delicious recipes, but they're a little bit simpler.
Some subscribers like to use these speedy time savers every week, while others save them for the most hectic weeks. Either way, it's great to know you have some quick, healthy meals in your back pocket!
If you can't quite envision what I'm talking about with “prep day” and “dish day,” download a free Super Fast Meal Prep Meal Plan here to try it out for yourself!
New to Meal Prep?
If you're wondering how to start meal prepping or are looking to up your game, check out my short video with 5 Time-Saving Meal Prep Hacks for quick meal prep and my Avoid These Mistakes While Meal Planning article to set yourself up for success!