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Easy Meal Planning for Busy Families: My Aha Moment!

easy meal planingI have no shame whatsoever in admitting that I’m a wanna-do-it-all kind of woman that finally, finally, came to terms a few years ago with the fact that no one can do it all — especially not me. I let go of my ridiculous quest for balance, and instead embraced the fact that balance in my life is not daily; it’s in waves that come and go.

When I’m traveling like crazy and work, home, and all is on high gear — which always seems to happen all at the same time — I let go of many things that would otherwise give me a sense of balance. I just breathe a little deeper and remember that this too shall pass. When the tide is low, I gear up and head back to my Zumba classes, make appointments to see my friends, go to sleep a bit earlier, wake up earlier to meditate, eat real food, and all those beautiful enlightening things that keep us all going.

I’ve come to terms with most of it, but one thing that always nags at me and makes the mom guilt go on overload is not being able to cook decent meals most of the nights. Last year, I just completely gave up on cooking and was instead relying on ultra basic meals for my daughter and I, since my husband was coming home from work too late. I convinced myself that my girl would be okay eating lunch from the school cafeteria. I completely ignored all my attempts at buying nutritious groceries and then pathetically emptying the fridge from rotting food every single week.

Yet, as much as I tried hard to ignore it so I wouldn’t implode with everything happening at once last year (like two booming businesses, a newly published book that had to be promoted, my husband commuting long hours to work and not available to help much, constant travels, etc.), I knew it was just plain wrong. I knew that not cooking good meals for my family and myself could, and most likely would, come back to haunt us. But I really had no idea how to make it happen, because my real problem was not having the time to search and make meal plans, buy the groceries, prep, and cook on a consistent basis.

I have no idea why I had never figured out that there are online meal planning services that do the hard part of selecting and planning meals for you! I somehow stumbled upon an article gushing about The Fresh 20 meal plans subscription service, and I was all over it.

Now, I warn you that this is going to sound like a commercial, but I honestly have no contact with this company other than the fact that I subscribe to their business. I just figure that if it’s been so life-transforming for me, it might work for many others, too!

The concept is actually very simple. You subscribe for a monthly fee of $18, and that gives you access to a weekly download of a menu plan you select: Classic, Vegetarian, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Kosher, For One or Lunch. Every Friday. You then go to the site to download the menu and shopping list. (Yes, I wish they would just email the PDF, but you actually have to go in and download it.)

The menu is planned so you can make five meals with only 20 ingredients total and in 20 minutes each, with one hour prep time per week. The shopping list is super well-organized and is really what I find the most helpful. I just grab it and head to the store on Sunday or Monday, and then I’m ready for the whole week.

Cooking delicious and nutritious dinners with a meal plan has had a significant impact on my family’s life. Not only are we eating much better, but there has been a beautiful effect of having my daughter seeing me spend time preparing dishes in the kitchen that has made her more open to trying new foods. Just yesterday, I was surprised she ate a plateful of maple-glazed salmon with quinoa veggie pilaf. I was not expecting that to happen at all!

She’s also now going to school with a packed lunch every single day, and I’m trying to do the same with so many leftovers!

We’re also saving lots of money on groceries and eating out less.

And I get a feeling of accomplishment every time I finish cooking a great meal. I truly do enjoy cooking and feeding my family — I just needed a little bit of help outsourcing the planning of it.

The Fresh 20 worked for me, but here are a few others that have gotten good online reviews:

-Plan to Eat
-Food on the Table
-Cook Smarts
-emeals
-pepperplate

Share: Do you use a meal planning service? Which one and how has it worked for you?

Photo credit: USDAgov on Flickr

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