Tuesday, May 3, 2016

TheDinnerPlans.com - Review!

In the past, I've had several approaches to meal planning. I did the super casual, "let's be spontaneous!," buy a bunch of staples and make it up as we go. I did the weekly, regimented meal plan combing through cookbooks and pinterest and then hoping that my family would try one new thing. Usually we defaulted to some iteration of spaghetti, tacos, hamburgers, pizza, chicken, pork chops. Sometimes a meatloaf if we were feeling crazy. More nights than not, C and I were having this conversation
 "What do you want for dinner?"
"I don't know, what do you want?"
"I don't want ____"
"Thank you. That's SO helpful."
"Just feed me before I hulk out"
And on and on and on and on
I never get closer to jumping ship than I do during that delightful exchange.

I first heard about thedinnerplans when I was lamenting to a friend about how sick I was of cooking the same six things and then getting burnt out and eating crap drive-thru and pizza more often than I'm going to admit. She told me that she was using this program and that it made her life easier. Added bonus, for her family of five, her grocery budget was around $300. Seriously. I told her what I spent between restaurants and groceries and I think she may have puked a little. On top of that, I was throwing away a good quarter of the food I bought.
Honey Garlic Chicken

Thedinnerplans.com is a bit of a hybrid between the companies that send you all the ingredients and those that lay out menus for you. The beauty of thedinnerplans is that you get a month's menu, all the recipes, and (this is the really amazing part), one single shopping list. Download, print, and shop. Then you don't have to think about your weeknight meals for the rest of the month. I loved the ideas of the delivery services but couldn't justify that kind of cost. The planning services still left me with most of the work. This is the best of both worlds.  I talked to C about it and we decided to give it a shot. The plan is 14.95, so even if we hated it we weren't out much. We committed to following the plan to a T for the first month. To make it more fun, we came up with a game where we each get a virtual "star." If we like a recipe, we give it a star. Three stars or more and we designate the recipe a keeper.
Pot roast. SO GOOD! I've never gotten pot roast right before.

I downloaded my first month and right off the bat I loved that the menu was completely filled out. I hung that on the fridge so that everyone could see what we were having for dinner on any given night. Initially, C mentioned that there were a few casserole heavy weeks. That seemed to even out through the month though. Next I took the shopping list and hit Winco (our local bag-your-own-groceries type place). The shopping list is for an entire month, so my bill was steeper than what I was used to spending on a single trip and my cart was VERY full. It was a change to need to buy "36 chicken breasts" and "17 cups of flour." We typically spend about $150/week at the store. This trip cost me about $225. I felt a little weird about that until I realized that I only had to buy milk and snacky fruits and vegetables for the rest of the month. All told,  we ended up spending about $400 at the grocery store for the month. A huge change from our past habits.
Terrible photography but delicious burrito bowl

I printed out the recipes and kept them clipped on the counter. I think next month I'll take their advice and buy a binder and sleeves. I flipped through the recipes and noticed that the majority of the recipes were slow cooker meals or casseroles. This was either going to be amazing or a deal breaker. C can be fickle when it comes to slow cooker meals and the kids can be butts about food. It turned out to be a selling point though. We got into the routine and it was AMAZING to come home and not have to worry about dinner at all. I actually got a little antsy with the extra time.

So how did it work? Long story short, this program has changed our lives. After that first week, the kids were totally fine with all the new menus. We only ended up with two recipes that we didn't give 3 or more stars for. Side note, Averson still hasn't figured out that they aren't real stars, so that's a fun fight every night. Next time I'll use stickers to make it more tangible. The food was awesome.Some of our favorites were the crockpot chicken tacos (used the leftovers in the most amazing taco salads for work), chicken fajita bubble-up, beef tips and gravy, and the sausage, egg, and cheese casserole,  Super family friendly while still being interesting enough for C and me. The portions are near perfect. I'm not sure how, but almost every meal left just one small lunch size portion over. Other unexpected benefits were that we pretty diligently stuck to the menu. Our cupboard was nearly bare at the end of the month and I hadn't tossed any spoiled food. My kids were willingly trying the recipes and have become more adventurous. Those heathens asked if they could try sushi last week! C got much more involved in the meal prep because the recipes are easy, straight forward, and planned out. He knew what we were having and that we had all the ingredients. Often I would come home to find that he had started dinner or prepped the next days crock pot meal.
Breakfast for dinner :) 

It wasn't all perfect. As I said, there were a lot of casserole-type meals and slow cooker mixes. We weren't sick of them by the end of the month, but I could see it coming. The site claims to have hundreds of recipes, so I'm wondering if some months will be less casserole happy. I just got this month's menu and that looks like the case. The menus don't include sides which meant I still had to think about the menu a little. We went to the farmer's market a couple times and that rounded out our meals nicely. Lots of fresh and frozen veggies and rolls. There isn't a lot of spontaneity built into the system, which could be a pro or a con. I'm what Gretchen Rubin calls an "Upholder" so I liked the structure of having each meal planned out. I was never tempted to order pizza because "Tonight's Beef tips and Gravy!" even when it might have made more sense to skip it. There's no weekend menus, so I think we'll probably start shuffling some menu items to the weekend to accommodate weekday gaiety. My final critique could be either a pro or a con. The site has so many recipes that it seems like we won't revisit a dish for several months if not more. There were some BOMB recipes that I'd like to have more often. My plan is to add those into my weekend rotation or use them to swap out things that I'm positive no one in this house will enjoy.

I would ABSOLUTELY recommend this program to working moms and busy families. At the end of the month I got a little anxious thinking about having to go back to planning all of our meals. I've signed up for the subscription service, so I'm better now. I can't over-emphasize how much easier this made my life. C and I had the damn, "What do you want for dinner?" conversation ONCE last month and it was so weird and foreign. Seriously guys, this thing is a game changer.

I'm curious. Have you tried thedinnerplans.com? What did you think? And if you haven't, how do you solve the never-ending dinner argument?

*I was not paid for this review. I just want to share an awesome program with all four of my readers*

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