When it comes to making dinner, Thursdays are the bane of my existence. After a long week of work and juggling kids’ schedules, usually by that day I’m starting to look to the weekend and the chance to relax for a few minutes. The last thing I want to do is think about what to cook.
So I found myself drawn in by Jane DeLaney, founder of eMeals.com, when she told me about the inspiration behind her subscription-based meal-planning service.
A mother of four herself, DeLaney said she would struggle each month to balance her family’s need to stick to a budget with the demands of everyone’s busy lives. “The daily realities of dinnertime is always there, it’s a non negotiable,” DeLaney said. Still, there’s always that “witching hour” when parents find themselves scrambling to figure out what to put on the table, she said.
A lot of people, parents or not, struggle with the cycle of getting on the budget bandwagon for a while and then falling into the rut of patchwork meal planning. I must confess to many tumbles. That rut is money down the drain that can quickly spiral out of control, especially for families.
DeLaney’s solution is simple: Each week, look at the circulars for your local grocery store and plan your meals for the week around food items that are on sale. Make a list of all ingredients needed to complete the meals, and when you go to the store, stick to the items on that list.
“Having a fixed list saves you money. If you stick to the list, it will keep spending under control,” she said.
DeLaney found that if she focused on “practical,” pure ingredients (i.e., don’t try to get too fancy with the daily meals but still stay healthy!) she could spend $75 to $85 and walk out of the store with seven dinners to feed a family of six. The savings from her grocery budget were used for other things in the general household budget.
“If you plan, you save,” DeLaney said. “Even if your plan is not tied to grocery store sales, you will save. You will eat at home and not eat out.
If you’d rather spend your weekend on activities other than examining circulars, DeLaney’s eMeals.com service will do it for you. A monthly subscription starts at $5, and DeLaney’s made sure that there’s something for pretty much everyone. There are the “Regular” menus that are based on specific grocery store circulars. If one of those chains aren’t near you, eMeals.com has an “Any Other Store” option that creates a general meal plan.
Those families with dietary restrictions also have options with eMeals’ Gluten-Free, Vegetarian, Low Fat, Low Carb and Organic meal plan programs.
Subscribers receive an email every week with a new dinner menu, and in general, DeLaney says the budget for the meal plans is $75-$85. The one exception is the Whole Foods plan, which averages about $130/week, since grocery items there tend to be pricier, she said.
“Women don’t need a guilt trip. They need a tool,” DeLaney said. “You can plan to shop, but the shopping doesn’t always happen when you plan it. Develop a meal plan so that when you do have that hour, you just print and go.”
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