Meal Planning Madness and Real Plans
March 8, 2017
This year I’m determined to do better with meal planning for myself and my family. As we all know, without meal planning we end up eating poorly; more junk food, fast food, frozen food, everything but healthy balanced nutritious food. Not to mention that it’s not kind on our pockets. The cost of eating out & ordering takeout regularly really adds up 🙁 So, enough is enough! I set out to find an easy efficient way to step up my meal planning game and I discovered Real Plans.
In the past, I would just buy staples at the grocery store; no real plan. When it came time to cook, I’d just wing it. This was ok but I realized that I ended up wasting a lot of food, especially fresh fruit and veg. Because I didn’t have a meal plan or schedule, many times they would go off before I got around to using them. For this reason, I ended up buying more canned goods and other ‘long shelf-life’ products. Needless to say, I wasn’t cooking or eating the healthiest meals and it was showing.
I came to the realization that I needed to make a change when I began to notice that, not only was I gaining weight, but I was low on energy, feeling sluggish, not as focused and the list goes on. Long story short, my body was not happy with me. I was concerned for my health and for that of my family as well. I had to do better.
Initially, I decided to start looking for recipes online to try out. I quickly got very friendly with allrecipes.com. It became my favorite online resource for recipes because it has a very active user base with lots and lots of reviews on most recipes. The best part is that they are usually not straight up reviews but they tend to include adjustments & suggestions to improve the recipe. Although I liked the site, I had a problem. I would spend time looking for recipes and I could only pick the ones for which I had the ingredients on-hand. So, I decided to start bookmarking recipes that I liked with the intent to pull them up later and make a meal plan for a week or two and go grocery shopping with a list of the ingredients from all the recipes (allrecipes has a feature that does this for you). Seemed like a great plan until I realized that I fell into the trap of bookmark madness. I had tons & tons of recipes under my “recipes” folder on my browser. I even started categorizing recipes into subfolders (i.e. breakfast, chicken, etc.), but it was just too annoying to look through tons of links to find something to cook. So my bookmarks became a wasteland where recipes go never to be seen again. I needed HELP!
Real Plans Overview
Then I stumbled onto an online meal planning solution called Real Plans. Their aim is to help people eat more healthy tasty homemade meals. They cater to all sorts of diet preferences including Traditional, Vegetarian, Gluten free, Dairy Free, Paleo, Primal, AIP and more. They offer customized weekly meal plans, grocery lists, and a wide variety of healthy recipes. Best of all the service is available both online & via mobile apps: App Store & Google Play. The idea is that you pick your preferences, e.g. ingredients you want to avoid, amount of time you want to spend on prep, days you want to use a slow cooker, how many you typically cook for, etc. and they create weekly meal plans for you. You can easily make changes to the suggested meal plans. You can switch meals around, replace meals, add or delete meals and the like. In addition, you can add recipes from other sites to your account using their web clipper tool. The recipes you upload are added to your recipe box. You can chose to add your recipes to the meal planner calendar during the uploading process or at a later time as you wish. You can also customize your weekly menu by origin of recipe (i.e. include only recipes you uploaded, recipes from Real Plans or recipes from other add-ons).
image source: realplans.com
One of my favorite features is the shopping list. It automatically pulls in all the ingredients and amounts needed for all the recipes currently on your meal planner calendar for the week. You can also select a specific date range (e.g. just 2 days instead of the whole week) and it will generate a grocery list with the ingredients from just the meals listed for those days. Also, you can organize your list by shops if you prefer to get certain ingredients from different stores. For example, you can group all your meat under one shop and the rest of your ingredients under another. While on the list page, you can hover over an ingredient and it lets you know which recipes require the ingredient and the quantity for each. You are able to make changes to the shopping list such as check-off items you already have and add additional items you need. You can also schedule staples such as milk to appear on your list at the interval you prefer (i.e. every week). I also use the check-off feature in real time as I add items to my cart while grocery shopping. In addition, the ingredients on the shopping list are grouped by categories (produce, dairy, spices, etc.) which makes my grocery runs much more organized and efficient.
Another standout Real Plans feature is their focus on carefully curated healthy recipes. Not only do they have well over 1000 nutritious in-house recipes available on their standard subscription, they also have ‘add-ons’ which integrate hundreds of additional recipes from popular healthy food bloggers/sites like Wellness Mama, Nom Nom Paleo, Well Fed, Nourished Kitchen, PaleOMG and Cookie and Kate to name a few. Note: you could avoid paying for the add-ons by simply importing recipes yourself from these sites but it’s kind of a hassle to import each recipe one at a time when you love all 200+ recipes on each site 😉 . If you’re considering the add-ons, my recommendation would be to look through each of the sites first and see which you are really drawn to. You may even want to try making some of the recipes first (if you’re not already familiar with them). Then pay for add-ons of the sites that you plan to incorporate regularly into your meal planning and gradually import recipes from the others from time to time as you go along. Also, add-ons can be added or canceled so you can do a little trial of your own and test out which work best for you and your family.
image source: realplans.com
- Monthly: $14/month
- Quarterly: $11/month
- Annually: $6/month
They also give you the option to try the service for a month, then upgrade to the annual subscription if you like it. There’s no contract so you can cancel at any time.
I’m still fairly new to Real Plans but so far I give it 2 thumbs up. Whenever I see a recipe I like online, I add it to my account so I no longer have to go searching through bookmarks or the web to find ‘that recipe I really wanted to try.’ Once a week, I look over the meal plan they create, make any adjustments and then create a grocery list for the week. When I go grocery shopping, I’m much more organized. I know exactly what I need and what section of the store to find everything. I’m no longer wasting time each day thinking “what am I going to cook today?” We are now eating more home cooked meals with fresh ingredients and have little to no food waste. Best of all, I feel so much better physically and, an additional bonus, my sanity level is greatly improved!