Meal Planning Made Simple (How eMeals Saved My Sanity)

I may have mentioned a few times before that I don’t really enjoy cooking…and by “may have mentioned” I of course mean “mentioned repeatedly”. Despite that (actually, because of that) I want to take a break from DIY for a second and talk about food.

4-6 pm is the hardest part of my day. It’s “the witching hour” for the kids, they are either cranky cause they didn’t nap or cranky cause they just woke up. Adam is getting home from work and I’m scurrying around picking up the house so it looks somewhat decent for him. Then, there’s dinner.

not cooking

To be honest, the actually cooking part doesn’t bother me too much (as long as no one is crying at my feet). The absolute worst part of dinner – I might even say the worst part of my whole day –  is deciding what to make.

I hate it so much.

Here is an extreme (but very truthful) peek into my dinner making…

4:30 hits and I think “dang, it’s time to start cooking.” 90% of the time I will have forgotten to defrost the meat, so I’ll pull out a rock solid package of something. Then I open up the pantry and stare into a bit, taking note of all the stuff. Then I do the same to the fridge.

I’m stumped, and I’ve already cooked all my normal meals for the week. So I go to the computer and start googling my random ingredients. I’ll type in something like “recipe including sweet potatoes, quinoa, cream of chicken soup, carrots, and ground turkey.  Usually I’ll find something interesting that includes most of them, but also calls for things I don’t have…so I kinda make it up as I go along, substituting things that probably shouldn’t be substituted. It’s right about this time Adam will get home, come into the kitchen and say “whatcha making?” to which I respond “I have absolutely no idea.”

Now I know what the solution to this is…it’s meal planning. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ll make it a week or two, then I’ll forget, then I’ll have to go grocery shopping without a plan. It’s a vicious cycle.

I’ve even attempted to make a meal planning binder. It was going to be 28 dinners (4 weeks worth), and each week would have its own shopping list. It was going  to be the same rotating 28 meals…forever. So I started to carefully pick to 28 meals we wanted to eat for the rest of our lives…but I got about 12 meals in, burned out, and never finished it.


That was about two years ago. Blah.

Here is another fun fact about food…the one part of a household budget that is hard to reign in is food. I know that is so true for me and I bet a lot of y’all are the same way. Back when Adam and I were busting our butts to pay off our house our budget for food (including eating out and everything you buy at the grocery store) was $300 a month. I clipped coupons, shopped sales, split meals. Beans and rice, rice and beans. Then we accomplished our goal and I suddenly stopped being careful what I was spending on food. I was tired of counting every penny. Plus grocery shopping with two babies is hard, and taking my coupon binder and calculator into the store was the last thing I wanted to do (yes, I did that).

After being frivolous for a while Adam encouraged me  to do a budget again. I added up our expenses and was horrified to find out we were spending around $750 a month on food. I don’t know what the average American families food budget is, but that felt really, really high to me. I was super bummed…not counting pennies had been incredibly nice.

I resigned myself to finishing my meal binder and eating the same 28 meals for all of eternity…which I would gladly do if it meant never having to figure out what to cook.

And then – one glorious day – I discovered eMeals, an online meal planning program. I had gotten the chance to try it out for free, so I snooped around the site to see what it was about. I thought it looked doable. Then I saw that Dave Ramsey endorsed it. I usually don’t care about who endorses what…unless it’s Dave Ramsey. Because everything that Dave says is pretty much solid gold. So I signed up.

…and my life was forever changed.

(all links to eMeals in this post are affiliate links, just so you know)

That sounds overly dramatic, but seriously, it’s amazing. I never have to think about what to make for dinner, my shopping lists are already made, the recipes are right there, I always have what I need, and I no longer have to throw away old unused food. I feel like a HUGE burden has been lifted. And the best part? My food bill has gone from (roughly)$750 to $500 a month, and that’s without any effort. No clipping coupons, scouring sale ads, or being the weird lady with the calculator. It’s beautiful.

So how does eMeals work?

how emeals works

Sounds nice, right? It is. Look at all the meal plans you can choose from…(you can change once a month)

emeals meal plans

You can even choose your grocery store and they will match up that weeks menu with that weeks sales to save you extra money. At least that’s what I hear…my grocery store (HEB) isn’t included. I’m really hoping they expand on that soon, but for now they have ALDI, Kroger, Publix, Ralphs, Safeway, Target, Walmart, and Whole foods.

They also have an app for your phone, and I use that exclusively. I’ve tried other meal planning programs, but they always required me to print stuff. We all know that that’s a terrible idea…printers never seem to work when you need them too. Here are some snapshots of last weeks meals, recipes, and shopping list on my phone…

eMeals app

 There is a catch though… you have to pay for it. I know, I’m not surprising anyone.  A one year subscription (dinners only) is $58… or $5 a month. Considering its saving my sanity and $250 a month, I personally think it’s a slammin deal. I’d pay a lot more than that actually.

If you are interested in trying eMeals for yourself, you can do that one of two ways. First, you  can buy it (they also have three and six month plans). Just click on the image below and sign up (and don’t forget to download the app!).

eMeals Meal Plans

Or, you  can try to win it. eMeals has offered to give three readers a six month subscription each. To enter use the rafflecopter below (it loads slowly, be patient).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*This is NOT a sponsored post, I’m just genuinely excited about eMeals and wanted to share!

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  1. That’s a great idea! And sounds perfect to solve the exact problem you had. I’m on something called a “low FODMAP” diet, which I don’t see on there :( It’s pretty new, and out of Australia, so I guess it’ll take a little while to catch on here. It’s improved my health dramatically, though, so worth the aggravation.
    I recently watched a video clip about getting free cars while you get rich. It was a Dave Ramsey video, and I was just amazed! I’ve done a lot of research about debt, investments and so on, and this video had things in it I’ve never heard before. Now I want to see more!
    Jan Elizabeth recently posted..Early Days – and How They Can Shape the FutureMy Profile

  2. We spend $800 a month and that doesn’t count eating out. I don’t even want to discuss the amount of waste that is going on either. I love to cook and bake but hate the mess and like you the planning process. I usually try making a list every week but life gets in the way and I order pizza for the umpteenth time. I may try this out!

  3. I LOVE to cook, but two weeks ago I realised that with a newborn my old habits of cooking (time consuming, somewhat involved and many-pot-using) was just not gonna fly. It made me sad. However, planning the menu means I can guarantee at least one meal of the week will be lovely, the hardest part of deciding what to cook is already done (it really is the worst part!) which means less stress, I spend less, and the best part: no wasted food.
    Did I mention I forgot to do one this week…?

  4. I love to cook, but weekday cooking is a whole ‘nother ball game. I always do a two week meal plan, but it’s such a chore and I hate it. I always wish a meal plan would magically appear before I went to the store. Not to mention I feel like we also spend too much a month on food. If I could save $250 a month that would be awesome! I’m definitely checking this out.
    Lisa @ The Cooking Bride recently posted..Zucchini Cake NapoleonsMy Profile

  5. Jane Stona says:

    Guess what? Today, Amazon local is offering 1 yr of dinner planning on emeals for $29! What a coincidence.

  6. Just wanted to let you know that Groupon often has discounts on emeals subscriptions. I can’t remember what the deal was… 25 or 50% off a subscription I think. I’m not sure how often the deal comes around either but I know I’ve seen it at least two or three times in the last 4 months or so.

  7. Nicole Davis says:

    You have seriously saved my life! I just got home from the hospital yesterday from having an emergency C-section 5 weeks early. My first thought was how am I going to feed my 4 yo & 2 yo kids and hubs. Hubs can pretty much cook just ramen noodles. Then you posted this today, I am so going to do slow cooker meals for the month AND it seems like they have a great easy shopping list I can actually send the hubs to the store to do the shopping and he will come home with the right stuff :D

  8. I don’t think I’d pay for it but I’d love to win it! Our grocery budget is about $400 for two adults (one nursing). I’m pretty happy with that. But I totally get sick of trying to figure out what to cook with what’s in the fridge. I was excited to see they have a gluten free meal plan which makes it doable for us.
    Julie S recently posted..The Great Rug CaperMy Profile

  9. Oh wow. That looks like a really good site! I had a quick look at the sample menus, and was surprised to see that there were things that I actually think I’d cook/like! So many of these types of things come up with weird (to me) meals..
    Thanks Ashley!!

  10. Thank you, I would love a chance to win!
    Susan Dingman recently posted..Secondhand Scores #21My Profile

  11. One day I’m definitely going to give it a shot! Sooner rather then later if I win, lol ;) I’m getting back into meal planning, we were away for the summer but now it’s back into routine… What I do is, instead of Monday, Tuesday, etc, I list chicken, beef, pork, fish, pasta, soup/stew, and vegetarian and then plug in whatever I’m in the mood for, then pull out all the meat I need on Sunday. We’ve got four kids, 14, 12, 10, 8, and our budget is $700 a week. What I really need help with (because I truly loth) is school lunches for them all!

    • Pulling out all the meat at the beginning of the week is a great idea. Since starting eMeals I grocery shop on Mondays and just leave all the meat in the fridge instead of freezing it. It’s so nice to always have it ready to go. I have to admit, $700 a week sounds like a lot…teens are hungry people though. Adam and I would like four kids too, so I know our food budget can’t sty at $500 a month forever!
      Ashley recently posted..Meal Planning Made Simple (How eMeals Saved My Sanity) My Profile

  12. Haha, wow, when I saw your budget I almost died! We try to survive on roughly $200 a month. Believe me, it’s tough! Sometimes my husband sighs and says “I miss meat!” :^) We mainly eat chicken or pork ’cause they’re the cheapest meats. A few years ago I did try eMeals and they really are great…we were impressed with the variety of meals we were eating. I did find though that as long as I’m organized about it I can still generally shop for cheaper than that (thank God for Aldi). What I did recently was sit down and wrote out all the dinners I know how to do and categorized them by meat or main ingredient, then put down the basic ingredients that I’d usually have to buy to make them. Then when I sit down to do my shopping list I have the sale ads by me and write down the killer sales that I want to get and match them up with some recipes for the next 2 weeks, writing down each day what we’re going to have for dinner. We keep breakfast and lunch pretty simple with cereals and sandwiches or leftovers…no need to get fancy. Sorry for writing a book but I totally understand your frustration with cooking meals, just wanted to share some things that have helped me lately, even though you now have an awesome eMeals plan. :^) Oh, another thing about that is you really only need a 6-month subscription ’cause you can totally reuse the meals.

    • $200 a month….go you! I know how hard that can be, for a few years we hardly ate any meat and I spent hours clipping coupons and matching them up with sales. It was exhausting but it’s what I had to do at the time. It’s interesting to hear about how much everyones budget is, so far we have $800, $400, $2800, and $200 a month. Thanks for sharing your method!

      Also, I agree with you about leftovers…they are my favorite food :)
      Ashley recently posted..Meal Planning Made Simple (How eMeals Saved My Sanity) My Profile

      • You might like to check out

        I find that when I have lots of stuff in the fridge/pantry and NO IDEA what to make, it helps me out loads! You can also select gluten-free/dairy-free restrictions and it narrows down your selection. If you’re only missing one ingredient, it will also give you that option! Helps to use up things that otherwise sit at the back of the fridge until they go bad, because you simply haven’t figured out how to use them. (And plus, when you can lower your weekly spending by doing that, it’s super rewarding!)

  13. I can so relate about the witching hour – I dread the time when I have to start thinking about dinner. This sounds like it could be a great idea! Definitely need the inspiration!

  14. I kind of do that on my own :) I sit down every two weeks and make a two week meal plan, then I do my big shopping trip. I budget $250 a month on groceries, which gives me enough for my two big shopping trips as well as “milk runs” ( we drink A LOT of milk). I was having the same trouble as you until I started doing it that way :) That is cool that you like eMeals, I hear it on the Dave Ramsey show all the time and was wondering if it was as great as it sounded.
    Alix recently posted..Webster’s DamMy Profile

  15. Here is the link to the Dave Ramsey video just in case you haven’t found it yet.

  16. For me, the hardest part of cooking is deciding what to make after a full day’s work! I have recipe cards to help me plan: Every time I made a meal we liked, I got a new card out. I wrote the name, the recipe location (if it was from a book), and any special ingredients on it. So I didn’t have to do this all at once, just bit by bit. They live in their own box, with “to do” and “just did” tabs.

    So before we go to the store, each of my kids gets to pull a few cards. They can trade in one or two if they are not in the mood. From there I plan the shopping. For expensive items the card may sit for a while, until the item goes on sale. And some cards are labeled with what to do with the leftovers- like “fried rice” noted on the bottom of a stir fry card.

    When someone asks “what’s for dinner?” I reply “What do the card say?”

    I’ve been gradually adding more information, like side dishes and veggies that go with that meal. But they really make my life easier.

  17. The website is not developed yet. I’d love to keep up with your posts. You are what I wish I could be; organized and focused. Thanks for having this page. I can’t wait to try the meal planning stuff.

  18. Super excited about eMeals – I signed up today! Best of all, there is a Groupon for eMeals out there that reduces the annual fee to $29 for 12 months!!! Hopefully others can take advantage of that great price-savings as well!!


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