Save time and money, and avoid frustration with these websites and apps
Meal planning is more than a fad—it’s a way of life. Single moms are already struggling to get everything done in a day, and dinner often falls by the wayside until 5:00 p.m. OK, let’s be real, 5:30 p.m.—and with screaming kids. There are so many benefits to meal planning, as Mika Yamamoto wrote about in another ESME article, but how are we supposed to find time to hunt for recipes and organize a grocery list?
Enter the Internet. These five websites and smartphone apps are here to help organize our thoughts, prepare our shopping lists, and feed our families healthy meals on time and without the screaming. OK, they don’t actually promise scream-free dinners, but they do help with the rest of the cooking struggle.
The information available on the Internet is overwhelming, but these websites have really nailed the meal-planning process. For a few dollars a month, you’ll save money by meal planning with these programs:
Plan to Eat. For Solo Moms who already have a pile of established recipes and family favorites, Plan to Eat is a great option. This program is a bit more time intensive to set up, but it is a great way to make your meal planning easier in the future. The system allows you to input your recipes (whether from the Internet in general or Pinterest!) with the click of a button or manually from your cookbook. Once they have been added, you can schedule all three daily meals and snacks on a calendar, and the program generates a shopping list based off the schedule. The service costs $4.95 per month or $39 for the year (which breaks down to $3.25 per month), and almost always runs a good discount in November. It also has a free trial period.
Jennifer, a mom of five, says, “It lets me tag my recipes, making searching for something even easier. It is every bit worth the money for this program!”
Once a Month Meals. For busy Solo Moms who want to prepare food in advance, Once a Month Meals is the place to go! Fully customizable meals with shopping lists, instructions, and even printable labels make every part of meal planning and cooking easy. The menus range from five to six meals all the way up to 18. Each meal is scheduled to make twice, giving you extra meals for the same work. Every meal is freezer-friendly, which means a weekend’s worth of meal prep can result in meals that are ready to go for weeks afterward. Menus include specialty diets such as Paleo, Whole30, and gluten free, and even include baby- and kid-friendly options. With a membership, you can easily select how many people you want to cook for, and all the math is done for you. Membership runs at $16 per month, and you can cancel at any time. Ready to try a free mini menu? Start here!
I use this program myself and have for a few years. With three kids and a sometimes absent spouse, it is really helpful to be able to prepare meals when I have the time and still be able to cook a healthy meal for my family each day.
eMeals. This is a really popular option for several reasons, one of which is its endorsement by Dave Ramsey, a well-known and respected financial adviser. Coupled with recommendations from trusted friends, eMeals is an easy choice for many Solo Moms. The program also has the ability to change the amount of servings the recipe makes, which is super helpful for those times you want leftovers or the times you are down a family member. eMeals is great for trying new recipes and rotating through, and the recipes are adaptable to dietary needs, such as Paleo, and offer low-carb as well as budget-friendly options, among others. The app provides a grocery list based off the meals selected to make shopping easy. Membership costs are offered in three- or 12-month periods, starting at $29.99 for three months of dinner menus, with additional menus costing $9.99 for lunch, breakfast, or special occasions. Try a 14-day trial for free!
“Meal planning is key to fitness goals,” says Carolyn. “I lost more than 30 pounds after having a baby. I was never overwhelmed by meal prep and I was able to provide good food for my family, which means a lot to me.”
Smartphone apps are all the rage, and these two are among the top used for meal planning and cooking. From planning on the couch to shopping in the store to cooking in the kitchen, they’re with you every step of the way:
Pepperplate. Pepperplate spans all your devices and helps you manage recipes, create menus, plan meals, and develop shopping lists. You can create or edit recipes from popular websites or cookbooks, and you can arrange them in your recipe library by category. Meal planning is available for special occasions or regular weeks, with your iPad, tablet, phone, Nook, or Kindle as your one-stop shop for directions. Sharing recipes is easy with Pepperplate, as well as making the right amount for your family each and every time. After adding the recipes and any extras you may need that week, the shopping list is ready and available on your app, so it can walk right into the store with you, ensuring you aren’t missing anything! Here’s a great reason to try it: it’s free!
Paprika. Another free option is Paprika, an app that helps you make meal plans and create shopping lists. Like Pepperplate, it works on almost every device, from Android to Apple, Nook to Kindle, and tablet to desktop, and it syncs across all devices. Solo Moms can search the Internet for recipes through the app and easily tap to download and save. Meal plans can be created for the week or the month and can easily be reused the next month. The ingredients are combined and grouped together by grocery aisle when the shopping list is prepared, taking out the math and geography skills that you often need to use when food shopping. And the cooking tools really help with the execution. You can track your progress by checking off ingredients you’ve used, and the app keeps the screen on during the cooking process. Recipes can be scaled to the desired serving size, and there are cooking timers automatically populated by the recipe. Really, this is foolproof support for cooking!
What are you waiting for? Start gathering your recipes, or sign up for a free trial to one of these websites. Let us know which one worked best for you!
Rebecca Alwine is a freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. Her writing experience includes military-family topics, research pieces, guest blogging, and much more. She’s a contributing writer for ARMY magazine and a regular contributor to several online publications, including the Homefront United Network, PCSgrades, and ESME. She also has been published in Ms. magazine and the Atlantic. You can follow her online at www.whatrebeccathinks.com and on Twitter and Instagram.