Eating better is on everyone’s agenda when a new year rolls around. Healthier choices for ourselves and our families are no doubt a top priority. If there were an affordable way to achieve this while also saving time, you’d be on board in a heartbeat, right?
Let’s take a look at some of the meal plans that may have caught your attention recently to see if they provide the solution you’re seeking. We wanted to try a few firsthand to save you the hassle and headache of researching and sampling them on your own.
The Hello Fresh program offers three meals per week with a variety of mix-and-match options so you can select what works best for you. The Classic Plan allows subscribers to choose from among six meat, fish and veggie recipes for either two or four adults. The Family Plan accommodates two adults and two children, with meat, fish and veggie recipes chosen for you. This plan is a bit less expensive due to the two smaller portions: It comes in at $8.74 per serving vs. $9.99. Both are considerable bargains given the quality of the meals we enjoyed!
Getting the first box was like Christmas all over again… we opened it to reveal all kinds of goodies inside. Ingredients were pre-measured and ready to roll. The only real work involved was any chopping or slicing required for veggie prep. The difficult part is deciding which meal to try first! Our favorite of the trio was the Oven Roasted Chicken with Winter Veggies and Lemon Thyme Sauce. It sounded unremarkable enough, but somehow the sauce accented the Brussels sprouts and Basmati rice so perfectly, we were sorry that we hadn’t ordered two of the same meal.
With a focus on farm-fresh ingredients and recipes, all three meals were delightful from start to finish. Cooking them up was a snap with the easy-to-follow instructions, and needless to say, we cleaned our dinner plates.
The Plated program is very similar to Hello Fresh, but it offers customers more flexibility—you get to choose exactly how many meals you receive each week (with a selection from among 11 different recipes!) and dessert is optional. All dinners are priced at $12 per serving.
With this Atlanta-based company, you select two meals to be delivered on the day of your choosing. A subscription to the service is not required, but sampling it as a “guest” costs an additional $12 to $27 for shipping, based on destination. The meals themselves are priced at about $12.50 per serving.
The menu puts a slightly Southern twist on the mailed meal concept. We tried the Chicken with Barley, Greens and Apple, along with a Balsamic-Onion Pizza with Gruyere and Arugula. The pizza was especially pleasing, which is something we would not typically think to make at home on our own.
The pre-measured ingredients (local and organic produce, pastured and humanely raised proteins, dry goods, herbs and a few spices) arrived in a large box with colorful recipe cards providing reasonably foolproof instructions. Overall, the steps were easy to follow, but we found the prep and cook times to be a bit underestimated. The chicken dish specifically took about double the time listed.
When in need of a pick-me-up to get going in the morning, a lot of folks lately are looking no further than the kitchen blender. So GreenBlender offers subscribers five smoothie recipes each week, as well as all the pre-portioned, prepped ingredients needed to make 10 12-ounce servings. Each serving comes to between $4 and $5 each, depending on the plan selected.
The shakes are touted as a natural way to clear up your skin, boost energy levels and heighten mental clarity. Did we feel prettier, bouncier and smarter as a result? Maybe just a little. It’s true, though, that the program succeeded in feeding our minds…the recipe cards did more than just list the ingredients to be obliterated into smithereens, they also educated us on how the nutrients, fiber and vitamins were affecting our overall well-being. The bright chefs behind these concoctions want their clients to feel nourished both inside and out.
Overall, we found this to be a great starter kit for someone easing into a diet and lifestyle change, or not yet versed in the science of building a beneficial yet yummy smoothie.
LOCAL, PRE-PORTIONED AND HEALTHY
Above the Grain
Taking the convenience of meal planning one step further, out of Lakewood Ranch comes the Above the Grain menu of premade dishes that are both nutritious and delicious. Founder Jenn Burns explains how in the modern world, we have replaced wholesome, clean plant matter and animal foods with a high-carb, low-nutrient and highly toxic chemical diet. Noting that this is not how our bodies are designed to be fed, she points to ever-increasing instances of osteoporosis, cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease that are the result. It’s pretty obvious why she chose to go back to basics with her company. She is passionate about the foods she puts on her customers’ plates and delivers to their door.
The program requires a monthly commitment, with a two-week trial available in order to figure out the appropriate combination of plans and portion sizes. With the standard plan, each delivery contains five different pre-plated dishes that include one por tion of meat and one veggie side. Regular and large protein portions are available at a cost of $75 and $80 per week, respectively. That breaks down to $15 or $16 per meal. You can customize the deliveries for an individual, a couple or a family of four. There is also a $10 charge for the convenience of having the week’s worth of food delivered directly to your home or office.
Taking into consideration any specific dislikes or allergies (discussed at the point of initial sign-up) the menu each week is selected by Jenn herself, with the aim of not repeating a recipe for at least six weeks. She notes that preferences often change over time. Several clients have voiced surprise over trying her cauliflower, for instance, and realizing that when prepared the right way, it can be quite tasty. Jenn loves revelations like this and enjoys introducing folks to new foods or unique preparations.
We sampled the Pulled Pork with Fajita Noodles, Chicken Adobo with Roasted Beets, Pesto Chicken with Broccoli, Taco Casserole and Turkey Stir Fry. Our top pick was definitely the chicken dish. And the stir fry even received the stamp of approval from a 10-year-old palate (as did the chocolate chip cookies).
While Above the Grain isn’t the least expensive option out there, it certainly fits the bill when it comes to ease, convenience and nutrition. The majority of Jenn’s clients are families, and the best compliments she has gotten so far are from busy moms and dads who thank her for giving them more time to spend with their loved ones.