One of my biggest budget categories is food. One of my biggest household challenges is what to feed my family every day. I am not a creature of habit, am a decent cook and can find my way around both a kitchen and a grocery store.
So, for Christmas 2009, I requested a Relish! subscription. Relish! was my first foray into menu planning online and I was quite impressed. Each Thursday, I get an e-mail reminding me to log-in and plan a menu for the coming weeks. It is highly customizable, allowing me to choose from a wide range of options including (but not limited to!) Low-Carb, crock pot, freezer meals, gluten-free, budget- and kid-friendly options for dinner, dessert, lunch and breakfast! It does not match to sales at grocery store chains but has recently added a coupon feature enabling me to search for printable coupons for items on my list. (RIP menus for cocktail parties, game day parties and movie nights). Estimated spending (from Relish!) for a week’s worth of groceries is $85-100 for a family of four. Respectable. Coupons and careful matching to available sales would lower this. I have not tested it on a family of six but I will in the near future.
During the time that I used Relish! exclusively, I was not disappointed. Many of the recipes have become family favorites. Dinner is never dull, a fancy brunch is a handful of clicks away and I am in full control of my options at all times. I can easily create menus to serve any size party with basic math. Relish gets an “A” from me for affordability as well. It costs only $21 every three months or $58.70 for a 12-month subscription.
Negatives: Does not synch to major chain grocery sales (which doesn’t bother me because I don’t live near any of the ones other services use), no referral credit option. Hey! If my singing your praises brings you business, do me a solid, okay?
I have been working very hard to embrace my current role as CEO/CFO/COO of my family. Our financial situation is precarious at best due to 4 moves in 5 years and the effects of that on my employment history. I recently completed an Accredited Financial Counselor course and certification process and I know ALL about money. I just ain’t got any!
After reading The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, I became a fan and investigated his website. E-mealz gets the highest praise from Dave so I thought I would take a look. E-Mealz promises to bring back the family dinner for only $5 a month. Their system is much more regimented and inflexible but does link to several major national store chains including Aldi and Wal-Mart and align with sales at those chains (none near me) to keep the cost to approximately $75 per week depending on the option you choose. You can select certain dietary preferences: G-free, Portion Controlled (formerly Points), Low-Carb, and Vegetarian. There is no control over whether it’s a crockpot meal, freezer meal, etc. It is a point to and click the link, download and print the menu, shop, cook and eat system. I have not been horribly disappointed with variety of menus I have tried (Low-Carb, Aldi-specific, Portion Controlled), but E-mealz only allows you to change your plan once every three months. I am not sure why this is, but I now have two subscriptions because I wanted to try something different mid-stream and had already switched once. I also had to pay extra for a “Vacation Menu” which helped me plan for guests over the holidays. It makes me feel a little nickle and dimed for reasons I don’t quite understand.
Pros for E-mealz: Low-think, easy to prepare, few ingredients, all readily available, affordable. I liked it enough to give it to my mom as a Christmas gift last year. She shared it with my sisters who were pretty happy with the Aldi option also.
E-mealz keeps its promise to keep the grocery bill low. I tested the Aldi option and it came in almost exactly at the amount promised by E-mealz.
Cons: No customizability whatsoever, plan changes limited to once every three months, extra charge for holiday menus.
I had no “failures” (dinners my family didn’t like) with either service so it really depends on which approach suits your preference for cooking and meal planning.
I currently pay for both E-mealz and Relish! Menu Planning because I missed Relish! and it’s customizability after several months with E-mealz. Also, I do not live in a major metro area with national stores so Relish! will help me match sales to menu options and coupons in my area. I will be posting more about this in the future as I test the theory so stay tuned! At this point, I will probably not renew my E-mealz subscription when it expires in November.