Tuesday, October 18, 2011
TOS Crew: E-Mealz
Back in January, I confessed my meal-planning woes. You see, we went partially gluten-free (GF) about a year ago -- this meant I was cooking regular meals for the family and modifying things to make Eldest's meals completely GF. We had a menu-planning and cooking system in place that had been working pretty well. At the end of each month, we "girls" would plan the next month's meals. We cooked on a rotation basis, meaning each of us (mom and daughters, that is) ended up responsible for cooking, washing dishes, and kitchen clean-up about twice a week.
With Eldest's gluten sensitivity, I sort of took over all the cooking once again. Oh, if a meal was naturally gluten-free, one of the girls could manage. But I was paranoid about cross-contamination, and so if a meal contained gluten ingredients, I took it upon myself to do the cooking.
Two months later, DH was diagnosed with a severe gluten sensitivity, and I made the decision to go completely GF, at least at home. (The younger girls and I still get glutenous food on occasion, when we're out and about.) Now, GF cooking is not as difficult as I thought it would be, but it was different enough that I -- still learning -- took on all the cooking. (I know. I should have included the girls in the learning and exploring. My only explanation is that I felt like I was in over my head.) I had kind of a mental block against menu planning. It all seemed overwhelming. We got into a rut of rotating the same few meals, and I was doing all the cooking once more.
I made a couple of feeble stabs at GF menu planning, but it was pitiful. Just pitiful.
Enter The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, and the opportunity to review an online menu-planning service. When I heard they had a gluten-free option, I jumped up and down (virtually, anyhow) with my hand up in the air, yelling, "Pick me! Pick me!" Anything had to be better than what I was doing.
Choosing a plan
When I found out our family was on the e-Mealz list, I went to the e-Mealz website and read everything I could find about their menu plans. They have so many plans to choose from, including store-specific and special diets (low-carb, low-fat, low-cal, vegetarian, and yes, gluten-free). There are even small-family plans if you're cooking for just one or two people. The store-specific plans take into account the stores' weekly sales. We're talking Wal-Mart, Aldi's, Kroger, and Publix for specific stores. We don't have Aldi's and Publix for sure, so it was easy to eliminate those choices. But for the rest... it was tough! I went through all of their sample menus.
I finally settled on the Wal-Mart gluten-free plan. It appears to be identical to the "any store" GF plan, except that it includes prices on the shopping list. Oh, but I'm getting ahead of myself...
How it works
You select a meal plan from the options available and sign up. A three-month subscription is $15 (which works out to $5 a month, as you probably already noticed), billed to your credit card or debit card. Your subscription is automatically renewed, or you may cancel at any time.
Every week a new menu is available for download. (You can actually download two weeks' worth of menus, "this week" and "last week," so our first week, I got two weeks' menus to work from.)
My gluten-free e-Mealz menus have each been three pages: two pages of menus spanning seven days, plus a shopping list which includes what I need to buy in a weekly shopping trip, prices, space to write additional items, and a list of pantry staples that I need to have on hand (or buy, if they're not in my pantry) to fix all the meals for the week.
Our meal plans usually included at least one of each of the following:
For each day, there's an entree and a side in the menu plan, with a list of ingredients and preparation instructions. We've made some substitutions; for example, when a recipe calls for quick-cooking brown rice, I substitute regular; we don't do fish on a weekly basis as one of the girls won't eat any fish except canned tuna, and we only eat pork about once a month, not once a week.
The recipes are pretty easy to make, and the results have been, for the most part, delicious. (Remember, I haven't made all the recipes because of food preferences.) The GF menus average on paper about $90 a week. Some weeks we spend less because we have a supply of meat already in our freezer. Some weeks we spend more because when we do buy meat, it's the hormone- and antibiotic-free kind, which costs more.
But what about other allergies?
Because gluten is our main concern, these menus have worked fairly well for us. (I say "fairly" because of our fussy eater, who prefers her food pretty plain.) If your family has other food allergies (for example, corn or dairy) you might not fare as well (pun not intended but it certainly works well, doesn't it).
Click on any of the meal plans at the e-Mealz website to see a summary of that plan, and to find a link to a sample menu/shopping list for that plan. Check out a variety of plans -- you'll get an idea of how it works. You can sign up and choose a plan, and if it doesn't work you can switch plans once every three months.
I think I'll stick with the Wal-Mart gluten-free meal plan. I don't always get to Wal-Mart, as sometimes I have to consider the cost in gas compared to the grocery savings, but I like having the prices and the option. I like having menus planned out for me, and with the easy-to-follow recipes, the girls are finally able to learn to cook gluten-free. This one's a winner for our family.
Read more TOS Crew reviews of e-Mealz here.
Disclaimer: TOS Crew members were provided a free 3-month subscription to e-Mealz for review purposes. We receive no monetary compensation for offering our opinion. Opinions offered here are our own.