Although the concept has existed for quite some time, it seems as though recently meal planning has become more popular. Whether this is engendered by time constraints in our everyday lives or for health reasons, a variety of people are utilizing (and enjoying) meal planning. I’m going to take a look at two forms of meal planning, what I like to call “free style” meal planning, and “service” meal planning, and compare some of their pros and cons.

Free style meal planning is the type that comes to my mind when I think of the idea in general. Basically  it just means (at least to me) that you are literally handling the planning of meals ahead of time yourself, usually with the aid of cookbooks or recipe websites. I feel like this type of planning may have a few more pros than cons; you get to decide exactly what meals you want on which nights of the week. If you happen to have a varied daily schedule, it’s a little easier to move meals around to suit your work and social obligations. You also get to select the ingredients of each meal – if you have a particular food allergy (or if you’re just a selective eater), you can tailor meals to suit your own needs and tastes. I feel like this method may be the way to go for people who cook frequently at home, or perhaps have been following a particular diet for awhile, such as Paleo, gluten-free, or raw food diets, and know the exact foods they enjoy. It could potentially have a couple of drawbacks however. You may have a particularly hectic schedule, and feel that you just don’t have the time to sit down and plan out detailed meals for the week. Or if you feel that you may get in a rut with the meals you plan out, going with a service may be what you need to keep things fresh and interesting.

The other option of course, is to go with a meal planning service. Choices are extensive; there are local options to be found in virtually every major city, and many online as well. One such service is TheFresh20, a site that is an actual subscription service. As a member you get to select from plans such as gluten-free, Kosher, or meals designed for one (the plans vary in price) and the plan is posted to your email every Friday. It gives you a complete list of ingredients and the recipes for each meal for the upcoming week. Other sites like TheKitchn  offer up great meal plans and other cooking information for putting together easy and delicious family meals. Some better-known sites, like Cooking Light, have cool easy-to-use features like a drag-and-drop system, where you can select the recipes that best suit your taste and schedule, and then can print out or email that week’s meal plan to be used. If you’re looking to go whole hog though, you may want to check out Emeals.   For $6 a month, you can go on the site, pick out the meal plan that is best for you, and you can access seven great recipes (side dishes included) via email or through their mobile app. I feel like these services would be ideal for people who maybe aren’t that into cooking, or have extremely busy schedules. They may also be good for those who are just beginning a special diet, either prescribed or by choice, and maybe don’t really know where to start. And with some localized meal planning services, home delivery of ingredients could be an option as well, saving valuable time for the consumer.  The possible downside to using some of the services would be the cost (for the membership/subscription), and perhaps a lack of variety , if you happen to have very selective tastes.

As for my personal experience with meal planning, I admit to never having given it a shot. I have periodically planned a special meal a few days ahead of time (as I’m sure we all have), but I have never sat down and really laid groundwork for actual meals, making shopping lists, gathering recipes. I really enjoy cooking and do it whenever I have time, and it is fairly rare that I feel I need meal inspiration. I suppose in reality I do most of my meal planning on the fly, when I am at the grocery store, walking up and down the aisles. But I have been paying a lot of attention to the growing meal planning trend, and have been considering trying it out for a week to see if it would be a good fit for me. I have heard from acquaintances who follow it that it makes shopping significantly easier, it saves money, reduces food waste, and that they find they’re actually eating healthier than before. That sounds like plenty of incentive to me.

The idea to do this post ort of came out of nowhere to me; as I said, this isn’t really a concept I had considered before, although the idea is becoming more appealing as time passes. I would love to know if you have had any experiences with meal planning. Do you (or did you) see any improvements in your food budget, time management or nutrition? Would you recommend it to others? Leave a comment letting me know what you think, and happy eating!