Each week, recipes and shopping lists magically appear on my phone based on a plan of my choosing. Some plans, like “30-minute meals,” “kid friendly,” or “budget friendly,” are meant to solve a logistical problem. Others, like “vegetarian,” “diabetic,” or “low carb,” are meant to redefine your diet.
My inability to answer the question “What’s for dinner?” was the biggest roadblock between me and cooking. With a meal plan, I receive seven or so recipes a week, and I pick the ones I want based on my schedule. It requires no mental effort from me, and it means I cook meals that I wouldn’t pick myself. In one week I might make Tuscan beef pot roast, tuna Niçoise salad, braised pork, and huevos rancheros. Each meal is balanced with vegetables, grains, and a protein. Cooking something wildly new and different each meal is exciting, and grocery store runs are dead simple now (though I have run into some regional limitations, where certain ingredients aren’t available locally.) As with any cooking experiment, some meals are duds. Over a month, I’d estimate that I love 25 percent of the recipes, like 65 percent, and dislike 10 percent.
Because meal planning provides training wheels to teach me basic cooking concepts, I couldn’t cop-out and decide that a recipe was too difficult for me or lazily fall back on a simpler meal. When I started, my cooking skillset was limited to a vague understanding that chopping was thicker than dicing and boiling took more heat than simmering. As recipes trickled in, I learned skills such as making a roux, mixing my own dressings, and cooking delicate sauces.
Meal plans are also helpful for planning a balanced dinner, especially if you’re reliant on prepackaged foods as I once was. Before I started using a meal planning service, I rarely cooked with many fresh vegetables or fruits. As Ms. Lower noted, “Having a plan also helps curb impulse, which means you are more likely to eat things that make you feel good, rather than things that make you feel bad.”
How to pick a meal planning service
You have lots of options for meal planning services. No single service works for everyone, and finding the right one for your needs takes some trial and error.