As a working mom trying to feed a picky husband and a pickier preschooler, meal planning is basically the bane of my existence. I’m always looking for a simpler, easier way to plan meals, grocery shop, and cook – without spending a fortune. At the same time, I want to be healthy, and I want my family to be healthy.
With the $5 Meal Plan, those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.
I’ve actually used the $5 Dinners blog as a meal-planning resource before. So when I found out they had a meal plan option, I definitely wanted to try it out. So far, it looks like the $5 this service costs each month could actually be more worthwhile than the $7 a month we pay for Hulu.
Table of Contents:
How It Works
The $5 Meal Plan is similar to many other meal plans I’ve seen, with a few minor differences. One is that it focuses exclusively on meals that can be made for $2 per serving or less. Also, it’s published weekly, rather than monthly.
After subscribing, you pay your $5 per month (after a free 14-day trial period!) in order to be able to download a menu each weekend. Each menu includes a shopping list of everything you’ll need to make the meals for the following week. Once you’re a member, you’ll also have access to the backlogs of menus, so you can try out something different that week, if you want.
The main menu for each week includes five dinner entrees with sides, one breakfast, and one lunch. Plus, you’ll get a random dessert, beverage, or snack each week – sometimes more than one! The menus build in some flexibility, too, as each includes one freezer-friendly recipe, one slow cooker recipe, and one 20-minute recipe.
Each item on the menu has some symbols by its name. This will tell you which items take 20 minutes to prep, which ones are freezer-friendly, and which can be made in a slow cooker or a single disk. To make weeknight meals as simple as possible, you can prep many of the meals on the weekend. That way, everything is waiting.
Curious about what’s likely to be on the menu? Click here to download a free sample meal plan.
On the day you’re ready to grocery shop, download the menu, pick up everything on the list, and you’re good to go.
Most of the $5 Meal Plan menu features meat-based mains with veggie-based sides. It’s relatively healthy, and it’s made to please even picky eaters without becoming too repetitious. However, this menu won’t suit if you’re vegetarian or eating paleo style.
That’s where the alternative menus come in. For an additional $8, you can buy six-week specialty plan menus. Right now, the options are 30-minute meals, slow cooker meals, paleo meals, and vegetarian meals. There’s no vegan option at this time, though creative cooks may be able to alter the vegetarian menu accordingly.
Specialty plan menus contain 36 meals altogether – six meals each separated into six weeks’ worth of menus.
Six weeks is long enough that you could practically rotate through one six-week specialty plan for a whole year (or more) without getting burnt out on the delicious meals include in these menus.
Related: Meal Delivery Comparison
There’s plenty of good stuff going for $5 Meal Plan, including:
- Cost of Service: At just $5 a month, this costs less than your Netflix or Hulu subscription. The monthly cost is low enough that even if you skip out on a week of cooking, it’s still worth it.
- Cost of Meals: Add to the low cost of the service the fact that most of these basic meals cost $2 per serving or less. If you find yourself ordering too much takeout on busy weekday evenings, this plan could save you loads of cash. (Note: The website is up front that paleo meals, due to their meat-heavy focus, will typically cost more than $5 each.)
- Recipes: Many of the customer reviews on the $5 Meal Plan site state that even picky eaters enjoy these recipes. And, looking through the list, I believe it. There’s a good variety here, so it’s suitable for even the pickiest eaters.
- Side Dishes: For the most part, the menus don’t actually include separate recipes for side dishes. Most of the main dishes include a mix of protein and carbs, so they could be a standalone meal. Still, the shopping list allots for buying fresh veggies and fruits so you’ll have them on hand for salads and side dishes throughout the week.
- Ease of Use: Most of the recipes aren’t difficult to make, and the grocery list is separated by store section to make shopping easier. Although each menu will include at least one twenty-minute meal and at least one crock pot meal for super busy evenings, many contain more than one each.
- Not Just Freezer Cooking: For a while, I was into once-a-month freezer cooking. It’s a great option for anyone who wants to reclaim time during the week. However, it can be complicated, messy, and time-consuming on that monthly cooking day. This menu lets you save time through proper planning but without devoting one entire weekend a month to cooking. Since each menu contains a freezer meal, it would be easy to double that recipe each week if you want to stock up.
The main issue with the basic $5 Meal Plan is that it’s hard to modify recipes to jive with any eating restrictions, especially if multiple family members have different restrictions. As I noted, most of the meals are fairly healthy, and rely on whole, fresh ingredients rather than pre-packaged items. (That is, after all, part of what makes them so affordable.)
However, it would be difficult to shift many of these recipes to include only vegetarian items, for instance. It may also be difficult to add meat to the six-week vegetarian menu if your household is split between vegetarians and meat-eaters.
Another potential problem I can see is serving sizes. The meal plans are written for a family of four, with some meals including even larger serving sizes so you can save leftovers. If you’re only feeding two people, or more than four, you’ll have to adjust the recipes and shopping lists on your own.
Some other meal-planning services, such as Once a Month Meals, will automatically recalculate shopping lists and ingredients depending on the serving sizes you enter. While four-serving meals definitely aren’t a deal-breaker, it’s something to be aware of if your family is much larger or smaller than this.
If you, like me, struggle with meal planning on weekends and getting a healthy dinner on the table every night, the $5 Meal Plan could be a great service to check out. It’s easy enough for beginner-level cooks and interesting enough for adventurous eaters. Plus, at $2 a serving or less, these dinner plans will almost certainly save you money.