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When I first made an effort to get a handle on our expenses, I was surprised to see that food was #2, right behind my mortgage. I was wasting literally hundreds a month that I could only chalk up to my own laziness.
As a single parent, I worked all day, then hurried home to get my kids to two different soccer practices or games. Dinner, or food in general, was an afterthought.
I’m embarrassed to admit how many convenience store sandwiches, and Kraft macaroni and cheese “dinners” we’ve eaten.
When I did make it to the grocery store, it would usually be with a scribbled post-it note of half a dozen things I knew we were out of.
It was beginning to dawn on me that if I had gone with a list of ingredients to make actual meals, then maybe I wouldn’t be spending $250 a month at convenience stores and on take-out.
But what’s even more embarrassing, is that even when I discovered this huge black hole in our budget, I still didn’t take the time to sit down and plan our meals.
If someone had said to me then, “Look, here’s a plan for the next few weeks. It’s got complete meals for your family, along with one combined shopping list to get everything you need, and the directions to make each meal”, I think I would have hugged them.
It was still a year or two before I realized that this does exist.
It’s called, $5 Dollar Meal Plan. For $5 a month (what’s that, one or two coffees?) I’d never need to have that sinking feeling when one of the kids says, “so what’s for dinner?”
$5 Meal Plan isn’t one of those delivery services that leaves expensive, packaged meals on your porch. Rather, it’s a service that provides recipes, along with the ingredients and shopping list for every meal your family eats.
Their aim is to do the planning for you (which saves serious money), and save time shopping and hunting down recipes. And the idea of paying the equivalent of a Starbucks latte each month, to save a few hundred dollars is why we’re still subscribers.
The biggest eye-opener I had when I looked into $5 Meal Plan, was that trying to DIY everything isn’t always cheaper. In fact, sometimes it costs a lot more.
$5 Meal Plan Review - How we Reduced Our Grocery Bill by One Third
How Does $5 Meal Plan Work?
The aim of $5 Meal Plan is to cut costs by having a meal plan, but to make the planning as easy as checking your email.
- When you join, you’ll have access to dozens of full meals, where you’ll scan down a list (with photos) and select meals for any number of days.
- New recipes are added each Friday, and they feature lots of meals that utilize foods that are in season. Most meals can be made for $2 or less per person.
- A great feature is, when you select your meals, it’ll save the ingredients, the prep instructions, and create a combined shopping list. Coming up with a few weeks of meals is one thing, but having one accurate shopping list is a huge time saver.
Having go to meals also eliminates the costs that inflate your food bill each month, like take-out, convenience stores, extra grocery trips, and work lunches.
You’d go to the store once, and come home with everything you need for every meal that week.
What Does $5 Meal Plan Look Like?
Here’s how I got started:
Once I went to the $5 Meal Plan website I clicked on the Start My Trial button.
After your two-week free trial expires, you’d be billed $5 a month, either on your credit card or through PayPal. And you can cancel whenever you want.
Now, just check the email address you provided, and it’ll contain a link to your account.
Here’s the account login screen:
Once you log in, you can click on Build Your Perfect Plan.
It’s really flexible, because you can select how you want to build your plan:
- by Meal
- by Cooking Preference
- by Ingredients
- by Dietary Preferences.
I chose by Meal, then I selected Dinner, and I’m presented with a list of hundreds of meals:
I selected Avocado Chicken Tacos, (below) then I clicked Add Recipe.
With each meal you select, it’s added to your plan. I had two weeks of dinners before I got past the “C’s”.
After You Download Your Meals
Once you’ve selected your meals for the week, just print or display the combined shopping list of ingredients, and compare it to what you have on hand.
Now you’ll know exactly what to buy at the store that’ll keep your family full, and eliminate any extra food purchases.
The cooking time is posted on each meal, so you’ll know what nights of the week you’ll make a quick dinner, and what nights you have a little extra time.
Are $5 Meal Plan Recipes Easy to Make?
The idea of $5 Meal plan is to save money and time, and the recipes follow suit. They all range from 5-20 minutes of prep time, and 0-20 minutes of cook time.
Anything I’ve made so far, has been ready to eat in under 30 minutes. For us, having cheap, healthy meals that don’t require a lot of work has been a big improvement.
The recipes are measured for 4 servings, so depending on the size of your family, you can adjust it, or plan for some leftovers.
One thing I really like is how their shopping list is laid out. Let’s say you’ve picked meals for an entire week. They combine the ingredients you’ll need for all of your meals into one shopping list, separated by food sections.
So all you’ll need to do, is check your kitchen inventory, and if you don’t have a particular item, put a checkmark next to it on your shopping list. How easy is that!
Are the $5 Meal Plan Recipes Healthy?
For each meal, you can click on a nutritional information page and view the per serving fat, carbs, calories, fiber, sugars, protein and sodium. So if you’re trying to stick to a high protein, low carb diet, it’s pretty easy to select those meals.
You can also select an entirely gluten-free menu list. But I’ve noticed that even on the “Classic” menu, there are some gluten-free meals that are marked with a “GF” next to them.
What’s the Advantage of $5 Meal Plan Over Other Plans?
You can pay someone to do anything from shampoo your carpet, to pick up your dog’s poop. But not every service is cost effective. Most services will save you time, but not money.
That goes for food services too. Some deliver ready made meals, where all you need to do is pop them in the oven. But you’re paying more for the food, the packaging, a delivery charge, and a tip.
That’s fine for someone with a high salary and not a lot of time.
$5 Meal Plan is designed to save both time and money.
Their aim is to eliminate the time it takes to plan meals, save money by making one shopping trip, and to ensure you have the ingredients on hand to eat healthy, inexpensive meals every day.
If you follow the plan, you’ll be spending an average of $2 per person for each meal, and sometimes less.
Why it makes sense to re-think your food buying and prep process
1. Your Time and Quality of Life
Nobody understands what it takes to run a household except the person doing it. Laundry, cleaning, paying bills, organizing, childcare, providing the right kinds of food…. it’s exhausting!
When we spread ourselves thin, we end up cutting corners. We’ll order take-out, stop for fast-food, or leave grocery shopping until the last minute, then rush through the store. Three days later, we’re scrambling for something to make for dinner.
That cycle not only costs more, but it’s frustrating to constantly worry about putting meals on the table.
2. Your Monthly Expenses
When I got serious about budgeting, a big eye-opener was how much we spent on food each month. For an average family, food is one of the top 2 or 3 monthly expenses. For us, it totaled $900 for 3 people!
Notice I didn’t say groceries, but food. We buy food in so many ways – groceries, take-out, sit-down restaurants, work lunches, convenience stores, etc. And many of the non-grocery store purchases are because we don’t have the right kinds of food at home. Buying food out can easily be triple the cost of the ingredients to make the meal.
I’m not suggesting you never go out to eat. I love trying new restaurants.
But by making one trip to the grocery store, and coming home with everything for each meal, we immediately reduced our monthly food cost by over $300 dollars.
- We didn’t need to order take-out once or twice a week because I had nothing planned.
- We had leftovers or other food to eat for lunch.
- We eliminated extra grocery trips for those “2 or 3 things” when we’d spend $30-$40.
- A certain picky eater in our family has liked every meal we’ve made so far.
$5 Meal Plan is Worth it, and Can Save Money and Time
Food planning can absolutely save you a lot of money each month. But for the average family, not all food planning services make sense.
If you’ve avoided trying a food plan so far because of the cost, you might want to consider $5 Meal Plan. At $5 a month, it’s about the least expensive food plan, with the highest ROI.
It’s ridiculously easy to use, will save time, and most likely, several hundred dollars each month. Spending a little to save a lot never gets old!
How about you? Have you tried $5 Meal Plan, or another plan that’s worked well?