4 Steps to Finding Your Perfect Meal Planning Service

Meal planning isn't always fun, but it can save you a lot of time and money.

My family’s recent subscription to a meal planning service has been a godsend. With my husband and I both working full time while raising our two children, cooking has been put on the back burner. We found ourselves eating out too much and when we did cook at home, we used the same recipes over and over.

Plus, I really hated trying to meal plan. I never had new, creative recipes unless I spent too much time on Pinterest. Then I would inevitably forget something on the grocery list, forcing us to reconsider our plan or shop again later in the week.

So far, we’ve had a great experience with a meal planning service that puts together our weekly menu and shopping list for us. The meals have been creative and really tasty and we’ve spent way less money on food.

Jumping into a meal planning service took some time. For one thing, it’s another item to add to our budget. And for another, there are loads of options out there to choose from.

If you’re looking for a way to change up, simplify, or declutter your meal planning, a service might be a great investment. But don’t just go muddle around on the internet for hours trying to figure out what will work best for you. Instead, take these steps to find your perfect meal planning service.

1. Figure out Your Priorities

First, know that meal plans cater to all sorts of priorities. Maybe yours is to save as much money as possible. Or maybe your goal is to be as healthy as possible or to follow a certain type of diet. Or maybe your goal is to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less every night.

There’s a meal plan for all of those priorities.

You can often balance two competing priorities fairly well, too. For instance, I wanted to both have healthy, veggie-packed dinner options and save money on groceries. Our meal plan isn’t the most budget-friendly. But it does keep our spending pretty low while providing healthy meal options.

So, before you even start shopping around, know your top two or three meal-time priorities.

2. Decide if a Delivery Box Is an Option

Next, you need to figure out if a meal planning service that actually delivers ingredients is an option.

If you have a liberal food budget these options could make your life super easy. But if your goal is to restrict your spending as much as possible, they’re probably not a wise option.

Ingredient delivery services aren’t all super expensive. But since someone is shopping for, measuring, and packaging your ingredients, it’s usually more expensive than going to the grocery store. With that said, if you wind up eating out a lot because you can’t make it to the grocery store, a delivery box might be right up your alley.

3. Get a Sample of Your Top Three Options

Once you’ve narrowed down your field of choices, get a sample of your options. Most online meal planning services will give you a week’s menu or more for free. Plus, many of the delivery boxes on the market have free — or almost free — trial periods.

Sampling will help you see which menu you like best, and which one will consistently work best for you. You’ll have to use a few different systems over the course of a month or so. It can be frustrating but through trial and error, you’ll be more likely to find the perfect meal planning service for you.

4. Use it for at Least a Few Weeks

Once you figure out which of the services you like best, I’d recommend sticking with that service for at least a month before you decide to switch to something else.

For my family, it’s taken some time to figure out how many of the meals we make each week. Our plan comes with seven, which is too many for us because we often eat with friends once a week and use leftovers over the weekend. It’s taken a couple of weeks to figure out that I need to trim the menu down to about five meals before I send my husband to the grocery store.

For extra savings, you can charge your meal plan and groceries on a cash back credit card. There are plenty of great cash back credit cards but before applying it’s wise to check if you qualify. You can check two of your credit scores for free with Credit.com.

That’s it! Finding the perfect meal plan for your family is all about prioritizing and then checking out what’s out there.

Image: franckreporter

The post 4 Steps to Finding Your Perfect Meal Planning Service appeared first on Credit.com.

4 Steps to Finding Your Perfect Meal Planning Service

Meal planning isn't always fun, but it can save you a lot of time and money.

My family’s recent subscription to a meal planning service has been a godsend. With my husband and I both working full time while raising our two children, cooking has been put on the back burner. We found ourselves eating out too much and when we did cook at home, we used the same recipes over and over.

Plus, I really hated trying to meal plan. I never had new, creative recipes unless I spent too much time on Pinterest. Then I would inevitably forget something on the grocery list, forcing us to reconsider our plan or shop again later in the week.

So far, we’ve had a great experience with a meal planning service that puts together our weekly menu and shopping list for us. The meals have been creative and really tasty and we’ve spent way less money on food.

Jumping into a meal planning service took some time. For one thing, it’s another item to add to our budget. And for another, there are loads of options out there to choose from.

If you’re looking for a way to change up, simplify, or declutter your meal planning, a service might be a great investment. But don’t just go muddle around on the internet for hours trying to figure out what will work best for you. Instead, take these steps to find your perfect meal planning service.

1. Figure out Your Priorities

First, know that meal plans cater to all sorts of priorities. Maybe yours is to save as much money as possible. Or maybe your goal is to be as healthy as possible or to follow a certain type of diet. Or maybe your goal is to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less every night.

There’s a meal plan for all of those priorities.

You can often balance two competing priorities fairly well, too. For instance, I wanted to both have healthy, veggie-packed dinner options and save money on groceries. Our meal plan isn’t the most budget-friendly. But it does keep our spending pretty low while providing healthy meal options.

So, before you even start shopping around, know your top two or three meal-time priorities.

2. Decide if a Delivery Box Is an Option

Next, you need to figure out if a meal planning service that actually delivers ingredients is an option.

If you have a liberal food budget these options could make your life super easy. But if your goal is to restrict your spending as much as possible, they’re probably not a wise option.

Ingredient delivery services aren’t all super expensive. But since someone is shopping for, measuring, and packaging your ingredients, it’s usually more expensive than going to the grocery store. With that said, if you wind up eating out a lot because you can’t make it to the grocery store, a delivery box might be right up your alley.

3. Get a Sample of Your Top Three Options

Once you’ve narrowed down your field of choices, get a sample of your options. Most online meal planning services will give you a week’s menu or more for free. Plus, many of the delivery boxes on the market have free — or almost free — trial periods.

Sampling will help you see which menu you like best, and which one will consistently work best for you. You’ll have to use a few different systems over the course of a month or so. It can be frustrating but through trial and error, you’ll be more likely to find the perfect meal planning service for you.

4. Use it for at Least a Few Weeks

Once you figure out which of the services you like best, I’d recommend sticking with that service for at least a month before you decide to switch to something else.

For my family, it’s taken some time to figure out how many of the meals we make each week. Our plan comes with seven, which is too many for us because we often eat with friends once a week and use leftovers over the weekend. It’s taken a couple of weeks to figure out that I need to trim the menu down to about five meals before I send my husband to the grocery store.

For extra savings, you can charge your meal plan and groceries on a cash back credit card. There are plenty of great cash back credit cards but before applying it’s wise to check if you qualify. You can check two of your credit scores for free with Credit.com.

That’s it! Finding the perfect meal plan for your family is all about prioritizing and then checking out what’s out there.

Image: franckreporter

The post 4 Steps to Finding Your Perfect Meal Planning Service appeared first on Credit.com.

8 Ways My Slow Cooker Saves Me Money

slow-cooker-saves-money

When I was first married 20 years ago, I received two slow cookers as wedding gifts. I had only used a slow cooker a couple of times, so I didn’t know if I would use them. Little did I know just how much I would come to love them. Not only did they save me time, I discovered that they saved me plenty of money as well. Here’s how.

1. Planning Meals

Using a slow cooker makes me plan ahead. I can’t come home and just throw something into the slow cooker, and have it ready within an hour; I have to plan ahead! By doing this, I spend less at the grocery store, and I end up using up all of the items I buy each week, too.

2. Not Eating Out

You know how it goes: You have a busy day, and then come home only to realize you have no clue what to make for dinner. So, you swing through the drive-thru, and pretty soon you’ve spent a lot of extra money each month. On days like this, I like to use Crockpot Freezer Meals, where I do all of my prepping for a week of meals at once. That way, I come home to a healthy home-cooked meal, even when I don’t have the time.

3. Not Buying Convenience Foods

When I neglect my slow cooker, I usually end up stopping by the store on a daily basis. I come home with things like frozen burritos, frozen pizzas and other pre-packaged foods that end up costing me more. When I use my slow cooker, however, I eat healthier home-cooked meals that taste better than pre-packaged convenience foods.

4. Cooking in Bulk

If you have a large slow cooker that holds 6 to 7 quarts, you can make big batches of food to serve your family for more than one meal. If you prefer not to eat leftovers, freeze them for another meal later in the month. My favorite thing to cook in bulk is Slow Cooker Chili. It makes a huge pot that feeds our family of nine. We usually eat it as chili for the first meal, then chili dogs or served over baked potatoes for the second.

5. Eating More Beans

Eating beans on a regular basis saves money. You can use them in place of meat or stretch out your meat dollars by replacing a portion of the meat with beans. (This works best with ground beef.) Of course, just eating a big pot of beans works well, too. When I was growing up, we would eat pinto beans to stretch the grocery dollars. As an adult, I discovered my favorite pinto beans recipe was one where I slow cook the beans in spices and top them with cheese and sour cream.

6. Saving Time

When I use slow cooker recipes, I spend a lot less time in the kitchen. And since I like to do my cooking preparation a week at a time, I can prepare 6 to 7 dinners in an hour or two, eliminating the need to cook each evening. If you think of your time as an hourly wage, you could free up a few hours each week to spend on making money elsewhere. You could use that extra time to work on your home business or other money-making venture. If you don’t have another way to make money, consider using extra time to find a side income.

7. Saving on Electricity

Using your oven during the summer heats your house. Your air conditioner has to stay on longer to cool it back down, which costs more money. By using your slow cooker instead, you are saving money on cooling costs.

8. Saving Scraps

If you have leftovers of any vegetables or meats, place them in a baggie in your freezer. Eventually your bag will be full, and you can turn it into vegetable soup that you can make in the slow cooker. It’s like having a free meal!

[Editor’s Note: You can use this free tool to track your financial goals, like building good credit scores, each month on Credit.com.]

Image: tirc83

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7 Free Tools to Help Calm the Back-to-School Chaos

back-to-school-apps-for-iphone

Whether you’re working or a stay-at-home parent, back-to-school season can get rough. Between strict schedules, meal planning, homework, and maybe even extracurriculars, life just gets a bit chaotic.

Luckily, technology can make things a bit easier on parents. With all the apps available today, there are loads of great free tools that can help you handle everything from schedules to meal planning. Here are seven of the best free — and really cheap — tools to try this back-to-school season.

1. Google Calendar


While there are plenty of great calendar apps on the market, Google’s still takes the cake. Available for iOS and Android, the interface is great on just about any screen. It lets you choose different views, from one month to a daily agenda, or a custom view like two or three weeks. Plus, you can easily share Google Calendars with a spouse or your older kids, so that everyone syncs up seamlessly.

One of the best things about Google Calendars, though, is the ability to set up multiple calendars. Use one for work events, one for personal appointments and one for the kids’ school schedule. You could even keep a separate calendar for each member of the family. Each calendar will be color-coded, so you can get an at-a-glance idea of what’s coming in any given week.

Two other great Google Calendar features: reminders and repeating events. With reminders, you can set up alerts on your phone for repeating or one-off events. You can even make sure Google keeps reminding you until you check the reminder as complete, so you don’t accidentally blow off making that important appointment. And with repeating events, you can quickly add regular events to your calendar.

2. Google Keep

Again, there are multiple note-taking apps on the market, but Google Keep is definitely worth checking out. This simple app lets you take notes or create to-do lists that look like sticky notes. You can organize them by category, and you can even color-code the notes to match your calendar colors.

The best thing about Keep is that you can share notes with others. You can, for instance, keep a running grocery list in a Keep note that you share with your spouse. That way whoever has time to stop by the store on a given weeknight has the list ready to go.

3. Cozi


Cozi combines some of the functionality of Google Keep and Google Calendar. It comes in a free and paid version. The free version runs ads. The paid version comes with additional features, including a birthday calendar and contact list.

If you want to keep just a single shared family calendar, Cozi is a great option. Like Google Calendar, it lets you share your calendar with a spouse or multiple family members. The calendar app is slightly less user-friendly than Google’s — but only slightly. It does include the additional feature of a meal planner, which is great for busy parents. Plus, Cozi lets you keep categorized shopping and to-do lists, making it a good all-around organization app.

4. Pepperplate

This meal-planning app can take some time to set up because you’ll need to build or import your own recipes. But you can import recipes from a web link, making it an easy option for organizing all those Pinterest recipes you’ve been meaning to try. Once you get your recipes into your recipe box, you can tell the app which recipes you’re shopping for this week. Then, it’ll automatically generate a shopping list to use at the grocery store.

As far as meal-planning apps go, this one has great reviews. It doesn’t do the planning for you, but it’s a good option if you already have a go-to bank of recipes you use on busy weeknights.

5. Asana

This free to-do app is great for busy parents who want to track both work and home tasks. As with many of the apps featured here, you can share this one with a spouse or older kids. Asana lets you assign tasks by person and give tasks a due date. You can also organize tasks by category or project, making it easy to work on the most important projects first.

One of Asana’s biggest strengths is ease-of-use in a mobile format, though you can also access it by desktop. Plus, it allows you to sort your to-do list in a variety of ways, from tasks by due date to tasks by assignee to tasks by project.

6. Chore Monster


Want to get your kids doing more chores this school year? Try Chore Monster. This easy-to-use app lets you as the parent assign and create point values for various chores. You can have certain chores your kids must do, and certain chores they can choose to do. When the child completes the chore, you check it off, and they earn points.

What do they do with all those points? It’s up to you! Add rewards that kids can purchase with their points. Rewards could be physical or monetary, or you could just give kids extra screen time. The cool thing is that you can assign some rewards with a low-point value, so kids can pick them up often. But you can also help kids grasp the idea of saving by giving them a few high-point-value options, like a big weekend camping trip or an expensive new toy.

7. Evernote


This app has been around a while, and it’s a classic. Many moms swear by it, and it does have a bunch of functions to try. You might use it for keeping track of online articles you want to read while waiting in the school pickup line. Or you can use it to get rid of all that paper-based clutter kids bring home from school.

With Evernote, you can store scans or photos of paper items, so you can easily upload the school calendar and menu to an online format. You could also use Evernote to store scans of special projects or papers your kids bring home, so that you’ll hang on to them without having to find a place for thousands of pieces of paper every single school week.

Image: Erik Khalitov

The post 7 Free Tools to Help Calm the Back-to-School Chaos appeared first on Credit.com.