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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

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