Menus in your Inbox: Meal Planning Made Easy.

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by Michelle Stern

A lot of us find that the main reason we go to the farmer’s market is to take our kids to the jumpy house and to get a bag of kettle corn. But as we walk through the aisles, enjoying the flavors and colors of the seasonal produce, we wonder how to include these treasures into our repetitious dinner menus.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone could just tell us what to make for a healthy dinner every night, and how to do it? And how about including an organized grocery list, at the same time? To be honest, it would be hard to imagine a shopping trip that didn’t include the grocery store shuffle – going up and down the aisles, only to return to fetch several forgotten items.

As if planning meals isn’t challenging enough, we have to figure out how to keep the kids occupied while preparing dinner. Send them outside to play? Park them in front of the television for some “educational programming”? What else are we supposed to do? It can be such a challenge to cook a meal with miniature cars speeding between our feet, and listening to a chorus of: “I’m telling!”

There are a variety of tools to help busy families get healthy meals on the table. Take-out menus and meal assembly facilities are two that we may be familiar with. But a third and more exciting option is now available. Online recipe subscription services address people’s biggest issue head on: Lack of Time. No time to plan healthy meals, no time to write a thorough grocery list, no time to cook elaborate meals, and perhaps worst of all, little quality time with our children. Imagine a service that solved the time dilemma and enabled us to spend more time with our families.

Real Simple magazine says that “online dinner-strategy services…manage to alleviate the stress of deciding what to make for dinner.”

How They Work: Most of these types of services are subscription based. Some of them send their customers a weekly e-mail, complete with recipes and grocery lists. Others send you an e-mail that summarizes that week’s meals, and remind you to login to their website for the details. Subscription costs vary from $4 to $10 per month, and are usually available in 3, 6 or 12 month bundles, with price breaks for longer subscriptions. (In case you are not a numbers person that translates to 6-months worth of meal plans for less than the cost of one take out meal!)

Which One is Right for Your Family? The one you choose will most likely be based on how easy their style, format and recipes are for you and your family to digest (pardon the pun!).

If the following options are important to you, be sure that they are addressed by the service you are considering: • Affordable cost • Healthy recipes • Seasonal ingredients • Clearly written recipes • Recipes for Main Dishes, Sides and Vegetables for every meal • Organized grocery lists • Nutrition Label for each recipe • Tips on what your children can do to help prepare each recipe