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Tips and Tricks to SAVE $300 or More per Month on Your Food Budget
If you’ve been wanting to save money on your monthly food budget, but you’re not sure how you could live without eating out at restaurants, this article will teach you tips and tricks. Following these tips saved us $300-500 per month on food.
After we had our baby boy, we actually SAVED money. Once we exhausted our pre-made crock pot meals, we researched and evaluated other options for fresh and fast meals for dinner every night. We looked into all the meal prep services like Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Freshly, Sun Basket, etc. and it was a little overwhelming to figure out which one was best. In this article, I will walk you through the differences between meal prep service Freshly and meal planning service the Fresh 20.
Disclosure: There are some affiliate links below and I may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However, these are all products I use myself and thus highly recommend and support
Option one: Meal planning
The Fresh 20
For the past year, we had faithfully followed The Fresh 20, which publishes meal plans weekly. I paid $39 for a year long membership. Not bad considering we saved $300-$500 per month on food! Yes, really! If you want to learn more about how we saved money on our food budget, keep reading!
Annual members receive access to the “recipe vault” which contains a year’s worth of meal plans. So, if you don’t like the meals for one week, simply go look at the archives and choose another.
Several different plans are offered to fit your unique dietary needs, including:
- Annual (with access to archives)
- Gluten Free
- 16 week plans
- Dairy Free
- For One
I have been a Fresh 20 customer for the past three years and have paid for and used: Classic, Gluten Free, Paleo, Kosher, and Lunch plans. For the most part, the recipes are versatile and delicious. My picky teenager prefers the Classic and Kosher plans. He didn’t care for the Paleo diet. More about that later.
Here’s how it works. The Fresh 20 provides weekly meal plans starting on Friday. These meal plans are structured accordingly:
- Overall menu for the whole week
- Prep ahead instructions
- Grocery shopping list with estimated prices and quantities for each item, sorted by section
- Detailed menus for each day
- Nutritional information, including calorie counts for each meal
Once we established a rhythm, it was quite fun to try new dishes and perfect our cooking skills. Meal plan released Friday, order groceries online over the weekend, pick them up Sunday, start chopping and prepping. The Paleo plan best suited my dietary needs (no gluten or dairy), but it required a LOT of chopping and prep work.
Meal plan prices vary, depending on if there is a sale or not. Typically, the cheapest prices I have seen are during Black Friday. They offer a free trial (sample meal plan) on their website. Try it for a week and see how you like it!
Even though The Fresh 20 offers many different types of meal plans for a variety of diets, it is fairly limited for those who have more than one restriction. For example, if you are like me, and cannot have gluten or dairy, there are no substitutes listed in the ingredients section for one or the other. This is the primary reason I chose the Paleo plan. The paleo diet is also commonly called the “caveman diet” and focuses on fresh, unprocessed food, with the general premise being that if a cave man ate a certain food, it’s acceptable for consumption.
For some reason, a list of substitutes is offered for their lunch plans and Thanksgiving plans. It would be helpful if they did this for all of the plans.
Also, I noticed very quickly that a lot of the recipes have tomato or other nightshades. So if you have a nightshade allergy, it requires some creativity to develop a workaround. We usually just leave out the tomato, but sometimes that doesn’t work so well (e.g. tomato soup). If that happens, we plan ahead and make extra of a different dish, or we simply eat something else.
As previously mentioned, the Paleo plan requires a LOT of chopping and prepping. The Fresh 20 website states one hour per week, but it was more like 3-4 hours every Sunday. This is understandable, considering Paleo is only natural fruits, vegetables and meats.
My picky teenager was not a huge fan of this diet. He is more of a meat and potato kind of guy. So if you don’t want to hear “Mom! What is THAT? Do I HAVE to eat it?”, you should probably choose another meal plan if you have teenagers (like Classic).
Cost: Ranges from $12 one time to $75 annually. Annual subscriptions come with access to all archived meal plan recipes.
Option 2: Meal Prep
Just before the baby was born, I saw an ad for 30% off of Freshly, a meal prep service. I heard of other competitors before, like Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Home Chef, etc. However, the idea of having to continue to cook every week was not thrilling. I knew we wouldn’t have a whole lot of time. Thankfully I looked into it, because I discovered that Freshly isn’t like these other companies. You don’t have to cook ANYTHING! They do all the work for you and ship fully prepared meals in an insulated box. Use this link to get a special 30% discount off of your first shipment.
Freshly is different from other services, in that they have a nutritionist created menu and chefs who prepare AND cook the meals and deliver them to your door. Several different plans are available. Simply choose from 4-12 meals per week from their fully gluten-free menu. It takes about 3 minutes to heat up each fresh meal, which is delicious and nutritious. There are no artificial flavors, sugars, or preservatives.
Each shipment arrives weekly (this is a subscription service), in a fully insulated box with two cold packs. This means you won’t have to hurry home to unpack the boxes before they spoil. The cold packs will keep the food cold for at least 12 hours after delivery. The best part? Shipping is free! If you don’t need meals any particular week, there is the ability to skip weeks. You won’t be charged for skipped weeks.
Nutrition information is available for each meal as well!
The Freshly menu isn’t visible until you create a free account. Here is a screenshot so you can see some of the menu items at this time.
Filters are available to filter out common food allergens and restrictions, including: Dairy, eggs, pork, tree nuts, chicken, beef, turkey, fish, soy, and shellfish. If a dish contains the undesirable ingredient, a warning will be displayed suggesting avoidance of that dish.
However, there is not a filter for nightshades, and many of their dishes contain tomato. I suggested a custom filter to the support team. Take precautions when reading through the ingredient list.
There really isn’t anything ugly about it. This is a great service. Sometimes I struggle to remember to skip weeks if I need to, but the good thing is these meals freeze easily for future consumption.
Cost: Ranges from 49.99-107.99 per week, depending on number of meals chosen. Use this special link to get 30% off your first shipment.
In conclusion, meal prep and meal plan services both have their advantages. Which works best for you depends on your situation. For these reasons, there is not a clear winner. If you want to spend more time but save money, The Fresh 20 is a good choice, as we did save $300-500 per month doing meal planning. If you have life circumstances that leave you wanting no-fuss options for dinner, sign up for Freshly! At around $8-10 per meal, it is cheaper than eating out at most places, and the food is healthier, containing no preservatives or MSG.
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