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Menu Makeover

Online Services Take the Stress Out of Planning Family Meals

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Calling them the lazy days of summer is fitting at my house when it comes to our evening family meals. Dinner is served later than during the school year and menus are often planned at the last minute, after a stop by the produce stand or supermarket. Once school gets back in session, my lackadaisical summer ways must be forgotten until next summer if I want to keep my busy family fed.

The start of a new school year is a great time to begin a new menu planning routine and you don’t have to be a master chef or personal organizer to put together a family menu plan. In fact, there are a bevy of services that do all of the work for you, from planning a weekly menu, selecting recipes and preparing a grocery list.

Here’s a sampling of some of the on-line services that may help you get in the groove of planned family meals.

Make 5 Dinners in One Hour
Cost: $15 for three months

Wyley, Texas, mom Michelle Dudley offers up a menu plan that lets you prep five dinners in an hour or less. Her menus include assembly instructions, making this an extremely simple plan for the novice cook.

When ready to cook, the plan offers menu instructions to help you get dinner on the table with little fuss. Her plans even include a list of the kitchen equipment you’ll need to complete your one-hour prepping session along with helpful “tips and tricks” to modify the recipes to your family’s tastes.

The grocery lists are broken down by supermarket section, such as canned/packaged goods, freezer section, etc. A past menu included Cuban Sandwiches, Grilled Orange Chicken Tenders, Slow Cooked BBQ Chicken, Green Eggs & Ham Cups and Broiled Steak Bites. All side dish suggestions are included in the instructions. Her recipes are child-friendly and each week will usually include one slow cooker meal and one meal that can be frozen. The recipes are light on processed ingredients and rely heavily on fresh meats and fresh or frozen vegetables. Meal plans are sent via e-mail at the beginning of each month.

Dudley blogs about mealtime organization, recipes and more at the same Web address and often shares helpful tips for preparing and storing your children’s school lunches, which she does once a week in under an hour.

Cost: $15 for three months

This on-line meal planning service offers a weekly, downloadable menu based on your family’s preferences. You can choose meal plans that serve four to six or just two, and the shopping lists are specifically laid out according our choice of supermarket—Kroger, Publix, WalMart or a generic “any store” list.

Specialty family meal plans are also available including gluten free, low-carbohydrate, low-fat, portion control and vegetarian.
A recent seven-night menu plan included Italian Beef Over Linguini, Lime Butter Tilapia, Italian Portobella Chicken, Chicken Orzo Skillet, Southwest Pork Chops, Grilled Chicken & Spinach Salad and Cheesy Burgers.

Menus are posted every Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, based on your supermarket preference.

Make Dinner Easy
Cost: Free

Crystal Maleski, a mother of four who loves to cook, started Make Dinner Easy, a free subscription-based menu planning service. The weekly menu plans include five child-friendly dinner menus that are quick and easy to make. The site also includes a recipe archive and a link to Maleski’s Easy Dinner Blog.

One recent menu plan included Slow Cooker Italian Beef Sandwiches, Chicken Enchiladas, Slow Cooker Taco Filling served with Corn and Bean Salad, Creamy Baked Ziti With Meat Sauce and Loaded Potato Soup. Maleski tries to include fresh fruits and vegetables in the menus and also tries to use a minimum of processed foods. A detailed, printable grocery list is included with each week’s menu.

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