Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reflections on our first 3 months on E-Mealz

When we decided to start seriously looking for a house, Trevor and I decided we should probably make some cuts in our spending. We knew buying a house would save us money in the long run, but we also knew it was going to cause some extra expenses in the short-term. About this time, we both ran across something called E-Mealz via separate websites we frequent. I read about it on a scrapbooking blog, while Trevor found it through Dave Ramsey's website. We knew our grocery bills were probably a little high for a couple with essentially one income and no kids. We went out to eat a lot because we often found ourselves without a plan for dinner. We figured that $15 for a three month trial might be worth it, especially once we found out that we could use a discount code from Dave Ramsey.

We initially signed up for the Publix Plan for Two. The store-specific plans are based on what's on sale each week, what is generally cheap, and what produce is in season. The plans for two consist of five nights of dinners, usually with leftovers. This works well for us because Trevor is only home 4-5 nights per week. We freeze the leftovers in individual Gladware containers for him to take on his trips.Most of the meals do freeze and reheat well, though we've run into a few that are horrible when reheated (like Grandma's Chop Suey -- eat all of that one at once and it's fine, but don't reheat it).

The first six weeks were amazing. There was a roasted chicken meal early on that had us roasting a whole chicken with lemon halves stuffed inside. We had a few other meals that we loved. There were some that seemed like a blatant cop-out, though. To be specific, twice in a three week span, there was a meal consisting of Manwiches, Doritos, and canned baked beans. Those were the nights when I found myself having little faith in the plan, even though the Manwiches were good. I just wasn't happy they were calling that a meal, you know?

However, after the first six weeks, the plan turned pork heavy. This is a pretty big problem for us. Even a couple bites of ham will make me sick, though pork bacon and pepperoni are, thankfully, not a problem for me. I found it difficult to substitute non-pork items into the meal plan, and did not get a satisfactory response when I complained to E-Mealz. They said to skip the meals, make substitutions, or switch to a different plan. I really don't feel that people should have to switch to a different plan because the one they prefer is heavy on something they are allergic to -- shouldn't a weekly meal plan be so varied as to only require substituting or skipping one meal a week? One would hope so.

After four weeks of pork heavy meals, we decided we'd have to switch meal plans, so we moved to the Any Store Plan for Two, which comes out on Fridays. There is a lot more variety on this plan. Since I switched on a Thursday after spending 24 hours trying to decide what to do with the pork-laden plan we'd received the day before, I was sort of a week behind on the Any Store Plan. This has actually worked really well to my advantage. I've been able to take two weeks' worth of plans with me shopping. I have more time to clip coupons, and I can catch non-perishable items for the following week on sale. This week, I spent about $72 on groceries, but it included all of this week's plan (about $30), some snacks, sodas, and lunch items (about $30), and quite a bit of next week's meal plan (about $10).

Since switching to the Any Store Plan, we've found ourselves saving more money, enjoying the meals more, and skipping the frozen pizza nights we still had a few times during our time on the Publix plan. Our favorite meal was probably the Creamy Crockpot Chicken we had last week -- it was a mixture of cream of mushroom soup, cream cheese, Italian seasoning, and white wine. The chicken was in the crockpot so long that it fell apart and basically shredded itself while I stirred it.

My biggest complaint with the meals is the reliance on convenience items like cream of mushroom soup, cream of potato soup, and other canned soups and meats. I discovered that canned soups and Doritos have something in common: Mono Sodium Glutamate, or MSG. My friend, a nurse, once said, "You could mix MSG into dirt, and people would eat it because MSG makes them think it tastes good." I did a little poking around the web after that, and I learned that MSG is a neurotoxin, and there is some evidence that it could trigger migraines or other reactions in MSG-sensitive individuals.

So, once again, I'm on a hunt for substitutes for the meal plan. I've found that Lay's Potato Chips don't contain MSG. I'm still hunting for a locally-available organic cream of mushroom soup. I'm not an organic food nazi, but there are just some things I don't want to be putting in my body or my husband's. MSG is one of them. High Fructose Corn Syrup is another -- which is also another frequent offender on the canned item list. If you know of any canned soups that don't use MSG, please let me know. After keeping track of what's in the E-Mealz plans from week to week, I'm starting to think I'll have to be taking a trip to a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's every month or so to stock up on soups that don't contain the harmful additives we try to avoid.

All in all, though, E-Mealz is alright. We're going to sign up for another three months and see how it goes. I've read that summer brings lighter recipes with more fresh produce on each of the meal plans, so I'm guessing I'll really enjoy the summer's meals. I enjoy the simplicity it brings as far as choosing a menu for the week, though the shopping portion can be a little frustrating at times, especially when substitutions are involved. We have enjoyed most of the meals, loved quite a few, and tossed a couple after only a few bites -- but we'd likely find that with any meal plan. Heck, we've even done that with Rachael Ray recipes that were four or five stars on her website! For $1.25 a week, I'm okay with having the planning done for me, even if I sometimes don't like the meals.

If you're interested in signing up for E-Mealz, you can check out their website by clicking on the referral link in my sidebar. E-Mealz does offer commissions to their subscribers who recruit new members, but my intent from this posting was NOT to profit from referrals. It was intended to explain one way in which we are saving (a tiny bit) of money, give you a rundown of how it works, and share my honest opinions of the service. It's almost more about putting my own personal reflections in writing for myself than for an audience, but isn't that where some of the most honest writing comes from? :)


Thursday, April 7, 2011

One Little Word 2011: April Update

Move.

What a whirlwind it's been! We closed on the house on February 28. We moved in on March 9, and I feel like I've been constantly on the move since. It's been a lot of trips to Lowe's, some social events (like a wedding this weekend), and a lot of working for both Trevor and me.

I've been able to do a lot of reading. I'm really moving through my to-read list. I just finished Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, and I'm also working on the Sookie Stackhouse mystery series. It's very much "popcorn reading." The story sucks me in, even though the writing isn't that great. The story lines are sometimes thin or tied up a little haphazardly at the end, but I do enjoy the series. I think it's a bit like the grownup equivalent of Goosebumps.

I've really been on the move for work lately. I've lost count of how many days and how many schools I have taught in lately. I taught the same class for five days in late March, which was great because it gave me a chance to learn the students' names, get a feel for who they are, and learn more about the school. This was fabulous because I was offered a maternity leave for this fall at the end of the week. This is a huge move towards working full time as a teacher again.

Soon, we're going to be on the move again in the sense that we'll be traveling. We're hoping to see a shuttle launch -- we've got tickets for the one that was supposed to be on the 19th of this month. However, we learned that it's been delayed due to excessive traffic at the International Space Station. Right now, the projected launch date is April 29, and we're not sure my husband can get the time off to fly down. Days off are tight at work right now -- they are hiring lots of new pilots, but many of them are going to Detroit or Dulles, and none of them will be flying until June or July. It's disappointing how the company always brings pilots back from furlough or hires new pilots just a little too late to help with spring break, Easter, or even the summer's increased flying.