Don’t let dinner get you down

Plan, shop, cook, eat, clean up, repeat: These are the responsibilities that come with feeding a family. 

As a working mom with four busy, growing and hungry kids, I get frustrated at times, and sometimes overwhelmed, with this ongoing chore. It’s not easy to deal with the daily challenge of timing and coordinating food for SIX of us when we all get home from school/work/practice/activities. 

But I really do want to make homecooked family meals happen each day. We’ve made sharing a meal each evening a habit, and I love how it gives us a chance to all connect and talk every day.

I know too that cooking at home saves a ton of money compared to going out to eat, considering the average restaurant inflates the cost of a typical food item by 300%! For me, especially with a large family, eating out is more stressful than relaxing — especially once we get the bill. 

chili with cornbread waffles

I’ve put in a lot of effort over the years seeking out family-friendly recipes online and in cookbooks. I’ve also become savvy at using strategies like weekend batch cooking and preparing and partially cooking some meals the night before so I can get dinner on the table quickly in the evenings. I’ve even created a database of meal plans and a series of blog posts about family meal prep. (See

And yet, I still struggle with this challenge! So, at the start of the school year, I did some reflecting and realized some of the frustration I was experiencing was related to pressure I had been putting on myself: I was trying to do it all at a standard that was just too difficult to maintain given all of my other responsibilities. 

I don’t mind cooking, but I do not enjoy the planning and shopping. 

So I set out to research services that might help, including meal kits, digital menu plans and more. I also asked my friends what they’ve tried and what seemed worth the cost.

So many choices!

It didn’t take me long to figure out I wasn’t the only one facing this challenge! There are a lot of services out there designed to support families of all different sizes in their efforts to get dinner on the table. And they come with options for different types of diets — kid friendly, paleo, vegan, dairy free, gluten free and more.

I also quickly learned that — for our family of six — delivered meal kits aren’t a feasible option for our budget. I couldn’t find any that cost much less than $8 per plated meal. And with my super-active, high-metabolism kids (including three boys), I was looking for larger portions, not portion control. 

I was more interested in the idea of subscribing to a recipe and meal-planning service, so I focused my research in that direction. Many companies offer free trial periods, and each has a slightly different spin to their offerings. Two of them stood out to me: 

eMeals: This service offers a lot of variety. As a subscriber, you can choose a menu theme — budget friendly, kid friendly, slow cooker, diabetic and many others. They email you your weekly plan and you can even send your shopping list directly to Amazon Fresh, Walmart, Kroger, Instacart or Shipt, if those services are available in your area. 

I’m a current eMeals subscriber and have found a lot of kid-friendly recipes that have worked great for us. A subscription is $59.99 for 12 months, or you can get a three-month subscription for $9.99 a month. (Editor’s note: Even budget guru Dave Ramsey has endorsed the service.)

The Fresh 20: My mom friend of two boys, ages 8 and 4, has subscribed to this meal-planning service for more than seven years and she raves about it. Created by working mother Melissa Lanz, who also wrote The Fresh 20 Cookbook, it features weekly menus that use 20 fresh, non-processed ingredients for five meal recommendations based on your preferences (classic, vegetarian and many others). A subscription is $79 for 12 months or $14 a month. 

Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives in Northeastern Minnesota. Follow her blog — Kids, Lakes, Loons and Pines, where you can find meal-planning ideas and tips. Find her family’s go-to recipe for homemade chicken noodle soup in this issue on Page 26.