CookSmarts Meal Planning

One of the most common requests I get as a dietitian is for a meal plan. Sometimes, I’ll give clients a sample day or week to get them started but, as I’ve said previously, it’s not really about following a strict plan. My job is to help people learn why they eat what they eat and then develop strategies that can help them change their eating habits for the better in order to reach their goals.

With that being said, however, sometimes you just get stuck. Before you know it, it’s 15 minutes past dinnertime, everyone in the house is hangry and you have no idea what to make. So, you get fast food. Or eat Pop Tarts. Or maybe you just get stuck making the same couple of recipes every week in a rotation and you want a change but you’re not sure how to make it happen. I LOVE food and cooking but at the end of the day, I often just stick with a few tried and true staples because I always have everything I need in my kitchen and I can basically make them in my sleep.

Understanding the why behind your food choices is a major part of making a lifestyle change but, once you’ve decided to take that step, it is so important to have a plan in place to help you succeed.

That is the very reason why I was intrigued when I read about CookSmarts on another food blog. At first, I didn’t think it would be something I would find useful. I have TONS of recipes that I could make if I wanted to. But there is obviously a large gap between having recipes in a book on your shelf and actually preparing them. So, I signed up for a free account that provides 3 sample menus and some informational e-mails. Then, when I saw a spring sale on CookSmarts subscriptions a few weeks ago, I thought I’d check it out for a month. One week was all it took to convince me how useful this could be for busy people who want to put delicious, healthy meals on their table.

Before I tell you more about it, no one at CookSmarts paid me to write this post. I just think it’s a really great tool that many people would find useful!

Here’s how it works: each Friday, you get an e-mail with the next week’s menu. Each menu has 4 recipes that prepare 4 servings each. You also have the option to select an alternative version of the recipe to meet your dietary restrictions. The menu looks like this:ScreenHunter_66 Jun. 07 16.50I know what you might be thinking – what if I don’t like one of the recipes in the plan? Well, all of the recipes are pretty awesome, but in my second week there were a couple I didn’t want. Luckily for me, they just added the Add a Meal button you see at the bottom of the menu above. This allows you to add meals from the archives to your week! Then, when you click customize, you can select which meals from the current week and which of the added meals you would like to make. One thing to be aware of is that some recipes use ingredients or leftovers from the other recipes in that week’s plan. This saves time and ingredients, but be aware of these dependencies when switching recipes around [don’t worry, they tell you what receipes depend on others too!].

Customization is also where you select the version of each recipe you want to prepare (original, gluten-free, paleo, vegetarian). Once you customize it, you get a shopping list with everything you need for the week’s meals:

ScreenHunter_68 Jun. 12 14.51You can easily cross off things you already have on hand and then buy whatever else you need. Since it’s just me around here and I didn’t want any food to go to waste, I started with just one recipe for the week:

ScreenHunter_66 Jun. 07 16.49Pork loin was kind of expensive at the store (and you could only buy it in quantities that would feed small countries), so I used chicken breast instead and it turned out fantastic! The chicken just cooked in the slow cooker all day and the slaw came together in about 2 minutes. Plus, I had leftovers for other meals all week!

20140607_170254Since I was only making one recipe, I didn’t really need to do much pre-prep, but CookSmarts takes care of that as well. In addition to generating a shopping list when you customize your menu, it also generates a list of items that can be made ahead. Ideally, you would prepare these items on the weekend when you have more time and then the weeknight meals really come together in a breeze.

ScreenHunter_68 Jun. 12 14.52As you can see above, there are even short videos that help you through the process if you aren’t sure how to, say, dice a shallot. Honestly, if I had a commercial kitchen space, this is the kind of stuff I would LOVE to be doing with people to show them that healthy, homemade food really does taste good! But since I don’t have a kitchen space (…yet), I think this is the next best thing. Besides, the subscriptions are so affordable, there’s really no reason NOT to do it if you need a little more variety and confidence in the kitchen. They have monthly, quarterly, or annual subscriptions – the monthly is only $8! Like I discovered, you really have nothing to lose by trying it for a month, or at least signing up for a free account and checking out the sample menus.

This could honestly be the boost you need to start making healthier choices. If you give it a try, let me know! I’d love to know what you make!

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