I just recently renewed my Fresh 20 account for another 3 months. Thought I'd give a little update on where I am with their service now that I have had more experience with it.
Here is my process for getting the most out of this service:
1) When I had a new account, I downloaded as many meal plans as I could rather than just download the most current plan (I think I had access to about 4 or 5 menu plans when I first signed up).
2) I saved all the meal plans in a folder on my desktop. If there was a menu one week that I absolutely did not like, I had a reserve set of menus to choose from. I have been making things out of weekly order since the beginning!
3) I read through the meals to ensure all family members would eat what was included in the meal plan. Too spicy? Not gonna make it or might leave out an ingredient that adds too much spice. Vegetable I know most people won't eat? Not gonna make it. Etc. I have actually rejected about 2 or 3 entire menus, when there was too much dislike going on.
4) If most of the menu looks good, I will look at questionable things and try to come up with substitutions that would be easy. For example, if someone is not into eggplant, maybe I can leave that out or add a meat instead, etc.
5) Read the instructions carefully, a lot of times they will offer substitutes for meats you don't like or can't find. For example, one week they wanted me to buy clams. I knew someone in my family had a shellfish allergy, so The Fresh 20 had suggested chicken tenders as a substitute for the clams. They do this often for seafood or lamb...so don't be scared off by unknown or expensive proteins!
5) Mark up the provided shopping list - cross out the items you don't need, add substitutions to the list, increase the amount of meat for families with larger appetites, etc.
6) Read through each meal to ensure you don't need another dish to round out a meal. Some of The Fresh 20's meals only include a meat and vegetable combo, which is not enough food for my teen-heavy family.
I have found over the weeks, that I am getting better and better at anticipating where I can make improvements to the recipes to suit my family's tastes. I also very much appreciate the new flavors and food combos that I am learning about. Stuff I never would've tried or made if it weren't for this service. My week is so much less stressful now that I don't have to think too hard about dinner...all the food is waiting for me in the fridge or pantry, and I just grab the next menu item and get to it!
I also am enjoying the fall menus more than the summer menus. I love soups and stews, and they have at least one each week. Also, they make good use of my crockpot, which I appreciate.
Sometimes I wish there were a way to save my favorite recipes out of the week. I hold on to every menu, but it can be hard to remember where that tasty turkey meatball came from or that yummy sandwich.
Overall, I am pleased with the menus still. I love looking through the week's worth of ideas and getting excited about making something new to me and my family. And I'm still learning about new foods and cooking methods, so it's a bit of a cooking class as well!
UPDATE: July 27, 2015 - I have now been using the Fresh 20 meal plans for about 1 year. In the last couple of months I have found myself using only 2 or 3 recipes from the weeks' menus and then supplementing those with another free meal planning blog I get weekly menus from. It's turned into a good combo. I can scan the Fresh 20 plan for the stuff I know my family will like. I have learned to dump some of the weirder side dishes and add ones that I know my family will eat. This seems to be turning into a good compromise.
My kids missed my more popular 'comfort food' items when I went 100% Fresh 20. So now I have a decent mix of foods that means only a few nights a week will be on the lighter/healthier side.
The good news about the Fresh 20 experiment is that I have expanded my food knowledge quite a bit. I now consistently use grapeseed oil for cooking at high temps, use more olive oil, buy more fruit, use more fresh veggies, etc. I've also learned some new preparation and cooking techniques and have found quite a few recipes that I would make again. Plus, I have found an appreciation for the versatility and tastiness of ground turkey when you use the right additions to add flavor and moisture.
UPDATE: January 6, 2016: I still receive my weekly Fresh 20 menus, but in the last couple of months, I have reduced the number of menus I use in the week. I now use a free menu service through a blog I like and then mix in the best recipes (to my now well-trained eye) from the Fresh 20 weekly list. This has worked well for me. I like the lighter and healthier items on Fresh 20, but I also like to make hearty, family-friendly favorites. So, this is how I am going to go forward in 2016. Also, BIG CHANGE!!! I noticed in December that my Fresh 20 meal plan no longer has ONLY vegetarian on Fridays. They now give you a 5th meat/egg menu on Fridays. This is a HUGE improvement for me and my family. Thanks, Fresh 20 for listening to your customers. :-D