Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: The Fresh 20

I like to cook. I am not some Food Channel chef with amazing knife skills and creative cooking talents, but I do like to prepare tasty foods for dinner and consider myself to be better-than-average at spying a good recipe when I read one.

However, I am not good at meal planning and making detailed shopping lists. My typical weekly shopping trip consists of buying meats I'm familiar with and knowing that I can figure out what to make with them when the time comes. Occasionally, I will have one meal idea in mind. For example, I might think, "oh, I should make burritos this week," and then I'll make sure to buy the ingredients needed to make that happen. I will also scan my brain for items I know I have stocked in my pantry to round out the meal: rice mixes, salsa, beans, etc.

On a typical weekday, at 4 or 5 o'clock, I rack my brain trying to think of something to make. Sometimes, I have to quickly defrost some meat if my workday runs over and my original game plan falls apart. What mom hasn't scrapped meal plans for something easy like grilled cheese or a quick soup for a group of hungry kids and one hungry husband?

I didn't really want to take on the job of fixing my system, because it sounded like work I wasn't interested in doing.

Enter 'The Fresh 20.'

The Fresh 20 is a menu planning / grocery list / food budgeting service. For about $5 per month, you receive a weekly menu plan with 5 meals, a detailed shopping list, and calorie/nutrition content for each item on your menu. They issue a new menu every Friday, and you can sign up for Classic recipes, Gluten-Free recipes, Dairy-free recipes, Kosher recipes, Vegetarian recipes or 'recipes for two.'

What I Love:

1) Each week you are only buying 20 items (thus, the name 'Fresh 20') - mostly from the meat and produce aisles.

2) I have learned new techniques and how to prepare new vegetables/fruits I may have never eaten before.

3) Menus are seasonal, so you are typically spending less money on your produce.

4) Waste is a thing of the past! If you stick to the menus, you rarely end up with any unused produce in your fridge.

5) They don't use processed or packaged foods. You make all the dressings, marinades, etc. from items in your pantry (they supply you with a list of basic pantry items you need on hand to complete the recipes).

6) I have branched out my cooking into many new areas I never would've picked on my own.

7) It has made my shopping and food prep so much easier!  Walking into your kitchen every evening, knowing you will have instructions and help plus all the foods you need for making a quality meal is a wonderful feeling.

8) Meal times are a lot less stressful for me. I can enjoy the process more when I have a plan set out for my family. 

9) Most menus employ a re-use feature that I find very awesome. You cook meat one day and save half for another meal. Or you cook a vat of brown rice early in the week for use later in two meals. It is very economical and time saving.

What I Dislike:

1) Sometimes I really don't think my family will like some of the funky flavors, so I have to substitute occasionally to satisfy.

2) Some of the meals are a little 'light' for hearty eaters. Many times they will only include a meat and a veggie with no bread/starch component. I have learned to keep easy sides on hand to add to a meal in case it looks like there might not be enough food.

3) You cannot size up the recipes. All recipes (except for the 'for two' menus) are geared toward feeding 4 people. And I would say they are mostly geared toward 4 light-eating people with no teen boys anywhere in sight. I have 5 in my family, so I am always having to buy a little more meat or adjust portions and hope it turns out ok.

4) The fifth meal in the Classic menu is always meat-free. That is NOT okay in our house. So many times I have added meat to the 5th meal or I will not make the 5th meal at all because it doesn't look like people would like it.

My Conclusion

One of the recipes I'm trying this week!
Overall, The Fresh 20 has been a great thing for my household. I have discovered some delicious recipes that I never would've chosen on my own. I have learned how to roast fresh corn, make homemade pesto, create delicious marinades, cook different types of fish, and craft homemade salad dressings with tons of flavor and freshness. I also have gotten to taste new flavor combos with middle eastern and asian spices - everything I've made is incredibly flavorful and nutritious. It makes you feel good to serve your family healthier food!

To maximize my family's enjoyment of the meals, I have scrutinized a few weeks' worth of menus and skipped the ones that really did not suit our family's tastes. If you buy a year's worth of menu planning, you have access to the menu archives. I highly recommend if you join that you take advantage of that option and download ALL the menus you can. Look through them for the food that looks most interesting to you. Don't feel badly if one or two menus don't sit well with you and you feel you need to skip it. Also, don't be afraid to substitute different meats or fish, if your family is not into ground lamb or halibut.

This service is great for those who want to save time and energy shopping and meal planning. However, I think it is also a boon to those who aren't strong in the kitchen. The instructions that come with the meals is so very informative. You learn a lot about techniques and cooking times with the menus.

For someone who may not be into meal planning, give The Fresh 20 a shot. This review is purely from my own perspective. I was not paid for this review. I will not receive anything in return for a positive review. I just really liked the service and wanted to spread the news.

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