Have you heard of The Fresh 20? It’s a meal planning resource that we’ve been using for the past few months. Here’s how it works: For a fee ($18 for three months or $54 for the year), The Fresh 20 allows you access to healthy weekly meal plans. You choose your meal plan when you begin your subscription. The options are: Classic, Gluten-Free, Dairy-free, Vegetarian, Kosher, or For One. (We use Classic. I’ve discovered when I am pregnant and/or nursing I am not sensitive to gluten, like I usually am). You log into their website to download your weekly menu and they give you:
-A shopping list
-Instructions for the prep you can do in advance to save time each weeknight.
– Nutrition facts for each meal
– The recipe for each night
The Fresh 20 has not paid me anything for this post, but because I am such a nice person, I thought I would share my experience with this product with you.
1) No thinking required
The Fresh 20 takes the headache out of meal planning. (And if you just can’t stand me whining about the headache of meal planning which I fully realize is problem I am very lucky to have, then probably you should leave here and never come back because I’m sure we could never be friends). Are you still reading? Since we had Sweet Pea, simply “grabbing a couple of things at the store” is not so simple and not worth the hassle. Also, randomly going out to eat on a Thursday night never happens anymore. I now totally understand why my mom had a few things in her repertoire that you would see at least once every couple of weeks. I also understand why we either went out or ordered Chinese on Sunday nights.
2) Shopping is efficient
The Fresh 20 derives its clever name from the the fact that it never asks you to purchase more than 20 fresh ingredients each week. There are a few pantry items you should have around, like herbes de Provence. (I’ve eaten more herbes de Provence in the last three months than I have in my whole life. Same thing with grapeseed oil). Your shopping list is divided up conveniently so that items in the same area of the store are grouped together. Also, it tells you in the margin which meals you will be using each item for. Rarely are you using an ingredient for less than two meals. The ingredients are also seasonally appropriate. This winter’s meals have featured a lot of root vegetables, and no cantaloupe, for example. The Fresh 20 has really thought this through.
3) Much of the preparation can be easily completed in advance to make your evenings less hectic.
The plan tells you what to prepare in advance. I like to sharpen my knives, get out a few cutting boards, turn on Pandora and chop, slice, and dice for an hour or so early in the week and knock out the onions, carrots, marinades and sauces all at once. I usually do this on Sunday or Monday and organize my tupperware and plastic baggies of pre-chopped food in the fridge so the food I will need first is at the front. I might use a sticky note to label the tupperware if it’s unclear what’s inside or if Dan will be in charge of that particular meal.
4) The food is good, healthy, and different
We chose the “Classic” plan and the food is tasty. It is also different than what I would normally cook, which makes it fun. For example, we recently had spaghetti squash (which I had already prepped earlier in the week, as I used half for a different recipe) with mushroom walnut meatballs and red pepper pesto. Last week, we also had fish steamed with vegetables in a foil packet with a heap of veggies, dill and lemon, with the aforementioned spaghetti squash on the side. Other treats have included stuffed peppers, curry sausage cous cous, and dry brine chicken with red pepper rice and butternut squash.
1) It’s time consuming
If I prep food on Sundays for 60-90 minutes, I still spend 20-30 minutes each night doing more prep and another 20-60 minutes waiting for the food to be cooked.
2) Instructions can be unclear or misleading
My main beef with The Fresh 20 is they leave you in the dark about how long each meal will take to prep and cook. You know how most recipes will say in small print, for example, “Prep: 15 minutes. Cook: 30 minutes” ? The Fresh 20 doesn’t do that. Certainly, you can guestimate the time by reading the recipe, but even then, it can be hard to judge. They will often say things like “saute onions till soft and translucent, 3-5 minutes, then add the vegetables,” except after 3-5 minutes, my onions are still practically raw. They also grossly underestimate baking times. I have actually had to nearly double the baking time to get my chicken to be cooked through. There have been many nights when I planned for dinner to be on the table at 6 and it wasn’t ready until 6:45. And for that entire 45 minutes I was trying to hurry dinner along while simultaneously attempting to extricate my leg/the iPad/a black pen/a sharp object/a rogue vitamin from Sweet Pea’s little hands.
3) It can feel exhausting (see #2).
We started using The Fresh 20 because our friends with a two year old and a newborn said that it was a lifesaver. We thought this would be the perfect solution for us now, and especially once the baby comes. Except I already know this is going to be too much work for me once I’m about 30 weeks pregnant and I don’t think I will be able devote all this time to meals once the baby is actually here, at least not for the first few months. Before The Fresh 20, my typical meal took no more than 20-30 minutes to prepare each night, without any additional pre-chopping or mixing earlier in the week. Despite taking most of the thinking out of meal planning, there is something mentally draining about looking at a new recipe five nights a week. There’s no meal in The Fresh 20 rotation that’s as easy as, say, an omelette and toast or beans, rice, salsa, Greek yogurt, and cheese (two of the fall-back meals I can make practically with my eyes closed).
The Quick and Dirty Summary
It’s a fair amount of extra work compared to what I’m used to but the food is much better, more varied, and very healthy, with lots of creative methods for incorporating vegetables. Overall, it is worth the extra effort. That said, I am taking a week off this week due to The Fresh 20 fatigue. We can download the current week’s plan to use anytime in the future.
A Quick Note About Quantity
We are a family of two adults and one toddler. It’s plenty of food for us, including leftovers for lunches. If you had a family of four people eating normally, I think you would have to supplement the meal with a loaf of bread, a salad, or rice and you wouldn’t have leftovers.