Somewhere between meal kits and planning dinner from scratch sit recipe-planning apps—you still cook the food, but you don’t have to create the dish from scratch. It’s cheaper than a meal kit, but you still have to shop for and prep the ingredients.
Two busy moms (who are also sisters) recently took this concept a step further when they created eMeals, a subscription-based menu, budgeting, and shopping plan. It’s basically shoppable recipes on steroids: you tell the app your meal preferences and dietary needs/restrictions; it tells you what to cook for the next seven days and how much the ingredients will cost. If you want to skip the shopping step, you can also choose to have those ingredients delivered or available for pickup at your grocery store.
Users choose the week’s recipes from several different plans: weight management (Paleo, portion control), dietary restrictions (diabetes, gluten intolerance), family meals, and slow cooker meals are just a few of the options.
Once you’ve selected the recipes, the app turns your menu into a shopping list of ingredients. You can also add your odds and ends, like toothpaste or milk, to that list. The rest is easy: select the number of people you want to cook for (up to 6) and your preferred grocery store.
Prices for the service vary based on how long you choose to commit: $29.99 for three months or $59.99 for a full year. (This does not include the cost of ingredients.)
Right now, partner stores include Walmart, Kroger, ALDI, Target, and Whole Foods, among others. With Kroger and Walmart, you can arrange to pick the ingredients up at the store, curbside. eMeals has also partnered with AmazonFresh and Instacart to provide delivery services.
According to one user, the menu plan you choose can affect which stores are available. For example, choosing the all-organic menu means you’ll probably have to buy from Whole Foods or other “health” stores—which usually means spending more money. I imagine your choice of stores is also affected by where you live; someone in San Francisco will probably have a lot more options than someone in Newark, Ohio.
Unlike a meal kit, with eMeals, the cost of ingredients isn’t baked into the overall subscription. For a second I though that rendered a service like eMeals pointless. Then I considered how much trial and error often goes into recipe planning. Unless you’re cooking the same rotation of dishes every single week, you’re probably going to wind up buying things at the grocery store you don’t use. Something like eMeals could save a lot of money on unused ingredients, depending on what you cook.
In his recent 2018 predictions, my colleague Michael Wolf noted that the recipe has become more, not less, important in this age of meal kits and 24/7 delivery services: It’s our “automated shopping list, the instruction set for our appliances, and the content is becoming dynamic, atomized and personalized depending on our personal preference.”
Shoppable recipes are seeing a lot of action as of late. Allrecipes and AmazonFresh partnered last year, as did Kroger and Myxx. Whisk, meanwhile, just joined forces with Amazon to offer shoppable recipes from over 20 publishers.
What’s attractive about a service like eMeals is that it turns the concept of shoppable recipe into an entire plan for the week or month, rather than just offering a set of individual recipes. There’s a wide audience for that kind of service: busy parents, caregivers, those managing significant food restrictions, and lazy, uncreative cooks like yours truly. All we need now is for the service to get integrated with a guided cooking program. Which will probably happen at some point in the very near future.