boyziggy and I are fans of the Happy Herbivore, aka Lindsay Nixon, who has written three lowfat vegan cookbooks and posted many recipes for free on her web site. Her second cookbook, Everyday Happy Herbivore, is my favorite of all my cookbooks; I've made numerous recipes from it and shared links to the publicly available ones several times on Facebook. Above I'm pictured holding that book and her newest, Happy Herbivore Abroad, with Lindsay at a meetup last night in Berkeley at, of course, Herbivore restaurant.
Since we both love her recipes we decided to check out one of her 7-day meal plans, which she creates every week year-round. Many of the meal plan recipes in these plans are not available in her books or web site, but the main advantage is having a comprehensive shopping list and schedule which eliminates guesswork. All of the meals also have soy-free and gluten-free options, though neither of those restrictions applied to us.
All of the meals and snacks have calories and other nutritional information listed. The meals, snacks, and desserts as listed start at 1200 calories per person per day, with a list of additional 50- and 100-calorie snacks to add to reach your desired goal. I don't count calories and don't need to lose weight, so I bought the family plan meant for four people even though there are only two of us, preferring to eat more/larger portions of the meals rather than the snacks suggested.
Shopping was a challenge as we decided to do it all on foot, rather than get a ZipCar or City CarShare as I feel we've been relying on them too much lately. We had many of the pantry staples already, though we did need to get a couple of expensive ones like maple syrup (which we use frequently anyway). None of the items were unfamiliar to us, but we did pick up some things I hadn't cooked with before, like cauliflower, parsnips, portabella mushrooms, and chestnuts. All together we spent about $140 which included many organic items. This worked out to about $20 per day, which again is meant for a family of four people.
(Aside: Ziggy and I highly recommend the Out of Milk Android app for shopping lists. Saves a huge amount of time and hassle. iOS version is in beta for you iPhone users.)
We dove into the challenge of cooking every breakfast, lunch, and dinner for seven consecutive days. (Lindsay recommends cooking ahead and says all the meals can be made in 2-3 hours total. I did not try this. I'm a slow cook and highly doubt I could do it that fast.) We especially enjoyed the breakfasts; the two of us polished off nearly all of them with gusto. While we often have oatmeal and there were three oatmeal recipes included, it was great to mix things up with other choices like sweet potato wraps and gingerbread pancakes (really, really good).
The lunches and dinners were mostly delicious as well. We especially enjoyed the butternut hummus, orange teriyaki rice bowl, and veggie biscuit pot pie (really more of a stew with biscuits in it). Ziggy also enjoyed the portabella "steak" tacos (I dislike mushrooms but am willing to eat portabellas) and hippie loaf (I didn't care for this one as much, but the accompanying gravy was delicious).
The snacks and desserts listed on the meal plan calendar (as opposed to the separate 50- and 100-calorie lists) were mostly raw fruits and vegetables. I generally don't like eating raw veggies as snacks, especially in the winter, as they feel too much like "diet food" for me. So we mostly ignored these, eating more of the main dishes and leftovers from the previous days in between meals.
By the end of the seven days, Friday night, Ziggy and I had cooked 20 new recipes (I had leftovers for lunch on the last day as Ziggy was out of town; he took leftovers from breakfast and the previous day with him). We still have some leftovers plus some unused produce like baby carrots and bell peppers which were meant for snacks. With a family of four following the plan strictly, all of this food would have been used up.
Overall, it was a good experience having a plan that eliminated all guesswork for the week, and ensured we had nutritious and flavorful meals every day. At $5 it was definitely a good value, and we certainly didn't spend any more money on groceries than we would have otherwise. Cooking all of our meals for an entire week was a great thing as we really need to make dining out a much rarer event.
However, going forward I prefer to take the approach suggested in The Tightwad Gazette of not shopping for specific meals, but instead shopping to stock the pantry, and cooking from what's available. This means I have to be better about planning, especially as I've been making more of some foods we used to buy prepared like beans, soy and nut milks, and vegetable broths. But since I'm not working a day job right now, I have the time. I'm sure I'll still buy specific ingredients for some recipes regardless; I have lots more Happy Herbivore and other lowfat vegan recipes I want to try!
In conclusion, I would definitely recommend this meal plan to people new to a vegan diet who don't know what to eat, or who are disorganized and struggling planning their meals. At $5 you really have nothing to lose (and there's a money-back guarantee as well).