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Expert online meal planning with health and budgets in mind

If chicken nuggets are your standard go-to family fare, it might be time to consider turning to one of the many online meal planning services. They’ll send the fresh ingredients to your door along with the recipe, so you don’t even have to decide what to cook.

Online grocer RelayFoods.com has a bit of a twist on this model. Today it launched Meal Planning, a service that allows customers to seamlessly purchase ingredients based on recipes they see online with its “Cook It” Chrome extension.

This feature is in addition to weekly, seasonal meal plans developed by a registered dietician and a growing catalog of à la carte dishes categorized by dietary preference. Once you’ve selected an item or dish for your e-cart, you can revise the number of servings and change-up ingredients to suit your diet, taste, allergies, and budget. If you’re making chicken, for example, you get four options at a variety of prices; however, there was only one choice for buttermilk for the recipe we looked at. The ingredients are also separated into “shopping list” and “pantry items,” because it’s unlikely you’ll need to buy flour and cinnamon every week.

While the service is free to use, the average meal prices out between $4 and $8 per serving. There’s also a delivery fee. According to the company’s PR manager, RelayFoods.com strives to make sure each meal’s groceries amount to $110 per 5-meal plan for a family of four. In comparison, Blue Apron offers a Family Plan with a price per meal of $8.74 and uses an in-house culinary team to test recipes that stay within the realm of 500-700 calories per serving.

The big catch is that RelayFoods.com is only available in the Washington DC area, Baltimore, and some parts of Virginia and North Carolina. Meanwhile, Blue Apron has a presence in all but eight states.