For mother of six Lynsie Steele, necessity was the mother invention as she tried to feed a large family on a shoestring.
“I was trying to find ways to save money so I challenged myself to cut my grocery bill in half,” says the food entrepreneur. She decided to blog about the meal plans she designed based on Harris Teeter’s weekly sales, and soon had a large following of readers who requested meal plans that corresponded to sales at all local grocery stores. From this came Vie Lifestyle, which has morphed into a subscription service in which customers pay $9.99 per month for a weekly shopping list and unlimited access to all Vie Lifestyle meal plans, 3,000 archived recipes, plus private consultation with their meal planners and with Steele herself.
“We’re a real-life resource, not a robot,” Steele says. “We’re making healthy eating more affordable, but we’re essentially a cooking school. I want people to feel comfortable and empowered in the kitchen, so when people reach for an onion, they know how to chop it and not get frustrated or feel held back in the kitchen because something didn’t come out right.”
Which means she provides not only detailed recipes but also plenty of online how-to videos as well. Steele feels strongly that nutritional eating should be affordable to all.
“Using the (grocery) sale items hit a home run for us because we were able to affect change in people’s lives that didn’t allow them to say, ‘I can’t eat healthy food because I can’t afford it,’” she says. “This locked in the motivation behind the business because people were so responsive to it.”
Now Steele and her staff of two full-timers and several freelancers write seven meal plans a week tied to sale items at most local grocery stores. With the popularity of many diet-specific needs, they started incorporating Paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, and nightshade-free meal plans as well.
Steele rises at 3am on Wednesdays to see what’s on sale and start writing meal plans. By Thursday they’re published on the website and on Friday, she adds three plans that are not reliant on sales (the special diet plan, Trader Joe’s, which doesn’t have sales, and Wegmans, which doesn’t use a national sales plan like many grocers). While Vie Lifestyle has a customer base that extends as far away as California, the sales aspect only applies regionally since that’s how stores organize their sale pricing.
Steele says the cost-savings are significant, with a family of four to six spending between $100 and $150 per week for four dishes, two large sides, and one soup, which should provide enough leftovers to last a week.
The 2-year-old business relies on a patchwork of freelancing chefs and food industry experts who help in many ways.
“Most of my team has had a lot of experience in the food industry. What makes the job so good for people like us is it is a job you can do remotely; it doesn’t require the long hours that chefs usually have to work and I give them a lot of autonomy and independence to write recipes they love that they make at home. I love the distinct voices that each meal planner can relay when they write their meals.”
Steele says while the program benefits countless subscribers, it’s a boon for her as well.
“Having a business where I feel so excited about all the different aspects of it—it’s a motivator to get up that early,” she says. “I get butterflies in my stomach every time I get to work!”
On the menu
Here’s a sample of what was on offer earlier this winter.
Green curry split chicken breasts with rice
Chimichurri steak tacos
Baked salmon over pickled red onion and arugula salad
Meatless stuffed peppers
Plantain salad with roasted red peppers and cilantro salsa verde
Pumpkin tortilla soup