Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Meal Planning

Apparently, I ask for too much. I was this close to purchasing a meal plan, but then I looked at said meal plan. It asked for mozzarella. Simple enough request right? Except I'm only eating raw dairy and raw dairy mozzarella is impossible to get here. Impossible? Nothing is impossible, right? I suppose I could try to mail order it, but there's no picking it up at the store on your way home.

So, I started to think that my answer to the age old question to "What's for dinner?" simplified shopping lists with little waste, saving money and only 1-2 trips a week to the store would be in revisiting a meal planning system. The last couple of winters (when my work is crazy busy and I barely have time) I was using the store website and app for shopping and handwriting what each night's dinner was going to be. Mostly so I wouldn't be coming home at 5:00 pm, realizing I had nothing planned, and then of course opting for takeout.

I want something more sophisticated. I want something that will tell me exactly how many eggs I need over the next week (since I'm eating them all the time I run out quickly!). Since I eat some things every day, I would like a copy option. This would be useful for this woman's plan as well! I would be open to doing another physical, manual, or otherwise cumbersome system, but considering the tech obsessed person that I am, an app would be ideal. I would also like something that has a web platform that can be used with an app so that I can add recipes and plan easily on my desktop computer, but also look at my shopping list and recipes on my phone or ipad for convenience.

I told you I asked for a lot!

So, I have tested and tried just about every meal planner known to man. Some, I won't even go into a full review about. I read that Springpad had a meal planning tool, but I couldn't for the life of me find it so it probably no longer exists. Cozi only plans dinners. That's great and all, but since I seem to go to the store 3x a week just for eggs, I think I need to be planning breakfast a little better. I also get my raw dairy order once every three weeks, so being able to plan ahead is crucial. PrimalPalate was easy to use with some great included recipes, but it doesn't allow you to add your own.

How Does She Do It
PROS: Free, easy to use interface, simple to create your own recipes, fairly easy process to add your own recipes to the planner. Integrated mobile app.
CONS: App costs $2.99, but worse than that, shopping list is a Sunday - Saturday, no exceptions deal. At most, you can print out two weeks. Considering my normal shopping day is likely to be a Monday or Tuesday, that doesn't work for me, unless I want to be shopping 5-6 days before I will use the food, you know? Also, there wasn't an easy way to add a recipe from a web source, only cut and paste, and there are too many other planners that do that well. Also, no copy option, which is going to be crucial for my rotating meal plans. The last thing that sucks is that it doesn't add up your ingredients. My butter was listed in 2+2+2+2 Tablespoons (one 2 for each recipe added) instead of doing the math to 8 tablespoons. I can do the math to equate tablespoons to pounds, but this is annoying.

PROS:  Free, very easy to add recipes and I LOVE the shopping list customization! You can actually organize your shopping list by the way your store is laid out and the directions you like to walk. Free App!
CONS: The web platform is a little wonky - when adding meals, there are a lot of steps and the page jumps around when you mouse gets to a certain place. It's really odd and not very easy to navigate. Adding to the shopping list is cumbersome, and if you make the same thing day in, and day out, it does not compute the totals for you. For example, I make fried eggs every morning, but if I add fried eggs to every day of the week and then add those days to my shopping list, it gives me the ingredients for one day. Grrrr.

Say Mmm
PROS: Free, easy to import recipes from any site on the web. Selecting days to include on your shopping list is easy - you just select the start and end dates and it will populate the list for you! The math on the list is done for you too - it will tell me for seven days of fried eggs that I need 7 tablespoons of butter and 35 eggs (yes, we eat a lot of eggs), and that is way better than 5+5+5+5+5+5+5. It also had a feature in the paid subscription upgrade to track costs so you can better determine when the sales will be what good prices are. The paid subscription is $3 a month.
CONS: No app, only a mobile website. Platform isn't as slick looking at others, adding recipes/meals to dates is still cumbersome.

Plan To Eat
PROS: Love this site. It's pretty, it's functional. You can plan meals with drag and drop ease, as well as see a month at a time. Shopping list is customizable to your own grocery store(s) layout, lists can be separated by store, and can be based on specific dates as well as all kinds of other options. It adds my ingredients together for me! It also has a place to track nutrition as well as approximate costs per serving! In fact, Plan to Eat is so awesome, it has me wishing for more features, since it answered most of my needs right off. Now, if I could specify in ingredients which store that ingredient will come from, it would have everything! (yes, I know, I ask for a lot!)
CONS: No app, just a mobile site. Recipe import is buggy - about 50% of the recipes I wanted to add I had to add manually. Not free. It's $4.95 a month or $39 a year. However, considering how hard I am to please, I'm giving this one a go for free for 30 days!

So, I'm pretty sure I'm going with Plan To Eat, as it's only $3 a year more than the premium Say Mmm membership. If the tracking of costs doesn't prove worthwhile, then I will fall back on Say Mmm free edition. However, just the ease of planning the month of meals will probably be worth $39 a year. Stay Tuned!

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