Monday, September 17, 2012

Meal Planning Solution

For the last 8 years I have been trying to figure out an efficient way to get good food on on the table for dinner. When you think about it, this is a complicated process.

Step 1: Get ideas for meals.
Step 2: Put the ideas somewhere where you can find them later.
Step 3: Plan some meals to eat for a given week.
Step 4: Figure out what ingredients you need.
Step 5: Buy the ingredients at the store.
Step 6: Find time to cook everything before the entire household goes into meltdown.

Add to that preferences for variety, changing food tastes, health and nutrition, seasoning cooking... Like I said, complicated.

About 2 years ago I decided I really wanted to get organized. I create an Excel file and then Access database that combined recipes with meal planning with automatically-generated shopping lists. It worked pretty well, but there were a few kinks in the system. Also, it took some effort to add new recipes to the database, so after a few months, the database felt stale.

At this point, my friend Kristin and I actually played around with starting up an online business meant to solve the meal planning problem. We did some opposition research and were feeling pretty good about the superiority of our idea. And then we found Plan To Eat.

Warning: for the next few paragraphs, you may think that Plan to Eat is paying me to write this. They aren't. I just really, really, really like what I've found.

Plan To Eat is an online meal planning tool. You create an account, add your recipes, drag and drop recipes from your cookbook into your calendar, and then get a one-click grocery list based on your meal plan - sorted by section in the grocery store.

Some things I like:

  • The interface is pretty clean. Not 100% intuitive or efficient, but not bad and getting better. Compared to other similar websites, this one is really simple, which I love.
  • There's a browser widget that lets you save recipes as you are browsing on the web - makes it easy to save new recipes.
  • You can search and sort your recipes as you're looking for things to add to your meal plan. You can also create a "queue" of recipes that you want to plan soon (but not now).
  • It automatically tags ingredients from your recipes so they pop up in the right aisle in the grocery store. But you can easily edit the tags for exceptions or personalizing.
  • You can use the mobile site while you're at the grocery store to see and check off your list. No more forgetting the list at home or in the car.
  • They have a pantry function that is meant to automatically keep track of what you have on-hand so you can "cook from your pantry". I don't use this feature and I've heard it's not perfect. Conceptually, though, I like that the site is trying out these kinds of things. 
  • I've heard that the company is pretty responsive to comments from users on their forums, which is cool.

Since using Plan To Eat, I probably spend about 10 minutes planning out our meals for the week and getting the grocery list ready. I never forget to pick up ingredients for a particular meal at the store. This part of my life has gotten so much more simple.

Thinking about joining? Here's the start-up cost:

  1. $39 a year (I think this is really reasonable.)
  2. About 1 hour to enter in your top 20 recipes, to get you started
If you decide it's worth it, use the link below and I get a referral bonus. (...so I suppose they are sort of paying me to write this review...)

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

1 comment:

Krista Zimmerman said...

Holy bananas. Thank you for posting this. I'm hooked.