Thursday, September 16, 2010

Meal Planning Simplified

In the spirit of occasional overwhelment (hmmm, I've used that word a lot...but I still claim it to be occasional), I starting thinking about what I spend the most time doing. Laundry? School? Cooking? Playing? Shopping? The winner?...It's all about the food. Planning, purchasing, preparing, experimenting and cleaning up.

So my next step was to figure out how to do all of the above in a more efficient manner, short of hiring a cook, which of course would be my preference! For some reason meal planning and execution is one of my most dreaded tasks of homemaking. Maybe because it is so constant...three meals and two, sometimes three snacks a day for the five of us plus Eric doesn't like to go out (what is wrong with that man?).

Over the years I have tried different methods like once-a-month-cooking, online planning services like e-mealz (Dave Ramsey recommends that one), my own two-week or monthly plans, and various other ideas from other bloggers or mommas. A few weeks ago I got hooked on Erica's blog over at Confessions of a Homeschooler and she makes a fantastic monthly plan with many of her recipes linked to a printable menu. I had never considered planning for more than just dinner and side dishes and really feel like a dunce for never writing down different meals to try for breakfast, lunch and snacks.

So here's my wish list:
  • Customizable & printable menu for 1 week up to 1 month or more
  • Aisle-ordered grocery list auto generated from menu
  • Ability to add/import recipes from the web or text files
  • Mac-compatible program/service, an OLD Mac at that.
  • Pleasing user interface...I'm going to be doing this a lot and don't want to feel like I'm working on the guts of my computer sorting files or something!
That doesn't sound too hard does it? I was going to do it myself by creating some sort of calendar/database/worksheet system but I knew there had to be something out there right up my alley. Enter the obsessive researching side of my personality...even dreamed about it for a couple nights. Here are the results:

Shop'NCook Menu
All good except the interface...too plain jane for me and the demo I downloaded seemed a little bogged down...dragging and dropping recipes to the correct menu was confusing and sometimes took multiple tries.
MacGourmet Meal Plan
This I really like! But being on my old Mac (for just a few more months...we're upgrading soon) I could only download an older version that didn't allow demo-ing of the meal plan add-on. Looks good on all other accounts from the site description though it might be too nuts and bolts for me.
Kitchen Monki
Hot dog, this one is free! And is everything I was looking for! Ahhh...but again the older puter is going to bite me in the butt...scripts on the pages keep me from using it seamlessly. Pages taking a while to load. Maybe a little too recipe-sharing focused. Can even sign-in through Facebook. I think this would be a good fit for a lot of people.
Plan To Eat
And the best is saved for last. The user interface is the first thing that grabbed me...clean, neat and pretty! I started my free 30-day trial, uploaded a couple recipes and used some of their samples to make a pretend 2-week menu and printed out a custom grocery list all in a few minutes. You can even make multiple lists for separate stores!!! The list also combined same ingreds from recipes A & B (i.e. 11 chicken breasts [A][B]) with a separate printed list with a recipe key. I can drag and drop the recipes onto the calendar which has 4 meal slots per day...multiple recipes can go in each slot. Oh, and when I finally catch up with the times and get a smart phone, I can send my list to my phone. To be fair, I believe all of the above programs will do that.

So Plan To Eat it is! I'm really excited to utilize it and hoping after the initial loading of my recipes it's going to save loads of time. My idea is to plan at least a month in advance, but to break up the shopping into weekly short trips. Their program allows you to print the grocery lists for just a day up to whatever. Combining all this with the planning of ALL our food may make me the best kitchen manager I've ever been! Oh, and a year subscription is only $39 or you can pay $4.95/month...the time saving capabilities should make it pay for itself. If I convince enough of my friends to use it I can get my subscription free...that'd be link to them through my blog peeps! And Happy Homemaking to ya...

1 comment:

Christi said...

I did a trial of, also. So far, so good. It seems to me, once you do the initial setup of importing recipes, it'll be a breeze. I used the shopping list yesteray...not bad! How's it working for you? What are some of your fave recipe sites?