Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Meal Planning Made Easy

My current meal-planning system is pretty inefficient. I have a binder of recipes that I flip through to select our four meals for the week. Then I make our grocery list. If I find a recipe off the internet that I really like, I print it and add it to our binder.

I love that we have a centralized place to store our tried-and-true recipes, but it's a bit inefficient to write and rewrite all the ingredients every week for the grocery list. It would be more efficient to have a computerized system that would automatically import the ingredients I needed for whatever recipes I selected for the week.

The trouble is, the only website I can find that seems to do what I want it to do is Plan to Eat, which charges $40 a year. As Matt and I gear up to drop down to one income for three months, I can't bring myself to enroll in something that requires a yearly fee of $40. We already have yearly expenditures related to our flickr pro account, our various websites, and our yearly charity donations. Now is not a good time to add yet another line item in our budget.

Does anyone know of good free resources for personal meal planning? I found a few interesting sites, but they come with pre-created calendars. I want to collect and store my own recipes and then plan my meals from there. If I can't find anything, I might end up creating my own bootleg version in google docs, which will have none of the bells and whistles of the pay versions.

I'm hoping you have some recommendations!

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Anonymous said...

Epicurious generates a grocery list for you based on the recepe you choose. I have it as a free Ap for my iPhone. On the website there's a link after each recepe that will generate a printable shopping list for that recepe. Hope this helps! :)

MsChoiceAlways said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MsChoiceAlways said...

If you happen to have a number of vegan recipes, you can use www.vegweb.com. There, you can enter and store your recipes, create a shopping list for each recipe, share recipes, and expand your collection with other user's recipes and shopping lists. It is a great site and free too!

erin said...

It's not exactly what you want, but a pre-printed grocery list could help with some of the work. The closest I could find quickly was something like this: http://www.freeprintablegrocerylist.com/preview/Basic_Grocery_List

I made my own in excel - it's half a page, so I can put it on a small clipboard on the fridge. It has pre-printed the items we get a lot (milk, onions...) and blanks for others. I organized it by section of the grocery store, and since I created it, I can edit it as our tastes change and we add or lose frequent items.

Kerstin said...

Sara, I am not sure if this is what you're looking for, but a very minimal recipe software system was created by another blogger in Munich, Nicky Stich and her partner Oliver. The software is called RecipeShelf. She advertises it as an iPhone app but it can also be used on a computer/laptop. I am not sure how much in the way of planning her software does, but it certainly will sort your recipes for you. And it's free! http://www.deliciousdays.com/recipeShelf/

Kelsey said...

Years ago my mom created an excel spreadsheet whch lists all the common things she buys at the grocery store and each excel column is a different aisle so she only has to go down each aisle once. She keeps several printed out in the kitchen and just circles what she needs and there is space to write in additional items if needed. This would be free and it's super easy! Just take an excel sheet to the store to write down what's found on each aisle and then you can build the master list at home. You could have it be a two-sided document and on the back you could list what specialty items you need for your favorite recipes for quick reference when list-making.

Kate said...

It's not free, but I can't recommend eChef enough. It takes a bit of time to type in the recipes, but from there, it makes you a grocery list, and you can even organize the list to correspond to aisles in the grocery store (which saves us time and keeps us from forgetting things!).

The $30 liscense fee is worth every penny, and you can try it 30 days free.

Michele said...

I use google docs and wouldn't have it any other way, really. It's so easy!

I have 4 different tabs: First, my weekly meal plan, which is really just a running list of every dinner we've had since I started doing this in March. Then, I have a tab for 'future ideas and favorites,' which is exactly what it sounds like. Between the first two tabs, I never have an excuse to NOT have a plan for a particular evening's dinner, because even when I'm feeling uninspired while creating the current week's menu, I can always go look at either what we've had in the past 8 months that we'd like to have again, or at my list of 'would like to try' ideas.

Then I have a tab called 'Inventory' where I list what we currently have on hand, broken down into categories like 'protein' 'grains' 'produce' 'dairy'. I don't do a GREAT job of keeping this current, but it's definitely helpful in keeping me mindful of the fact that we STILL have a bag of lentils in the pantry. Maybe some day I'll get around to using them!

Finally, I have a tab where I generate my shopping list, with columns for four different grocery stores. Yes. Four. Ha! I don't actually VISIT four grocery stores each week, but I keep a column for places like Costco and Safeway and add things as I think of them, so I can visit those stores just once a month if necessary. My weekly shop is done at a little 'farmers market' (really, it's a grocery store, they just call themselves a farmers market).

This system works well for me because I don't actually cook for recipes. I pretty much wing everything. BUT, if you DO cook from recipes and want to store them, you could easily do so on another tab, using one column for each of your favorite recipes, or at the very least, a list of ingredients needed for that recipe.

Yesterday, I had a slow day at work and got WAY ahead of myself and planned our dinners for the entire month of November!

Kate said...

I also want to mention, that the eChef $30 is a one-time fee, and a disadvantage is that it isn't in the cloud. But, I find that it's really simple to use in a small, 15 minute block of time.

Vee said...

If you have Microsoft Access, you can build a database to do exactly what you want. OpenOffice.org probably has a a free version of database management similar to Access, but I don't know how to use it. Access databases aren't as hard as they seem, and with how you love to organize you'd probably love figuring out how to build one!

Off the top of my head, you'd need a table with "recipe, ingredient, quantity, people served" and just start adding in all the recipes. Entering your recipes will be time intensive, but if you add them as you use them it will get simpler over time. Then you make a separate table for the directions to the recipe (recipe name as the primary key indexed yes, no replicates allowed; directions; prep time; cook time; whatever you prefer to see!).

Then you get into the meat of Access, generating your queries and reports. This might take some playing with to get a happy form to pop up where you click the recipes you want, and then 2 reports based on that query. One generates your shopping list, the other generates printable directions (that you can save to a pdf instead, and save the paper for printing).

Time intensive, sure, but saves $$ if you already have the program.

Annlisa said...

I'm very low-tech when it comes to meal planning. We have a running list for things we need to replace and a notebook for meals for the week.

Before i shop, I do a quick scan of what we have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry and note any missing staples/necessities. Then, I meal plan for what needs to be eaten first. I try to plan 1 or 2 casserole-like dishes that can be easily re-heated the next day. Sometimes I sort through my bookmarked recipes or something calls my name that week that makes it to my list that week.

I make a rough list of meal ideas for the week in a notebook -- including "extras" like omelets in case we don't feel like eating what's on the menu. Under those menu items I bullet point what we need.

I should also say that I only plan dinners. breakfast is oats, yogurt, cereal, etc. which is a help-yourself deal and lunch is also staple or leftover based. Those meal plans fall into my staples/basic necessities categories.

I combine what we needed all ready with what we need for menu planning on to one master list that is organized by store layout.

I tried excel and trying to figure out what to eat when but I spent more time doing that than enjoying the part I love -- cooking and eating!

kc said...

I've been using SpringPad (springpadit.com) for about a month now. With it I can scrape recipes from websites, store them in a centralized place, and auto create shopping lists. Pretty handy!

Sara E. Cotner said...

You all have the best recommendations! Thank you so much for sharing. I can't wait to check out your suggestions.

Happy Tuesday,


Ellie said...

I wrote about our experience with meal planning following Sew Liberated's idea - http://barefootandinthekitchen.blogspot.com/search/label/meal%20planning - we found it is MUCH more efficient to create a monthly meal plan than to do it on a weekly basis. We sit down, make a meal plan, and then Mark writes up the grocery lists for each week. We keep it all on a corkboard and add to the list. We're woefully behind because of the bar exam, campaign, and wedding, but we have been talking eagerly about getting back to it. If you make 1-2 months at once and cycle through, you can even create saved documents of lists (especially easy if you have an iphone or somesuch) and reference it each time you use that week.

andrea said...

i love onetsp.com - i organize the recipes i find online on this site, as well as any emailed ones, and even a couple i have in books that i particularly love. it's a little labor-intensive adding the ones from books but it's worth it to have recipes i love to cook in one place. it's a free site, set up by a blogger that loves to cook, i believe. it automatically creates a shopping list for you once you select recipes you want to cook.

Moxie said...

As much of a nerd I am, I prefer a low-tech approach to some things. What about if you wrote down (or typed-up) a list of all the ingredients in each of the recipes onto an index card. Store this with/in/near the recipe binder, and when you decide on which meals to make, take out that card and put it with your shopping list. Then return the index card to the binder after doing your grocery shopping.

Married In Chicago said...

I just wanted to chime in and add a different perspective. I don't plan ANY of our meals nor do I EVER make a grocery list. We go to the store, buy what looks good*, and wing it from there! I'm impressed by all of this meal planning, but I'm also wondering - does all this extra prep really pay off? We cook four to five meals a day and I bring lunch to work every day. I guess I just don't see the benefit of all of this list making!

*by this, i mean we know that we pretty much always need veggies, proteins, fruits, and carbs. So we buy what looks good in those categories. then, for dinner we can just mix and match!

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