“I don’t know, what do YOU want for dinner…”

A few years ago, tired of the dinner conversation, and no way to keep track of recipes and ingredients at the store, nothing to bring to lunch every day, and the “I would make XYZ but I don’t have any cornstarch” dilemmas, we put the titles of all of our favorite dishes into a shared google doc. It was still imperfect because the ACTUAL recipes weren’t in there – I wasn’t about to type all of them into Google Docs because then I’d be in pretty much the same place, just with a zillion unconnected recipes in the cloud. I would then choose five dishes, check each recipe for ingredients if I didn’t have them memorized, write them down, then “collate” them by estimating how many whole onions I needed to buy have a half cup, 3 grams and a whole small onion (3?).

Before this, I kept recipes on cards, or sheets of paper printed fifteen years ago. When I had too many to organize that way, I put them in a 3″ binder with plastic sheet protectors to organize them. It was bulky and messy and impossible to categorize, search, or sort. One binder grew into two, and at that point, it just got completely out of hand.

I also have countless cookbooks and old Cooking Light, Coastal Living and Southern Living magazines that I swore I would page through for recipes. At times I did and tore out pages to be put into the binder, but I never really managed to make all of them. I rarely, if ever, even open the many cookbooks I’ve also collected, though I have the best of intentions when I buy them. I needed technology to help me out.  I wanted a recipe app with sorting, searching, categories, shopping lists, and recipe sharing at the very least.

The Apps: Recipe Box and ShoppingList

Recipe Box

A linchpin of my meal-planning efforts starts with a holiday vacation a few years ago in which I sat down and entered every one of our recipes into the Recipe Box app on iPad. This alone has revolutionized meal planning. I read about it on The Kitchn and decided that for $5 all told ($3.99 for iPad and .99 for iPhone) I needed to try to see if this app could help me out.

This app makes it

  • easy to add a recipe from many established online resources
  • highlights your spot in the recipe when you’re cooking
  • marks off the ingredients you’ve prepped
  • your recipe ratings
  • multiple categories per recipe (like soup, dinner, beef, TexMex, freezes well, for example)
  • bookmarks
  • email/SMS/other sharing
  • online source capturing, image capturing
  • and most important, inter-device syncing over Wi-Fi

It’s not my favorite color, but who am I to complain about that. To redeem its visual street cred, it does have proper diagonal vulgar fractions and proper abbreviations for most measurements in an extended keyboard that I use to correct the vulgar fractions in most recipes scraped off the web (because ½ is NOT 1/2). It also has a “shopping list” feature which could use some work, but being in the industry, I know how much trouble something like that would be, so I don’t blame them for focusing on core features.

Shopping List

This app, Shopping List (fka Grocery List) is where I enter all of the ingredients into their appropriate stores. This app, which syncs to the cloud, gives you their basic DB of grocery items, but also allows you to customize stores, customize the aisles in the store (frozen corn in Frozen aisle vs fresh corn in Produce), and customize products so that you can add your specific brand of fabric softener to avoid confusion. The rapid syncing allows us to split up in the store (or among stores) and cross out items we have bought., and the default sort is by “aisles” so you can get your canned food, produce, and frozen food, for example, at the same time, avoiding cross-store walking.

The Process

  • I go through my recipes in the app based on the needs for that week – for example if it’s cold, I like soup and casserole recipes that I can also bring to lunch.
  • I choose up to five recipes based on their output and whether or not I need to have something to bring to work for lunch.
  • Then add them to the “shopping list” on the Recipe Box app, and collate the ingredients in a document (still problematic, but livable).
  • Then I add the collated ingredients to the shopping list app, which may already have other items like butter or salt or kleenex that we’ve run out of.
  • Go shopping at the stores that have ingredients I need.
  • Put groceries up and relax!

The Wins

  • Having a fridge full of things I want to eat
  • Spending less on outside food
  • Eating good food because I don’t have to make last-minute decisions on dinner (or work lunch)
  • Reducing needless stress in my relationships by changing “what do you want for dinner” to a far simpler “which of these five things do we want to make tonight?”
  • Trying out new recipes more often because I see them regularly
  • Being able to reduce my shopping list to a very few stores based on ingredients (choosing mostly Chinese or vegetarian foods means I have fewer stores to go to)
  • Adding online recipes easily from my phone or iPad, especially from popular food blogs, Martha Stewart and the Cooking Light family of magazines
  • Having a digitized version of my old recipes
  • Not stopping by the grocery store every other day
  • Canceling the subscriptions to dead-trees (magazines) I almost never read but REALLY wanted to.
  • If you want any of the over 200 recipes I have in the app, I can port them over to your iOS device easily.
  • I’m much happier with my process and

The Drawbacks

  • Setup time: getting your recipes into the app is time-consuming if you have a lot that aren’t online
  • Setting aside the time to choose recipes, collate ingredients, shop for them in one swoop (I usually end up doing it over two days)
  • If they ever stop making/updating these apps I’m f***ed and have to export all of my recipes and start over again, or designate one iPad the permanent cooking-only iPad (which would be expensive, but might not be so bad actually, until it dies. or breaks)

No solution is perfect, but the drawbacks of this method are far outweighed by the caliber of the wins – give it a shot!