For people who cook regularly, whether for themselves or for their families, meal planning may not be as easy as frying eggs for breakfast. Being the household’s designated chef is a huge responsibility that often gets taken for granted. While we’re out and about going through our daily routine, the “chef” is deep in thought in front of the fridge, mulling over ingredients decent enough for a good, home-cooked meal. For more unfortunate people who live alone and act as their own chef, planning meals may crop up last-minute while on the way home – or may be skipped altogether in favor of the more convenient pizza delivery.
That’s why Food Planner is a great time- and effort-saver for automated meal planning on a daily basis. It’s an app that can really help with this essential yet complicated chore.
What’s for Dinner?
There are many apps on the Market that let you plan your meals, store your own recipes, or download ones from cooking websites (like Food on the Table, MyFood), but none is quite like Food Planner. While other apps focus more on their aesthetics and the presentation of recipes, Food Planner focuses on the chronology and a more organized way of planning your meals. It stands out because it’s structured like a regular day planner. Upon opening the application, you’re presented with a weekly calendar prompting you to “tap to plan” your meals. This makes it clear from the get-go that the main objective of the app is, as the name suggests, to plan your daily meals.
Meals are divided into three categories: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. If you want to add a meal type, you can do so by going to Menu > Preferences > Setup meal types. You then choose which recipe to make for that meal (if you have one saved already), add a new recipe of your own, or (if you’re feeling more adventurous) import recipes from selected websites.
There are six websites on the list to import recipes from. Four of them are English sites, and the other two are in Danish and Czech. Let’s take a look at the English sites:
- AllRecipes.com – has the largest number of recipes contributed by readers and/or members of the site; you may find more than five versions of one dish
- Epicurious.com – features gourmet style recipes from magazine editions
- Food.com – boasts of having 450,000 recipes, and has sortable lists of recipes (by type, popularity or occasion)
- Tastykitchen.com – community-based website which allows sharing recipes and interaction with members. The easiest way to look for recipes might be to use the search bar, since the categories only offer meal types, which might be too broad to start with.
Tapping on a site directs you to the app’s internal browser and opens the website’s home page. You can browse from the featured recipes or, as I’ve done in this example, type a key phrase like “beef steak” into the search bar and choose from a list of results. Wait for the recipe to load completely and you’ll get a button on the bottom of the screen to import the recipe to the app.
Once you’ve imported the recipe, it will bring you back to the app window and display the recipe in sections: Ingredients, Instructions, Tag and Source (the website link). Tapping on each of these sections allows you to edit, remove or add them as you please.
Although that was easy and quick, you need to have more patience when adding your own recipes. You’ll have to type in each ingredient, the instructions and other details manually so this will definitely take more time, but it’s well worth it if the recipe is something you swear by and can never replace (like a family heirloom or something).
We’re Having Beef, Now What?
Now let’s say you have the whole of next week planned. The next step would be that trip to the grocery store to stock up on ingredients. Again, this app proves to be a time-saver when making your list. Simply go through your recipes and add items to your grocery list. You also have the option to delete any ingredient you don’t need to buy at the moment. Additionally, you also have other options such as scaling the recipe, setting the yield (serving portion), or sharing it by email.
Now, back in the Week view of the app, tap on the little basket icon to view your Grocery list. You’ll find that you have even more options for each item. Another great feature of this app is the set of instructions that pop up when you go to a new screen where you may need guidance. Below is an example:
Here I pressed the arrow-down button for the item “beef stock or canned beef broth” and it gave me a number of options to customize the item. Also, this tells you how to easily cross off items you have bought by pressing the text itself. This app definitely makes things easier for you as you go along.
Food planner is an app that can be used by both basic and advanced users because of its simple yet diverse options. Another trick on its sleeve is the Inventory function. You can access this when you go back to the Weekly view screen and tap on the tiny tool box icon on the top right corner. Unfortunately, you’ll have to enter these items manually, as crossed off items from the grocery list don’t automatically go on this list. This is a shame considering this feature can be another cool addition to its functionality. Hopefully this is something that gets updated by the developer over time. For now, the Inventory list allows you to toggle between the plus and minus buttons to add or subtract the quantities of each item. Pressing the menu bar allows you to remove items that have zero amount on them, or zero all items.
Another function for more advanced users is the ability to sync to other devices using an e-mail address and a password. Again, there are instructions and a brief explanation of how data is synced using the e-mail address. I had quite a lot of data on my app so it took a while for me to synchronize everything.
Food Planner is an app that has both low-key and experimental cooks in mind. It allows you to stick to your old, tested recipes or venture into new, exotic ones from other sources. It also gives you lots of options in every turn. This may confuse the app newbie, but the pop-up-style instructions does help point users towards the right direction. Its simple, minimalist UI may not appeal to some, but it actually makes the app straightforward in its purpose without any extra fluff.
Although it has a lot of functions, some do need to be worked on – like the ability to add crossed-off grocery items to the Inventory list, as currently that feature seems too tedious to manage. It would also help if the navigation was easier, without the need to go back to the Weekly view just to reach the Grocery or Inventory list.
Overall, Food Planner is a great app for organizing and planning your meals. The UI may take a bit of getting used to, but it’s definitely worth it and the app does make it easier for you the more you use it.
A note on pricing: Food Planner is a free app, with an option to install a $2.64 plugin that unlocks other features such as removal of ads and unlimited storage of recipes. Remember that this is a plugin, so you still need the free app for it to work.