Meal Planning 2.0
March 19, 2019 8:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an app that I can populate with my own recipes, and will generate a meal plan for the week. There are too many apps out there, so I need you fine people to help find the right one for me.

I dutifully read through all the comments on this cooking thread, and now I'm depressed about my own cooking (and interested in how you all make it work). I dislike the process of planning, shopping and cooking, but our work schedules mean that it makes sense for my partner to handle breakfast and getting the kids to school, while I go to work early, and I leave work earlier, pick up the kids from aftercare and get dinner ready. Lately we've been doing a grocery delivery service, but it hasn't been working well. We have digressed into more pickup meals of instant ramen and cheese on toast, and it's not great for my stomach or my children. As a result, we are considering going to a joint planning, Partner shops, I cook plan.

* Put my own meals in.
* Ideally read the recipes from the giant Word document my mother made of all our family recipes.
* Based on constraints, it would ideally pick a menu of 4 weeknight and one weekend meals (the remaining two being leftovers and takeout).
* It would generate a shopping list
* I could set it up initially on my windows computer, and create meals / grocery list on my iPhone.
* It would share the list with my partners iPhone - ideally automatically.
* It could deal with a high level of constraints (ie, Thursday meals need to be 20 minutes or less prep time, fish needs to be cooked within two days of shopping, tacos need to be made 3 -4 days after shopping so the avocados are ripe). This is maybe impossible.
* It doesn't operate by subscription, so I'm okay with a one time fee if I can keep it.
* Ideally, I'd prefer a free trial to see if I like the system.

Don't Want / Need
* Anyone else's recipes. I have a ton of cookbooks, plus all my mom's Word documents, and no desire to try new things right now.
* Weight loss tips / calorie counters
* Fancy cooking timers
* Any type of social network beyond communicating with my partner and co-meal planner.

Lastly, my partner has requested I add this: If anyone knows of an open-source program that does some of this (preferably on Python), we could potentially program a specialized version of our own. He has very big ideas about creating a recommender algorithm that evaluates using the ingredient list to judge similarity. He is enthusiastic about constrained optimization problems. Both of us are capable of doing such a thing, but I'm asking for help because I don't have the energy to read through the Lifehacker articles that showed up when I googled "best meal planning app". If this is our best bet, and/or would be kind of fun, we'd be up for that.

(and I looked through previous questions, and they all seemed to be about finding recipes or ideas)
posted by Valancy Rachel to Food & Drink (8 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
So I use AnyList, which I initially got primarily for the grocery list feature, but now use for recipes and meal planning. You can copy paste recipes one at a time (with separate copy paste steps for ingredients and instructions). You can categorize recipes (you can create your own categories), and you can meal plan from your recipe collection. Then you can generate your shopping list from the meal plan. It’s shareable with a family plan which costs ~$8 per year.

There’s no real automation here - it does have a nifty recipe importer for online recipes but you don’t need that. It’s an iPhone app and there is a browser based app. There’s also a desktop app on the Mac; not sure about Windows because I don’t have a Windows machine, but I’d bet there is.

The initial set up phase with this app is maybe a little intensive but it’s very configurable so once you get it set up just so, it’s great. (Like, I have my grocery list categories ordered by their geographic placement in my neighborhood grocery store, so I physically move down my list as I move through the store). I like it a lot and I think it checks a lot of your boxes. I am not aware of any app that will automatically generate meal plans for you, though, at least not from your own recipes.
posted by devinemissk at 9:16 PM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

PepperPlate is what we use. You import your own recipes, can make a meal plan for the week and have it generate a shopping list. It’s free has an iOS and browser version. We share it by simply logging into the same account.

It doesn’t generate anything automatically, but we use tags on our recipes and just filter by tag to fill a need for the specific day. So, it meets lots of your criteria but not the auto-generation. (I am hoping that while I am telling you about how great Pepper Plate is, someone else is typing a comment with an app that does what you are looking for. I would absolutely use it, but Pepper Plate is as close to what I wanted as I could find...)
posted by stoneweaver at 11:47 PM on March 19, 2019

For the open source part of your question, the search function on github is useful. For example you can search for "recipe manager" and then click on python in the left panel.
posted by Poldo at 5:51 AM on March 20, 2019

So PepperPlate was great, except the developers have appeared to stop supporting the app and it is gradually breaking. I've switched over to Paprika, which is like PepperPlate except supported, and works. Paprika is a few dollars for the app (husband and I have iphone family sharing so just paid one fee for both of us to use it). It does have a computer interface, but that is something like $20 and I was not willing to pay that much.

Things it does that you would like:
-You can import recipes. I was able to import my Pepperplate recipes, but they are hosted on websites. I haven't tried to import my own recipes from a word doc, this may take more manual labor than you're into. I have a bunch I didn't import because of this, but focused on my main recipes.
-You can create custom tags. So I have tags like "beef", "low-carb", "holiday" - so you could tag "20-min meal" or "3-4 days after shopping" or "within 2 days of shopping", and then when you're setting up your meal plan for the week you at least have a prelim category to look through
-It has a meal plan calendar that links to the recipes (and you can filter by your custom tags).
-It has a function to export your meal plan to a shopping list.
-It does NOT have any of your "don't wants", except in-recipe timers you can click on. But you can also ignore them.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:57 AM on March 20, 2019

I also use Paprika, and I love it. Importing recipes that aren’t online is indeed a bit tedious, but it’s doable, and it’s a one-time-task (plus I think your husband’s skills might help, but not sure).

I think it would help if you’d simplify your planning process. Eg. we always cook double portions on Saturdays and Sundays, so we already have meals ready on Mondays and Tuesdays, and on Wednesday through Friday, we cook one of our quicker meals. We also try to eat two meals (=one recipe) each of meat, fish and vegetarian, because it helps us to eat a more varied diet and it makes choosing recipes easier. You could also just separate your recipes into dishes for Mondays, others for Tuesdays, etc. if you prefer that and if it helps for planning your meals.
posted by eierschnee at 7:44 AM on March 20, 2019

Plan to eat
posted by tenaciousd at 7:52 AM on March 20, 2019

I've looked into a couple open source solutions (OpenEats for example), but ended up going with Paprika as well. Short of picking your meals for you, it ticks all the boxes you ask for:

You can set up "Menus" that combine recipes and notes, so like "Mexican Fiesta!" could have taco, guacamole, and salsa recipes and a note to make sure you have extra onions, cilantro, corn tortillas, and chips on hand.

If you keep your "Pantry" updated, when you add a menu/recipe to your shopping list, it will only add things you need. In theory, it should automate your list making, but realistically, you'll add things outside of recipes to your shopping list.

In my experience, setting up (sub-)categories really helps with the planning aspect;
  • "Weeknight Dinners" = anything quick/make-ahead/easy to make from leftovers
  • By main ingredient (like "Beef" > "Ground Beef") so I can pick more than one recipe to minimize waste and stretch dollars when items are on sale.
  • "Go-To Meals" = family favorites
It won't pick meals for you, but once you have things categorized accurately, searching/browsing within the correct one should make it relatively easy to select some recipes.

For meal planning in general, look for opportunities to overlap ingredients and/or cook once to make multiple dishes, and be comfortable/flexible enough to cook without a recipe. As an example, I spent a couple hours on Sunday planning, shopping, cooking, and preparing for the week:
  • Got a family pack of chicken breasts on sale. Half went in the sous vide to have on hand for the week (cut up for kids' lunches, on salads, diced in tacos, etc.), and half went in the Instant Pot.
  • When the chicken in the Instant Pot was done, I shredded it all and used half then to make soup (back in the Instant Pot) for half of Sunday dinner, and rest was saved for Monday dinner.
  • Pork chops (other half of Sunday dinner) went in the sous vide along with the chicken.
  • Monday dinner took < 30 minutes to make the pasta skillet thing since the chicken was already cooked and shredded.
  • Tuesday was leftovers/grilled cheese for the picky one.
  • Wednesday is chicken tacos and quesadillas for the littlest ones.
I've found that these meal plans demonstrate the thought process and some techniques for effective planning.
posted by hankscorpio83 at 1:44 PM on March 20, 2019

Thanks everyone! I've been thinking about it, and I realize that the thing I want most is to offload the mental task of choosing. I am a competent cook, I was taught from a young age and I almost cook all the meals for my family of 4. I do know how to make a meal plan, and I've done that but I just procrastinate on the planning and end up making the same 5 meals on repeat (tacos, pasta with meat sauce, baked chicken, stew, sausages. Repeat next week).

For now, I sat down and wrote down all the meals my family like that I can and have cooked. (30 meals! And I basically only pick 4 of them because I forgot to buy an ingredient for a different one!). I made a simple program to basically randomly choose, and I'm happy with that.

I am going to look into OpenEats, and other recipe managers on Github, and see if I can add a recommendation algorithm to tell me what to do, but I'm actually okay making a shopping list, as long as a computer says: "Make fish stew on Tuesday, buy fish and white wine". It's the decision that I cannot face. It turns out I'd prefer to spend hours on a computer than decide what to eat.

Thanks Everyone
posted by Valancy Rachel at 11:46 AM on March 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

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