Saturday, January 23, 2010

Menu planning software

I'm really enjoying my new kitchen organizer software called Living Cookbook 2008. Since Mike and I are trying to rein in our spending, one place we thought we could get more organized is in menu planning and grocery shopping. Also we have a full pantry where food is easily lost, and we're always lamenting that we can't find things and don't know what we have. For a long time I have toyed with the idea of creating a simple database that would cross-reference our kitchen inventory with recipes and then create a grocery list. I finally checked on Amazon to see if such a thing already existed, and it does in Living Cookbook. Also, one of the reviewers on Amazon said he is a programmer and had tried to do something like this for a long time and failed, so I'm glad I didn't waste my time trying my own database.

Inputting our inventory took a couple of days. That wasn't totally simple, but you only have to do the starting inventory the one time. As you cook recipes, you can tell the software to deduct the recipes from your inventory. Then when you go to the grocery store, you just sit down with your receipt and add the inventory you just bought. Right now I only update long term pantry items. It doesn't make sense for us to update refrigerated items since we'd be doing that several times a day. The software was designed for use in both homes and restaurants, so I'm sure others might use more of the features than I do.

It is way easier to input recipes than it is to input inventory. The software seems to be loaded with every possible ingredient, and uses an auto-fill feature while you're typing. I usually load the ingredient list only, so that I can utilize the inventory-deduction feature. I don't typically type out the recipe procedure, unless it's on a scrap of paper I plan to throw away. Otherwise I just reference which cookbook the procedure is in.

The one thing the software does not seem to do is to suggest menus or recipes based on the ingredients you have. It WILL help you play the "use it up" game, if, say, you have 8 cans of cranberry sauce and you want to see what recipes it can find that use cranberry sauce. But it does not review all your inventory and suggest a week's worth of meals that would require little to no trips to the grocery store. Oh well.

You have to do your own meal planning by dragging and dropping recipes to a calendar. Then the software will generate a grocery list for you, based on the recipe requirements and what you already have. It even prints at the bottom the stuff you already have, in case you want to double check.

Right now the software is helping me with meal planning because all my favorite recipes and all the ones I'd like to try are listed right in front of my face, and I just have to click on them. Previously I'd be surrounded by cookbooks and tear sheets while making my grocery list, and I'd get bored of it quickly.

As for saving money, I still have to actually use my brain to plan meals around stuff we already have, but I think eventually that part will work out.

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