Quick & Easy Meal Planning = More Time For What You Want!

‘I don’t want to work – I just want to’ … hang out with my boys, play in my craft room… how do you finish that song?  Meal planning is one of those never ending chores (it’s always there, right!)  I’m always looking for ways to make it faster & easier.   Meal prep for me starts with deciding what we’ll have (looking through cookbooks for variety), making a list of ingredients, checking the list against the pantry & freezer contents, then actually making the meal (after I find the recipe). I’ve tried a few different shopping lists and meal planning apps, but I’ve found Mealboard to be my favorite meal planning/shopping list/pantry inventory app.

I very rarely pay for apps – there is so much free content available, I just don’t see the point. But if I find an app that I think has true value, I will buy it. I think I’ve purchased a total of 5 – a Study Bible, a math game for my son, a couple I can’t remember, and the Mealboard app. For an app to have true value in my mind it has to make my life easier. Here’s how Mealboard can make life easier for you:

The Menu – when I sit down to plan the menu, I usually have several cookbooks, websites or printed recipes on hand. With Mealboard, you can enter recipes either manually, by importing from a web site, or copy/paste from another text. The app supports importing recipes from 30+ food websites. Generally, I just copy/paste using my computer – this is quick and easy and I can adapt things if I want. You can manually input recipes on the iPhone or iPad, but I like it better from a regular laptop.

After you have recipes entered, you can just add them to the day you want to use them on. When you select a recipe, you can see when it was on the menu last (so you don’t have hotdogs & hamburgers 3 weeks in a row unless you want to). You can also add things like ‘Dine Out’ or things you won’t use a recipe for (Burgers, Spaghetti) using the Quick Add feature.   Once the menu is planned, you can see it in a list or calendar view, email it or print it out for all to see (my kids are constantly asking what’s for dinner – now I just point at the frig).  You can also include prep/cooking time, rate recipes, add source info (I like to include the cookbook & page number), and add a picture.

Grocery Shopping/Pantry Inventory – The next fun step is the grocery list. With Mealboard, just select the Shopping link, then choose the days you want to sync and you have a grocery list showing how much of each ingredient you need, what recipes you need it for, and if you’ve added your pantry/freezer inventory, how much you have in stock. Before you head off to the store, simply swipe away items you don’t need, or add other things you do need. There are also options for what store/aisle to purchase the items from, but I like to keep things simple. I generally shop at just 1 or 2 places & pretty much know my way around the store, so I just skip this. Sending someone else to the store? You can print or email the list if they don’t have the app on their phone. As you make your purchases just check them off.

Updating The Pantry – once you get your groceries home & put away, it’s time to update your pantry inventory with your purchases – simply touch the trash can and you get options to ‘delete checked items’ – ‘delete all’ – or ‘Move Items to Pantry’ – with just the touch of a finger – your pantry inventory is updated. You can also use this feature when you cook a meal. Each item in the recipe comes up and you can decrease your inventory with what you’ve used.

Actual Meal Prep – so now it’s time to actually cook. This is after all the point behind this whole process – getting food on the table to feed the tribe. Simply select the recipe from the menu and (if you’ve entered it in the recipe database), you have all the ingredients and directions. You can also add notes, scale the recipe up or down, ‘Update Pantry” (described above) and ‘Tag as Leftover’. By tagging a recipe as leftover, you can quickly see in your menu that it’s available.

There are a few other free apps I’ve used (I don’t want to name them because I don’t want to give them negative feedback) that worked fine, but were a little slow or cumbersome. I’ve found Mealboard to be quick and smooth (doesn’t get hung up), and the page views are clean and easy to read.

I have only found a few drawbacks to this system – the only thing you can do on a real computer is enter recipes – but having this option for entering recipes is great. It would be nice to update the shopping list from a computer as well, but this is still very easy with the iPad or iPhone. Also, it does take some time to actually enter the recipes. But once this is done, you can access them on your iPhone, iPad or computer. You can also email them right from the app to share with your friends. It also doesn’t have an Android version. These slight drawbacks are so minor compared to the time savings and ease of menu planning, that I think this app is well worth the $3.99 I paid for it.

So there you have it – the value for me is that – I save time by selecting recipes off the list, I know how long it’s been since I made a particular dish, my grocery list is done with a few clicks (and I never forget it at home), my pantry is updated effortlessly after shopping or creating a meal. Also, when I’m actually cooking, I can set my IPad in a stand and easily have the recipe available because everything syncs across devices. It’s a pretty intuitive app, but if you don’t think so, there are tutorials and more info at http://www.mealboard.com/.

I’d love to hear what you think of this app or what apps you use to make your life easier.




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