Overwhelmed by the many menu planning tools out there? You can find a website or app to solve your menu planning, grocery shopping, or missing ingredient dilemmas. You've heard "You Can't Be All Things to All People?" The adage certainly holds true as I searched for menu planning tools. Here are 5 tools that stand out for being exactly what they are:
A free recipe database app from one of the top food websites, the Dinner Spinner by AllRecipes.com is a slick take on the daily question, "What's for dinner?" Search for "ground turkey" and you'll get a long list of recipes submitted and rated by the food-loving public. The free version was recently enhanced with a Shopping List tool and a scanning function. Now, when you take a spin for some dinner inspiration, your search starts with a scan the can of diced tomatoes.
My kids love to play with this app to help with meal planning. I may select "Salmon", "Entree" and "Less than 45 Minutes Prep" but my kids are spinning "Chocolate", "Breakfast" and "Less than 20 minutes". If you already have an AllRecipes.com account, you can link up your Recipe Box, but only by paying for the Pro version. The Dinner Spinner saves me the time of searching my stack of cookbooks for a recipe, but doesn't help much if my goal is to plan a week at a time. The app is available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and even the Kindle Fire device.
Ever played the game Password? SuperCook, an online recipe search engine, reminds me of the step-by-step clue-giving game. You type one ingredient, then another and another and soon, you'll have a list of recipes that use all those ingredients. If you create a free account, you can save your recipes as favorites.
SuperCook is a great tool to help minimize wasted food by showing you how to combine what you already have on hand. If you happen to have a large quantity of queso fresco, for example, you'll find 33 recipes to choose from, which can save time and money in the long run. As an online tool, SuperCook feels more like a home-use tool than an on-the-go tool. Think of SuperCook as the little puzzle solver that can pull magic out of your fridge and pantry.
Relish is a weekly menu planner service that includes Kid-Friendly, Simple Gourmet, Vegetarian and Super Quick Recipes. The subscription service includes a mobile version too. I like that you can adjust the menu for the number of people in your house and your shopping lists are created for you. Each week you pick your main dishes and sides, a weekly dessert and you're set.
The recipes are healthy, easy to follow and feel like Cooking Light recipes. If you're a basic-recipes-for-me chef, Relish gives you an un-intimidating way to test out the Simple Gourmet side of life without sacrificing your comfort food favorites.
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Are you the ultimate planner? Once A Month Mom may be your favorite new website. The site takes you from 0 to 60 on how to plan, shop, prep and label a month of meals that live in your freezer until meal time. Your menus are planned and organized for you. Each month, you can select from menus such as Traditional, Gluten-Free, Vegetarian or even a Baby Meal menu.
Recipes are culled from across the blogosphere and adapted to freezer cooking while still sharing links to the original recipe. Need a visual? See the menu on their Pinterest board. You get your menus, labels, recipe cards and shopping lists, but only after enduring various types of intrusive ads. I don't know about you, but I'm the kind of gal who'd pay for that type of organization to save my eyeballs from advertising assault. Not ready to commit to an entire month of meals? Once A Month Mom includes scaled-down 5-day or 10-day menu plans too.
What this top-selling app lacks in a creative name, it more than makes up for in convenience and functionality. Menu Planner is the closest you'll get to a One-Size-Fits-All tool. While generic looking in its styling, this app allows you to sync online recipes from your favorite sites or add your own, built an inventory of your food and create shopping lists. Everything synced in one place.
The downside? Set up could be time-consuming, depending on how many recipes you want to add or ingredients you want to include in your pantry. Once you're loaded, you'll feel like the manager of a fancy restaurant as you plan meals and manage inventory and "procurement" like a pro. You'll soon see why this app has a 4+ star rating.
Have other menu planning tools to share? What are your favorites?
The opinions expressed here are my own and I received no free meal, deal or spiel from any of these services. Most days I feel like the novice at this meal planning business so I need all the help I can get.