I have never been good at sticking to New Year’s resolutions. Whether it’s to floss my teeth more or to join a gym, I just don’t manage to keep them up. But this year I am setting myself a better goal – one that will save me money, time and be good for the planet. I’m going to start using a meal planning and pantry inventory app.
If you barely have time to scribble together a shopping list, let alone browse recipes or check cupboards before leaving the house, then meal planning apps are a great tool to help manage shopping, cooking and eating.
They have a range of features that help you track what’s in your pantry and fridge, import recipes, create meal plans, generate shopping lists, and sometimes all of the above. They take a bit of time to set up, but once that’s done they can make your life a lot easier.
Why plan meals?
It doesn’t sound very sexy, but planning meals and knowing what’s in your fridge and pantry when you go shopping is a great way to reduce food waste and save time and money.
If food waste were a country, it would have the third-highest emissions after China and the US.
Menu planning also means fewer trips to the supermarket and less impulse spending, as well as helping you use leftovers more efficiently.
So what are these apps?
To get you started, I’ve put together an overview of a few useful apps that I came across during my research. Results of a recent survey by MenuForMums in the UK found that 90% of members saved time and money (and by default reduced food waste) by using its online meal planning service.
1.) Pepperplate is a mobile app that helps you to compile and organise your recipe collection, create meal plans, generate shopping lists and cook the recipes that you want to try.
Recipes can be imported by pasting their URL from the web or by entering them manually. They can then be used to create meal plans and interactive shopping lists which allow you to tick off items as you go and share with others. When cooking, Pepperplate will walk you through the recipes, complete with cooking timers. Other similar meal planning apps are BigOven and AnyList.Food waste image from www.shutterstock.com
2.) Cloud-Freezer helps you create shopping lists like Pepperplate, but focuses on inventories rather than meal planning. It allows you to keep track of the items you already have in your fridge, freezer and pantry, including expiry dates so you can plan what you need to eat first to reduce food waste.
Items can be added to shopping lists from a library of previous entries, moved between shopping lists and inventories, and between the inventories themselves (for example, if you move something from the freezer to the fridge to defrost). The app has a barcode scanner function connected to user-driven databases to help you enter items quickly. There are similar but less sophisticated cross-platform apps called GrocerEaze and Out of Milk.
3.) MealBoard offers the most features and could be life-changing if you take the time to set it up. It’s a combination of Pepperplate and Cloud-Freezer because it enables you to import recipes, plan meals, generate shopping lists and do inventories. Integrating these features turbocharges your ability to organise food activities because it automatically populates shopping lists with what you have to buy, taking into account what you already have at home.
This could save a lot of time and effort, and prevent a lot of duplicate shopping. If you’re prepared to do that, it’s a powerful tool. Another cross-platform app, FoodPlanner, boasts the same features as MealBoard.
So if you have some spare time in the holidays, after recovering from your food coma and before you join that gym, maybe take one of these apps for a trial run. Between Christmas leftovers and forgotten items in the back of your pantry, you may not need to shop for weeks.
The time you save might make it easier to stick to all your other resolutions, and your wallet and the planet will thank you for it.
Authors: Seona Candy, Research Fellow: Food and Urban Systems, University of Melbourne