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Reducing Pandemic Grocery Shopping Stress

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

If you're finding grocery shopping to be a stressful experience these days, here are some tech tools you can use to plan healthy meals and minimize your time at the store.



If planning healthy meals feels like a bridge too far right now, put your tech to use to help you get and stay on track with healthy meals.


Meal Planning Apps

There are loads of options for this one. Many appear to be free at first glance, but are either free for a trial period or require a subscription to get more robust functionality. For my highly unscientific experiment, I picked two that looked promising and tried them out for the week. Both apps saved me time a ton of time compared with my previous handwritten list method. If your time is extremely limited, even the paid subscriptions (either work out to less than $1/week) could be well worth it! Please note: This overview is based on the iPhone app, but these apps are available for Android phones. Also, I don't work with affiliates and all costs came out of my pocket.


Paprika


Pros:


  • flexibility of recipe choice and easy to download within the app

  • you can type in & save your own family recipes

  • recipes easily scaled up (handy if you have adult kids living at home now)

  • shareable across the household and syncs over WiFi

  • can generate a list for a recipe with a simple tap (and can also add manually)

  • generated list pops into view to allow you to immediately eliminate ingredients you have on hand (so you won't waste time or money on things you don't need/duplicates)

  • grocery list shows which recipe an ingredient is for (can make substitutions easily on the fly if the store doesn't have an item)

  • printable list (don't need to touch your phone while shopping)

Cons:

  • Fee for each type of device ($4.99 phone, $29.99 desktop app, which still works out to less than a $1/week over the course of a year, even if you splurged for both)

  • you must build your own recipe list (not as useful if you never use recipes)


Mealime


Pros:

  • Basic app is free

  • Less decision fatigue (you choose from a set of recipes)

  • Recipes are 30 minutes or less and include main and sides

  • Recipes are categorized which makes searching more efficient (can search by ingredient, which is helpful if you have a farm box subscription and eliminates waste)

  • Customizable if you have specific preferences or food allergies

  • Can follow recipe prep on your phone without touching screen

  • Can set up a reminder to plan your meals


Cons:

  • Requires a subscription of $5.99/month or $49.99/year

  • Adding your own or online recipes requires a subscription

  • Certain recipes require a subscription

  • Adding notes to a recipe requires a subscription

  • Can't share grocery list or meal planning with others

  • No weekly meal schedule feature

  • Can scale all recipes, not individually

  • The hands free dinner prep feature uses a lot of battery power


Online Meal Planning Services

This is a review of just two of the many options (can read about more here) out there for meal planning services. They both offer weekly menus and will automatically generate a grocery list that you can edit, print, and email. (Neither have an app, so the grocery list can't be updated on the fly.) These services can make all of the deciding for you, which can be helpful if you don't want to spend any time on planning and don't mind someone else choosing for you. Menus are designed to prevent waste and save you money. Both allow you to add recipes from the archives if you want to go beyond their weekly menu. Both have healthy recipes that are family tested and approved and include nutrition facts with each recipe. Both allow you to scale individual recipes. Both can work for some dietary restrictions. Choosing is largely a matter of preference.


The Scramble

The basics: This is a monthly subscription that delivers 8 dinner options a week, plus a make ahead breakfast option. Cost is $35 for 3 months ($3/week), $100 for 12 months ($2/week), or $150 for 24 months (less than $2/week).


The details: This service's tagline is: Healthy 30 minute meals your entire family will love. I have a friend who has used the app for years and is happy with it. She described their recipes as traditional, but healthier, and well received by picky eaters. The weekly menu includes some ideas for healthy lunches and snacks. Most of their recipes suggest substitutions if you are vegetarian, gluten-free, or nut-free, but you can also search for recipes that meet your dietary restrictions.


Pros:

  • Free 14 day trial with signup

  • Lots of kid friendly options

  • Weekly lunch and snack ideas

Cons:

  • Many recipes require more than the 30 minutes, especially if you're making a side dish as well

  • Weekly menu doesn't include sides, but offers suggestions with separate recipes

  • Minimum commitment is 3 months

  • If you want to expand your repertoire with global flavors, this may not be the one for you


Cooksmarts

The basics: This is a monthly subscription that sends a menu with 4 complete (main & sides) dinners a week. Though it doesn't send breakfast, they do have recipes in their database. There is a free 30 day trial, and you can then subscribe monthly - $8, quarterly - $7/month, or yearly - $6/month, which averages out to less than $2/week for any option.


The details: Their tagline is "Simple, healthy, flexible meal plans and grocery lists designed for your busy life." Each meal has a gluten-free, paleo, and vegetarian diet option. They focus mostly on dinner, but there are breakfast options that are fairly quick. Their recipes are divided into prep and make steps. I have a friend who uses this service and said she really appreciates the efficiency of their recipes. For example, a sauce is often used as a marinade and a dressing in the same meal. They also have instructional prep videos, which is handy if you'd like to involve your kids in some of the cooking. If your local grocers offer delivery through Instacart, you can upload your grocery list and have it delivered.


Pros:

  • Free trial for first 30 days

  • Lots of kid friendly options while slightly expanding culinary horizons

  • Each meal is complete (no need for additional recipes for sides)

  • Instructional prep videos

  • Breakfast options available

  • Connects with Instacart, if you prefer and have access to delivery

Cons:

  • Total time from start to finish is often more than the 30 minutes

  • If you're looking for mostly traditional recipes, this may not be the one for you



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