UX Nuggets Thoughts and advice on usability and user experience
August 12, 2010 |
In my job, I spend a lot of time making products more usable for people, but as a working wife and new mom, I recently have been thinking harder about how technology might help make life easier. Planning meals is a chore I find time consuming and challenging, and it happens every week. I thought some sort of online help organizing recipes, planning menus, and creating shopping lists might make a big difference for me.
Here’s what I was looking for:
1) Recipe Aggregator
2) Meal Planner
3) Meal Suggestions
4) Automated Shopping List
5) Mobile Access
6) What I don’t need: A tool that is sponsored by a food company. I don’t trust that its recommendations would be in line with my philosophy of trying to eat organically and locally when possible. Recipes that include a can of Krap Cheez Wiz need not apply.
I found four sites that met most of my criteria. The two free sites I looked at are DinnerTool (www.Dinnertool.com) and Tasty Planner (www.Tastyplanner.com); the two you pay for are called Relish! (www.Relishrelish.com), and Plan to Eat (www.Plantoeat.com).
|Cost||Recipe Aggregator||Meal Planner||Meal Suggestions||Auto Shop List||Mobile Access|
|Relish!||$7/mon||Kinda, but not really||Yes||Yes||Yes||iPhone app|
|PlanToEat||$5/mon||Yes & only with one import!||Yes||No||Yes||Mobile site|
Here’s my take on each one:
Pros: DinnerTool has a one-click option for meal planning, which pulls recipes from the database and fills out your meal plan for the whole week. It also suggests side dishes for each recipe. There’s good information about nutrition, time the recipe will take, cost, etc. Dinner Tool automatically categorizes ingredients on your shopping list. It also has an iPhone app.
Cons: Though free, the site is sponsored by NBC in some way. Even though it’s not a food company, they do have advertising supported by food companies. It just makes me a little skeptical. Also, while I love the idea of a one-click option for meal planning, it’s useless to me because I’m a vegetarian and it won’t allow me to specify that.
Pros: It seems to be run by a group of web designers, who clearly enjoy developing the site and making it usable. It treats every member as a chef, so maybe there is an assumption that recipes posted will be more original (this could be a pro or a con, depending on your needs.) Tasty Planner also has an iPhone app.
Cons: The search feature isn’t great, and it relies on the assumption that contributors have tagged their recipes properly. You can manually enter your own recipes, but there is no ability to import. Adding recipes to your meal plan is a two-step process, which seems inefficient and error-prone. You can organize your shopping list….but there is no default sensible organization.
Pros: Relish! is very quick and simple, will plan a week’s worth of meals for you (including suggested side dishes), and has vegetarian options. It’s good if you don’t want to think about what to fix; it’ll tell you what to eat each week. It also has an iPhone app.
Cons: It’s the most expensive ($7/month), and the interface seems outdated and clunky. There is no free trial, so you have to sign up for a minimum of three months in order to see it. Adding your own recipes involves contacting support and waiting a few days to have it processed…not really practical as a personal recipe aggregator.
Plan to Eat:
Pros: It’s the only site with the ability to import recipes. It’s very intuitive to use. The developer has a food philosophy similar to mine (organic and local), and actively incorporates ideas into the site gathered from his Facebook community. There is a mobile version of the site (i.e. you don’t need an iPhone). Ingredients are automatically categorized on the shopping list. You can specify where you purchase particular items, and it will automatically make lists by store. The meal planner appears on almost every screen, so it’s easy to refer back to it. Plan to Eat offers a 30-day free trial (after which it costs about $5/month.)
Cons: There is no database of recipes, just a few samples to get you started. So, you do need to spend some time entering or importing recipes (which is really quick and easy). I’d like to see improvements in the features and speed of the mobile site. The mobile Shopping List doesn’t seem to organize your list by store and Adding Items has been a bit cumbersome and buggy for me. I’d also like the ability to see and edit my Meal Plan from the mobile site. Currently, you can only view Recipes and your Shopping List.
Each site is useful, but which one came out as the winner for me? Plan to Eat, in large part because of the ability to import recipes. To me, that feature is very important. I’ve found that it’s worth the monthly fee, because I’m spending less on groceries. Choosing recipes also has become much easier. Creating a shopping list is simple, and my visits to the grocery store have gotten shorter. Even though putting information into the computer takes time, the overall time I spend on meal planning has gone down.
In a lot of cases, technology intended to save us time actually ends up creating more work for us. I’m happy to say that online meal planning really works for saving time, money, and making my life easier. Has anyone else tried it? What did you think? What sites are your favorites and why?
Jessica Buttimer is a Senior User Experience Specialist with GfK User Centric and has conducted mobile consumer research, website information architecture, and usability testing with touch screen interfaces, smart phone applications, and healthcare devices. She has a MS in Human-Computer Interaction from DePaul University.