Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Family Meal Planning with the Monki

Are you looking for a way to make family meal planning easier? I have been. I have and older recipe book / menu planner for my computer, but it's interface isn't all that intuitive and it's been giving me fits trying to run it on Windows Vista.

Yes. It's that old.

Looking for a new (and cheap) solution, I came across Kitchen Monki. Touting itself as the “Ultimate Kitchen Utensil” I got curious. It's sort of a cross between an online cookbook, menu planner, and grocery list maker tied into a social network for cooks. After using it for a full week, I'm hooked. Planning meals for my family has become much easier.

Searching for recipes on Kitchen Monki is simple. It automatically searches through both the titles and ingredients lists for whatever you type in. I didn't find it as robust as the search features at All Recipes, nor to have as many recipes. Kitchen Monki hasn't been around nearly as long, though. The underlying theme of Kitchen Monki seems to be simplicity of use, so it's minor shortcomings are easily forgiven.

Rating and commenting on recipes was certainly easy enough to do. Like a few other recipe sites, Kitchen Monki will calculate the ingredient amounts for you if you want to change the number of servings. I find that especially useful for dinner planning when I know guests are coming, or if one or more family members won't be home for the evening. Recipes can be bookmarked to make it easier to come back and find them again, much like All Recipes “My Cookbook” feature.

Adding your own family recipes is easy enough. I find putting recipes in any cooking program a bit tedious, but Kitchen Monki is certainly more intuitive than most. One thing I found interesting was that after you put the ingredients in, you can actually assign ingredients to different steps in the cooking process. The nice part is that it's not hard to figure out what ingredients you need to deal with, in what step. The downside is you have too look in more than one place to get all your ingredients together. My 15 year old really likes this feature. I'm undecided which way I like best. I'm used to the ingredients being all in one place, but it is nice to have the measurements in the step I'm looking at.

One thing I find interesting is the “Recipe Queue.” Queuing a recipe puts it into a virtual staging area so you can do something with it later on. That use may be sharing it with friends via Facebook or Twitter. More importantly, it's the way to add recipes to the menu planner and create grocery lists.

The shining part of Kitchen Monki is its meal planner. There may be more robust meal planners on the market, but this one is plenty useful for family meal planning. It's remarkably easy to use. You simply select a day and then drag and drop queued recipes into the meal you want to plan for. It's meal options are breakfast, lunch, appetizer, dinner and dessert. So far, I've only been using it as a family dinner planner.

Another nice thing about the menu planner is that you annotate each meal with whatever extra info you need. For example, last Sunday we made a slow-cooker pork roast. I found the recipe on Kitchen Monki, put it in my recipe queue, assigned it to dinner for that day and then made a note that we were also going to have mashed potatoes and some microwaved frozen veggies. I could have put in other recipes for those, but I had planned on pulling those items from my food storage. How much direction do y need for instant mashed potatoes and nuked veggies?

The power of Kitchen Monki's meal planner starts to show when you print the menu. After selecting the days (I plan Monday through Sunday), you simply hit “Print PDF” and it will quickly generate a PDF file that includes the entire meal plan, and the recipes. Print that out and you, have the complete meal plan laid out in front of you, including the recipes so you don't have to look the recipe up in online, in a cookbook, or re-decide what to make that evening. It's all in front of you, along with the notes you may have left. This has worked wonders for my family meal planning. Now my wife and kids are getting into the act. Each family member, except my youngest, is cooking good food for the whole family, instead of just microwaving burritos or eating cold cereal.

The next step in the process, and the next jump in the “coolness factor” is the automated grocery lists. Once you've created your menu plan, you can automatically create a grocery list from the listed ingredients. You can do this either by simply printing every ingredient required, or selecting only those ingredients your pantry lacks. What's great is that it will organize the ingredients based on the area of the grocery your likely to find them in. They've even got the layout of a few chain stores to choose from, not just a generic one.

I've got a feeling that family meal planning this way is going to help us save money on our grocery bills. By planning ahead, we're only buying those things we know we're going to use that week. More things we buy will get used before they go bad, simply because we decided to make something else. We can plan our meals around using food storage items and better take advantage of the sale items listed in the newspaper.

All in all, I'm liking Kitchen Monki. It won't calculate the nutritional value of meals (that I'm aware of, anyway), but it is making meal planning and grocery shopping a lot less stressful.

5 Zucchinis

Find the Mormon Foodie on Kitchen Monki.


M Ryan Taylor said...

thanks John for the tip

Angenette said...

I'll give it a go. Thanks.

Michael @ Herbivoracious.com said...

That's pretty cool, John! Thanks for doing such a detailed review. I'll be curious whether it sticks as a habitual way of doing your menu planning after a few months.

John Newman said...

Hey everyone! Thanks for the comments. I suspect I'm going to be using it for a while. Our second week with it has gone pretty well. The only problem has been on days when I feel like experimenting, and getting my daughter to actually follow the recipes! :-)

Actually, those times have turned out to be opportunities for teaching cooking to them.