For your meal planning and shopping list needs. Mostly.
Families all across the first-world struggle each week to decide what to make for dinner. And on top of that, they have to make a shopping list. The whole ordeal is a nightmare, which leaves me content with my college student grab-and-go means of getting meals. But alas, families and individuals everywhere want an easier way to deal with the convenience that is the grocery store. This is where Food on the Table comes in.
There’s no shortage of meal planning or shopping list apps on the App Store. A search for “shopping list” returns over 1,400 results, for example. Even the fact that Food on the Table automatically builds a shopping list based on the meals you select doesn’t really set it apart. Ziplist, for example, is another app right in the same vein as Food on the Table.
Where Food on the Table seems to shine is in recipe collection. There’s a very extensive database on hand. Users can browse recipes from various web sources, or by category. When viewing a recipe, it can easily be scaled for 1 - 8 servings. All the conversions are handled for you. Recipes added to the “meal list” can be assigned to days and voila! Weekly meal plan all set. A shopping list is populated and categorized for you. Each item even notes the quantity you need.
What it won’t do, however, is track what you already have on hand, so you’ll still have to do that by hand. There are other apps that do this, but I’ve not heard of one that seems to do it very well. When it comes down to it, keeping a full inventory of your pantry requires a lot of work. Most people are probably better off checking the cabinets every time they build their list. Shopping lists can also be emailed if you want to print it later or simply share it.
And that’s all there really is to Food on the Table. A massive catalog of recipes, weekly planning, auto shopping list creation. It can also track sales at your nearby grocery stores, and remind you to check your list when you arrive to the store, so there’s a bit more to it than just meal planning. It sounds wonderful, and works rather well. It’s quite good and a great value for a free app. But what you’re really getting into with Food on the Table is a service, and to really use it is going to cost you.
There isn’t a requiredment to create an account to use the app, but the option is there. It adds benefits such as favorite recipes as well as recipse suggestions (complete with dietary restriction filtering). With a free plan, however, you can only build a meal plan for 3 days. This does mean that you can plan your meals 3 days at a time, email yourself the shopping list, clear the meal plan then repeat, but that’s a serious pain in the ass. To unlock the full feature set, you’ll need to subscribe to the service. And it’s not cheap.
There are three payment options. You can purchase the service in 3, 6 or 12 month increments for $30, $48 and $60 respectively. Obviously that means paying for a full year up front is the most cost-effective option, and for $1.25 / week it’s a great service, but there isn’t a ton that’s added. With all the paid plans you get 5 meals a week because, apparently, you don’t need to plan meals on the weekends. The app does deliver suggested weekly plans, though. Presumably it learns based on your habits to deliver better and better suggestions but that isn’t made abundantly clear. Theoretically it gets good enough to practically decide meals for you week after week but I doubt it works that well.
Another short coming I see is that it doesn’t go so far as to plan individual meal times. There’s no breakdown for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It seems to be tackling dinner and that’s about all. For a paid service it would be nice to see something more comprehensive, even if those extra features were offered at a slightly higher price. As it stands, planning 5 meals a week for me is a tough sell, even at just $1.25/week. If it can’t plan every day of the week I’m a lot less interested in paying for it. Also noteworthy was the slow performance of the app itself. Granted, there’s a lot to it, but it frequently felt sluggish as I navigated my way through it. Not unbearably so, but there were a few moments where I wasn’t certain it was doing anything for a second. On newer hardware it’s probably better, but the 4S isn’t exactly a slowpoke.
Overall, Food on the Table is pretty good. The shopping lists it generates are well organized, very specific, and can easily be emailed (where they remain nicely formatted, even). It’s able to fetch recipes from a very large pool and presents them quite nicely on the iPhone. A better combination maybe a comprehensive meal planner on iPad (or web) while the iPhone app serves as a dedicated shopping companion. Given how much is at hand, the app is far from terrible. But unless you can live with planning a mere 5 days at a time, even if you’re shelling out $60 a year for the service, its usefullness quickly diminishes. Food on the Table is far from your worst option on the store, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something better is out there.
Food on the Table earns 3/5 piles of poo.