Ludwig Wendzich

Why a meal planner?

In 2017 my wife and I did Plastic Free July and later we wrote “Zero Waste” to help people try to live Zero Waste in Auckland, NZ.

We quickly determined that going Zero Waste meant that it was almost impossible to buy meat, milk or cheese. We accidentally became vegans (sort of…big debate.)

We also started a weekly tradition to have a coffee together and go through our budget. We realised that we spent A LOT of money on “Restaurants/Dining” and on “Groceries”. Where was this money going?

And so, we also accidentally became meal planners. Having to be considerate about what we eat (based on what goes into the meals in terms of their impact on the environment) and how much we spent, meant we established this habit of choosing meals for the upcoming week, doing a big grocery/farmers market shop and then making meals at home every evening.

We noticed pretty quickly that we got a number of benefits.

We didn’t eat out as much.

A lot of that “Restaurants/Dining” budget came from not having anything ready-to-go at home. We weren’t consciously deciding to go out and have a nice time. We were going to get takeaways (Zero Waste though, so we did take our own containers!), or just eating out on a whim. This wasn’t adding anything to our lives—but it was robbing us of a significant amount of money every week.

Let’s not even talk about “lunches”.

We didn’t waste as much food.

Before, we’d wander through the supermarket, or the farmers market and “buy stuff”. Before we started meal planning, we’d already developed a sort of mental-model of “Buy these ingredients and you can make these recipes”. This was tough work when we were shopping—and we often got it wrong. We’d forget ingredients and then have to do middle-of-the-week runs to the super to get something. We’d think we had something at home, but we didn’t. We’d end up not using stuff we bought, because we weren’t prepared. This didn’t feel right—and we determined that buying “in-season” didn’t have to mean not having a plan.

We started enjoying cooking a lot more.

The biggest draw of things like Blue Apron and My Foodbag (I believe) is the convenience. You don’t have to have that stressful moment in the evening when you come home, slightly frazzled from work, and go “What am I making tonight? Do I have everything?” That thing with Netflix where you spend ages trying to decide what to watch and then end up giving up happens with your pantry too. You give up, it’s too hard, and you get a takeaway—or go out.

So why not use a service like that?

There are two big reasons why we don’t use those services: Cost and Packaging.

The impact on the environment of these companies can only be reduced so much and no further. The fuel/transport costs of getting these items to your home, the packaging required to make that journey possible, the wastage of the items you don’t like and don’t eat…these things won’t go away. Whether these companies start using recyclable or compostable packaging or not—and, well, they are not even close.

Finally, the cost is ridiculously expensive. We’ve looked—and looked—and looked. Honestly, there are times where we look at some options and go “Well, they’ve tried really hard on the sustainability front, and maybe if we support them…” and then the cost stops us. The mark-up you pay for “convenience” is extremely high. It might be worth it to you—but we’ve found that a Meal Plan, an automatic shopping list and a Click ’n Collect order gets you most of that “convenience” value at a much lower price, with a much smaller environmental footprint.

2017 was a long time ago.

It is. We started meal planning on paper—with recipes saved as bookmarks. And then when we discovered that this meal planning thing was working for us, I created a database (with views) in Notion to help streamline the process.

It’s here, if you want to see it. You can duplicate it, if you use Notion and try the meal planning thing.

The Notion template above will let you create a Recipe Library and assign recipes to a particular day, and then it will also create a Shopping List for you.

So why an app now?

There are things with that prototype that just don’t work as well as we’d like:

  1. The Meal Plan is Monday—Sunday. You can only have one at a time.
  2. Every week, we have to clear out the old recipes from the Meal Plan and add new ones.
  3. We need to manually uncheck all the ingredients from the Shopping List.
  4. The shopping list gave you a quantity, but that was the number of recipes that used that Ingredient, not the number of items you needed. So 2 Tomatoes might mean 8 Tomatoes. We need to learn, or continuously look up the recipes in store to check how many items we actually needed.
  5. We couldn’t easily add extras to the shopping list. You’ll notice in our Recipe Library you’ll find fantastic recipes including “Chocolate” and “Mr Muscle Shower Cleaner”.

We’ve lived with the above issues for a long time. And you can see we found some workarounds. But having to memorise the quantities for recipes, manually clean out everything every week, and having to come up with weird workarounds for pretty common actions (like, we still have a seperate shared note that includes “Extras to buy” when we are at the store or doing a Click ’n Collect) was getting to be pretty “inconvenient”.

Then COVID-19 happened, we couldn’t go to Europe as we planned and I suddenly had a month’s leave I needed to use and do something with. So why not make an app? We knew this was valuable (even if it was just for us). We had shared our Meal Planner Notion template with a few friends who were also using it, so there was something to it. And we’d basically lived with a prototype and knew what the edges were and how we could smooth out those edges.

All I had to do was learn Swift, and figure out how to build and launch an app in a month.

I did. You can download the app here. I’ll write about that month next.