The difference between a house and a home is how much you love living there. LaunchPad explores the innovative technologies that help you care for your space more effectively.
I love a good grocery list; it helps me imagine that I am the type of person who is fully in control of her life. A grocery list says, Sure, I may have coffee running down the front of my blouse, but at least I never forget to buy diced tomatoes!
And while there are many domestic tasks with which I struggle — all of cleaning, for example — I am pretty good at buying groceries (not to brag or anything). For years, I have been content with a relatively low-tech system: My boyfriend and I use a shared list through the “Reminders” app on our iPhones. We update it regularly. Mostly, we remember to check things off. It’s a good system.
But am I having the best possible grocery listing experience? Sometimes, I worry. I like things to be the best. Also, sometimes I still forget to buy tomatoes.
As it turns out, there are countless apps that promise to make us all better, more efficient shoppers. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution — one woman’s money-saver is another’s inconvenience — here are a few of the best.
For the Couponer: Flipp
Flipp collects all the current deals from pretty much any market in your area, helping you figure out who has the best prices on what. You can browse the circulars one by one, if you want — this is how I discovered that my preferred dishwasher detergent was on sale — but you can also just make your list as usual, and then let the app figure out if there’s anything you should go out of your way to buy this week. For example, I added “strawberries” to my list, and discovered a 3/$5 berry sale at Target, a 2/$4 sale at Stop & Shop, and a $2.99/package deal at a grocery store I have never heard of.
For the Reluctant Meal-Planner: Mealime
Basic version is free; Pro upgrade is $5.99/month, or $49.99/year
If you like the idea of meal-planning, but are less keen on the execution, it’s worth experimenting with Mealime, which promises to “take the thinking out of ‘what’s for dinner.’” First, you give it some information about your eating habits: Are you vegetarian? Flexitarian? Paleo? Do you have any allergies? Are there particular foods you hate? Would you prefer to make two servings of each meal or four? Then, the app offers you a very appealing Pinterest-like spread of recipes you might like to make this week. I am a snob, but even I can admit that they sound pretty tasty.
Once you’ve made your selections, Mealime generates a consolidated grocery list organized by aisle, which you can add to as necessary. There’s also a paid version that includes even more features, like nutritional info and the ability to view past plans. As it currently stands, you can’t share lists between separate accounts, but multiple people can sign into the same account on separate devices, which, depending on how intimate you are with your co-shoppers, is almost as good.
For the Enthusiastic Meal-Planner: AnyList
Basic version is free; Complete upgrade is $7.99/year for an individual account or $11.99/year for a family account
For me, this is about as good as it gets. I am not alone in this assessment. On the most basic level, AnyList lets you make a good old-fashioned grocery list, auto-sorting the items by category (produce, grains, canned goods, etc.). You can share this list. You can add notes and quantities. You can mark certain items you buy all the time as “favorites,” making it easy to remind yourself that yes, you do need more ginger (you always need more ginger). With the paid “Complete” versions, you can specify which stores certain items come from, and how much they cost. You can sync across platforms. You can even add photographs, which is useful, if you never remember which light bulb to buy, or if your partner is permanently confused about what farro looks like.
Here’s the big thing, though: You can also manage recipes. Not certain recipes, but any recipes. If the recipe is on a bigger-name website, you can (probably) just import it. If it’s a family original, you can add it manually. AnyList saves those recipes in a sortable database, an archive of everything you do make, or might make, or thought once about making. But the critical detail is that you can then add ingredients from those recipes to your shopping list, either item by item, or in one fell swoop. The only downside is that it cannot consolidate those ingredients — if one recipe calls for two cloves of garlic, and another calls for three, it will show them as separate line items. Still, this is a small price to pay for not forgetting to buy garlic at all.
Rachel Sugar writes about culture and food. She lives in New York City.