Using Paprika for Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping

Most of the time, I prefer to talk about free computer programs and smartphone apps that are useful for me financially, but today I’m going to make an exception and talk about a paid program – Paprika.

(It costs $4.99 for smartphones and tablets and has a $19.99 desktop version for Mac (with a Windows version coming shortly). Here’s a link to the Mac version, the iPhone version, the Android version, and the Kindle Fire version.)

For those of you who have been reading The Simple Dollar for a while, you know that one of the most effective ways to trim food spending is to have a clear system in place for grocery shopping. A good system takes into account what’s on sale and helps you build a meal plan for the week and build a grocery list from that meal plan. Here’s our six step plan along with some tips for making it work with a busy family:

Step 1: Get a Flyer
Step 2: Find Sales on Fresh Ingredients
Step 3: Do Some Recipe Research
Step 4: Create a Week-Long Meal Plan
Step 5: Make a Shopping List from the Meal Plan
Step 6: Go Grocery Shopping – And Stick to Your List

This has been our procedure for years now, dating back to at least 2007 when I first wrote about it. We follow these steps on a (roughly) weekly cycle.

So, where does Paprika fall into all of this?

Paprika is a recipe manager that is integrated with a meal planner and a grocery list generator. It completely covers steps three, four, and five on this list in a single application. In fact, I do most of my preparation – steps one through five – at my computer, then do step six at the grocery store using the Paprika app on my phone.

Here’s how it works.

Building a Recipe Collection

The first thing you need to do is build a recipe collection within Paprika. You can manually enter traditional favorites if you like…

Entering a recipe into Paprika

… but you can also use a web browser to find recipes from websites and have them stored in Paprika with just the click of a button.

Paprika's web browser

Whenever I’m hungry for something new, I’ll visit some of my favorite food websites, like Vegetarian Times, and stick interesting recipes into Paprika by just clicking the Add Recipe button.

Later on, if we make the recipe and like it, I’ll give it a five star rating to indicate it’s a recipe we’ve made before and liked. If we didn’t like a recipe, I’ll just delete it, so if I see recipes that don’t have a rating, I know that they’re new ones for us. In a given week, I try to mix up the old and the new (if I can).

When I first gave Paprika a shot, I did find the recipe entry to be a daunting task as we have a full recipe box and a bunch of cookbooks with bookmarks jammed in them in various places to highlight recipes we’ve enjoyed in the past.

While I still haven’t moved everything over (I usually do five or ten or so at a time every once in a while), I’ve added enough that, along with the online recipes, this has really become an essential tool and it motivates me to move everything we have in there.

One useful strategy for moving over recipes to Paprika is to search for similar recipes online, add those recipes, and then edit them to match. I’ve found recipes very similar to some of our old favorites online, which means I was able to add those recipes and just slightly edit them to match ours.

Anyway, once you have a healthy collection of recipes in there, you can start using Paprika as part of your meal planning routine.

Recipe Research

The first thing I do each week before grocery shopping is to dig through our grocery store flyer looking for items that are on sale (I usually just pull it from the grocery store website). I particularly look for cheap produce and frozen vegetables.

As I find on-sale items, I pull up Paprika and just search for those ingredients:

Ingredient search

This lets me quickly find recipes that match ingredients that are on sale. Just by touching (or clicking on) a particular recipe, I can see all of the details about it. I can then easily add it to a meal plan for the week as well as add the ingredients to a grocery list.

Meal Planning

The app includes a very nice meal planning system where I can enter what my family is having for their meals for each meal of the week. When I’m looking at a recipe, all I have to do is touch (or click on) the little calendar icon above the recipe to add it to the meal plan for the upcoming week.

Paprika meal plan

Typically, I do this in conjunction with my personal calendar so that I know what nights are busy with things like taekwondo practice or piano practice or committee meetings so that I can pencil in simpler recipes (or make-ahead recipes) for those nights. If a recipe is more complicated, I might insert it into a night with fewer demands.

Grocery List

Right next to the “calendar” button on each recipe (which lets you add that recipe to your meal plan) is a “list” button which lets you add the ingredients of that recipe to your grocery list.

Paprika grocery list

My usual tactic is to add all of the ingredients for the recipes I’m making for the week to my grocery list, then I go through our pantry and check off everything that we already have before I go. This also gives me a chance to check on staples that we always have on hand in case one of us gets an urge to bake or a child needs a snack for school or something like that.

After that, I head to the grocery store. Because of the prep work, my grocery list just happens to be full of items that are already on sale at the store, ensuring that I’m paying low prices, and by simply having a grocery list I can stay on task at the store without getting distracted, reducing the number of impulse buys that make their way into my cart. The end result is a much faster and much less expensive grocery shopping trip.

Other Features

Paprika offers several features that I either don’t use or only occasionally use. Two of them are very tempting to me and I intend to migrate toward using them in the future.

One feature is the “pantry” section, where you can maintain a list of items that are already in your pantry. This would mostly be useful for me in terms of keeping track of herbs, spices, and seasonings, because I’ll often add those items to my grocery list simply because I can’t find them quickly during my “pantry review.” A clear list of what’s on hand would be really useful.

Another feature is the “menu” tool, which enables the planning of multi-recipe meals. Almost always, our family meals consist of one main entree and a very simple side dish or two – usually seasoned vegetables prepared in some very simple way. If I’m feeling ambitious, I can use the “menu” tool to combine several recipes into one entry in our meal plan. For example, I might want to include both a stir fry recipe and a fried rice recipe as one entry.

Final Thoughts

I’ve tried a number of recipe management programs and they’ve never clicked with me for a few reasons.

The biggest reason is that entering recipes was prohibitively difficult. Entering all of my old recipes is still a pain with Paprika, but the web browsing tool makes it much easier to pull in recipes from the web and by using the “trick” of pulling in similar recipes and just editing them a bit, it’s not as time consuming as it once was.

The other reasons were relatively minor. For grocery lists, you had to rely on a printer; with Paprika, you just rely on your phone. Some of them were extremely particular about units, sometimes demanding that I use weird measurement systems, while Paprika is pretty open in that regard.

In the end, it’s the nice integration of recipe discovery and storage, meal planning, and grocery lists that has made me a fan of Paprika. I’ve been using it for months and keep adding recipes to it – in fact, not long ago I had to purge several dozen recipes because it was so easy and tempting to add them (even when they weren’t really realistic for our kitchen or our family’s tastes).

The biggest drawback with Paprika, in my opinion, is the cost. It’s the one thing that holds me back from giving the software a giant endorsement. My suggestion is that if you have a smartphone, try using the mobile version first as it’s only a $5 investment, but if you find yourself actually using it a great deal, get the desktop version as a supplement because it makes recipe entry so easy.

For us, it’s a hit because it works so smoothly with our meal planning and grocery shopping routine. It has enabled us to keep up with that routine even on insanely busy weekends because we can do our full meal planning and grocery list generation almost anywhere with full access to our collection of recipes. It’s well worth the $25 to us ($5 for the mobile version, $20 for the desktop).

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