Meal planning can be hard. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, trying out an online meal planner is worth it! Here’s my Cook Smarts review. The Cook Smarts app can help you meal plan better, especially if you have a personality like mine!
Wouldn’t it be great if there were personality typing for meal planning systems?
I’m convinced that personality and lifestyle are the deciding factors for whether one of the multitude of meal planning options out there is the right choice for you.
For Lori, we all just learned that her bullet journal with a real pencil is the right fit for her – but for others, I know you want something more techy (or where more is done for you).
From those that do it all to others where you’re totally in charge and the system is just a tool, you can have as much or as little control as you like when you’re choosing a meal plan system online.
Some have very detailed instructions, others give just a few lines; some are static and cannot be changed and others morph to fit your needs at the click of a button.
The one I’m privileged to share with you today is right down the middle – you get some choices, you get most of the work done for you, and there are some shining star features that I don’t see anywhere else.
I don’t know what personality it’s going to fit, but I bet someone who knows their LMNOP letters will tell me in the comments which ones MB would say are dead on. 😉
Cook Smarts is an online meal planner that I’ve been fiddling with the past few weeks. I discovered Jess Dang’s blog and her heartwarming story of coming to real food when I was looking for pictorial graphics of basic skills for my own members of my kids cooking ecourse. I was so over-the-moon impressed with all the how-to infographics she has on her site that I reached out, we chatted, and we hit it off.
Let’s see if YOUR personality is right for Cook Smarts!
Cook Smarts Review: Features
Awesome Features – Are They a Fit for You?
- Build your meal plan – you are given a recommended 4 dinner recipes per week and you can choose which ones to make or skip.
- Ability to add meals (from the recipe box at Cook Smarts).
- One click to change a meal to the Paleo, Vegetarian, or GF version. (no extra fee for this like other services!)
- One click to change the number of servings – to any number you want!
- Auto-generated grocery list based on your choices of meals.
- Grocery list can be printed as a PDF, emailed to yourself, or viewed in a browser on your phone so you can check off items as you shop.
- One click slide to metric measurements.
- “Efficiencies” – Jess and her team list out what ingredients can be used in multiple meals, how to save time by prepping two-for-one, what you can skip if you don’t like an ingredient/can’t source it, and recommended make-ahead prep ideas.
- Every recipe includes video tutorials for basic skills – these are amazing and really where the system shines. I can see families with kids learning to cook (Ahem!) or rookie home chefs appreciating these soooo much!
- Weekend prep list for anyone who likes to plan ahead. It’s optional, so you don’t have to do it, but how COOL that it’s automatically generated as you add and remove meals (and changes as you increase or decrease number of servings, too).
- Mark that you made the meal so you can remember next time it comes up.
- Review system – you can read what others think about the meal, share your thoughts, or write a personal review that only you can see (for those who like to tweak things and not share).
- Archives of full meal plans with all the bells and whistles back to 2013.
- Thriving community of “kitchen heroes” in a Facebook group. Get tips, share pics, and encourage one another.
- Open list of feature requests – see what others want to see and follow the development team’s progress on your requests!
- MyFitnessPal integration, Weight Watchers Points and Nutrition Facts included with every recipe, including a special Cook Smarts nutrition lesson on what foods have what kinds of nutrients in them! Check this out…
- Integration with Instacart or Freshdirect so that you can order your entire grocery list to be delivered to your door (although it wasn’t working when I tried it). Only available in certain areas.
- Cheerleading! Jess and her team are truly incredible cheerleaders for real food and home cooks, and I actually open their emails (instead of archiving them for later like I do most lists I’m on).
So I’d say that for the kind of person who wants someone to tell them what to eat – but has to retain some control and veto power – this is a great fit. For someone who likes what they like and doesn’t want to try new things, Cook Smarts isn’t quite right.
Cook Smarts Review: Limitations
No system is perfect! Here are a few things that other meal planning systems – you know, probably the ones for other personalities – have that this one doesn’t.
- Cannot add your own recipes into the system.
- No mobile site or special screen to help you follow the recipe without scrolling up and down a lot.
- No breakfast or lunch.
- Cook Smarts is pretty versatile as far as recipe ideas go, but I notice a bent toward Asian meals. Lots of gorgeous veggies and meat though!
- Can’t add your own items to the grocery list that I can tell.
- Can’t keep a list of what you always have in your pantry.
Cook Smarts App
This used to be a limit because they didn’t have one. But now there is a Cook Smarts app! Yay!
Cook Smarts: My Test was a Huge Success
So I’m a bona fide meal plan system #fail and I’m not afraid to say it.
Let me tell you the story of my first recipe with Cook Smarts and you tell me what it says about my personality, m’kay?
I was poking around the site checking out various weekly plans and oggling the gorgeous food photography. I saw a few dishes I liked, thought, “I’m going to do next week’s meal plan for real,” and left it open in a tab.
This of course slows down all the work I do in that browser, but it doesn’t mean I do anything with the tab.
I don’t, and the week passes of course.
I get the email for the next week’s plan and think, “OOoooo, some of those recipes sound great; I’ll go take a look!”
You guessed it – open in a tab again.
But it gets better.
At the farmer’s market that weekend, I see a box of baby eggplants. My family won’t eat eggplant, but I saw a neat pasta recipe on the week’s meal plan that sounded like it would hide them well, so I buy the box.
Do I have my grocery list with me?
Do I know what the other ingredients are in the recipe?
Luckily, I did buy red peppers anyway, which was the other star ingredient in Fusilli with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. (You won’t be able to see that recipe until you sign up for the 3 free meal plans Jess is offering KS readers, and then you can see a preview of it.)
I planned the meal but had to work with the amount of eggplant I had, so I couldn’t use the magical button to increase the servings. Eight ounces of gluten-free pasta just didn’t feel like it would feed the family with any leftovers, so I poured a *bit* more into the pot.
It was difficult for the sauce to cover all the extra pasta I cheated in, which is my fault for shopping on a memory instead of planning (you see the point here, yes?). BUT it was delicious and a very fun divergence from anything we normally eat, and all the kids liked it.
When I told my husband today that there weren’t any tomatoes in the sauce at all, I thought he’d throw his neck out whipping around to see me so fast. His eyebrows hit the ceiling as I said, “Yep, the sauce was totally just eggplant and red peppers.”
“Eggplant, huh?” he queried. “Huh. That was good though…”
I love that I got some unusual veggies into my family! Now…what does that story tell you about my personality?
A New Twist on Batch Cooking
Have you tried batch cooking? It’s one of my favorite kitchen hacks to save time while cooking real food, but my take may be slightly different than the ones you’ve seen before.
Instead of making large batches of food and saving them for later, I batch together kitchen tasks and link one night’s dinner to the next. Think of it as getting a head start on your next meal. The net result is time savings AND fresh dinners every night.
The current trend in meal prep seems to be focused on taking several hours on a weekend day to chop and prep veggies, cook meats, and then assemble the leftovers into a multitude of containers.
This is great if it works for you, but my family gets sick of eating leftovers all the time and I get tired of keeping track of all the containers in the fridge! Plus, spending 3-4 hours in the kitchen on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon is usually the last thing I want to do.
My Real Food Head Start 7 Day Dinner Plan provides a framework for incorporating my technique each day to save time on future meals and even start stocking your freezer if you want, while still making and serving a fresh dinner. The best part is, you use the time you are already in the kitchen – no extra prep day needed!
Here’s a little more about Jess and Cook Smarts:
We’ve been around since May of 2013, are obsessed with meal planning and promise your community a quality experience.
We created this meal plan service because we wanted to help home cooks all over the world:
- Save time and money – there’s no need to search for recipes and make complicated grocery lists
- Reduce food waste – we put together a holistic plan so that you’ll use up just about everything you buy
- Feel more confident in the kitchen – every meal you cook with us is like a mini cooking lesson
See my interview with Jess Dang to learn more!
Disclosure: I received products for my review at no charge, which of course did not affect my opinion in the least. I am an affiliate for Cook Smarts, which just makes a winning situation for you into a win-win but doesn’t change your price.
Meal Planning Resources
Here are the meal planning services (in no particular order) that I endorse for you to pick based on you and your family’s needs!
PrepEar Connected Cooking App (previously Super Healthy Kids Meal Plans)
Try out their freebies (some even have tree trials) to see what fits your personality and preferences!
I’m well known for honest, thorough product reviews…
…and you can always tell a real family has run these products through the gauntlet.
When I review a type of item, I try to review a LOT of different brands! From over a dozen reusable sandwich bags to over 120 natural mineral sunscreens, I’m your girl for straight-up info about natural, real foodie items you’re considering buying.
Click here to see more product reviews and you’ll also love my resources page, with REAL products that have passed my rigorous testing enough to be “regulars” in the Kimball household, plus some other comprehensive reviews. Updated at least once a year to boot the losers and add new gems!