Thursday, July 10, 2008

Meal Planner Software/Website Evaluation Criterion

I've had a couple more meal planner programs added to my list and I will be working my way through their samples, but I wanted to take a moment and outline some of the criterion that I will be using to evaluate them and decide which one will work best for us.

First, issues that can be evaluated outside of their trial:

Access: can I get the information with just a browser or do I need installed software? Will the plans load on the iphone? If so, just the shopping lists and menus or can I do their customization?
Cost: fundamentally, what is the cost of the program? And, does it automatically renew? Give you an option to renew? Send a reminder email before it renews? And for what period of time do you have to make a commitment?
Usability: I know I'm a little fussy, but the ease of use of the site and its presentation really matters to me. Both in terms of being able to do the "meal planning" as quickly as possible and just not being annoyed by a messy site.
Flexibility: Can I customize our plan for the week? Is this done easily? Can I make alterations to the grocery list? Is the flexibility that they offer not offset by an unjustifiable accompanying increase in complexity and time demands?
Responsiveness: I am going to try to come up with a question for each company to see the rate and thoroughness of their response. Hopefully, it won't matter how quickly I can get in touch with them, but it's nice to know just in case.
Additional information: what articles, advice, etc. do they make available, if any? Do I value this or is it just clutter and more to weed through?
Record-keeping: does the site allow me to keep information about specific recipes? Can I rank them with stars? Keep recipes that I liked? Are the recipes only available during their week or do I have access to any recipe that I've received as long as I keep my subscription active?
Other meals: do they have any resources to help with potential needs for other meals? Breakfasts, sack lunches, weekend brunches, etc.?

Issues to be evaluted during their trial period:

Quantity: how does the quantity of food mesh with our lives? Does it seem to lend itself to easily being taken to work for lunches?
Cost: what is the actual cost of the food to prepare the meal?
Variety: good variety of food? This will be a little hard to evaluate with just one week, but it's definitely worth noting even if it's an incomplete reflection.
Composition: does the food style reflect what we like?
Taste: are the meals tasty? Do we like them? Will Trajan eat them?
Side-dishes: I pull this out because I've noticed a different degree of emphasis. Do they include side dishes with each meal that are good selections to be paired with the entree? Do the side dishes help to balance the nutrition out well?
Time: how long do the meals take to prepare? Are they feasible options for preparing after work and still having dinner early enough for Trajan?
Difficulty: how arduous are the recipes? Do they require extensive, specialized kitchen gadgets?

This is a very subjective kind of decision, so I'm not going to set a rubric or anything to use to make the final decision, but I think that identifying specific areas to think about will help to ease the difficulty of the final decision.

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