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WEB REVIEW: Online help for escaping dinner rut and menu freeze

February 5, 2011

I don’t mind buying things, but I hate “shopping” for things.

Even the people I know who like to shop don’t find a lot of pleasure at the grocery store. As hard as the merchandising folks try to create an “Old World market” atmosphere, there’s just no ignoring those giant arc lights on the ceiling and the thousands of products competing for your attention. And if you should be so lucky to be towing three or four children with you … well, let’s just say they can really enhance the experience.

Compounding those problems is the “dinner rut.” Unless you really like to shop and cook, chances are you’ve found yourself standing in the kitchen, wondering what you can possibly make for dinner with the ingredients in your fridge, and soon find yourself making the same thing you made last week, calling the local pizza parlor, or texting your spouse with instructions to pick up something on the way home.

The problem with all of this is that it’s more expensive than it needs to be. And, frankly, it’s a little boring.

But fear not. There are a number of solutions to this problem, including grocery services that will bring goods directly to your house.

Probably the most interesting here in Indianapolis is Green B.E.A.N. Delivery (www.greenbeandelivery.com). The B.E.A.N. in the name is an acronym for Biodynamic, Education, Agriculture and Nutrition, and the company works hard to live up to it. The service provides free home delivery of fresh produce and groceries from local farmers and artisans. It functions as a membership service, where you sign up and create a standing order of at least $35.

This order is a “bin” that you fill with items you’d like to have delivered either weekly or biweekly. A standard bin contains “a healthy variety of organic fruits and vegetables.” It’s a great way to get healthy, organic food year-round while supporting local farmers and minimizing your carbon footprint.

On the “what’s for dinner” side, there are a number of options, as well. One of the best is Epicurious (www.epicurious.com). Epicurious is available online and as both an iPhone and iPad application. Epicurious bills itself as the “first truly smart cookbook,” and it has some features that are really great.

First, the recipes are top-notch (though they tend to lean toward the complex side). You can find something based on category (like appetizers, desserts or even “Super Bowl”), by ingredient, or by searching. You can store your favorites or find new ones based on other users’ ratings.

One of the best things is the integrated shopping list. Simply select the recipes you want to make, hit the “shopping list” icon, and all the required ingredients are compiled on one main shopping list. You can send it to your phone or e-mail, or simply use the application in the store.

I recently found out about a different site called E-mealz (www.e-mealz.com) that bridges the gap, in a sense. E-mealz is an online service designed to help you save money on groceries while still making good, healthful meals. The idea is this: You create an account, pick your favorite grocery store (currently Kroger, Wal-Mart and Aldi are available) and select a meal plan. Meal plans range from meals for two people to families of four to six. There are also plans for those who have dietary concerns and want meals that are gluten-free, low-carb, low-fat, vegetarian or otherwise different from standard fare. Once you’ve made your selections, the site provides a complete weekly meal plan based on recipes provided and cross-referenced with items currently on sale in your store. For example, the Kroger plan is updated every Sunday and takes into account the current sales fliers. The shopping list is customized based on the recipes and your store of choice and then condensed into one page for simplicity.

Even better, the recipes are included on the plan, with simple instructions that even the most inadequate cook could follow.

There is a small fee of $5 a month to be a member, but members report far greater savings by having the meal plan, as well as complete avoidance of the dreaded “five o’clock cupboard stare” and the infamous dinner rut. Give it a try and let me know how it goes. I suspect that both your wallet and your family will thank you.•

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Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.

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