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Wittman: Web can help busy moms plan menus

Each evening, my 4-year-old daughter tells me, “I want lunch for dinner.” Translation: I want a grilled cheese or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And, in my bloated, still working full-time, eight-month pregnant state, oftentimes that’s exactly what we have.

It doesn’t help that my sister-in-law is like the Terminator of menu planning and shopping. Each Friday she plans a menu for the following week and each Saturday morning at 7 a.m. she goes grocery shopping for that menu.

So while her kids are happily eating their vegetables each night at a civilized family table, I’m lucky if my kids aren’t camped out in front of the TV, eating whatever we could scrounge up in 15 minutes or less.

I figure there has to be an easier way and I know I need to find it quick because Baby No. 3 is set to debut in less than a month. It’s not like things are going to get easier. And I know if I plan my menus in advance, we can save money each week on our grocery bill.

To me, easier means something involving my computer and the Internet. So I went in search of software that would help me kill the proverbial two birds with one stone: plan a decent, easy-to-make menu while also preparing a shopping list for me.

I checked out all the usual suspects – CookingLight.com, MarthaStewart.com and BettyCrocker.com.

While each had really great recipes, none had that magic combination I needed – menu planning with a tailored, not generic, grocery list.

Though it’s not interactive, the Martha Stewart site comes pretty close. It offers specific menus along with corresponding “grocery bags.” The problem is Martha’s recipes aren’t generally what one would call “easy.” Plus, many of her recipes aren’t budget – or kid – friendly. While my husband will love tuna steaks, I’d still be making PB&J for my kids.

The Betty Crocker site has a cool feature that lets you input the ingredients you have on hand as well as what type of meal you’re trying to prepare. It will return several recipes that meet your criteria. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t help you plan ahead and it assumes I would be able to get on the computer while two hungry children fight for space in my lap.

After striking out with the free online options, I checked out paid software options.

At $79.95, Dvo.com has exactly what I was looking for. As a bonus, you can purchase “plug-in” software, including Cook’n with Betty Crocker, to give you even more recipes to choose from. (You can also enter your own recipes.) It even has an on-board calculator to help you adjust for the number of people you’re serving as well as detailed nutritional information.

Menus4moms.com also has menu planning software and, at just $7.95 per month, it’s friendlier from a budget perspective. It has many of the same features as Cook’n, but the recipes are more limited.

Romi Carrell Wittman is a writer and the communication services director for Trico Electric Cooperative. E-mail: romi.wittman@comcast.net.

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