Meal Guru is designed to simplify meal planning. This iPad-only app is a menu planner with a built-in cache of recipes. As my family well knows, there are plenty of nights that I have no idea what I want to cook, nor do I have the time or inclination to peruse endless recipe books and archives waiting for inspiration to strike. Sometimes I just want to be told what to cook. Meal Guru promises to do just that.
The user can specify which days of the week that she needs Meal Guru’s assistance, and then customize the ingredient list. One of my first acts was to eliminate mutton and offal from its list of acceptable proteins, yet seeing that the database might include recipes that feature sweetbread or kidney was indirect proof of the app’s potential for breadth.
After removing other ingredients that I thought I might have trouble getting my hands on like glasswort (what is this, Top Chef?), I gave Meal Guru a chance to work its magic. I crossed my fingers and tapped “compose weekly menu.”
Of the app’s 280 recipes, here’s what I got: BLT-sandwiches with grilled sweet potato, pizza with mushrooms and arugula, fish cakes with creamy dill sauce, noodle soup with beef and coconut, Mediterranean vegetable soup, ravioli with pesto and pecans, chicken Tikka with cucumber.
Notably, the user can limit Meal Guru to suggestions for particular days of the week, and specify that the app suggests meat, fish or vegetarian for each night. I said that we wanted fish on Tuesday and a vegetarian option on Friday. This option could be a good choice for users who are trying to eat less meat.
At this point the app lets the user fine tune the suggestions. I don’t eat pesto because I am allergic to pine nuts. With one tap, the Meal Guru suggested vegetarian penne with cheese sauce instead.
Each suggested recipe includes a calorie count as well as an estimated prep time. None of the recipes took longer than 30 minutes to cook. For my week of recipes the calorie counts ranged from 515 to 740 per serving.
The app lets the user continue to accept or reject meals as long as you wish. I tweaked my list a little bit, then hit shopping list. Then I went through the list and removed staples such as olive oil and ketchup that I wouldn’t need to shop for that week.
A user can also choose between Imperial or metric measurements, specify the number of servings desired, and add email address to send the shopping list to, and share recipes via Twitter and Facebook.
Once it’s time to cook, the app has everything the user needs to get dinner on the table. Each recipe includes a picture of the final product. There are four built-in timers, and the user can tap each step of the recipe to highlight which ingredients are needed when.
Users can also give a recipe a thumb’s up (add to favorites) or thumb’s down (never suggest again) to further customize the suggestions, as well as tapping on the recipe image for additional facts about the ingredients. For example, I learned that the putative cancer preventing substances in broccoli are called glucosinolates.
The recipes are divided into 5 cookbooks. Meal Guru also lets you add your own recipes, though this process looked rather tedious since the ingredients and preparation steps have to be added individually. There is no way to easily cut and paste an entire recipe into the database.
There are ten recipes the app flags as “good for picky eaters.” They ranged from standby’s such as Sloppy Joe’s and veggie burgers to slightly more offbeat suggestions including baked bean stew and fish stew with mustard. Folks with really picky children are probably still out of luck, but for the relatively adventures omnivore, Meal Guru is a lifesaver.
Download Meal Guru from the App Store for $4.99.
What I liked: Meal Guru’s recipes drew mostly on healthy, whole ingredients. It suggested meals that included a reasonably wide variety.
What I didn’t like: It was difficult to add my own recipes. The shopping list feature would be improved if the user could go through the list all at once to edit it, and also add substitutions. It is possible to do this just before emailing the recipe. The app also lacks the ability to restrict nuts and dairy, so users with allergies or strong preferences against a particular type of cheese will need to screen each recipe.
To buy or not to buy: Despite seeing the need for a few small improvements, Meal Guru has great potential to help busy cooks broaden what they cook. The app tries to cover a lot of ground, and it accomplishes everything it promises. It’s not perfect, but many cooks will find it enhances the meal planning process enough that it merits a place on their iPads.
- App Name: MealGuru
- Version Reviewed: 2.0
- Category: Lifestyle
- Developer: EMP Company
- Price: $4.99
Part of PadGadget’s continuing series “Get Cooking with iPad“