We are often asked if Plan to Eat would ever incorporate some sort of kitchen inventory system into our software. In many ways the idea is really fantastic: Plan to Eat would have an inventory of items already in your kitchen and these items would automatically be removed from your shopping list when getting your list ready to head to the store. It’s as though Plan to Eat would be one step ahead of you to further streamline getting your shopping list in your hand and you out the door.
In fact, we get so excited about streamlining the meal planning process, and this sounded like such a great idea to us, that we have already built it. In early versions of Plan to Eat we had a feature called the Pantry. The idea of the Pantry is exactly what I’ve described above: any item that was listed on your Pantry would not appear on your shopping list with the assumption that you already have it in your kitchen.
For some Plan to Eat users this system worked. However, for many others this caused confusion, incorrect shopping lists, multiple trips to the grocery store, and anything but streamlining. Here is what we found, why we discontinued this feature, and why we don’t think it makes sense to have any form of an online ingredient inventory built into Plan to Eat:
Anytime we remove shopping list items automatically, we are asking for trouble. When things “magically” happen behind the scenes and it is not easily apparent why certain items are kept off the shopping list, mistakes are made. Instead of automatically removing items from your list, we would rather you remove them manually before going to the store. We believe that getting your shopping list 100% accurate, and double checked by you when you check off items you already have, is much more important than getting an incorrect list printed 30 seconds faster.
There is no way for your real inventory and your Plan to Eat inventory to ever remain synchronized. If your Plan to Eat account isn’t perfectly synchronized with your kitchen, the Pantry Inventory system incorrectly removes items from your list, with the assumption that you already have them, when you don’t have them. This is the scenario that will send you back to the store for a second trip to pick up the things you didn’t get the first time.
Whether you are typing in items into the online inventory so that they don’t appear on your shopping list, or checking items off your shopping list, at some point you have to interact with Plan to Eat to tell it what you have in your real inventory. The same work has to be done either way. We have opted for you to tell Plan to Eat what you have by checking items off of your shopping list because (1) it is easier to check items off than it is to type them in, (2) there is less chance of forgetting an item because it is already on your list, and (3) it is more transparent; you know exactly what is coming off of your list and why.
The short of it is that we want you to go and look at your real kitchen before you head to the store. We want you to manually check items off of your shopping list based on what you have in your kitchen. As cool as having an online inventory sounds, and as much as we love automation, looking through your cupboards is the only way you are going to get a 100% accurate list on every shopping trip. And that, will ultimately save you time.