PROS / Living Cookbook has the most comprehensive meal-planning database available.
CONS / This software does not come with an iPhone or smartphone application.
VERDICT / For the cook who strives for efficiency and organization, this is the best software.
Editor's note: A newer version of this product is available. The manufacturer lists the new version as offering the following features: Facebook style newsfeed, the ability to export recipes to Word, online collaboration, nutrient information for each recipe and more. We will evaluate, rank and review the new version of this product when we next update the Meal Planning Software Review.
Family chefs, professional cookbook writers, nutritionists and even professional caterers and restaurant owners can benefit from the best meal planning software. We found Living Cookbook to be the best database software by far for organizing recipes, ingredients and menu plans, and it has earned our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award.
This software is exceedingly flexible, and it is perfect for those who want to manage their personal recipes as well as those who need to create meal plans that satisfy specific dietary requirements. It can also be used for professional purposes such as managing a restaurant’s inventory and recipes or creating menu plans and scaling recipes to any size, which is especially useful for caterers. To make your life even easier, it can store recipes and menu plans and create shopping lists.
Meal Planning Features
Living Cookbook is just the right solution for the cook who aims to be highly organized and efficient. It can plan meals with a calendar that you can drag and drop recipes into. You can also copy menu plans and move them to other days of the month. The menu plans are dynamic in that the software automatically links recipe names to the recipe files, and it can compare your inventory to your menu plans to create shopping lists with estimated costs.
For the purpose of this review, we concentrated on the menu and meal-planning features. Here are a few of Living Cookbooks menu-planning tools:
- Create menu plans with images, headings, video, audio and source information
- Scale menus to any serving size
- Calculate a menu's per-person nutritional values
- Share menus with other Living Cookbook users or by email
- Organize menus in folders and subfolders with types and categories
- Include tips such as wine pairings or serving suggestions
Living Cookbooks also has excellent meal-planning tools, including:
- Nine meal settings, such as breakfast, snacks and night cap
- Organize meals into courses such as appetizer, main course and dessert
- Meal calendars support customized fonts, colors and headings
- Estimated cost and nutritional values for individual meals or groups of meals
- View meal calendars by month, week or day
This meal planning software also does much more; in fact, in terms of organizing your recipes, ingredients, menus, meals and shopping lists, it is one of the most capable databases we have seen. It has powerful search tools, supports all file types, and can import recipes, create printable cookbooks and much more.
Living Cookbook has the best grocery list and shopping tools we have seen, it can create lists from recipes and menu plans and compare grocery list items to what you have in your pantry. This meal planning software can manage grocery lists for multiple stores and organize your lists into aisles. Living Cookbook is one of the only applications we reviewed that can manage on-hand kitchen inventory. For example, most software can create lists but then it will ask you to exclude or check off items you already have. But with this software you can enter in your inventory and amounts will be deducted based on the recipes you cook and then when you create your meal plans it will check available items against the recipes to create shopping lists of only the items you need to purchase. You can also set inventory minimums, so when you reach a set limit, such as five pounds of flour for example, it will alert you that you need to stock that item. The only thing we would really like to see Living Cookbooks add is mobile tools, such as an iPhone app for taking your shopping lists on the go without having to use your printer.
The newest version of Living Cookbook has some extras that make this meal planning software more compatible with multimedia so you can create recipes with images, audio and video. It can even accept images directly from digital cameras and scanners. In fact, you can attach any file type to a recipe, such as an Excel or Word file.
The software can pull recipes from the internet and include source information such as URL, author, copyright information and author notes. Additionally, you can share recipes in a variety of ways. You can send recipes by email or print them to various paper sizes including US letter, legal, A4, and 4x6 and 3x5 index cards. Living Cookbook can publish cookbooks for retail or personal use. It can create cookbooks with tables of contents and indexes using the fonts, colors and layout of your choice, or by exporting the information to a Word document that you can send to a professional publisher.
Ease of Use
There is a bit of a learning curve for using this software to the fullest of its capabilities. However, just watching the videos on the Living Cookbook website showed us some good pointers. For example, there are a few shift-click and ctrl-click commands to learn, but in general, if you are familiar with the quick-key commands in Word, you should be able to use this software easily.
We most enjoyed the drag and drop options. For example, you can easily move recipes and add images this way. You can also utilize the clipboard function to copy and paste images and text into recipes. Living Cookbook meal planning software also includes advanced search tools so that you can find recipes by ingredient, meals or recipe names. Similar to word-processing software that you have likely used, it has a spell-checker, undo, back and forward buttons, search and replace, export to Excel, print and other commonly used functions.
Help & Support
Living Cookbook provides ample support on their website, including training videos, FAQs, a searchable knowledgebase, a support forum and a support ticket system. The help file included with the meal planning software covers more than 475 topics with tutorials. A helpful tool that Living Cookbook provides is the Launchpad that helps new users learn the features of the software. When using the Launchpad, you can see the options and features available in the sections you are exploring, so we highly recommend that you utilize this feature when you first start using the software. They also have an online training section that will help you with the basics such as creating a recipes and links, backup and restore methods, how to search, and recipe display options.
We would like to see telephone support; however, considering Living Cookbook's generous amount of support options and instruction tools, email correspondence should be sufficient in most cases.
With Living Cookbook as your kitchen companion you can easily create meal plans and always know what you have in your pantry. This meal planning software can also share your meal plans and recipes via the internet, email, recipe cards and printed cookbooks, or through Word or Excel. We highly recommend this software to the fastidious cook.