Thursday, September 1, 2016

Meal planning apps - Pepperplate and Big Oven side by side reviews

As I mentioned last month, I wanted a meal planning app that would help me make grocery lists. I googled a bit and found Big Oven, and tested it out. I was pretty happy with it and you can read more about my experience with it here.

I was planning to go on with Big Oven but a couple commenters mentioned Pepperplate and I decided it seemed only fair to try that as well so I started playing around with it right away and used it to help plan meals and grocery shopping while I was up north with my sister (I was cooking meals for us and trying to get their freezer stocked up a bit, so there was a lot of grocery shopping!).

Pepperplate is similar to Big Oven in the sense that it's a meal planning app that syncs across your desktop and mobile devices. You enter recipes (or clip them from websites) and then Pepperplate allows you to choose which recipes you want on which days, and creates a shopping list for you.

Let me admit upfront that I've only scratched the surface of these apps the last couple months, so if you have been using them for a while and have feedback, feel free to correct me! Here's my impression of the two apps (sorry this is so long winded but you know how seriously I feel about meal planning!).

Big Oven vs. Pepperplate

Big Oven vs. Pepperplate

Entering recipes: Both apps have a large upfront time cost. You have to get all your frequently used recipes uploaded and it takes a while. I did all this upfront work on my desktop computer. Both sites claim that you can clip recipes from websites with compatible formats, but I found that most blogs aren't compatible, so you end up entering recipes by hand a lot. Big Oven has the edge here - I found that they can pull from more websites and if they can't pull, they have a nice feature that pulls up the text from the page you're looking at and places it side by side with a manual entry screen so you can quickly copy and paste everything for entry. Pepperplate just gives you an error if it can't pull the recipe, so you have to go back and forth between the page with the recipe and their manual entry page, copying and pasting. For both apps, once you get your most frequently used recipes entered, life gets a lot easier. Anytime someone mentions a recipe I should try, I can quickly enter it and then it'll be there next time I'm meal planning. Previously I would usually forget about recipes people had recommended by the time I was planning the next month's meals and it was easy to end up in a rut. Edge: Big Oven

Meal planning: Both apps have a calendar function that allows you to choose recipes from your collection and add them to a particular date. You could plan breakfast, lunch and dinner if you wanted (I generally only plan dinner). Which is better for meal planning? Pepperplate's interface looks nicer, but you can only see one week at a time, as far as I can tell. This is frustrating to me since I want to plan a month at a time and I'd like to see all four weeks on my screen at once. Big Oven allows you to see the full month, which I love. Big Oven also has a nice feature where when you look at the meal planning calendar all your recipes show up in the side bar and you can quickly drag them over to the calendar. Pepperplate, on the other hand, has you click on a calendar date and then start to type the name of the recipe you want. As you're typing it quickly pulls up any recipes that match the name (so you don't usually have to type more than a few letters). This looks much sleeker but because my biggest issue during meal planning is thinking of what recipes I want to use, it would be nice to have them all laid out on the sidebar. I use a little workaround and have my recipe list open in a new tab and I scroll through it to choose recipes and then go back to the calendar tab to enter them. Edge: Big Oven

Grocery lists: Both apps will generate a grocery list for you based on your meal planning. Big Oven has a nice feature that allows you to scale recipes up or down and then has you review each recipe to deselect ingredients if you already have them. However, Pepperplate is the big winner here because of one crucial feature - you can create custom "aisles" for grocery items. This makes Pepperplate a million times better for me because I shop at different grocery stores for different things. I only buy meat at Whole Foods, I get most of my cheese and frozen stuff from Trader Joe's, I get fresh produce from the local ethnic market. With Big Oven, I would have the app generate the list for me and then I would write it all out again on paper so that it was categorized by grocery store. This still saved me time and headaches, but with Pepperplate I can do that all virtually. I created my custom "aisles" and then specified which categories should go in those aisles. This gives me a pretty well categorized shopping list right out of the gate and then I can quickly move items around or add in items the program couldn't categorize. It's really lovely, especially because it means I can just use the list on my phone instead of carrying around the paper one. Edge: Pepperplate

Cost: Pepperplate is free (they have ads on the desktop interface but I've found them unobtrusive - I had to check to confirm that they did because I couldn't remember noticing them and I couldn't figure out how they are making money - still not really sure what their business model is). Big Oven is free with ads and certain limitations on how many recipes you can upload. Upgrading to a Pro membership is inexpensive ($2/mo or $20/year) and gives you no ads + unlimited uploads. Edge: Pepperplate

Again, I do all the set up and actual meal planning on my desktop computer and use my phone for pulling up the grocery lists or the recipes.

Small feature that Big Oven has that I really appreciate - when you're looking at a recipe in the app, your phone doesn't go to sleep. It drives me a little nuts when I'm cooking and constantly having to unlock my phone because it times out while I'm chopping something. I don't want to tinker with my lock screen settings all the time so I just live with it, but it's so nice not to have to deal with it.

So after all this, it seems like I should be choosing Big Oven, right? Actually I'm leaning towards Pepperplate. The main reason I wanted a meal planning app was to generate my huge grocery lists and the advantage of being able to customize my list outweighs the fact that I can't see a whole month laid out at one time (and who knows - maybe they'll update that at some point in the future?).

If you have any questions, or feedback of your own, leave it in the comments!

FYI - I'm not doing my standard monthly meal planning post this month because it's going to be a little nutty for us and I'm taking it week by week and being flexible (and acknowledging that September can be our hottest month and I might not want to cook much). But I'm going to be excited to get back into it as the weather cools down (fingers crossed) in October.


  1. Ah, this is so helpful! Thank you and good luck with hugs from Moscow :)

  2. Rachel,

    I would love to see an app you designed for this! Both of those apps seem clunky and don't have the aesthetic appeal of so many of your projects. Of course it would be a bit nutty but there are lots of companies that would outsource the hard coding for you.... I would buy it!

    Secondly, have you ever tried a service like Blue Apron? How does it compare to your routine?


  3. I use might want to try it out. It's a great list app to use on it's own, but it's already great for savings recipes and meal planning. There is a free version, but I will say that the paid version is much better and has more features. They also update it fairly frequently with very helpful updates. And aesthetic-wise, it's very pretty. :)


Trying captchas this time - better or worse than having to log in to comment? Let me know! Sorry for all the hoops but the spam has been terrible lately!