Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How to inventory your kitchen like a geek, online

I may have mentioned that I have a lot of random stuff in my kitchen. I am distracted by shiny objects, and by shiny objects I mean obscure baking materials in Asian markets. Or types of jam I've never before encountered.

This, paired with the fact that my kitchen is the size of a matchbox, and also paired with the fact that my husband and I often don't get home before 10pm and therefore tend to eat a lot of takeout and simple meals during the week, means a lot of overflowing cabinets.

I've been meaning to do a full inventory of my pantry, fridge and freezer for a while now. Problem is, I'm a geek, and making a list on a piece of paper and sticking it to the fridge just isn't going to do it for me.

I'm seeking a very specific inventory solution with this project:

  1.  I desire not only to maintain an inventory of my pantry, fridge and freezer, but to be able to do so online and across all of my devices. 
  2. I should be able to take notes on items if I want to, as well as associate recipes to said items. 
  3.  I should be able to search for an ingredient and by ingredient type, and easily check off an ingredient when it's no longer around. 
  4. I should also be able to export lists of ingredients to various media (email, apps etc) for shopping purposes.

There are a billion billion note-taking and list making solutions out there, but surprisingly enough very few of them do exactly what I'm looking for. Many are only apps for example, and don't sync with an online system. Likewise there are online systems that don't sync with all my devices. There are TONS of grocery shopping list solutions out there, but strangely enough many don't let you write notes, sort, or associate tags.

Here are a few of the main contenders I've found for this project. Doing this kind of made me go down the rabbit hole as far as task and list management software in general, so hopefully you guys will find this helpful even if you don't desire to inventory your kitchen like a total nerd.

Google Tasks:

Part of my problem stems from the fact that I own both an iPad (which I use for recipe database and cooking) as well as an android phone, and I've come to realize that apple is surprisingly (or, unsurprisingly I suppose) Google-unfriendly. This means using something like Google Tasks for list-making is great for syncing to Chrome and Firefox and Android, but runs you into issues for apple devices, because surprisingly few of them run Gtasks.

If you don't care about appeasing Apple, inventory management in Gtasks works by creating a separate list for each part of the pantry, adding a list item for each ingredient.

This system works just fine if a simple list is all you need. You can easily see what you have, and write a note if you need one.
Gtasks is awesome because its, well, google, which means its integrated with everything from Android apps of every flavor to browser integration and gmail.
Unfortunately there is a lot of functionality missing here. Namely, being able to filter, sort, or tag things. My biggest annoyance was the apparent inability to only display certain lists on the task-list widgets for gtasks on my phone. I want to see my to-dos in g-tasks, not necessarily the fridge list.


I briefly flirted with Evernote, mostly because of the claim of being able to take a picture and searching by any text in that picture, which comes in really handy for recipes. They also have a really nice web-clip extension in Firefox and chrome, as well as being found on pretty much any mobile device.

This paired with being able to tag, search and visually pair notes meant EverNote was initially a contender for this project.

Unfortunately, everything is pretty clunky in practice, particularly in the mobile area. You have to sign in all over the place, stuff doesn't sync properly, and it takes a long time to enter in notes. Also, for some reason it's rather hard to call up notes from the android app that were not taken actually WITH the phone.
I never got as far as a test inventory with this one.


Catch, AKA 3banana, AKA Snaptic, seems a lot like EverNote if EverNote got together with Twitter and produced some kind of horrible elephant-bird hybrid monster.
By this I mean that Catch, like Evernote, is a note-keeper available pretty much everywhere it seems. Its on Android, iphone/ipad, online, and has firefox and chrome extensions. It also has a web clipper, and the apps allow you to add in pictures, bar codes, etc. It seems a lot simpler than Evernote, but also a LOT faster.

Like Twitter, tagging is king in Catch. Tag stuff like you do in Twitter with a hash-tag and search by said hash-tag.

This is kind of fun and (for me) extremely intuitive. I can see where this would come in really handy. For example, I find an interesting recipe online - I can web-clip the recipe and associate the ingredients with hash-tags, which I can then call up to see if I have the ingredients on hand.
I can associate things by their location in the kitchen, their type (canned good, etc), which is nice.
One area where Catch fails for this particular project would be ongoing management of items once everything is in there. For example, if you run out of milk, you would have to search for milk and either change that note to "No milk" or delete it completely, and then add it again when you do have milk.

This is problematic. While I may consider Catch as my answer to Evernote's clunkiness when it comes to saving recipes and random thoughts, I'm not sure if this is going to be the best solution to the kitchen inventory thing.


Powerful program, stupid name.
ToodleDo is another in the cloud, online task-management system that can be found pretty much universally (android, ipad, chrome/FF integration, gmail integration, widgets, etc etc). The Firefox extension is particularly nice, as it allows you to highlight text, right click, and create a task with that text as the note. Pretty nice. There is also VERY deep sorting, filtering, and prioritizing functionality. The UI is kind of ugly, but who cares, really?

I liked ToodleDo so much I talked my work into buying me the Pro account for use outside of this project. As in, like, for work. (I needed a task management system for work. BADLY. I am happy now.)

Actually, the functionality in Pro lends itself pretty damn nicely to the kitchen inventory thing, because Pro lets you create subtasks within a list. For a measly 15 dollars a year, it's worth it.
click to enlarge
Toodledo lets you seperate your tasks into Contexts (Home and Work, very handy), as well as associating  folders for each project and overarching goals.
So, I have under Home context, my Kitchen Inventory folder with a list for Pantry and Fridge, with ingredients as sub-tasks. I've put the priority as -1 negative so that the inventory doesn't show up on my actual to-do lists for Home. I can add notes. I can also sort this any number of ways, or search by tag (you'll notice I have tagged the type of ingredient). I can ALSO put a date on things here, so when my milk expires (Nov 10!) I can, if I want, get a reminder.

These are all just sample inventories to show how I would set things up in each program. I haven't actually gotten around to ACTUALLY inventory-ing anything yet, because every time I do I spend hours in the app store and online to find the perfect program.

I'm pretty sure ToodleDo is the way to go for this for my particular needs, but only because of the pro account upgrade.

I'm actually sad that someone hasn't come out with a really fantastic kitchen inventory solution yet. It makes me wish I was an app developer and programmer, because someone could really make a killing here. Are you listening, Paprika?

Weigh in, if you like - I'd love to hear if there's something better out there.


Michaela said...

Hey Jennifer,
Great post and some solutions to my non-kitchen inventory issues too. I agree, wonder why this hasn't been 'solved' yet? Thanks for directly this my way.

ollie said...

Great idea! You could also include a bar code scanner that monitors everything going in and out of your kitchen

Foodbat said...

I actually have a barcode scanner on my phone that works with a few inventory management applications, as well as with catch and evernote. However, I found that it took a long time to scan and I honestly don't have many ingredients with a bar code, being more of a farmers market and bulk kinda shopper.

I could see where it would be a good solution for others, though.

Ida said...

Wow. You are describing the ongoing project of my spare time for the past 3-4 months. I haven't found anything that does it all either. I use Evernote for all my notes and things I stumble upon online. Catch for all recipes and at the moment GTasks for pantry inventory and meal planning. Will give Toodledo another go though, I think... Would be interested in knowing how you got your barscanner to work with Evernote?

Foodbat said...

Hi Ida,
It would scan, but not list the actual product, just the product number. Not especially helpful.
Apparently Evernote released a new version to the android store with lots of upgrades today, will have to check it out.

Lindsay said...

Ha! This is my newest project and I found your blog via a Google search... I'm mainly looking for a mobile solution, so am looking into a couple of the kitchen-inventory-specific apps like Out of Milk and My Pantry2 right now. I'm giving Out of Milk a try and will bookmark this and try to remember to come back and let you know what I think. Glad to know I'm not the only person thinking about this!

Foodbat said...

Hi Lindsay,
Thanks! There are a ton of mobile solutions for iphone and android - my favorite is OI shopping list, if only because it's free and extremely simple. You can use a scanner as well as simply typing in items. I find that the more steps involved in adding an item - for example, if you have to do a search to add anything - the more likely you are to not use the program long term.

I'd also like to mention Paprika (http://www.paprikaapp.com/) which is a fantastic recipe manager for the ipad/iphone that I have found extremely helpful for organizing recipes.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever find a good app for this?

Foodbat said...

Unfortunately, no. The market (especially android) has changed to the point where it probably warrants another look.

I will say that of the programs in my Original post, I only use Catch on a regular basis. It's multiplatform friendly and extremely easy to use. I use it for note-taking, though, not inventory.

Another great one to look at is TeuxDuex, an extemely simple to-do interface that is now also on mobile platoforms. Again, not for kitchen inventory..

file storage cabinets said...

Found this link while searching Google, thanks

Unknown said...

Have you tried the myKitchen application on the Android marketplace? I've been building it for the last couple of years and does a lot of what you're describing.

I'd love to get in touch and find out how I can improve the experience.

Here's a link to the Google Play entry: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.theredheadproject.mykitchen

Robert said...

For foods that don't have a bar code, what about a DNA reader? And one that can detect the DNA of mold would be very helpful for fridge inventory management.

Okay, maybe not feasible at the moment, but it would be cool.

conchchowder said...

Big Oven

plume said...

In 2013, you could now use softwares and apps for that. Here some of them :

Fridge Pal
Prep & Pantry