A few months ago, I wanted to make what I thought would be a simple Mediterranean pasta salad. As fate would have it, I ended up spending several non-planned hours flipping through cookbooks and magazine clippings looking for the recipe. Once I finally found it, I drove off to the local grocery store to acquire the requisite ingredients, only to discover that I’d forgotten the recipe at home. Rather than drive back, I decided to shop from memory, carefully analyzing each item stacked along the aisles so as not to forget anything. But I did. When I returned home, I found something missing among my recently-purchased Mediterranean pasta salad ingredients: THE PASTA!
It’s moments like these in life where you’re compelled to ask yourself: “Are there not better ways?” When it comes to grocery shopping, Smartlife is happy to say, yes, there are.
Shortly after my unproductive grocery-shopping debacle, I started using Firefox’s browser add-on called the Grocery List Generator (GLG) . With this handy little tool, I no longer waste time searching for recipe ingredients, preparing grocery lists, or forgetting which ingredients to purchase. GLG allows me to create, store, organize, and access all of my recipe ingredients and other grocery items electronically. When I’m ready to grocery shop, all I have to do is print the list off or store it on my mobile device, which I never forget!
The best thing about GLG is that it won’t cost you a nickel. You can download it for free (for Windows, Mac, or Linux) from the Firefox Add-ons website (current version is 1.6.1). To install it, simply click on the “Add to Firefox” button and then the “Install Now” button. After that, restart Firefox and click on the pink shopping-cart icon in the upper right-hand corner. You’re now ready start using it.
Now, you may not find the software to be very intuitive at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. Once you do, you’ll find these features useful:
- Share your scrumptious recipes with the world on the Grocery List Generator website.
- Browse through recipes published by other cooks on the Grocery List Generator website, check out their user ratings, and add them to your own GLG.
- Maintain a database of all your favorite recipes and other grocery items.
- Add new recipes — including ingredients and quantities, cooking instructions (2,000-character limit), and photographs.
- Add new grocery items and categorize by super market department type (e.g., fruit & vegetables, meat & meat products, etc.).
- Quickly access all of your recipes (listed in alphabetical order) and grocery items (organized by super market department type).
- Sort your grocery-shopping list to match your super market’s walking route, which can save you more than 15 minutes off the typical grocery run. 
- Generate your grocery list with the click of a button and directly print your list, or export it to disk or mobile device.
Other Tools for Organizing Your Recipes and Grocery Lists
Now, if you’re not a Firefox user, but like the idea of using automated tools to manage your recipes and grocery items, there are other options:
- WeGottaEat.com — This recently-launched website allows you to manage your recipes (using the all-too-familiar 3×5 cards) and shopping lists online — and for free. It also includes a social networking component that allows you to share recipes with other users and to search and discover over 30,000 recipes from cooks all over the world.
- BigOven — This award-winning Windows-based cookbook and recipe software program is similar to the Firefox GLG browser extension but offers a greater number and more robust set of features, which come at cost — $9.95 for the Starter edition and $29.95 for the Deluxe edition. Why would you want purchase BigOven? Besides recipe management, you can also use it for menu planning (meal scheduling) and nutritional analysis. It also comes with video tutorials so you can learn how to cook many of the 4,000 recipes included in the software.
- Ikan Wireless Scanner — This product allows you to scan the barcode of your consumed grocery product and build your grocery list (of items that need to be replenished) automatically for you in your online Ikan shopping cart account. Very cool. (Note: Ikan doesn’t offer a recipe organizer as part of its product or online services at this time.)
- Zeer.com — Zeer.com is a grocery review and food information site that also allows you to build and maintain your shopping lists online. (Note: Like Ikan, Zeer.com also doesn’t offer a recipe organizer right now.)
- SmartShopper Grocery List Organizer — This electronic handheld device helps you make your grocery list through the use of voice recognition technology. Basically, you speak the name of the item or items you wish to add to your list into the handheld device. When you’re ready to shop, you can print off a paper list (with items categorized by grocery department) directly from the device. (Note: This product doesn’t help you organize recipes, just grocery items.)
Tips for Digitizing Your Recipe Rolodex
If you currently organize all your recipes in an elaborate rolodex, or similar paper-based organizer, and turn pale white just thinking about the number of hours it’d take you to transcribe all of your recipe information into a digital format, like Firefox GLG, BigOven, or WeGottaEat.com, here are two options for making this an efficient undertaking: (1) Hire a local assistant at reasonable hourly rate to transcribe your paper-based recipe information into digital form. Or (2) scan images of your recipe cards onto your PC (you can even hire someone local to do this). Then hire a cheap, $6/hr overseas virtual assistant to transcribe the information from the scanned images to your digital format of choice. Whichever way you go, be sure to randomly sample your assistant’s work to ensure transcription accuracy and completeness.
Image credit: atibens / Flickr
Chris Cairns contributed to this post.
-  BigOven