Design My Meals: Out of the frying pan and into the beta

Design My Meals launched its open beta last week, inviting everyone on the web to log on and start cooking. Developed by two working moms, the site has one simple goal: to make putting home-cooked food on the table easier and healthier. Recipe search, ingredient substitution advice, a meal calendar, automatically generated shopping lists, and an online pantry all aid in the logistical battle of mealtimes. Design My Meals also provides customized nutritional information for each recipe based on the biometrics of each member of a household, so that the chef can plan out perfect portions. Finally, to complete the healthy food continuum, the site also has a search feature for finding local Farmers’ Markets, powered by the mobile application Locavore.

The first recipe I loaded up on Design My Meals was for my favorite chocolate chip cookies, neither local nor healthy. After checking all of my real life ingredients into my online pantry, Design My Meals let me know that all I need to run to the store and buy was some baking soda; I would need the run as well.

Viewing the nutritional facts on my home-baked treat, I learned that nearly half of the high caloric content came from fat. This recipe was not for the faint of heart, providing a healthy dose of cholesterol. This new knowledge didn’t stop me from popping them in the oven, but I will be eating these a tad slower and probably sharing them around the Health 2.0 office.

Design My Meals beta is  a solid product but its not as sexy as Massive Health’s latest HotorNot for food, The Eatery, and it joins an already crowded online food app environment. ZipList already tracks recipes and shopping trips, while foodler lets you order restaurant food online without ever visiting the grocery store again. Elsewhere, Foodfolio is trying to bring back the handwritten box of index-card-recipes, put it online and make cooking social again.

Design My Meals as a good concept but it could certainly benefit from some of the technologies we’ve seen at Health 2.0 conferences in the past year. Fooducate’s barcode scanning and foo.log’s uncanny ability to estimate the calories in your meals both provide functionality above and beyond Design My Meals. A feature like Fooducate’s ability to suggest healthy alternatives to a product would dovetail perfectly with Design My Meals ingredient substitution options.

Despite the plethora of options in the food app space, Design My Meals is salient as an online tool that attempts to vertically integrate the entire household food-chain. Instead of treating each step of the food process as a separate health problem to be solved, Design My Meals’ store to kitchen to table approach allows a user to evaluate all their nutritional decisions while they are planning their meals for the week. I would love to say that the beta is “half-baked” due to the lack of features demonstrated by its competitors (and the opportunity to use a bad cookie pun) but, in actuality, Design My Meals already has a robust product that helps put healthy food on the table.

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