So, I’m guessing that I’m not alone when I say that dinners at my house are rarely Instagram-ready. You know your friends who post drool-inducing photos of every evening meal—each one more complicated, seasonally appropriate, and perfectly plated than the last? That’s not me. In fact, I’m lucky if a week’s meals feature more than two (or, on special occasions, three) recipes. After all, if you know what you like and don’t have loads of time to spend shopping and cooking, it’s hard to find the motivation to mix it up. But after a few weeks of the same butternut squash recipe, your beta-carotene levels may be through the roof, but you’re probably not getting a nutritionally balanced diet. And dinner can easily go from being enjoyable family time to a daily source of stress. Local entrepreneurs Laura and Charlie Moore know what it’s like. That’s why they spent the past three years developing the revolutionary new website, DinnerTime. It’s an unprecedented tool that does your meal planning (and budgeting, and shopping list-writing) for you. And it’s so customizable that your head will spin.
DinnerTime seems like such a common sense idea, and yet, Laura and Charlie and their team of Baltimoreans are the first people to really put something like this into action. The way it works is that when you first sign up, you input tons of information (though it only takes a few minutes). You get to note your likes and dislikes, dietary restrictions, whether you’re concerned about health issues, how capable you are as a cook, and how much time you want to devote to cooking. The system then asks you to choose the local grocery store you want to shop and which day you want to shop and then DinnerTime immediately spins up a week’s worth of dinner recipes for you, based on the information you’ve given. You can spin other suggestions, modify that day’s requirements, pull from a recipe box, and more. You can even send them your own recipes and they’ll add them to your recipe box. The shopping list is organized by department of the store to make it super easy to get through the store quickly and works on a smartphone. After you make each meal, you can rate it, so the system can learn more about what you like and create meals even more tailored to your tastes. Think Pandora for food!
When asked what inspired them to create the service, Laura relates a similar experience to my own: “As a busy working mom, I felt the dull, daily burden of having to figure out ‘what’s for dinner’. I wanted to prepare something fast, delicious, and healthy, and I didn’t want to spend money unnecessarily. I also wanted variety, and to feel competent as a cook. Resorting to takeout, except on rare occasion, didn’t seem like a good option. It made me feel guilty. It’s expensive, and typically not very healthy. Most of all, I wanted a pleasant dinnertime experience for the whole family, including less stress for me.”
Co-Founder Sharon Lacy brought a background in the health insurance industry, says Sharon, “I knew that 75% of healthcare costs are due to behavior: what we do (exercise and smoking) and what we eat. I knew that wellness programs were doing a good job in improving exercise levels and reducing smoking, but had no good solutions in the area of nutrition! So, I was confident that large, self-insured employers would be enthusiastic about their employees having access to a program that enabled real behavioral change around nutrition. And that they would strongly encourage their employees to join DinnerTime and then reward them financially for using the system actively. I was confident that they would recognize that their employees would be saving time and money, having a better work life balance, and also be healthier. Healthcare costs would go down and productivity would improve. And the benefits would be for the whole family!”
Indeed, since the site launched last June, DinnerTime has been rapidly becoming the most popular benefit offered by employers who are creating a culture of good health amongst their employees. User testimonials abound, but Charlie’s was our favorite. Sure, DinnerTime was founded to meet a need for others, but using his own service has paid off even more than he anticipated. “My personal experience is that I’ve lost 25 pounds in the past 6 months due to eating healthier on DinnerTime. I don’t feel like I’m on a diet, I’m just eating more of what’s good for me and less of what’s not so good,” he says. “We did dial the low carb option for our everyday meals. Low carb was recommended to us by the system because we have diabetes in the family. For $3 a serving we’re having salmon and pork chops and steak, and lots of fresh vegetables, because the system automatically takes advantage of what’s on sale this week.”
Oh yeah. As we mentioned before, the website asks which grocery stores you most frequently shop and builds menus around items that are on sale and in season. Concerned about my own grocery bill, I was blown away to see that the cost-per-serving of many of DinnerTime’s recommended meals for me was between $1 and $2. Pretty remarkable. And since DinnerTime is on a mission to help all of us, adults and kids alike, live healthier, happier lives, for the whole month of December, they’ll be making a donation to the Maryland Food Bank for every new DinnerTime member. I know that, thanks to the web, DinnerTime is available to dinner makers and eaters everywhere, but I’ve got to say—I’m pretty glad they’re based right here.
The DinnerTime team is offering all of us in the Baltimore Fishbowl a chance to win an iPad Air or $100 shopping spree at Macy’s! Provide referral code FISHBOWL when you create an account.