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A simple, ugly, desktop-only web app for meal prepping to count calories.
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README.md

food

A simple, ugly, desktop-only web app for meal prepping to count calories.

drag and drop demo of adding dish

About

This is a web app I made to count calories while cooking my own meals.

It is simple, stupid, and full of rough edges. You have to edit .json files to add ingredients, calories, dishes, and combos. The UI is ugly and updates only through page refreshes. And to use it, you have to run a server locally on your desktop, because there's no login, no accounts, and not even a mobile UI. I made it feature by feature only so that it would be useful for me personally.

And it works. Well, at least it worked for me. I lost a bunch of weight by counting calories, saved money by cooking, saved time by meal prepping (and then spent it working on this app 😊), and improved my cooking.

Usage

Clone the repository, then run

# Serves HTTP on 127.0.0.1:8001
./server.sh

and point your browser to http://localhost:8001/.

Walkthrough

First we'll add a new recipe, some slow cooker chili. Perfect for colder months, and cooking in bulk so you have something to eat throughout the week. Then we'll add a dish (breakfast burritos) to our meal plan for the week.

Adding a dish

Find a recipe on your favorite website or cookbook, and add an entry to data/dishes/dishes.json (the keys are alphabetical for convenience):

"chili": {
    "title": "Chili",
    "mealHint": "dinner",
    "ingredients": [
        "1 tbsp olive oil",
        "2 lbs ground beef (90% lean)",
        "1 onion",
        "6 cloves garlic",
        "2 can diced tomatoes",
        "24 oz tomato sauce",
        "0.5 cup beef broth",
        "2 tbsp chili powder",
        "2.5 tsp cumin",
        "2 tsp paprika",
        "2 tsp cocoa powder",
        "1 tsp sugar",
        "0.5 tsp coriander",
        "30 oz kidney beans"
    ],
    "img": "img/chili.png",
    "recipe": "https://www.cookingclassy.com/slow-cooker-chili/",
    "recipeServings": 5
},

Note that the format for each ingredient is quantity unit thing separated by spaces, and that recipe and recipeServings keys are optional.

Save your (square-ish) image for this recipe in the appropriate folder, like img/chili.png. Now, let's start up a web server and see how many calories it has:

# Serves HTTP on 127.0.0.1:8001
./server.sh

Point your web browser to http://localhost:8001/ and click on the "Dishes" button in the top left, or go directly to http://localhost:8001/?view=dishes. Then find the dish:

chili dish missing onion

The ingredients are divided by 5 because we set the recipe to have 5 servings. But it doesn't know how many calories are in an onion! Let's fix that.

Adding an ingredient

Open up data/calories.json and add an entry (the keys here are also alphabetical, ignoring the [shopping] prefix):

"[produce] onion": [
    [30, "0.5 x"]
],

The format here is:

  • [produce] — This prefix is optional, and can be any string that looks like [.*]. It's for if you later export all of your ingredients to a Reminders (the Apple app) shopping list, which auto-sorts items alphabetically. Having this prefix lets you hack it to organize your ingredients by grocery store section, so you're not constantly scrolling around your shopping list. (Shopping lists for a week's worth of meals can be huge.)

  • onion — Ingredient name. Be careful with plurality (onion vs onions), because ingredients are matched to dishes using simple string matching. I try to consistently use singular.

  • 30 — How many calories are in the upcoming serving

  • 0.5 x — The serving. Format is quantity unit with a single space in between. (Edit KNOWN_UNITS in src/food/constants.ts, and UnitStandardize in src/food/conversion.ts, to add more unit options.)

The app knows how to convert between different units for weight or volume. You can add multiple entires for an ingredient. This is nice if you sometimes measure, and sometimes go by units like cans or slices.

If we check out the app now, it should know about onions and be able to total up the recipe:

chili dish complete

Meal planning

Now let's add a dish to our meal plan for the upcoming week. Click on the "Edit this week" (or "Edit next week") button at the top of the page to go to the edit view. Note that weeks begin on Mondays.

There are three ways you can edit weeks from this view:

  1. Edit or copy in a template, which is a pre-made week plan. I won't cover templates in detail here, but templates behave like normal weeks. Create them by making .json files in the data/weeks/templates/ folder, and running the scripts/generate-templates.sh script to build an index of them.

  2. Drag and drop a combo over to a meal. Combos are pre-made collections of dishes, which I use as shortcuts to hit calorie goals. You can edit combos in the data/combos.json file. They're just collections of dish names (keys in the dishes json file). This is as much as I'll cover combos here.

  3. Drag and drop a dish over to a meal. This is what we'll showcase here.

Observe:

drag and drop demo of adding dish

To remove:

drag and drop demo of removing dish

That's it! The meal and day calorie totals will update for every dish you add and remove. What's going on under the hood is the dish you dropped is added to the relevant meal in the active week, that week is saved to the current .json week file (e.g., data/weeks/oct21-2019.json), and the page is auto-refreshed.

The bottom of the page houses an auto-generated grocery list and meal prep section for the week:

small grocery list and meal prep section preview

If you need to edit the ingredients that show up in the "Check on Hand" section, edit BULK_THINGS in src/food/constants.ts (and don't forget to compile!). I use this for ingredients like spices and oils that I rarely have to buy.

Developing

This project is written in Typescript. The source files are in src/food/, and the app is built to a single file: build/food.js.

If you're a serious web developer, you'll scoff at pretty much everything in here. I bet building (a much better version of) this app would be a great starter project for someone learning React, Redux, Elm, etc. The current version uses pure Typescript, string templates to spit out HTML, page refreshes instead of tracking any state, and a lot of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Notes

Taxonomy

  • ingredient: item with specific calories (e.g., chicken breast)

  • dish: composed from ingredients; produced from one recipe (e.g., chicken pita wrap); to use other dishes as components (e.g., chicken pita wraps that use chicken marinade), must turn a dish into an ingredient; simpler composing is to use multiple dishes.

  • combo: composed from dishes; aimed to reach a specific calorie goal (e.g., chicken pita wrap + baked Brussels sprouts).

  • meal: composed from dishes; linked to a particular day and time; abstractly, identical to a combo in that it is simply a set of dishes, but semantically a combo is an abstract collection of dishes, and a meal is a set of dishes set to a particular day and time of eating; note that a combo can be dragged onto a meal, but this simply transfers the set of dishes, not the concept of a "combo."

  • day: composed of up to seven meals: breakfast, morning snack, lunch, snack, afternoon snack, dinner, evening snack; by default, empty days are auto-generated with just three (breakfast, lunch, and dinner); linked to a calendar day

  • week: composed of seven days, Monday through Sunday; linked to a calendar week

Combos fill the gap between turning recipes into ingredients and dishes (low level), but doing my weekly meal planning by caloric goals and how much meal prep I need to do (high level). Why templates? Read on.

Why templates?

Doing a full week of meal planning takes a long time because of trying to

  • re-use ingredients throughout the week
  • account for ingredients you already have
  • account for packaging (e.g., 1 lb beef, 2 chicken breasts, loaf of bread, 6-pack buns)
  • account for timing (e.g., exercise mornings w/o cook time, leftover save lengths)
  • account for saving (meats, many vegetables, and premade salads don't last the week if bought on saturday beforehand)

Plus, you can try more time saving strategies:

  • cooking in bulk so you're not cooking dinner from scratch every day (e.g., stew)
  • having to-go or premade breakfasts or lunches (or both), so you don't have to prep both

Designing weekly meal plans that balance all the above factors is surprisingly difficult and time-consuming. Templates let you to pre-design week plans ahead of time. You can, e.g., design the meals around themes (e.g., mexican, asian, american, etc.) to encourage ingredient reuse, and take into account ingredient quantities, some bulk prep, and faster breakfasts or lunches. I like to plan in a blank slot for 1 new recipe to try on the weekend. Note: It's helpful to do this on paper / a spreadsheet to figure out the high level plan, and then work out the actual recipes, ingredients, and calories later. I think figuring out both the high level and low level plans at the same time is what makes this exhausting, and makes being creative difficult.

Features that won't be made

At this point, my journey with this app is complete. It's served me well, but it does most of what I need, and frankly I think I've spent enough time on it. But I'm going to include here some pain points based on using the app all the time. Some are obvious, but some interesting ones aren't (at least they weren't to me). (There's probably a whole essay to write here about feature lists being relatively easy to throw together, but the really critical ones won't be discovered unless you are deep in the workflow of someone using the app.)

Obvious:

  • UI for adding and editing ingredients, dishes, combos, templates, bulk items, and known units
  • updating the UI without refreshing
  • mobile UI
  • UI for adding the distinction of cooking m servings of a dish but only eating 1 of them per meal (this is possible in the .json)
  • UI displaying some kind of "trash" symbol when taking dish out of a meal on the edit page
  • a UI redesign by a legit designer
  • you can't click on recipe links in the edit view (the most useful view). This is intentional, because otherwise tooltips block you from selecting other dishes. So you have to go to the "dishes," "week," or "day" view to look at the recipe. This could be mitigated by, e.g., clicking on a dish to keep its tooltip open.
  • logging in, saving data somewhere that's not in the git repository
  • importing recipes
  • auto meal planning

Less obvious:

  • A combo should have a name and be given its own "meal prep" tag. The way meal preps (rendered in templates and the "Meal Prep" section) are organized right now is per dish. But this is the wrong abstraction. A single "dish," as it stands, could be used for different combos, which means a single meal prep tag per dish is inadequate.

  • Dishes should be able to refer to other dishes. Right now it's awkward to use a dish (like a chicken thigh recipe) as a component of another dish (like naan wraps that use the chicken thighs). You have to either make it an ingredient, or combine them in a combo. This leads to awkward combos where you have a mixture of dishes and ingredients. For example, an "overnight oats" recipe has three "dishes:" overnight oats (oats, milk, yogurt, salt, etc.), peanut butter (really an ingredient), and banana (really an ingredient).

  • Some kind of "toppings" section for ingredients. The use case is making a combo out of a dish (like chili) plus toppings that aren't dishes (like sour cream, onions, cheese). The ingredients could be grouped into a toppings section within the combo. You'd want to be able to scale the ingredients easily, too. The reason you want this is you might want to keep the base recipe the same, but modify the toppings for different meals where you have different calorie allowances.

  • Shopping mid-week. I'll plan fish for the weekend, because that way I can buy it when shopping on the weekend and cook it right away. But the way the meal planning is setup, weekends are at the end of the week, and the grocery list is generated all at once for the whole seven days.

  • Making the app aware of food aging. Pre-packaged salads have a limited lifespan. Once mixed, salads can't be saved easily. Beef and chicken can probably sit uncooked all week, but fish can't. Once cooked, meat probably should be eaten in a few days, not six.

Misc

  • Where is all the data saved? — Why, in the git repo itself!

  • Why are there multiple dishes files? — The app loads the main dishes file as your "menu of options," which means you can keep the dishes you actively want to consider there. But you can keep any number of additional dishes files which the app will load and know about when they're in a week plan. The purpose of this is to encourage you to tidy out dishes from your active collection that no longer spark joy, but still be able to know their calorie count if you're eating it this week.

Screenshots

preview of food app edit page

preview of grocery list preview of week view preview of dishes view

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