Rockwood residents website helps curtail household grocery costs

Savvy shoppers know that saving money at the grocery store is like being a superhero with their budget.

But who has time to peruse weekly ads and plan meals based around what is on sale?

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Judy Hart (left) and Michele Es-Sahb are the mother/daughter duo behind Dinner Dynamo, a website designed to help shoppers save money at the grocery store by matching meal plans with sale ads. Meet Rockwood residents Michele Es-Sahb and Judy Hart, the dynamic duo behind Dinner Dynamo, a website designed to marry meal planning and saving money at the grocery store checkstand.

“We’re looking at the ads so you don’t have to,” said Es-Sahb. “A well-planned shopping list saves the average person about 20 percent on their grocery bill by eliminating impulse buying and multiple trips to the grocery store. It also saves time. And to me, that’s priceless.”

A former marketing rep and event planner, Es-Sahb, 39, made the leap from power suits to stay-at-home mom nearly five years ago. But her vision of play dates with other moms and idyllic trips to the park with her son didn’t work out quite like she planned. It wasn’t long before she realized she missed the challenges from her former working life.

“The isolation was intense at times,” she said. “After three years, I decided I had to do something besides count diapers. I was talking to a friend on Facebook and it just popped into my head — I should do a website for meal planning based on what’s on sale at the grocery store.”

Es-Sahb began investigating the intricacies of small business ownership with an attorney earlier this year. She employed some creative personal financing to get her idea off the ground, hired a web developer and enlisted Hart, her newly retired mom, to help. In August, the pair launched Dinner Dynamo (DD) at the Bite of Oregon.

“We had about 50 people sign up for the free trial, but we didn’t have any follow-up procedures in place to see how the service was working for people after their trial period was over,” Es-Sahb said. “We’re changing that now.”

Here’s how it works. DD features an extensive database of recipes that includes everything from main dishes to desserts. Members establish an account within the site, which sets the parameters for a personalized recommended meal plan using the recipes on the database. For example, if your family isn’t fond of pork, DD won’t include dishes using pork in the recommended plan.

Weekly, Es-Sahb and Hart enter ad circulars from Fred Meyer, Walmart and Safeway. DD matches the database recipe ingredients with those on sale at the store and generates a recommended menu plan for the week, along with a shopping list. All members have to do is hit the “print” key on their computer to receive a week’s worth of meals, using items on sale at their favorite store.

And you don’t have to be Martha Stewart to use the recommended recipes.

“Our criteria was that the recipes had to be family-friendly and on the table in less than an hour,” Es-Sahb said. “The shopping list lets you shop at stores where you normally shop, and you don’t have to go several times a week.”

DD members are not bound to utilize the recommended menu plan, however. A “journal” feature is like a favorites file, where members can save recipes from the database to try or repeat at another time. So if the weekly recommended plan includes Baked Mediterranean Tilapia and it doesn’t strike your fancy, simply change that meal.

“I recommend people look through the database and save ones they would like to try later,” Es-Sahb said. “The journal is also where you can save the recipes your family likes.”

A lot of cooks these days prepare meals with a tablet or smartphone propped on the kitchen counter while they follow the recipe. But have you ever gotten into the recipe’s instructions and had to scroll back up to find the measurement for the ingredient you’re adding? Ingredients in DD’s instructions are underlined — simply touching the item reveals how much to add.

And who hasn’t had a late afternoon text message from a family member asking, “What’s for dinner?”

“You can email your dinner recipe to your teenager and they can start dinner while they’re waiting for you to get home,” Es-Sahb said. “I wanted DD to be a tool for families, so kids could learn about meal planning, budgeting and cooking. DD is designed to be a fun and functional product to help get dinner on the table.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Dinner Dynamos logo represents a superhero in the grocery store savings battle against the Evil Dr. No- Plan. Budget experts all agree that taking the time to compile a weekly meal plan is key to keeping grocery costs under control. DD is a tool, Es-Sahb says, designed to make shoppers a superhero in the battle against the “Evil Dr. No-Plan.”

“Planning meals for the week in minutes, then going shopping and knowing that half the items in the cart are on sale, gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment,” Es-Sahb says. “I imagine it’s similar to leaping a tall building in a single bound!”

More info

Who: Dinner Dynamo

What: website designed to help with weekly meal planning by recommending recipes based on item sale prices at the grocery store; members pay $8 a month or $80 a year for the service; a two-week trial period requires no credit card and provides immediate access to recommended meal plans and recipe database.


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