Sarah Krause
Sarah Krause

I’m embarrassed to say I’m a mom who’s behind the tech times. I don’t own a laptop or iPad, barely check my Facebook page, can’t figure out Twitter, and I don’t have a smart phone. I think the phone is what I long for most. In today’s world, it seems that you can do practically anything on your smart phone – make reservations, watch live TV, edit work documents, keep up with your favorite celebrity, even plan your evening meal. By using the hundreds (thousands?) of applications available (many for free!), the possibilities are endless.

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about Quick Response (QR) codes, those square black-and-white blobby squares that can be scanned with your smart phone. The other day while cutting strawberries for my kids’ breakfast, something on the clamshell caught my eye – a QR code that stated: “It’s a Win-Win! Scan our QR code with your smart phone to enter for a chance to win a $100 gift card or other prizes weekly all year long.” Alas, with no such device, I was forced to enter the “old fashioned way” via the California Giant’s website.

A third of all U.S. mobile phone users have smart phones, so I wondered if any of my tech-savvy mom friends used (or would be interested in) QR codes, as well as which food apps they used and how their smart phones came in handy when shopping or meal planning. I specifically asked them if the idea of QR codes in the produce aisle held any appeal.

“It would have to be practical uses for something that I have no idea about, like cactus leaves, which I’ve seen before but don’t know what to do with them,” said mom, Courtney L. “I’d really want to know how I can cook it and serve it to my family.”

Jenny F. agreed: “It would have to be something I don’t buy that often.”

She echoed the thoughts of many moms I spoke with. Moms are busy people (often shopping with kids in tow), so they don’t want to waste time in any store. They wanted useful info – quick. The number one interest was for more information about unfamiliar commodities. Mostly moms wanted to know: what the product was similar to, how to pick a good one, simple instructions for preparing it (videos even), recipes, and less important: nutritional info. and where it was grown.

As an example, I gave the moms my recent adventure with oca, which no one had heard of. I spotted these red, grub-like items at my local supermarket and was immediately intrigued. But I had no idea what oca was. The produce guy offered even less. “It’s kinda like a potato,” he shrugged. Upon further research at home, I discovered it’s a New Zealand yam that can be boiled, baked or fried. Placing them in the sun sweetens them. So I bought a package and they were a hit. My boys loved them so much they fought over them! I later returned to buy another package.

With that story told, my friends began to relate.

Gina W. said that when she wants something, she’ll buy it anyway, but that she might do a quick scan “to find out how to cook it for tonight or even a good side (dish).”

“If there was a video of someone preparing it, like eggplant or grilled bananas, or even new ways to make stuff I already know about, like spaghetti squash, I think I’d be into that and it would be really helpful,” said Karen P.

“That would be cool,” agreed Susan H. “I’d be interested more in what (an unfamiliar food) might be used for. I used to buy jicama and now I can’t remember what I ever did with it!”

Liz C. hasn’t used her smart phone at the grocery store yet since she selects her recipes before she shops. “Very rarely do I shop on the fly for new recipes,” she said. “But I might be tempted to do it more in the future if I could get coupons (from scanning QR codes) that I could use with my phone upon check out.”

Again, Gen X moms are pressed for time. Erin G. said since she already knows what she plans to buy, like fellow mom of three, Liz, she would find scanning all those codes to be much too time consuming. She, like so many others, relies on food apps to assist with recipe ideas, restaurant suggestions and list reminders for the grocery store. Here, a list of my friends’ favorite apps (psssst, free were the best!): Epicurious, Cooks Illustrated, Everyday Foods, Where, Urban Spoon, Open Table, various wine apps, Paprika and Culinary.net.

While most admitted looking through recipes tended toward a tad more tedious on their phones as opposed to their computers, they still kept several food apps handy. Karen said she liked checking the Nigella Lawson post on Facebook to see “the weird British stuff” as well as comments and feedback on recipes from people around the world.

Personally, I’m awaiting the amazing do-it-all app – do the grocery shopping, prepare the meal, clean up the mess then bathe the kids and put them to bed. A mom can always dream big.