Wondering how to start a food blog? Thinking about switching your site to a fresh, new look? Introducing the extraordinary Foodie Pro theme – a complete review of this feature-packed food blogging theme for WordPress and the Genesis framework. From someone who has used it inside and out.
The current incarnation of my blog (I have changed theme - read my Brunch Pro theme review) has been built using the Genesis framework and the Foodie Pro child theme by Shay Bocks. I have spent quite a few hours (too many hours!) changing over to this comprehensive update of the original Foodie child theme and customising it to get it just how I want. In doing so, I have really had a chance to work out exactly what this child theme offers (lots!) and what its minor limitations are.
Remember, if you have any questions, I'm happy to answer them in the comments!
Foodie Pro theme: Widgetized areas
The first great thing about Foodie Pro is the number of widgetized areas. These areas enable you to place a huge range of different website content and styling into your blog with drag and drop ease. The sidebar, of course, is widgetized, but the theme also includes many other areas that you can easily adapt in this way. Helpfully, this theme also comes with the capability to import all the demo widgets at once (full details available here) which will save a lot of time during set-up.
The homepage has several widget areas for you to play with, which for me was very important. I really wanted a magazine-style layout (see picture above or my homepage), rather than a typical blog-style layout. I thought it would enable my readers to navigate more effectively and access more of my content, more easily. This theme makes this eminently possible.
The footer widget area also has four spaces for you to add things to - I used those spaces for my profile widget, my Kitchen Daily Contributor logo, a social icon widget, a popular posts widget and two adverts. But there are many possibilities!
One of my favourite widget areas, one that has been added in the upgrade, is the Post Bottom widget. I had noticed this feature on other sites - they had adverts and newsletter sign up forms in that precious area at the end of their posts - but I couldn't for the life of me work out how to add these elements there myself. No need to do so with this theme - a Enews subscription widget and rectangle advert now grace the end of each post on my blog, but you can use the space for whatever your call to action is. It's a great place to reach fully engaged readers!
In the process of trying to monetize my blog, it was important to me to include a leaderboard ad in the above-the-fold area. This theme includes a Top Ad widget that I thought would be excellent for this purpose. But unfortunately, this widget area didn't work for me. If you place a leaderboard ad in this area, it sits right in the centre, above your logo and pushes down the rest of the content. I found that distracting.
Luckily, I worked out how to alter the header widget areas. I restored the Header Right Widget that is usual in Genesis themes, moved my logo to the left and placed a leaderboard advert to the right, inline with my logo. It takes some tweaking of the Functions and Style files, but it is definitely possible. I've even written a whole tutorial about how to do it! So whatever widget set up you fancy in your header, it is possible with this theme. You just might need to make some edits.
This child theme comes with the capacity to include a newsletter sign-up bar across the top of the site, styled to match your blog - very useful for generating new subscribers. This needs to be placed in the Top Ad widget area, so as far as I can tell, if you use this function you are not able to place an advert in the area as well. It's also pretty thick and I felt like it was using up too much of the above-the-fold space. Obviously this is subjective. A wider subscription form may make it more visible and alluring to potential readers, but for me it was too much. Instead I use a plugin for this function - Hello Bar. Although the styling options (in particular, the fonts) available with this plugin do not match quite as well with the theme's styling, the settings I chose looked good enough for me and enabled me to display a narrower sign-up bar and show a leaderboard advert where I wanted it. But the choice is yours.
Foodie Pro theme: Featured posts widget
One of the new fab elements of the Foodie Pro theme is the inclusion of its own featured posts widget. The older version of Foodie relied on an outdated plugin, so this update is a major improvement. It is also much more flexible than the previous plugin and you can create beautiful grids of your content in any area that can carry a widget.
This is most useful on the homepage and in the recipe index (described below), but it also allows you to place elegant images arrangements in your sidebar and footer. I love having the capability to display different numbers and sizes of images side-by-side (as on my homepage) as I think it makes the page look a little more interesting. This feature most definitely enables you to do that.
Foodie Pro theme: Visual recipe index
A further great feature of this theme is the visual recipe index. There is a whole, separate widgetized page built into the theme that enables you to display your recipes in visually appealing grids, just like the homepage, using multiple featured content widgets. This is a lovely way to direct your readers to your content, quickly, easily and beautifully.
My only slight reservation is that you can only make one page like this, and I am yet to work out how to code another similar page myself. That being said, you can use the visual content archives (see below for more information) to make category-specific image grids if you set your archives up that way, so this isn't too much of a problem.
There is an alternative type of recipe index you could consider that I built for my site. Because many of my recipes contain multiple components that are not necessarily reflected in the titles and featured images of the posts, I felt unable to include these in the visual index as it would look confusing. Instead I created a text-based recipe index (check it out here) where I could list all the sauce components, for example, from all the recipes that contained sauces under the title "Sauces". In the visual index this would not look right as the picture might not obviously be of sauce. To make things a little more visual, I then added a picture of each type of dish (see above). When clicked on, the page jumps down to the point you can find the appropriate links.
If you have absolutely no idea what I'm taking about, I think a quick look at mine will make it a little clearer. I have written a pretty comprehensive tutorial about how to build one of these pages yourself, so if you fancy it, there's help available!
Foodie Pro theme: Visual content archives
The new customisable content archives available with this upgrade are also a fantastic improvement. Content archives are the pages that are generated and displayed as search results or when a category or tag is clicked. You have many choices with this theme about how you want these pages to look - traditional image/title and image/title/excerpt or customisable visual grids as for the homepage and the recipe index. In the end, after much experimentation, I reverted to using the more traditional image/title/excerpt, but this was only because some of my categories do not have that many posts associated with them and those pages, when displayed as a grid, looked a little spartan. For blogs or categories with a lot of content, these grid displays look fabulous.
Foodie Pro theme: Mobile responsiveness
Foodie Pro is fully responsive - this means it adapts to the screen size the reader is using and presents them with an optimised version of the website. This decreases loading time for small devices and enables the most important content to be seen more clearly on small screens.
Although the theme looks great on a mobile or tablet (and it does!), in the end I decided to disable this function. If you are trying to monetize your site with ads, mobile responsiveness pushes the contents of the sidebar down below all of the content, meaning these ads will never be seen (and the impressions not counted) on smaller devices. This will only be important for some people, and possibly others will strongly object to removing responsiveness from a site, but I decided to go for it. And to be honest, I much prefer how it looks as a full site, even on my teeny tiny iPhone. As it took me ages to work out how to do this, I wrote a tutorial on the edits you will need to make should you desire.
Foodie Pro theme: WooCommerce shop
One slight reservation about the built-in featured posts widget is that you can only feature posts with this widget (guess the clue's in the title, huh?). I am currently building a shop using the Foodie Pro theme and was initially disconcerted to discover that I would not be able to display my 'product posts' (different from just 'posts') using this widget. But the WordPress plugin community came to the rescue, as always, and the Genesis Sandbox Featured Content widget works perfectly with this theme if you need that functionality. This too is an upgrade on the original Foodie theme, as when I tried using that plugin with Foodie in the past, it messed with the layout and wouldn't work properly.
If you too are hoping to build a beautiful, elegant shop with this theme, you can! Although the theme itself doesn't offer WooCommerce compatibility, making a small tweak to the functions file and using the Genesis Connect for Woo Commerce plugin makes everything work perfectly. And it looks great! Tutorial on that coming up too...
Foodie Pro theme: Recommended plugins
The Foodie Pro theme comes complete with styling for several important plugins, to make them blend as seamlessly as possible with the styling of your site.
Genesis Enews Extended plugin allows you to add various newsletter signup boxes to your site, which fit nicely with your chosen theme.
Simple Social Icons similarly helps keep your fans up-to-date with your content, offering colour-customisable icon links to your social networks, via a widget. One thing to note about this plugin - when used more than once on a page, it mirrors the colour options of the first widget. If this is a problem for you (it was for me!), then let me know in the comments and I'll try to direct you how to change it.
The other three recommended plugins I had no use for, so did not add to my site, but they are available for you should your needs be different. The most important one is the Easy Recipe plugin which enables you to display formatted, printable, SEO-friendly recipes in your posts, styled to fit your blog. The only reason I am not using this plugin is that I was already using another that fulfilled those requirements (Recipe Card plugin), so for me it was superfluous.
The other plugin you may be interested in is the Genesis Responsive Slider. I have never been totally sold on the appeal of sliding images on a site and this extremely interesting article by SEO champions Yoast, Our themes don't have sliders... Because sliders suck, was the nail in the coffin for me. But if you like sliders, I can confirm that this one looks flawless with the theme.
The final compatible plugin available is Genesis Latest Tweets. I wasn't really sure that I said anything interesting enough on Twitter for it to make it into my precious sidebar space. Enough said.
Foodie Pro theme: Customisations and tutorials
One of the very best things about the Foodie Pro child theme is the huge range of styling customisations it makes easily available. Changes that would typically be made by altering the CSS code are embedded in the theme, making this a great theme for beginners. You can choose from a wide range of sidebar/content layouts (you can even choose two sidebars if you fancy), change the fonts, change all the colours and upload your own background and logo. These customisations will enable you to easily create a beautiful, personalised website that really feels like your own.
Shay and her team have made several tutorials to help you set up your site:
- How to install and set-up the child theme
- How to configure the Genesis settings
- How to set up the homepage
- How to add a logo to the header
- How to customise the fonts
- How to configure the Easy Recipe plugin
- How to place ads on the site
- How to configure the recipe index
- How to configure the content archives
- How to configure the footer widgets
These tutorials are clear and very useful, and if you have any problems setting up your site, her team will offer e-mail support with a fast turn around and will help you make your site look as the one in the demo does.
But this assistance only extends as far as mirroring the demo site - if you have any other questions about how to tweak your site, you will be directed to a hired developer. I fully understand how difficult it would be for Shay and her team to offer customisation support to the large numbers of people using this theme, but it can leave you a little stuck. Hiring a developer just isn't an option for many people and some of us would dearly like to be able to make the changes ourselves, to learn these useful and rewarding computer skills, albeit with a nudge in the right direction.
Perhaps a support forum, instead of e-mail support would be an option for this theme? I am happy to hunt around in a forum for answers to my questions, instead of bothering e-mail support, and it would potentially avoid the same questions being asked and answered individually, over and over again. Just a thought.
The good news is I was able to fix pretty much every styling issue I had with this theme, it just took a lot of hunting around the internet to do so. To help you avoid that I created The Ultimate Guide to Styling Foodie Pro Theme where I go through some of the edits I made. I plan to keep updating it, so if there's something you're wondering about, let me know and I'll try to help.
Some of the customisations I made included:
- Removing the HTML tags and attributes from the comments form
- Changing the size of the comment header text and changing the phrasing to "Leave a Reply" instead
- Disabling the mobile theme (explanation and full tutorial available here)
- Restoring the Genesis Header Right Widget, moving my logo to the left and inserting a leaderboard ad inline with the logo (full tutorial available here)
- Justifying the excerpt text on the homepage
- Making the post area/container transparent instead of white, to my background wouldn't be obscured by it
- Changing the font and colour of the post title, leaving the other header fonts as they were
- Enlarging the size of the text links in the navigation menu
- Changing the background colour of the footer box
- Adding space above/below certain sidebar widgets to they would be evenly spaced
Foodie Pro theme: Conclusion
This is a fantastic theme! I hope my minor reservations haven't put you off! My blog looks and works better now than at any point previously, and I have this child theme mostly to thank for it. It helps you build a highly functional website that is clean, bright and elegant, with content that is beautifully displayed and easy to navigate to. There are a huge number of customisation options (the only problem may be when to stop playing with them!), so you can really make your blog your own - so important for building a brand in the crowded world of food blogging.
Not quite what you were looking for? Check out Brunch Pro – Shay Bocks' latest child theme.
You won't regret it!