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We've all been there—staring at a field of ingredients in our pantry or fridge with no idea of what we actually want to make. Technology has made many things in the kitchen easy (from grocery delivery to pressure cookers), but knowing what to cook and having the ingredients on-hand is another hill to climb.
Of course, meal planning is nothing new. Maybe you had a chalkboard with the week's meals planned out as a kid. Or, maybe you've been planning on paper after skimming Pinterest. But with meal planning apps, you can plan your meals from anywhere, seamlessly.
Here, we compiled the best meal planning apps to take the guesswork out of any meal of the day.
Best Meal Planning Apps of 2021
Best Overall: Mealime
Why We Chose It: Saving time is the number one reason most people meal plan. With easy recipes suited to many diets, Mealime is a great starter app—especially the free version.
What We Like
- The free version has most of the same functionality as the paid version
- Recipes are created by chefs and registered dieticians
- Meals are designed to be quick, healthy, and accessible to most home cooks
- Food preference quiz eliminates options that you don't want/like
What We Don't Like
- No nutritional information in the free version
- Not customizable with personal recipes in the free version, meaning you wouldn't be able to include those in your meal plan and shopping list
Meal planning is all about saving time in the planning stages. But Mealime is about saving time at every stage, from planning to cooking with recipes finished in 30 minutes or less.
Like many planning apps, Mealime asks questions about your dietary restrictions and preferences. Mealime also allows you to set a reminder alert to plan your weekly meals at any time that's convenient for you.
There are two app levels available: the free version and Pro. Pro allows access to nutritional information, the ability to add your own recipes, exclusive recipes, and more for about $50 per year or $6 per month. Even without the Pro plan, there are plenty of quick and healthy recipes to add to your weekly plan.
Best Budget: Whisk
Why We Chose It: Whisk is a great, all-around app for those who enjoy seeing what others are cooking and want to explore. Integrated videos from recipe creators offer help for those that are more visually-oriented. Plus, Whisk offers a lot of bang for zero bucks.
What We Like
- Lots of variety—recipes are endless, and you can even add your own
- Health Information is included
- Dietary preferences can be added in
- Can be accessed via many home hubs such as Alexa or Google Assistant
What We Don't Like
- No automatic fitness app integration
- The amount of content can be overwhelming
- No guidance on choosing recipes
- It doesn't take into account what's in your pantry when making grocery lists
Food is all about sharing, right? Whisk takes the idea of social media and sautees it with recipe collections and shopping lists, all in one handy (and free!) app. Whisk doesn't plan menus for you, but it does offer plenty to choose from, with organization reminiscent of Facebook groups.
Whisk offers a variety of ways to find recipes. Users can browse or join the groups to see continuous content; they can also save their favorite recipes from websites or find recipes in groups organized by cuisine, cooking methods, dietary restrictions, or events.
Content creators like The Korean Vegan, What Zoe Eats, or Taste and Traveler also offer content groups. Once users find a recipe they like, it's easy to save it to their recipe box. All recipes also include a health score with nutritional information included.
So, where does the meal planning come in? The planner tab offers a weekly calendar where you can add your planned recipes. Need a shopping list? Click "Add To" on the recipe, and it autogenerates a shareable list, which can be updated in real-time. You can also send your list to area shopping services or grocery pickup options.
Best for Specific Diets: Plate Joy
Why We Chose It: When it comes to personalization and your health goals, PlateJoy stands head and shoulders above the rest. Recipes are enticing, and the instructions are clear. Plus, it will base your menus on your budgetary and health goals.
What We Like
- Nutritionist-created recipes
- Highly personalized
- Easy shopping app integration
- Batch recipe options
- Recipes can be easily tracked in the Fitbit app
What We Don’t Like
- A bit expensive compared to other apps
- Not transferrable to all fitness apps (e.g. MyFitnessPal, Noom, etc.)
Platejoy begins with an extensive survey of your household: who you are feeding, their weight goals, and what they like. The survey analyzes carb and meat preferences, as well as special dietary concerns such as sodium, gluten, dairy, kosher, or pregnancy/nursing. You can even exclude ingredients that you don't like.
With these categories in mind, Platejoy generates various recipes to choose from, complete with nutrition information. You can choose batch cooking recipes to minimize prep time or individual meals with one to two servings for each of the people you're feeding.
Once you've selected your meals, the app autogenerates a shopping list, taking into account what you have already in your fridge and pantry. It will also group recipes to lower food waste. Once your list is set, head to the store, or send your list to Instacart or Amazon Fresh for delivery since both are integrated.
Plate Joy is a paid service, with plans for six months (about $69) or a year (roughly $99).
Best for Gourmet Chefs: Yummly
Why We Chose It: Not everyone is focused on time and health. For those looking for a greater culinary experience, Yummly offers accessible but aspirational recipes and knowledge with the ease of a planning tool.
What We Like
- Next-level inspiration for the intermediate to the advanced home cook
- Timing prompts let you know when to start, so you're not running behind
- Plenty of value even with the free version
- Ingredient search tool makes it easy to make something delicious with what you have
- Tutorials advance kitchen skills
What We Don't Like
- The meal planning portion isn't intuitive to find. It must be accessed through each recipe.
- Lots of in-app pressure to upgrade
- Many of the advertised recipes are only available in the Pro version
Not everyone is held to the 30-minute meal standard. For those who don't mind stirring a simmering risotto for 45 minutes and want to be inspired by famous chefs, Yummly offers culinary inspiration and valuable organizational tools.
Yummly stands apart from the crowd in that it doesn't shy away from more complex recipes. There are technique tutorials that will help level up your skills as well, and you can find your favorite recipes by searching by cuisine or ingredients.
Two features really elevate Yummly. The first is the ingredient search tool: Take a photo of any ingredient in your pantry, and the app will find recipes that use that ingredient. The second is the timing feature added to every recipe. Want dinner on the table at 5 p.m.? Your recipe will tell you when to start prepping.
Yummly Pro is where the star factor comes in. The paid version (about $5 per month) gives access to celebrity chef tutorials and recipes from Carla Hall, Stephanie Izard, Andrew Zimmern, Ali Rosen, and more. And if you have a smart kitchen, you can connect your devices to Yummly for even more intuitive functionality.
Best Eco-Friendly: Cooklist
Why We Chose It: Being able to comparison shop between stores is a huge benefit that comes with Cooklist. Plus, the yearly fee is relatively low for such a big basket of benefits.
What We Like
- Pantry inventory and expiration alerts help keep your food waste down
- Recipes based on your pantry mean you'll always have options
What We Don't Like
- Unique functions are all behind that paywall, including the ability to order groceries in-app and compare prices
- The free version is very basic compared to other apps
- Building your pantry is a bit labor-intensive on the front-end
If you aspirationally buy fruits and veggies only to throw them in the trash three weeks later, Cooklist is here to save the day. Does it have recipes? Yes. Does it make a shopping list? Of course. Does it allow you to order groceries online? You betcha.
But the thing that sets Cooklist apart is that it not only organizes your shopping list, but it keeps track of your fridge, freezer, and pantry, alerting you when ingredients are about to expire. You can import purchases from your favorite retailers or manually add ingredients. Getting close to expiration? Cooklist will send a notification with suggestions for those ingredients.
Meal planning is simple as well. In addition to building your own menu, Cooklist offers suggested menus based on specific goals or diets, which can be customized to your tastes.
There's a Pro version for about $50 per year or roughly $6 monthly, which adds some serious value. Once you've added your recipes to your shopping list, you can compare local supermarket prices. You can also add store loyalty cards to your account for when you order.
Meal planning apps are as individual as the families that use them. For busy families with little time to prep and cook, Mealime is the clear winner. For those who are more health-minded, Whisk and PlateJoy are easy to navigate and give extensive nutritional information. Cooklist and PlateJoy offer tools to save money for the budget-conscious, whether you're comparison shopping or choosing in-season recipes to lower costs. Whisk and Yummly also provide inspiration beyond just time- and calorie-saving, allowing cooks to plan splurge-worthy meals. All of these apps offer the ability to cut out what we don't want (stress around dinner time) so we have more time for sharing food with those we love.
What Is a Meal Planning App?
Meal planning apps help to organize and schedule meals for busy families or singles. Typically they include searchable recipes based on diet or flavor preferences. Sometimes they even help you create recipes with the ingredients you already have.
How Much Do Meal Planning Apps Cost?
Meal planning apps range from free to an average of about $50 to $100 a year. Free versions usually limit the functionality. If you're looking to save time searching for dinner options, the right app can make a huge difference.
Do Meal Planning Apps Come With Food?
Meal planning apps are organizational tools, so they don't send ingredients to your home like meal delivery services.
How We Chose the Best Meal Planning Apps
To select the best meal planning apps, we closely examined the cross-section of price and functionality and selected the apps that were easiest to customize for busy home chefs. All of our apps include grocery ordering and a shallow learning curve. After all, you're not saving time if you're spending it all learning how to use your time-saving app.