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5 Best Meal Planning Apps and Sites to Save Money and Eat Healthy

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Meal planning is one of the best things you can do to make life better. It helps those trying to save money on their food budget, eat healthier more regularly, or even anyone who wants to free up time and energy spent on deciding and cooking food daily.

Most meal planner tools suggest either a weekly or monthly approach, based on your lifestyle. There are two ways to tackle meal planning. Either you can chart out a plan yourself by adding items, or you can let the app or expert pick the dishes for you. Of course, they all come with recipes.

1. Mealime (Web, Android, iOS): Best for Beginner Meal Planners

If you’re new to the idea of meal plans, start with Mealime. It does the heavy lifting for beginners who want an automatic meal plan handed to them on a plate, along with a readymade grocery list.

The setup process asks you food preferences, diet preferences, as well as planning preferences. You can specify portion size, and how many meals you want a plan for. All of this can be changed later in the settings, of course. Mealime will then generate a custom meal plan for you, along with a handy grocery list comprising all recipes.

The app takes ingredient lists from the recipes, but isn’t smart at combining them unless it’s labelled exactly the same. So you’ll have to use your own better judgement while shopping for groceries.

The best part? You can click a button at any point to generate a new meal plan, which varies the foods from what you currently have. If you don’t like a plan, just change it up till you find something you like. If you enjoy what you’re cooking and eating, you will probably stick with the process.

Download: Mealime for Android | iOS (Free)

2. Budget Meal Planner (Web): Healthy Meals at $5 Per Day

Budget Meal Planner is an awesome website run by a single person, Dianna, that suggests weekly plans in a frugal way. It lists groceries for the whole week that won’t cross $40, while still giving you healthy, filling food that doesn’t get boring.

Dianna sorted the meal plans into Budget and Vegetarian. Within them, you get your choice of recipes based on Thai, potato, Mediterranean, pineapple, and Tex-Mex cuisines. Every Friday, the site is updated with new meal plans for each category, so you can buy your groceries and prep over the weekend.

The plan has a week’s shopping list, recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as snacks. Apart from Thai, the other sections also have a vegetarian plan. Dianna recommends using substitutes and other recipes too, so feel free to try out the best vegetarian and vegan apps 7 Vegetarian and Vegan Apps for a Healthier Life 7 Vegetarian and Vegan Apps for a Healthier Life These Android and iPhone vegetarian and vegan apps let you find recipes, explore restaurants, and connect with others who share your plant-based diet. Read More to mix and match.

3. Sidechef (Android, iOS): Customized, Manual Meal Plans

Sidechef is a cross between a meal planner and a recipe app. When you register, you have to choose between several preferences such as a diet you’re following 5 Best Hidden Guides for Diets to Lose Weight, Eat Healthier, and Be Fitter 5 Best Hidden Guides for Diets to Lose Weight, Eat Healthier, and Be Fitter Looking to change your diet and get fitter? These are the best beginner’s guides to uncommon diets for improving your health. Read More , ingredients you dislike, and so on. The app will then show you a list of recipes based on that.

Hop to the Meal Planner section to decide the week’s plan. Here, you can add recipes to the breakfast, lunch, and dinner options for each day. Sidechef curates recipes from a lot of different websites and blogs, so you’ll get a wide variety to choose from.

Tap any recipe to see its ingredients list in a neat format. Select what you don’t have to add it to your grocery list. The app is smart enough to increase the quantity of overlapping items instead of adding them twice, but nonetheless, double-check while purchasing.

Sidechef is also one of the few apps that lets you add your own recipes which you might have found outside the app’s list. We didn’t find any other app that allows this, making Sidechef that much more special.

Download: Sidechef for Android | iOS (Free)

4. Slow Cooker Meal Plan (Web): Best for Single Professionals and Students

A Crockpot or a slow cooker is the best investment for someone who wants to come back home to a healthy meal, without having to cook at the end of a tiring day. Karen at 365 Days of Crockpot has a simple monthly plan that offers variety while being easy.

These recipes can be made with a slow cooker as well as an instant pot or pressure cooker The Best Smart Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker The Best Smart Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker Sick of overly complicated Instant Pots? You might be looking for the best Instant Pot with Bluetooth and other smart features. We’ve got the best-reviewed one here! Read More . So if you prep in advance, you can come home and cook a meal when you want. As you might expect with slow cooker recipes, they are all easy enough for beginner cooks.

Many of the days don’t have any vegetarian options, unfortunately. However, you can browse through the hundreds of recipes on the website to look for substitutes.

The meal plan also is smart enough to leave Friday as a day to eat out or finish leftovers. It’s essential to have this one cheat day if you’re going to stick to cooking for yourself or a new diet. Don’t be over-zealous, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

5. Family Freezer’s Plans (Web): 17 Free, Printable Meal Plans

The Family Freezer is a fantastic recipe blog that balances being frugal and being healthy. Over the many years, the blog has delivered several meal plans for different scenarios. You can check them all in one page, and pick one that fits your needs.

The focus, as you must have guessed by the name, is on meals that you can prep in advance and freeze. These are all plans that serve the week, not the month. Freezer-based meals are among the most popular ways for beginner planners, as they let you cook up a storm for one day and live in peace for the rest of the week.

The 17 plans vary in needs and categories such as time-based meals, vegetarian meals, store-based meals, kid-friendly meals, and so on. There’s a handy large PDF with all meal plans, which includes grocery lists, recipes, and everything else you’ll need. It’s grand.

Download: 17 Free Printable Freezer Meal Plans and Grocery Lists (PDF)

Five More Tools for Weekly Plans

The best part about meal planning is that there are so many different approaches to it through these apps. In fact, there are fantastic subscription services like Eat This Much which will suggest new plans based on what you like and dislike, and deliver groceries too, making it as easy as possible for you.

If you’re a beginner to meal prep, it’s probably best to start with a weekly plan than a monthly plan. Once you get used to planning a week’s worth of meals, it’s easier to step up to a month’s plan. So if the above apps aren’t in your sweet spot, start with these 5 web apps to build quick and easy meal plans Plan Weekly Meals in Under 1 Hour with 5 Web Tools Plan Weekly Meals in Under 1 Hour with 5 Web Tools There is a way to eat healthy food that doesn’t cost much and do so in a way that doesn’t require too much effort on your part. That secret is weekly meal plans. Read More .

Best Meal Planning Service: Our Top 10 Recommended Picks

If your normal weeknight dinner plans involve dining out or scrounging around the fridge for leftovers, meal planning could be exactly what you need. A great meal plan can help you eat well while saving money.

With so many meal plans to choose from, which are the best? And which one is best for you? We’ve compiled 10 meal planning services, so you can figure out which will work best for you.

The Best Meal Planning Service Available

eMeals

eMeals is one of the original online meal planning services, and from the volume of meal plans available, that’s obvious. The service offers a huge variety of menus, from clean eating to low carb to heart healthy to crock pot to vegetarian. They even offer plans in partnership with Health, All You, and Paula Deen. eMeals costs $59.99 per year or $29.99 every three months. You can pay extra for lunch, breakfast, dessert, and special occasion plans.

  • Pros: With all the variety available, eMeals makes it easy to choose a meal plan that works for you and your family. They even offer store-centered plans that base recipes on what’s on sale that week. Plus, you can swap plans when you want, making it easy to fit meal planning to that week’s particular needs. eMeals will also export your grocery list to shopping apps like ClickList, which can be helpful.
  • Cons: With eMeals, you can’t switch the serving sizes. The meals are set to either two to four or six to eight servings per meal with most plans, and you’ll have to do the math to reduce or increase them yourself if needed.
  • Who it’s for: If you don’t mind cooking and want some flexibility with your meal planning, eMeals has the biggest variety available. You can easily switch to a 20-minute-meal or crock pot plan on a busy week, and then go back to your regularly-scheduled paleo or clean eating plan when life slows down.

Related: eMeals Review

$5 Meal Plan

At just $5 a month for the service, the $5 Meal Plan is super affordable. The recipes lean towards family-friendly comfort foods, but always include a health balance of fruits and veggies. The weekly meal plan comes with a grocery shopping list, as well as bonus desserts, drinks, or other treats. The plan also offers a weekly gluten-free plan option.

More recently, $5 Meal Plan has introduced a Meal Plan Builder tool. This is great for pickier families, as it lets you build your own meal plan based on the site’s bank of cheap meals. Then, it will generate your shopping list for you.

  • Pros: This service is affordable, and it focuses on affordable meals. The plans take advantage of seasonal products and what’s likely to be on sale. So most meals cost around $2 per person. The plan is also great in that it always includes at least one crock pot meal and one 20-minute meal per week. Many of the meals can also be prepped ahead of time for easier weeknight cooking.
  • Cons: The meals aren’t customizable and neither are the recipes. (The website, however, offers a few six-week specialized menus, including a paleo option.) In other words, you can’t bump up a four-person recipe to accommodate six people easily. You’ll have to do the math–and adjust the grocery list–on your own.
  • Who it’s for: The $5 Meal Plan is good for average-sized families who are neither super-picky nor super-adventurous. If you don’t mind some cooking on weeknights and your main meal-planning goal is trimming that grocery budget, this might be the plan for you.

Once a Month Meals

This meal-planning service, which used to be known as Once a Month Mom, is so popular it’s closed to new members right now. If you’re interested, though, you can put your name on their waiting list and be notified when you can sign up again. This service costs $16 a month, or about $170 per year, and it has a unique selling point: all the meals can be prepped in advance and stashed in your freezer. You can cook once a month, and then just basically warm things up on most nights of the week. Now, instead of giving subscribers access to set menus, Once a Month Meals lets you build your own menu from their database of freezer-friendly recipes. Then it tells you what to buy and in what order to prep your meals for the most efficient freezer cooking day possible.

  • Pros: If you’re just too busy to cook on a typical weeknight, this is a great service. It offers customizable menus that make it easy to change serving sizes for your meals. The service actually plans out your entire cooking day to a T, making cooking as efficient as possible.
  • Cons: At $16 per month, this is one of the more expensive services around, though it has more features. Cooking a full month’s worth of meals in one day makes for one very long day and also requires that you can buy a month’s worth of groceries at one time. Also, you’ve got to have a fairly large freezer to store all the meals.
  • Who it’s for: This service is great for people who don’t like cooking on weeknights, but can bring themselves to cook once a month. It’s even better if you can team up with a friend, lighten the load, and split the meals for the month.

Unlike the above meal plans, Plan to Eat doesn’t provide the recipes; you do. This app and online recipe planner collects your favorite recipes from anywhere. Then, you drag and drop your recipes onto your calendar-based meal planner. Plan to Eat then generates a grocery list for you.

  • Pros: It uses recipes you already know your family loves, which makes your life easier and your dinner more likely to get eaten. Plus, the grocery list it generates is interactive, so you can check off items as you pick them up during the week. At $4.95 per month or $39 per year, it’s a pretty affordable option, too.
  • Cons: It doesn’t do all the work for you, like some of these other services. You have to actually have a library of recipes your family enjoys to make this work!
  • Who it’s for: This is best for people who don’t mind cooking and have recipes they’d love to eat, but who hate the list-making (and item-forgetting!) part of meal planning and grocery shopping. If you don’t mind putting in a bit of extra work, it’s a great option for streamlined meal planning.

The Six O’Clock Scramble

At $1.44 per week for a two-year subscription, The Six O’Clock Scramble is one affordable meal planning service! The service focuses on healthy meals that are quick to fix, and all the meals include side dishes. You can also customize meals for gluten free or vegetarian diets.

  • Pros: It’s very affordable if you decide to opt for the two-year subscription, and even the one-year subscription at $2 per week comes in pretty low. With a focus on wholesome meals that are also easy to prepare, this is a great balance for families. Other reviewers have also noted that the weekly newsletter that comes with the service is helpful and interesting.
  • Cons: Adding new recipes to the pre-planned menu can be difficult, and customization isn’t the easiest thing to do. And if you add a new recipe, you’ll have to print a separate grocery list.
  • Who it’s for: The Six O’Clock Scramble is geared towards families with family-friendly recipes based on simple ingredients. If you’re not too fussy about customizing weekly menus, this is a simple way to plan quick weeknight meals.

The unique angle of this meal planning service is that it focuses on twenty fresh, local ingredients per week. The Fresh 20 splits the difference between daily meal prep and monthly freezer cooking with a one hour per week prep period to make weeknight meals simpler to prepare. Currently, it offers classic, gluten free, vegetarian, kosher, dairy free, and paleo plans, as well as plans for one person. Each plan costs $79 per year or $14 per month.

  • Pros: With a focus on simple, fresh ingredients, The Fresh 20 is a healthy option. The one-hour prep period per week helps streamline meal prep each evening, too. When you pay for it annually, the plan is pretty cheap at just over $6.50 per month. You can also purchase specific plans, including dairy free, kosher, and six weeks’ worth of lunches, for an additional fee.
  • Cons: You can’t switch between plans without adding additional costs, and you can’t change meal sizes easily with this one.
  • Who it’s for: If you want both a great meal plan and fresh ingredients, this could be a good option. It’s geared towards families who want tasty, easy meals, but who also want to reduce their environmental footprint.

Pepperplate

Pepperplate is another app that will hold all your recipes. You can create and edit your own or import them to the service by pasting in an URL. The app comes with unlimited library space for your recipes, and you can schedule them as needed. The app also lets you scale recipes, and will generate shopping lists based on your meal plan.

  • Pros: As a free app, it doesn’t get much cheaper than this! If you already have beloved recipes you love to use, this is a great app for compiling them and making them simpler to use.
  • Cons: This is another app that doesn’t do it all for you. With Pepperplate, you’ll have to take time on the front end to save and import your favorite recipes, and you’ll have to take the time to plan your menu each week.
  • Who it’s for: Pepperplate is another good option for those who already have recipes they love on hand. And since it’s free, it’s great if you’re on a super-tight budget that just doesn’t have $5-$10 per month of wiggle room for a meal planning service.

Eat This Much

If you’re on a specific, calorie-restricted diet, Eat This Much may be the meal-planning app you’ve been waiting for. It lets you put in how many calories you want to eat per day. Then you can build out your weekly meal plan with pre-made recipes and those that you add. You can track calories and your weight over time, as well. It lets you filter certain types of foods out of your meal plan, as well, which is great for low carb diets, vegetarians, and more.

  • Pros: The app has a free version, but you can use premium features, including leftover planning and automatic weekly meal planning, for $3.99 per month with an annual subscription. This app is great for planning meals specific to your dietary style, right down to the calories you eat. It also offers unique features like an option to plan your meals based on restaurants or pre-made meal options.
  • Cons: Family meal planning is part of the app’s premium services, so it’s not free. It also will only integrate personal nutrition targets for one person at a time.
  • Who it’s for: If you want to follow a specific diet plan, either as a bodybuilder or someone who wants to lose or maintain weight, Eat This Much offers unique features you’ll love. It’s probably not the most family-friendly option on the market, though.

PlateJoy

The goal of PlateJoy is to help you be more joyful about your eating by providing you with meal plans that fit your life. When you sign up for an account, it will give you a quiz that lets the site customize a meal plan for your time constraints, eating preferences, and health goals. PlateJoy also offers a digital pantry, which keeps track of ingredients you should already have in your kitchen. And it automatically minimizes the number of ingredients on your grocery list to minimize waste.

  • Pros: With the customization quiz, PlateJoy is likely to give you everything you never knew you wanted in a meal plan. It’s a good option if your family can all fit under the same time, health, and preference constraints.
  • Cons: At $99 for a 12-month subscription or $69 for a 6-month subscription, this one is on the more expensive end of our list. But, still, if it results in a meal plan you love, the cost could be worth your while.
  • Who it’s for: This meal plan could be for just about anyone, since it offers the get-to-know-you quiz when you start your subscription and then bases your meal plan on your personalized answers.

CookSmarts

What if you really want to meal plan and eat at home more, but you don’t really know much about cooking? In this case, CookSmarts might be for you. It includes helpful how-to cooking videos for beginning chefs, making it great for learning how to cook. Other features include weekend prep steps to ease your weeknight meal prep, automatic food waste reduction, and several diet options. It also has a free version that gives you access to three meal plans, so you can try it.

  • Pros: This is an excellent option that takes some of the stress out of learning to cook. At $6-$8 per month, it’s not too expensive, either. And customizing your meals is easy, since each meal comes with a gluten-free, vegetarian, or paleo option. Your subscription also gets you access to the archives, so you can shop for a different plan if you don’t like that week’s.
  • Cons: CookSmarts doesn’t offer as wide a variety of menu types as some of the options listed here.
  • Who it’s for: This one is formulated specifically for beginning or inexperienced cooks who want to cook fresh meals and learn more about specific kitchen skills.

Alternative Meal Plan: Home Chef

If you’re too busy to even shop for groceries, Home Chef might be a good option for you. It’s one of the most popular meal delivery services around. This service lets you customize your meal options, and it actually delivers the ingredients and recipes right to your door. You can have two meals up to eight per week delivered. Home Chef makes meal prep and planning incredibly easy.

  • Pros: You get easy-to-make, delicious, healthy meals delivered to your doorstep. It really doesn’t get any easier than this, and you can customize how often you want your meals delivered, too.
  • Cons: The biggest con to any service like this is that you’re paying someone else to do your grocery shopping, which gets expensive. If you already spend a ton on dining out, Home Chef might save you money. But if you cook at home and grocery shop frugally, it will most likely cost you more than you spend now.
  • Who it’s for: Home Chef could be a great option to supplement and simplify meal planning for a couple of nights a week. Or if you really don’t have time to grocery shop and end up dining out, it could definitely save you money. And it has a $30 off your first order deal, so now is a great time to give it a try!

Related: Green Chef Review – Healthy, Hearty and Earth-Friendly

The Best Meal Planning Apps for Meeting Your Healthy Eating Goals

On the surface, meal planning looks like a smart, painless way to stay ahead of the game and stick to your healthy eating goals throughout the hectic work week. But figuring out what to eat for the next seven days isn’t always an easy task. Thankfully, there are plenty of free meal planning apps and premium options to help you navigate the kitchen and grocery store. (Related: Learn How to Meal Prep with This 30-Day Challenge)

Here, we round up the top meal planning apps on the market to help you stay committed to your nutrition, no matter your eating style or dietary preferences.

  • Best Overall: Mealime

  • Best for Nutrition Tracking and Calorie Counting: Eat This Much

  • Best for Plant-Based Eaters: Forks Over Knives

  • Best for Recipes: Paprika

  • Best for Meal Prep: MealPrepPro
  • Best for New Cooks: Yummly

  • Best for Take-Out Lovers: Suggestic

Best Overall Meal Planning App: Mealime

Image zoom Mealime

Available for: Android & iOS

Price: Free, with in-app purchases available

Try it: Mealime

Thanks to Mealime and its 30-minute recipes, you won’t dread having to whip up a homemade meal after a long commute home. This all-star meal planning app, which has nearly positive 29,000 reviews in the App Store, allows you to create personalized eating plans with three to six recipes based on your dietary preferences, allergies, and disliked ingredients. (Looking at you, Brussels sprouts!)

Once you’ve picked your expert-tested recipes to cook throughout the week, the meal planning app will send a grocery list to your phone, complete with pictures of the supplies and ingredient substitutes, so you can spend less time shopping and more time noshing. The cherry on top? The nutrition information for each recipe is sent to your phone’s Health app, making digitally tracking your health a seamless process. (And yes, you don’t need to spend a chunk of change to track your activity level.)

For an extra $6 a month or $50 a year, you’ll have access to in-depth nutrition information and exclusive recipes released each week. As an added bonus, you’ll be able to prep two meal plans at once and add your own recipes to your planner.

Best for Meal Planning App for Nutrition Tracking and Calorie Counting: Eat This Much

Available for: Android & iOS

Price: Free, with in-app purchases available

Try it: Eat This Much

Image zoom Eat This Much

Whether you’re a bodybuilder or vegetarian, Eat This Much will help you get the macronutrients you need to stay fit. The free meal planning app takes your dietary preferences and budget into consideration to craft daily meal plans and grocery lists, all done with calories, carbs, fat, and protein content in mind. Eat This Much takes it a step further than other apps, though, by allowing you to customize popular eating styles—like veganism or the paleo diet—to match your tastes and nutritional needs. (Related: The Beginner’s Guide to Bodybuilding Meal Prep and Nutrition)

By signing up for a $5-per-month subscription, you’ll be able to plan a week’s worth of meals at a time, as well as log onto the app’s website and export your grocery list to AmazonFresh or Instacart for delivery. Sorry, but now there’s no excuse to have an empty fridge.

Best for Meal Planning App for Plant-Based Eaters: Forks Over Knives

Image zoom Forks Over Knives

Available for: Android & iOS

Price: $5

Try it: Forks Over Knives

While plant-based dishes seem like an afterthought on other healthy meal planning apps, Forks Over Knives makes them the star of the show. The app features more than 400 veggie-centric recipes (and counting), many of which were contributed by 50 prominent chefs, so don’t expect to eat run-of-the-mill pasta every single night. (Related: What’s the Difference Between a Plant-Based Diet and a Vegan Diet?)

To help you navigate even the most complex maze of a supermarket, the app will automatically sort the ingredients on your shopping list by aisle. (Snag these plant-based cookbooks for even more healthy eating inspo.)

Best for Meal Planning App for Recipes: Paprika

Image zoom Paprika

Available for: Android & iOS

Price: $5

Try it: Paprika

When you’re stocked up on groceries but have no clue what to make for dinner, turn to Paprika. Through the recipe management and meal planning app, you can import your own recipes and ones from your go-to websites, building a virtual cookbook that can be accessed across devices with its Cloud Sync feature. You won’t miss writing on print recipes, either, thanks to its interactive features that allow you to cross off ingredients and highlight directions. Before you devour your wholesome dish, don’t forget to snap a drool-worthy pic to add to the recipe page.

Best for Meal Planning App for Meal Prep: MealPrepPro

Image zoom MealPrepPro

Available for: iOS

Price: $6/month, or $48/year

Try it: MealPrepPro

If you’d rather spend your entire Sunday in your kitchen, baking a week’s worth of chicken while surrounded by Pyrex containers, MealPrepPro is for you. The meal prepping app not only builds you (and your partner) a customizable weekly meal plan based on your diet and macro goals, but it also helps you cook in bulk; with the clear-cut calendar, you’ll know ahead of time which days you’ll be prepping and eating a fresh meal and which days you’ll be reheating your leftovers. The app even estimates your hands-on cooking time for the week so you can schedule your after-dinner plans accordingly. (Related: Healthy Meal Prep Hacks When You’re Cooking for One)

Best Meal Planning App for New Cooks: Yummly

Image zoom Yummly

Available for: Android & iOS

Price: Free, with in-app purchases available

Try it: Yummly

With more than 2 million recipes, kitchen tips, and articles on trending foods, Yummly will help cooking newbies get a lay of the land…or kitchen. The healthy meal planning app’s sorting feature will narrow down dishes based on cooking time, cuisine, and occasion, as well as filter out recipes that don’t match your eating style. And if you’re a procrastinator, Yummly will send you a notification when it’s time to get cooking based on your chosen recipe.

In need of a little more guidance? For $5 a month, you’ll get access to step-by-step demonstration videos from leading culinary professionals. (Grab these must-have kitchen tools to make healthy eating so much simpler.)

Best Meal Planning App for Take-Out Lovers: Suggestic

Image zoom

Available for: iOS

Price: Free, with in-app purchases available

Try it: Suggestic

Even kitchen masters crave take-out every once in a while. But to make sure you stay on top of your healthy eating goals, download Suggestic—the free meal planning app can recommend dishes that stick to your eating style (keto, vegan, etc.) at more than 500,000 restaurants in the country. (Left your phone at home? Consult some experts tips on how to eat healthy while dining out.) Suggestic nails the at-home planning department, too, offering simple recipes to build a meal plan for your entire week. To keep your spirits high over those seven days, the app will send you motivational emails and notifications.

For additional recipes, educational videos, and eating programs, pick up a premium membership for $13 a month.

I’ve primarily used eMeals ($60 per year), which has a good variety of recipes and plans. I rarely run into repeat recipes, so every week feels fresh. But eMeals doesn’t cater to specific preferences, so if you hate an ingredient, you have to eliminate recipes manually. You must call to cancel your subscription, which is annoying, but eMeals makes it easy to swap between different plans, so you can try out, say, vegetarian recipes for a week and then go over to “clean eating” before moving to a “slow cooker” plan. This service is best for anyone who wants to experiment with a variety of recipes and doesn’t mind substituting ingredients or skipping meals entirely sometimes.

PlateJoy ($100 per year) is the most customizable service I’ve tried. PlateJoy personalizes the plan to cut down on recipes with ingredients you don’t want, but that personalization means it isn’t as easy to swap between the more generic plans as with eMeals. I found that PlateJoy repeated recipes more often than eMeals, but the customization is worth it for some people. This service is best if you want a meal plan that integrates your specific preferences and if you don’t mind repeat recipes.

Other options include The Fresh 20 ($80 per year), a good choice for cooking for one. Cook Smarts (about $70 per year) focuses on helping you learn to cook, $5 Meal Plan ($60 per year) is designed to save money, and Once A Month Meals (about $160 per year) is a collection of freeze-ahead recipes. You’ll also find Real Plans, Prep Dish, Frugal Real Food, and countless others.

Every service has a free trial period. I recommend taking advantage of that before making a choice, and be sure to cancel the subscription before it charges you. If you don’t like the recipes, another service may work better for you.

Meal planning services aren’t for everyone. The biggest restriction is the price. These aren’t top-secret specialty recipes — they’re mostly available online. All you’re really paying for is someone to organize the meals for you. If you have the time and will, you can do this yourself for free, or if we may, with the help of our friends at NYT Cooking. If you have picky eaters in the house, prefer staples, or have multiple dietary restrictions, it takes more effort to alter a meal plan to work for you than it’s worth. If you’re already a good cook with a collection of recipes, you’re likely better off creating plans using an app like Paprika.

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A version of this article appears at Wirecutter.com.

Last week I had lots and lots of fun in the kitchen! My inspiration was a meal planning service from Cook Smarts. Jess, the site’s founder and chef extraordinaire, asked me if I’d like a complimentary meal plan subscription to share my experience with you all.

Upon first glance I knew that Cook Smarts and I would be a great match. This is not a meal plan of plain chicken breasts and steamed broccoli. The recipes are fresh, healthy, customizable and most importantly, they had me really excited to get cooking. {Just wait until your meal plan arrives by email the week before – it’s like getting excited about a gift you’re going to receive!}

Each week Jess creates four easy dinners that are put together into a plan for the week. You can choose between the original, vegetarian, paleo and gluten-free customizations for every meal. A grocery shopping list details all the ingredients you will need. The recipes are designed to be easy to follow and aim to be under 30 minutes of active cooking time. There are tons of tips included to make your life easier too – from steps to do on a prep day to how-to videos on things such as knife skills to how to use leftovers. I was beyond impressed with everything that comes with a single meal plan. You can sample 3 meal plans for free here, and if you love them you can sign up for a subscription for as little as $8 a month or $72 a year.

I went with the meal plan for the week of September 16 because it looked good right off the bat. I stuck with all original variations and liked that one meal was vegetarian by default.

Before I go into how my week of meals panned out, let me tell you a little about how dinners are usually created in our kitchen. On Sundays I write down dinner ideas for the week based on cravings and what we might have in our fridge and freezer. Think “Salmon with green beans.” Nothing elaborate, and flavors and seasonings are decided that night. In the summer, I have often gone to the farmer’s market the day before and picked up a variety of in-season vegetables, and I usually pick up some more at the Wednesday market. In the winter I tend to do one big trip to Whole Foods each week after meal planning. We rely on frozen meats and seafood for most of the protein in our dinners, and supplement with bread and pantry staples. I like that I am able to be very flexible and change my mind on a whim {Read more about my grocery shopping style here.} Overall, this loose meal plan has worked for us for years.

But while it works, the dinners in our house could use lots of improvement. With a little one underfoot, dinnertime is often stressful when I am scrambling to do all of my prep at the last minute. And because I only halfway plan meals, we tend to repeat a lot of the same ones. We definitely needed a meal plan reboot!

Thus, my goal for the week was to cook smarter by knowing exactly what we’d be having, getting prep done during naptimes and adding a bunch of new recipes to our rotation. Turns out it was one of the most delicious weeks we’ve had in ages!

One of the things I hate about planning meals from recipes is combing through and making a big grocery list (I imagine this activity is a favorite for some of you!) Shuffling through cookbooks or sifting through recipes clipped online to add a pinch of this and a teaspoon of that to a long list of groceries gives me a headache. Thus, I tend to just make up meals on the spot.

So one of my favorite parts of this experience was the auto-generated grocery list. I printed it out and went through and crossed out everything we already had on hand plus added a few things to get for breakfasts and lunches.

Part I of shopping happened at the market on Saturday and Part II was a trip to Whole Foods on Sunday morning.

I didn’t end up doing any formal prep on Sunday because our day was packed with activities, but I did follow the steps for prep in the recipes and saved myself some time on later nights. On Monday I made all of the week’s quinoa in my trusty rice cooker, and on Tuesday I only dirtied the food processor once when I made both the burgers and the olive tapenade for the next two nights. If you had a super busy week, you really could do almost all of the prep on Sunday!

I loved how the recipes were divided into “prep” and “make” so I knew what was OK for me to work on during Mazen’s nap and what was best done at dinnertime.

I pulled the recipes up on my phone while I cooked

So how was the food? Wonderful!!! You know how when someone else prepares a meal for you the food tastes so much better than your own? Our week of Cook Smarts meals was like someone else was doing all the cooking. It lifted us up and out of our dinner rut.

The prep on this guy was very easy thanks to my rice cooker and easy peel shrimp. The sauce was simple to pull together as well. I subbed out the onion for an eggplant from our garden, cause, well you know me.

Matt and I both loved this meal (I’m going to say that a lot : ) ) The hidden ingredient was the lemon squeezed on top to finish. I don’t think I would have remembered that touch, but since my grocery list told me to buy a lemon I had one, and it really completed the whole dish. I had the leftovers on top of a salad for lunch the next day. {All of the meals serve 4 so we had quite a bit of leftovers, although we often ate 2/3 of the meal for dinner!}

Tuesday night’s quinoa and black bean burgers were a big hit with family members big and small.

The prep was really easy, and while the burgers were cooking I made the olive tapenade for the next two nights. I made little balls for Mazen out of the final burger – he loved them. Also, Jess makes sweet potato fries totally different than we do, but hers turned out just as good in half the time, so I might have a new technique for life! She steams them covered in foil in a really hot 500* oven and then roasts for another 15 minutes verses our 45-60 minute 400* bake. {Check out this How To Roast Veggies video for more!}

We decided to go bunless so we could eat lots of sweet potato fries! And we added a simple green salad for a few more veggies.

The burgers held together so well, and I was surprised at how such a small amount of barbecue sauce added so much flavor to them. And the hot sauce aioli was a nice touch as well! Matt used the extra as a dip for his fries.

Wednesday night’s dinner was super quick and easy, especially since I made the olive tapenade the night before! The dish was a throw-in-a-pot kind of meal, and we loved the simplicity. I also appreciated that I used ingredients I don’t normally use with the addition of artichokes and albacore tuna.

The orzo tuna salad was delicious! The tapenade really took it to the next level. Olives, artichokes, lemon and thyme brought so much flavor, and the canned tuna was an easy source of protein. I will make this again! We had leftover greens from the night before, so we tucked a few on the side.

Mazen liked it too! I had the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Our final night we had chicken breasts with more of the kalamata olive tapenade smothered on top and melty Fontina cheese underneath.

I just loved how simple this was yet it was bursting with flavor. The chicken was cooked in a pan and then oven finished so the cheese melted beautifully. Fontina rocks!

I sort of dropped the ball on the side dish. It was supposed to be parmesan asparagus, but I couldn’t find any more local asparagus. Since it is easy to be flexible with the plan, Matt ended up bringing home some salad greens from the market instead, so we had yet another salad! Easy enough because it required no cooking. We also added a slice of Great Harvest Jalapeno Corn Bread – yum!

* * *

If I had to choose a favorite meal for the week it would be the quinoa burgers. They were so easy to mix and bake, and I can see us making them over and over again with different flavor combinations. I really loved all four meals, and I found them all to be very easy to prepare. They all had creative ingredient combinations built into simple techniques.

Jess just launched this service in May, and it’s already a really awesome tool. She is continuously improving the experience based on feedback from her community.

I had a few suggestions for feedback that popped into my head, and Jess says she’s already working on them! Here are three things she’s hoping to add:

-A mobile app to make pulling up the recipes in the kitchen super easy (and perhaps a mobile shopping list with check boxes?)

-The option to add a previous meal to the current week’s meal plan

-The option to adjust serving sizes

I definitely plan on doing more of her meal plans. I think a good balance for me would be to do one every few weeks. I don’t want to lose my kitchen spontaneity every single week, but I really liked being told exactly what to do and trying new flavors and techniques. In fact, a pay-per-plan option might be just my cup of tea! But really, $72 for a whole year’s worth of plans seems like a steal.

My biggest takeaway from this week (aside from a happy belly each night!) was how I need to work on stringing my recipes together and morphing ingredients from one meal to the next. Instead of dirtying every dish every night, I need to double up on the cutting board and food processor to make other nights easier. I already sort of do this by planning both easy and time intensive nights into our meals based on our social calendar, but I also need to do it more with just one ingredient – like the olive tapenade – that will go a long way in flavor.

Jess’s goal is to help home cooks “live happier, simpler and smarter in the kitchen.” I’m glad to say that Cook Smarts helped me achieve all three!

So what can you do if you want to cook smarter?

You can sign up here and get new menus every week when you choose one of the subscription options. Best of all there’s a coupon for being a KERF reader – you get $5 off the quarterly or yearly plans with code KERF&CS. If you need more details, you can find them all here.

This service is great for those who are stuck in a dinner rut (like me!), want to pick up new cooking skills and techniques or don’t have time go browse recipe sites or cookbooks. Even if this isn’t you, very soon there will be an option to gift a meal plan subscription to someone who could use some help in the kitchen.

The post is brought to you by Cook Smarts.

Saving money on groceries and making great, healthy food don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You just need to plan your meals. Last week we asked you for the best tools for the job, then looked at the five best meal planning apps. Now we’re back to feature the community favorite.

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Cook Smarts was your top pick, with over 38% of the votes cast. Its weekly meal plans, smart grocery shopping lists, multiple diet and ingredient preferences, great recipes, and cooking tips and tricks earned it the top spot, even over other, free options.

In second place with 33% of the vote was Plan To Eat, another mostly hands-off meal planning service that takes the hassle out of organizing a menu, building a shopping list, and more—just tell it what you’re interested in and Plan to Eat does the rest. It’s also a for-fee service. The votes dropped off from there, with Mac app and mobile app Paprika, ideal for organizing, importing, rating, and filtering your recipes into grocery lists and meal plans, coming in third place with 12% of the vote. Free app and web service Pepperplate came in fourth place with over 9% of the overall vote. Bringing up the rear was grocery list-turned-robust meal planner ZipList, with over 7% of the votes cast.

The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at [email protected]!

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There’s a lot to be gained by planning your meals. You eat better, healthier food, do more cooking for yourself and put more thought into what you eat, try new recipes, and save at the grocery store at the same time. However, it can be a little daunting; sifting through recipes and making lists. That’s why there are apps that help. This week, we’re looking at five of the best.

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Earlier in the week we asked you which meal planning apps you thought were the best to help you save money, eat better, and keep making awesome food. You nominated way more than we can highlight here, but these are your top five, in no particular order:

Cook Smarts

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Cook Smarts isn’t so much a meal planning app as it is an entire meal planning service. In addition to helping you plan out your weekly meals, the service aims to help its users learn to cook, explore new recipes, get familiar with and comfortable in the kitchen, and eat more healthy, homemade food. The site’s blog and newsletter are free, but to make use of their meal planning tools, you’ll have to sign up for an account. You can get three sample plans for free, but the service will really cost you $6/mo (if you pay by the year, it goes up to $8/mo if you want to pay monthly.) The meal plans themselves are incredibly robust though—you tell the service how you want to eat—vegetarian, high protein, low-carb, paleo, or just a plain balanced diet, and you’ll get four new and interesting recipes every week along with ingredients, a downloadable and printable grocery list, and even step-by-step instructions and cooking videos to help you make everything.

Those of you who nominated and praised Cook Smarts explained that for the money you spend, it makes meal planning about as hands-off as you can get, and the results are worth it. Sure, the service isn’t anything you couldn’t do on your own with the right amount of time, but the reason you’re paying for it is so you don’t have to—and Cook Smarts delivers on the quality of recipes, interesting foods, and tutorials. The service also has a robust and active community around it of home cooks and food lovers eager to explore new foods, try new things, and eat well. You can read more in the nomination thread here.

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Pepperplate is a mobile app and meal planning tool that excels at organizing your recipe collection, planning your meals based on those recipes, building out shopping lists, and helping you cook the recipes you want to try. It’s available for free on the web, on iOS, Android, Windows Phone/Windows RT, Nook, and Kindle devices. Once you’re signed up, you can import recipes from the web by pasting in the URL for them, or you can enter them manually from your favorite cookbooks or that stash of index cards you have. Once you have a good collection of recipes, you can build menus for your regular meals, for special events, or any night of the week. From there, Pepperplate will generate a shopping list based on your meal plan that you can take with you and cross off at the grocery store. You can share your recipes, meal plans, or shopping lists with others if you need to. When you’re ready to cook, Pepperplate will walk you through the recipes, complete with cooking timers to help you stay on top of simmering or baking food.

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The nomination thread for Pepperplate was full of praise for the fact that the app is free, cross-platform, and easy to use. Many of you highlighted Pepperplate’s bookmarklet that makes adding recipes to your account super-easy (and does a great job of scrubbing recipes from various websites.) Pepperplate isn’t perfect though—it may be free, but some of you noted that it hasn’t seen updates in a while, and the developers may have abandoned it. That’s not a problem as long as the app is good, but it is something to remember if you want support or you’re looking for new features. Read more in the nomination thread here.

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Ziplist

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Ziplist started off as a simple grocery shopping list organizer, but it’s evolved over the years to be a richly featured shopping tool, recipe organizer, and meal planner. The focus of the app is clearly on grocery lists and organizing your weekly shopping, but don’t count out its meal planning features. It’s free, cross platform (available for iOS/Android/web), and even sports a clipping bookmarklet to save all of your favorite recipes (if it’s not already in their database.) When you’re ready to build your meal plan, you get a weekly overview that lets you add specific recipes and dishes to each day, and then generate a grocery list based on those recipes. Then you can sync your meal plan with your calendar outside of the app so you get notifications on what to make, and can share your weekly menu with others. Ziplist can also notify you to sales, coupons, and other discounts available in the stores you shop, so you can save money and eat well at the same time.

Those of you who nominated ZipList praised its department-sorted shopping lists, built-in store circulars and coupons, and the fact that unlike many apps that generate grocery lists based on recipes, it gives you the option to cross items off that you already have before it adds the item to the list. Plus, it doesn’t just add everything blindly, so if you have two recipes that require salt, your shopping list isn’t cluttered with entries for salt. You can read more about it its nomination thread here.

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Plan to Eat is a menu planning and grocery list organizer that is as elegant as it is simple to use. It’s great for organizing your recipes, makes meal-planning a drag-and-drop affair from your recipe list onto a calendar, and will automatically generate your shopping list week by week. We’ve mentioned it before, and while it’s web-only (there are mobile apps on the way, according to the folks behind it) it’s still easy to use, powerful, and it gets the job done. Once you have a meal plan all set, just tell Plan to Eat to build your meal plan, and they’ll send it to you when its done, no hassle. Plan to Eat also plays nice with special diets, which is great if you have to cook for people with different tastes, or you’re trying something new with your own diet. The only downside is its price—a subscription will set you back $5/mo, or $40/yr. If you’re willing to pay the price for that level of ease-of-use, it’s a worthwhile investment so you can spend your time doing other things. There’s a free trial available if you want to give it a whirl before you decide to spend your money.

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Those of you who nominated Plan to Eat highlighted its drag-and-drop menu planner, its exceptional customer service for those people who may need it, and its ease of use. It’s probably one of the easiest menu planning tools in the lineup, and even though it’s not free, many of you noted that you’re busy people with busy lives, and it helps to have Plan to Eat take care of the grocery list and recipe search for you. You can read tons more in its lengthy nominations thread here.

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Paprika

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Paprika is a recipe manager for iPhone, iPad, OS X, Android, Kindle, and Windows devices. There’s no web interface, so you’ll have to use the apps, but it is great at keeping your recipes neatly organized and collected. Importing recipes from the web is easy enough, you just need the URL of the recipe you want to add. Paprika’s focus is on recipe management, but it also includes smart grocery lists and a menu planner that lets you add recipes to your plan, rate them once you’ve prepared them, and generate a grocery list for the week based on the things you want to make. Paprika will also help you when you’re in the kitchen, walking you through each recipe step by step, complete with cooking timers and notifications when it’s time to move on to the next step. If you like a little bit of form with your function, it’s worth a look—the only downside, beyond the fact there’s no web support, is the price. The OS X app is $20, and each of the mobile apps (including separate apps for iPhone and iPad; it’s not universal) are $5. You’ll have to buy a copy for every device you want to use Paprika on.

Paprika’s nominations thread was full of stories about its ease of use, especially compared to other apps, and its tablet-friendliness, especially on the iPad, Kindle, and Nook. Its smart grocery list feature will combine ingredients needed for multiple recipes, so you don’t have a grocery list that has “2 egg” in one place and “1 egg” in another—you’ll just have “3 eggs,” so you’ll know whether to pick up a dozen or a half-dozen, or whatever you actually need. You can read more in its nominations thread here.

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Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to a vote and determine the community favorite:

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No honorable mentions this week, as the votes fell off pretty quickly from these five, but there are plenty of other options in the call for contenders thread if you’re looking for alternatives. Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.

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The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at [email protected]!

Photo by eiko.

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Planning out meals is one of the best ways to eat healthier, cut calories, lose weight, and feed the whole family fast. It’s also pretty hard to do — but the right app can make your modern meals a whole lot easier to create, shop for, and prepare. Take a look at the best meal-planning apps that are ready to step up to the plate to give you a helping hand.

Further reading

  • Best food-delivery apps
  • Hello Fresh vs. Blue Apron
  • Best meal prep containers

Allrecipes Dinner Spinner (free)

If you need some help and some company in the kitchen, Allrecipes Dinner Spinner’s food-centric social app, with its community of more than 30 million home cooks, can help you put some variety in your dietary life. This personalized app gets smarter as you follow, save, or prepare various dishes. Tailor your selections by searching by keyword or ingredients to focus on dietary needs and time restrictions and then use the app to save, create, organize, and share recipe collections. You can also economize by cooking what’s on sale near you, and the app can suggest recipes when you walk to certain stores. Tap to add full recipes or ingredients to your shopping list, which you can cook with the help of some 1,000 step-by-step cooking videos, complete with cooking instructions.

iOS Android

Veganized (free)

Veganized is a plant-based diet meal planner that lets you search, create, and share vegan recipes and track your nutrition. It helps you plan meals and create shopping and grocery lists to gather all the items you need to prepare vegan recipes. As a recipe app with a social networking platform, you can find new recipes and create and share your own recipes with the community. A nutrients function lets you check all energy, macronutrient distribution, fiber, vitamin, and mineral information for each dish. Veganized helps you plan your meals every day and personalizes nutrient intake according to your age, gender, weight, and level of physical activity. And it generally helps to promote a vegan diet and lifestyle.

Android

Mealime (free)

Mealime (no, not a typo) is designed around planning family or guest meals the easy way. You can create profiles of everyone you are cooking for, which can list likes, dislikes, general eating habits, allergies, and so on. You can also create profiles for couples or whole families to make planning a little easier. You can then look for recipes that match all those requirements. Pick one, and it gives you full instructions and can automatically add the necessary ingredients to your grocery list. Most recipes are focused on fast prep times around 30 minutes, so you may be able to save even more time in the kitchen. Recent updates to the app include new recipes, retooled older recipes, six-person servings and custom serving sizes, improvements to delivery integration with Instacart, revamped recipe descriptions and history, and the ability to share your list with other apps, print from your phone, or share with your family members inside the app.

iOS Android

FoodPlanner (free)

FoodPlanner is based around recipes. It allows you to browse the web for healthy recipes and download them onto the app. It gives you the nutritional data for the meals and allows you to automatically generate a shopping list. An extra inventory-management system for the truly serious foodie allows you to keep track of your current ingredients, and you can also make recipes from scratch if you wish. There are sharing features as well that can help you figure out how to meal prep.

iOS Android

MealPlan+ ($4)

MealPlan presents you with meal tags that you can drag and drop into a weekly schedule to quickly plan your meals (and even email them to other people). The tags make it easy to search for specific meals, and can automatically generate grocery lists for you. You can also tweak meals to add snacks, put in links to specific recipes, or remove certain meals entirely. You can search for new meals and generate a tag for them, too. There’s a learning curve, but it’s a fun system, particularly if you have an iPad or an Apple Watch.

iOS

MealBoard ($4)

Do you love to customize every little detail? Then MealBoard may be the app for you. It acts like many of the other apps on our list, with a search function for meals pulled from the internet, the ability to plan out meals on a calendar, and the option to generate a grocery list. But a couple of features make it unique: The interface is particularly pleasant to use and easy to customize, and there’s a pantry mode that allows you to move ingredients to your pantry when you buy them and remove them when you run out.

iOS

Eat This Much (free)

Here’s a different approach: If your primary goal is to lose weight, then Eat This Much encourages you to enter your food preferences, how much money you want to spend, your schedule, and how many calories the meals will contain. It will then generate meal plans for you and provide grocery lists for the ingredients. If you like cooking (as opposed to meal delivery) but want to develop healthier eating habits, this app could help you do just that. Recent versions add the option to count and generate food based on net carbs. Subscribers can now order groceries online through AmazonFresh. Food Search has been overhauled, allowing you to browse multiple categories of foods at once, with your favorites easier to find, while clarifying the distinction between different food genres.

iOS Android

Lose It! (free)

Lose It! is a weight-loss app, but instead of recording the number of calories you want per meal, you just set general goals and a bodyweight target that you want to reach. Then you accurately track what you are eating and what sort of exercise you are getting. The app includes a food database with millions of options to choose from, a scanning function so you can instantly add purchased foods, and even some photo recognition for basic foods. It’s ideal if you like to combine planning with tracking. In recent updates the app now sends recipe ingredients as separate food items to the Apple Health App.

iOS Android

Paprika ($5)

Paprika Recipe Manager 3 is an interactive meal planner. In addition to the usual features like finding recipes online, building automatic grocery lists, and planning meals for the week or month, it provides tools that you can use to go deeper. Automatically scale ingredients, cross them off as you add them to your dish, post photos to your recipes, and customize your grocery categories based on how you like to shop — there are tons of ways to make sure everything is just the way you like it. Newer versions add the ability to search recipe descriptions and better sync performance.

iOS Android

Yummly (free)

Yummly is a food-sharing and recipe-finding app that features plenty of vivid photos and a rating system to help you find the most popular (or at least the most talked-about) recipes online. When it comes time to actually make the dish, Yummly can also supply video guides, and even recommends food. If you have your meal routine worked out but need some help finding the right recipes, Yummly is a great, albeit more casual, app. Recent updates include Ingredient Recognition wherein Yummly uses real-time image recognition to detect the ingredients you have on hand and recommends the best recipes to make with them. A new Pro version is now available for $5 per month that features hands-on cooking shows from famous chefs from around the world.

iOS Android

Editors’ Recommendations

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8 Meal Planners You Should Buy for a Healthy 2018

Photo: May Designs

The time for New Year’s resolutions is almost here, and you probably have some health-related goals you’d like to accomplish in 2018. Whether you’re looking to workout more, eat healthier, save money on groceries, or streamline your meal planning, we have a planner that’s perfect for you.

May Designs

Eating healthy should still be delicious.

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We love these journals so much, we even included them in our Great Gifts for Your Favorite Cook gift guide. Their online personalization tool allows you to choose your unique cover, font, colors, and pages for a specific-to-you planner. The meal planner journal is food-focused with space for recipes, notes, daily meal logs, and grocery lists. You can also choose the health and fitness notebook with everyday food, water, and exercise tracking, plus space to log goals and notes for the future.

Starts at $18, maydesigns.com

Eat Pretty Live Well Guided Journal

Begin your year with 40 days of guided health journaling and reflection. Track your meals and health goals, while also answering daily questions to help you gain perspective on your overall health. The journal goes beyond a food log by allowing you to consider how some foods affect your wellbeing, when you feel your best, and what you’re grateful for.

$12.11, barnesandnoble.com

Nourished Planner

This planner will be your new best friend. Keep your schedule in check with full-page calendars and sections for notes, goals, self improvement, daily to-do lists, and budgeting. The planner is perfect for someone looking to journal, schedule, and meal plan—all in the same place.

Starting at $32, nourishedplanner.com

Rifle Paper Co. Rosa Weekly Meal Planner

Keep meal planning simple with this weekly notepad. Plan meals and snacks for the week and keep a running shopping list in one place. Then, easily tear off the shopping list to toss in your bag when you head to the store. Meal planning has never been easier.

$15.95, papersource.com

SkinnyTaste Meal Planner: Track and Plan Your Meals, Week-by-Week

The updated and revised version of this meal planner comes just in time for the new year. Plan all of your meals with additional shopping lists and sections for weekly goals, calorie and diet point tracking, health tips, notes, and weekly exercise goals. As a bonus, SkinnyTaste includes top recipes from her blog to incorporate into your meal planning.

$12.18 (pre-order only until 12/19), Target.com

PetitePlanner- Meal Planner

Log every meal, track prices, plan for dinner parties, make shopping lists, record recipes, and reference measurement charts in one, organized place. If you’re looking to simply customize your own Erin Condren LifePlanner, you can purchase the additional snap-in meal planning dashboard as a meal planning upgrade.

$12, erincondren.com

Moleskine Passion Journal- Wellness

Stunning Moleskine notebooks are transformed into a wellness passion journal. View seasonal food calendars, food facts, and measurements charts while logging your wellness journey in sections dedicated to diet, exercise, personal goals, general health, games, and inspirations.

$22.95, us.moleskine.com

2018 Rose Gold Fit Planner by Blogilates

Everything you need is in one spot with the Blogilates fit planner. Track meals, water intake, workouts, grocery lists, and reflections in one compact agenda and journal. There are even inspirational quotes, personal prompts, and doodle space for whatever kind of journal you want.

$36, popflexactive.com

zen habits : breathe

By Leo Babauta

Most people know how to eat healthy, and know that they should — it’s just that when it comes down to implementing this knowledge, there’s a bridge that needs to be crossed from knowledge to action.

How do you actually eat healthy, instead of just knowing that you should eat healthy?

Create a meal plan, constructed with super healthy foods that you enjoy eating.

Now, there are three parts of that solution, if you look closely, and all three parts are equally important:

  1. Create a meal plan. Without this, you’ll just know what to eat, vaguely, but you need to actually make a plan and implement it (meaning, go shopping for the foods in the plan and actually cook the foods and eat them).
  2. Super healthy foods. A meal plan without this doesn’t get you to where you want to go. Build your meals around stuff that’s really good for you. You can add other stuff, of course, but the super healthy stuff should be the majority of the food.
  3. Food you really love. This is key. If you don’t enjoy the foods, you won’t stick with the plan for long. No one can eat food they don’t enjoy for more than a month or so (usually less). It’s why most diets fail — anyone can stick with a diet for a couple of weeks, but if you feel that you are suffering by eating it, you’ll fall off it after a little while. Instead, make sure you love your food. Add variety, of course, and mix up the plan every few weeks, but stick with foods you love.

Given those simple components, the solution doesn’t seem so hard, does it? And with a super healthy meal plan like this — one that you love — you can pair it with some exercise and get healthier than ever.

What follows are some of my building blocks. They aren’t the only possible building blocks, and you shouldn’t use them exclusively, but they’re a good starting point for anyone. Below those building blocks are some sample meals you can use, but only if you love these foods like I do. Instead of following it exactly, use it as a starting place, as a few ideas you can use to construct your own meal plan — with foods you love, not ones that I love.

Super Healthy Building Blocks

Spinach and other greens. Spinach is my favorite of the greens, but other good ones include kale, bok choi, collards, dark green lettuce (skip iceberg), and other similar greens. Try to build a couple of your meals around these greens, as they are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. And best yet: super low in calories. You can eat a whole plate of greens and while they can fill you up, you couldn’t possibly get fat on them (unless you added a bunch of butter or fatty dressing or something like that).

Avocadoes. I love these things. Full of good fats and good flavor, avocadoes are perfect for salads, sandwiches, wraps and more.

Tomatoes. There are other good fruits and veggies, but tomatoes are one of my favorites, not only for their nutritional content but because of the flavor they add to any dish — salads, sandwiches, pastas, soups, anything.

Fruits. Don’t worry about their “carb content”. Fruits are incredible snacks, because they are filled with fiber and vitamins but are low in calories. I eat lots of apples, oranges, bananas, mangoes, pears, grapes, melons. I like to get a big back of small apples and just munch on them whenever I’m hungry. I also add fruits to all kinds of uncooked meals, chopped up or as a side dish.

Berries. They’re fruits, but they’re so special to me that I add them as a separate item. I absolutely adore berries. They are like a dessert to me, eaten cold and slowly and with my eyes closed. I add them to cereal, yogurt, smoothies, desserts, oatmeal and more … and of course just eat them by themselves.

Nuts. Full of fiber and good fats and protein. I like to chop them up and put them in hot cereal or salads or stir frys, or just eat them raw and whole as snacks (almonds are my favorites). I also enjoy almond butter instead of peanut butter (although I eat both).

Beans. Great sources of fiber and protein, low in calories, you can eat beans all day long. I like them in chili, soups, tacos and more. Get a variety — red, black, pinto, white, lentils.

Whole grains. This is a broad category that includes all kinds of cereals, breads, wraps, brown rice, pizza dough, and more. Try to go for as much whole grain as possible — if you see “wheat flour” or “enriched wheat flour” it’s not as good. I especially like sprouted grains, such as Ezekiel sprouted bread or English muffins or cereals. Oatmeal is good (avoid instant) as is muesli.

Olive or canola oil. You need fats, but they should be the good kind. Avoid saturated, although a little saturated fat is fine. I usually use olive oil or canola oil, although there are other good ones too. Again, nuts and avocadoes also provide good fats. I also use ground flaxseed on lots of things for fiber and good fats.

Lean protein. As a vegetarian, I eat lean vegetable protein — lots of soy protein and beans and nuts. Whole grains also contain protein, as do other veggies. It’s not hard to meet your daily requirements, even with lots of exercise raising your requirements. However, if you’re not vegetarian, fish and lean poultry are best, and lean red meat can be included if you don’t eat too much of it. Note: Please, let’s not get into another debate about soy protein or meat! Let those sleeping dogs lie.

Lean calcium. I try to stick to soy sources, but that’s not necessary for good health. However, try to stick with lower-fat versions, as whole dairy can have too much saturated fat. Lower-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese are good choices. Soy milk and yogurt are great because they are very low in saturated fat.

A Sample Meal Plan

This is not something you should just adopt wholesale, without making changes. In fact, if these are foods you don’t like, ditch the whole thing, but use it just to get an idea of what you can do. These are foods I love to eat, but you should choose your own.

Also remember that I’m not a dietician. I’ve run these meals through online calculators, and most of the time you’ll get plenty of all the things you’ll need, from protein and healthy fats to the major vitamins and minerals, including calcium and iron. But don’t take my advice as the advice of an expert.

Each day, you would choose one of the meals from each category (more from the snacks), or mix them up if you like. Be sure to get a variety, and change the options every few weeks or so.

Breakfasts

  1. Hot oatmeal (using rolled oats) with chopped fruits or dried fruits, flaxseed, and/or berries.
  2. Kashi cereal with soymilk and berries or other fruits.
  3. Sprouted grain toast with almond butter, chopped fruits on the side.
  4. Scrambled tofu with tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, onions. (Try this recipe).
  5. Fried brown rice — fry up with olive oil, onions, mushrooms, green veggies, tofu, soy sauce or tamari sauce. You can throw in some corn or carrots or other veggies.

Lunches

  1. Veggie sandwich or wrap. Can have tomatoes, spinach or other greens, avocadoes, hummus, bell peppers, maybe some dijon mustard and/or Veganaise. Any combo that works for you. On thick whole grain bread or whole grain wrap.
  2. Whole wheat pita with hummus. Add tomatoes and raw spinach and sprouts.
  3. Veggie burger. Gardenburger is my favorite brand. On a sprouted grain bun, with dijon mustard and ketchup and maybe a touch of Veganaise, lots of veggies (greens, sprouts, tomatoes and avocadoes are my favorites). Add some homemade sweet potato fries (use olive oil and a little salt) if you’re feeling decadent. These fries also go well with the sandwich or wrap.
  4. Amy’s Kitchen lunches. For when you’re lazy or in a hurry. Amy’s Kitchen has a whole variety of fairly healthy, vegetarian lunches made from whole foods. Very little processed stuff. The only weakness is that it’s usually high in sodium, but if the rest of your day is low in sodium (as most of these dishes are), then that’s not a worry.
  5. Big salad. I like to use spinach or other greens, tomatoes, avocadoes, feta cheese, nuts, maybe some chopped fruit or berries, and a little bit of light vinaigrette (Newman’s Own is my favorite).
  6. Leftovers from dinners or fried brown rice (see breakfasts)

Snacks

  1. Fruits.
  2. Chopped veggies. Carrots, broccoli, edamame are some of my favs. Dip in hummus if you like.
  3. Nuts. Almonds are my favorites.
  4. Protein shake. Good after a strength workout. I use soy protein, although whey is also a good choice, along with soy milk, frozen berries, banana and ground flaxseed.
  5. Clif Bar. Good for before or after a workout (or during a really long workout, for that matter). My favorites are apricot or cranberry apple cherry.
  6. Yogurt with berries or fruits and nuts.

Dinners

  1. Tofu veggie stir fry. Just stir fry some onions, cubed tofu, and chopped veggies — various greens such as kale or bok choi work well, as do broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, anything really. Add some soy sauce or tamari, black pepper and anything else you’d like to add — nuts, sesame seed oil, ginger, garlic, a little honey all work well in different combinations. Serve over brown rice if you like.
  2. Tacos. Some low-fat refried beans and/or black beans on soft corn tortillas with salsa (try Newman’s Own salsa or Amy’s), greens, tomatoes, maybe corn or even some Sour Supreme.
  3. Chili. Here’s my veggie recipe. Great with brown rice or corn bread or on its own.
  4. Spaghetti or other pasta. Cook any kind of pasta you like. Cook some onions with diced tomatoes and bell peppers and some tomato sauce and basil. Add some fresh Parmesan if you like. For a meatier version, cook some veggie “ground beef” (Bocca or MorningStar) with onions and then add some pre-made pasta sauce.
  5. Homemade pizza. Get a pre-made whole-wheat pizza crust, add some pre-made spaghetti sauce, and then any chopped veggies you like, brushed with olive oil. Kale, broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers all work great. Add some grated fresh cheese if you like.
  6. Leo’s fabulous veggie soup. Simple awesome. Here’s the recipe. Will last you several days, even with a ridiculously large family like mine.

7 Meal Planning Services That Actually Make You Excited For Dinner

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Moms are busier than ever balancing work, kids and their personal life. And it only gets crazier the older our kids get! When it comes to planning and executing dinner it can be stressful and frustrating to come up with new ideas that are kid-approved. Sure, you could sign up for one of those meal delivery services that come in a cool refrigerated box, but those get pretty expensive once that free coupon runs out. That’s why we love meal planning services that help take the guesswork out of planning your entire weekly menu. We’ve rounded up the best high quality and affordable options to make dinner as smooth as possible.

1.eMeals

As a leader in the meal planning sector, eMeals offers the most variety when it comes to menu choices. As a subscriber, you can pick from options like Diabetic, Budget Friendly, 30-Minute Meals, Kid Friendly and Slow Cooker focused menus. Perhaps one of the coolest features is that you can also shop by grocery store, meaning eMeals will plan meals around your local supermarkets sales and availability. It’s a truly unique option that no other meal planning service has. Prices start at $5 a month and you can try it for free for 14 days. Head to eMeals to see more info.

2. Relish

Not all families are the same, and Relish is one of the only meal planning services that allows you to scale your meal size from 2-8 people (and your shopping list gets automatically updated too!). Once you get your weekly menu, you can also edit and add meal sides to accomodate your picky eaters. Relish also offers a freezer prep section to help stock your freezer and they even give you labels too! Check out the other amazing benefits at Relish.

3. No More To-Go

With two weeks free, there’s no reason you shouldn’t try out No More To-Go’s meal planning services. Paid options include 3, 6 and 12-month periods that cap out at $64 total, which is money well spent when you consider the headaches you’re saving from stressing over dinner. When you join, you’ll receive 5 weekly meals (because who cooks 7 nights a week?) and corresponding grocery lists that are organized by department to help you shop efficiently. Instructions are easy to follow and most meals only take 30 minutes from prep to table. Visit No More To-Go to sign up!

4. Deliciously Organic

Starting out at $6 a month, Deliciously Organic’s meal plans cover their Classic, Paleo, Gluten-free, Grain-free and All Access options. You can expect to get get a slew of helpful information in addition to the weekly 5 dinners, such as a few extra dessert and snack recipe, shopping lists, recipes that are kid-friendly and more. DO’s recipes utilize ingredients that are organic, use healthy fats, seeds, nuts and unprocessed sweeteners. If you’re looking to eat organic and more healthy all around, head to Deliciously Organic.

5. Cook Smarts

A subscription to Cook Smarts gives you 4 meal plans for the price of one, because each of their meals has a gluten free, paleo and vegetarian option. I also like to call this the “mom plan” because it often feels like every member of the family wants something different! You can get your first three meals for free, and then monthly fees range from $6-8 depending on your plan. You get access to tons of goodies, like their 1-Click grocery list, cooking videos, and access to all their meal archives dating back to May 2013! There are even more benefits to joining, so visit Cook Smarts to see them all.

6. PlateJoy

PlateJoy uses their own lifestyle quiz that addresses your time available for cooking, health goals and more to determine the best meal plan for you. Some of their menu options include batch cooking, clean eating, peanut free, food allergies and quick & easy plans. Using the info from your quiz, PlateJoy seeks to offer better portion sizing and gives you access to their in-house nutritionist if you have questions. Check out all the other ways PlateJoy is set apart from other meal planning services!

7. The Fresh 20

Each week you’ll receive a shopping list that has 20 fresh ingredients that takes 20 minutes (or less) to shop for. There are no processed or frozen foods, which means no preservatives! Then all you need is 1 hour to prep the entire week’s worth of meals so they’re ready to go on the day of. Dinners are family friendly and fun for the whole gang to cook. If you’re looking to cut out processed foods The Fresh 20 is a great way to start.

More helpful posts on meal planning:

6 Simple Meal Planning Tips For The Real Mom

6 Dinner Services That Will Save Your Weeknights

7 Fresh Tips for Meal Planning

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Karly Wood

Editor at Red Tricycle I’m a born and bred Southern California native and currently the managing editor at Red Tri. I get to share my life with my husband of 13 years and our beautiful, 5-year old daughter. In my free time you’ll catch me cheering for the Dodgers, cooking, baking, reading, crafting and probably watching a little HGTV!

Latest posts by Karly Wood (see all)

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Hi everyone,

Kiran Dodeja Smith

I’m Kiran and I’ve known Lisa for years…I’ve watched her start this blog from Day 1 and have been thrilled to see her success – not only for her, but for others as well. I don’t have to tell you what a great resource it is!

Unlike Lisa, I’ve been reading food labels for almost 20 years. Hopefully that won’t date me too much! All kidding aside, eating “healthy” has been a longtime goal of mine; eating “real” has come in more recently.

I have a family that includes four kids under the age of 8. Getting a healthy meal on the table is always a goal, albeit not always an easy one. So after seeing so many meal planning services, I decided to try out a few. I’ve checked out and tried five of the big ones that appeal to me.

If you’ve ever been curious about meal plans or wondered which one may work for you, I’m hopeful that this can help. I’ll start with a summary chart, but be sure to read on for the details of each plan!

Meal Planning Service Customizable Ease of Preparation
(5 is easiest)
“Real” Food Rules Changes Required Regular Price
no 4 out of 5 Few $6/mo. (for 3 mos.*)
no 4 out of 5 Very few $9.99/mo.*
yes Depends (you choose your own recipes) Depends (you choose your own recipes) $4.95/mo.*
yes 5 out of 5 Moderate $7/mo. (for 3 mos.*)
no 3 out of 5 Very few $5/mo. (for 3 mos.*)

–*Additional options available (i.e. 6 months, 1 year, etc.)

Meal Planning Service Shopping List Included Shopping List Cost/Week
(5 is easiest)
Free Trial Number of Meals Provided Available Meal Plan Tracks
yes $100-$125 Free week sample 5 plus snack Classic
yes N/A Free sample plans available 5 plus desserts and snack Classic, Gluten-Free, Grain-Free (paleo)
yes Depends (you choose your own recipes) 1 month free trial Unlimited N/A
(choose your own recipes)
yes $70-$80 2 weeks free trial 5 Classic, Customizable (to special dietary needs)
yes $75 Free sample plans available 5 Classic, Gluten-Free, Vegetarian

No More ‘To Go’

History:

Though this service may be the newest player on the block (on my list), meal planner Stacey Stabenow has been planning meals for years. Friends of the Texan mom of three were always amazed at her meal organization that included a whiteboard in her kitchen with the week’s meals planned out. After being urged by others to offer up her service, her business was up and running with quick success. Stabenow tries all of the recipes ahead of time to make sure they work and admits that she doesn’t do casseroles. “I don’t do canned or boxed,” she also says.

My take:

No More ‘To Go’ is a great happy medium of the plans, if you will. Though it errs on the healthier/ “real” side, it’s still a great realistic plan. Weekly meals within the plan include one pasta dish for the week and one ethnic (think Tex-Mex/Italian or Chinese) dish as well. Each meal has photos (a fave of mine) and each also has a Kid Note (great for us moms – includes suggestions on spices/etc.), a Vegetarian Tip (how to make it vegetarian) and Gluten Modifications for those who are gluten-sensitive.

Personal likes:

  • Great “clean” feel.
  • Love that she tries each meal with her kids first.
  • Enjoy the photos.
  • Each recipe has a meat, starch and fresh vegetable.

Would like to see:

  • One of the weekly recipes with fewer ingredients for the super busy nights.
  • A few less “real food” substitutions needed.

The real deal (my meal):

It didn’t take long for me to choose my meal; one look at the Crispy Fish Flatbreads with Spicy Tarter Sauce with a Spinach and Bacon Sauté and I was sold. Per Lisa’s suggestion, I substituted whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs and used ghee instead of canola oil. I was actually able to find some whole-wheat flatbreads at my grocery store, which I incorporated. Relish (in the homemade tartar sauce) needs to be without high fructose corn syrup or artificial dyes, and I used a local egg in preparing my fish and local spinach in the salad. The preparation was straightforward and while my husband and I enjoyed the sandwiches, my kids were actually more fond of the spinach sauté!

Crispy Fish Flatbreads with Spicy Tarter Sauce with Spinach Bacon Saute from No More ‘To Go’

Deliciously Organic

It all began with a 25-year-old mother of two who was suffering from debilitating migraines. After beginning to slowly change her foods to organic, she noticed immediate changes. But switching to all organic food wasn’t that delicious to begin with. Over time, Carrie Vitt adapted recipes to make them tastier and more desirable … this turned into a blog, which she began in 2009, and then a cookbook, which she released in January 2011. Vitt shares her successes of her family overcoming severe asthma, eczema, IBS and migraines in her blog, where she also offers meal plans.

If you’re looking for “real food,” Deliciously Organic fits the bill. While going through recipes, many sounded appealing to me. Three meal plan tracks are available: Classic, Grain-free and Gluten Free. I went with the Classic route and was pleased to see a variety throughout the weeks that I viewed. One of the five meals was a vegetarian meal (think Penne with Spinach, Peas, Goat Cheese and Walnuts), and I was pleased to see a fish dish or perhaps one incorporating pork chops or something out of the “norm” that we (ok, I) generally get stuck in. Chicken breasts can only get so exciting after a while!

What I loved about Vitt’s recipes was that she spiced up something that could be basic with a few key ingredients to give it a fresh, new twist. To change things up around the house, I opted for Baby Greens with Avocado, Oranges and Red Onion and Baked Sourdough Bread with Olive Pesto.

  • Beautiful photography.
  • All meals sound appealing.
  • Follows real food rules – not many substitutions needed.
  • Dessert and snack recipes included are a great bonus.

Would love to see:

  • Search function.
  • While I love the variety of ingredients used, costs can add up.

I was pleasantly surprised with the ease of preparation of this meal. Most of the ingredients I already had on hand, aside from Pecorino Romano cheese and black olives. While Lisa would surely suggest using whole-wheat sourdough bread, I could only find white sourdough from my grocer’s bakery. Unfortunately my kids were not crazy about the pesto – I think I have the only kids in the world who are not a fan of cheese. But my husband loved it and I was overjoyed to have a solid salad recipe that my kids enjoyed. The dressing made the difference, no doubt.

Baby Greens with Avocado, Oranges and Red Onion, Baked Sourdough Bread with Olive Pesto from Deliciously Organic

Plan to Eat

If you’re anything like me, you have a plethora of recipes that you like to make. Sure, you add some to your collection – but you have those that stay in the rotation, and some that you’re really fond of but you somehow forget. Enter Plan to Eat, a website that lets you store them all, import new ones, and plan your monthly meals. It’s a disorganized head-of-the-kitchen’s dream-come-true, a service I can’t believe I only recently found out about.

Developed by a husband and wife team, Plan to Eat has been noted as a site that has revolutionized meal planning. As opposed to sending you meal plans each week, this is an organizer that lets you organize and plan your own meals.

Personally, I love this service. I became a member of a CSA (a.k.a. Community Supported Agriculture) program this summer at a local farm and therefore have seasonal vegetables to work with each week. Though some of the other meal plan services utilize seasonal fruits and veggies, searching for and uploading recipes that can incorporate my weekly selection is a necessity for me. I also have finally found a place to store all of my recipes that I’ve been making for years. Oftentimes my husband will comment on a dish that I made at some point, which of course I have completely forgotten about. The various cookbooks, cutout recipes, and printed papers now have a place where I can store them and find them – and not forget them.

Recipes can be added from over 100 websites and blogs. A brand new component allows you to add recipes from any site/blog with a bookmarklet. You can share recipes with friends on the site and see their recipes as well.

One of my girlfriends and I always discuss cooking and meals. We “friended” each other on Plan to Eat and now I can see the meal that she referenced earlier in our conversation, and she can see mine. Once you have recipes added, you can easily drag and drop them into a calendar to make your monthly meal plan. From your calendar, an automatic shopping list is made.

I received a large head of cabbage in addition to kale from Poplar Ridge Farm and was in search of a meal where I could utilize both. I remembered a meal that I had made with chicken and cabbage a few months back but was unsuccessful in finding it again. Determined to not let this happen again, I uploaded this new recipe that I found into “My Plan” and put it on the schedule.

Sesame Braised Chicken and Cabbage through Plan to Eat


The Six O’Clock Scramble

Aviva Goldfarb started The Six O’Clock Scramble back in 2003 after struggling to put a nutritious dinner on the table for her own family. A mother of two, she created the site to provide easy recipes that can be made in 30 minutes or less.

The site is great for anyone who needs to get dinner on the table in a hurry and also those who may not wish to have to buy 15 new ingredients for one meal. Let’s be honest: some of us are more excited about cooking than others. If you’re not in love with it or you don’t have the time you’d like to devote to it, this is a great meal planning service for you. It’s the most comprehensive of the bunch, offering search functions, reader ratings, and such.

  • I love the search function. For example – I had two large zucchini’s that I needed to cook up. I did a search of “zucchini” and came up with numerous options.
  • I personally really like the rating system. Why is it that seeing 4 or 5 stars somehow makes a recipe more appealing?
  • It caters to many different diets – Vegetarian, Food Allergies, Gluten Free, Kosher, Dairy-Free, Low Sodium, and Weight Loss plans available.
  • Nutrition information. While Lisa doesn’t talk a lot about this, I liked finding this information.
  • The recipe box is great for saving recipes.
  • In terms of eating “real food,” I found myself having to make a number of substitutions. Maybe a “real food” track?
  • With so many extra features/choices being offered, options abound. If straightforward simplicity is your thing then this service may not be for you.

With a busy week up ahead, the Turkey and Spinach Enchiladas seemed the perfect fit for our family. My family is a huge fan of anything Mexican, and I loved the fact that it incorporates spinach within. With just 7 ingredients, all which I had on hand, it was simple to throw together.

To follow the “real food” rules, I made a few substitutions: I used whole-wheat tortillas, local ground beef (in lieu of ground turkey), my own recipe for homemade salsa (what a great way to get some seasonal, fresh tomatoes incorporated) and fresh tomatoes as a side and topping.

The consensus was unanimous: the meal was a hit. So much so, that my husband made sure to tell me to keep the recipe and to make it again.

Beef and Spinach Enchiladas from The Six O’Clock Scramble

The Fresh 20

The Fresh 20 was created in 2009 when Melissa Lanz quit her day job to promote good eating habits for her family. The former Internet marketing exec was tired of takeout and thus created a solution for her family, which in turn has been eaten up by tens of thousands of others.

There’s something about The Fresh 20 that just appeals to me. The branding is spot on, in my opinion. It’s clean; it’s simple – just like the recipes it offers. The claim to fame for this meal plan service is that you use only 20 ingredients to create 5 healthy meals each week – no preservatives, processed food, or frozen ingredients. The estimated cost of each meal is $15.

Each week you get a pdf file that includes 5 meals, your “make aheads,” a shopping list, and your recipes. There are three options available – Classic, Vegetarian and Gluten Free. I chose the Classic plan and from that I chose Oven Roasted Salmon with Rosemary Canneli Beans with Kale and Tomatoes, though I was very tempted to try the Fried Farro with Crispy Fried Egg and Kale.

  • Almost all of the meals sound appealing.
  • I love that they use seasonal foods.
  • I already have most of the ingredients on hand.
  • It’s just enough ingredients where I’m not psyched out.
  • The archives are available for members.
  • Photos of the meals. Not necessary, I know, but I find them appealing.
  • A search function.

The meal I prepared actually looked nice enough for me to serve to company, so I prepared it for 6 adults and 5 kids. With that being said, I was very impressed with the turnout …and perhaps I’m slow in the kitchen, but it took me a while to prep and cook. I’m not sure I could personally spend that much time on a regular weeknight every day of the week. In terms of “real food” rules, I only substituted olive oil for grapeseed oil.

Oven Roasted Salmon with Rosemary Canneli Beans with Kale and Tomatoes from The Fresh 20

Well there you have it! Providing real food for your family can definitely be easier with a little help from a meal planning service or pre-planning of your own. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below … are there any meal planning services you personally love? What meal plan features are most important to you?

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About Kiran Dodeja Smith

Kiran Dodeja Smith is the mom of 4 kids and has been a part of the 100 Days team for 6 years. When she’s not in the kitchen cooking, she can be found running (and sometimes more likely running her kids around) and posting on her own blog, EasyRealFood.com.

Reader Interactions

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I couldn’t be more excited to introduce you to one of my most-very-best friends. Her name is Jess, and she was a massive part of the foundation of Made Frank. Honestly, it wouldn’t exist without her. And bless her heart, she weekly, (ahem, daily), answers my questions about ideas, posts, strategies and how to be better at my life in general. She doesn’t know it, but I’m totally recruiting her to share her vast knowledge on how to be a more efficient human as often as possible. She also loves Jesus and is an amazing wife, mother to daughter Clara, and mentor to many. I could go on for days. Suffice it to say, she is something special. Oh, and did I mention our husbands are besties too? (Don’t kill me for that word).

One of her super-human powers is finding and sifting through systems and methods to come up with the best. She happens to be a professional librarian whose job is to learn best practices and systems. So when she asked if I thought you all might want to hear from her about meal plans, and which ones she thinks are valuable, I said, duh. I really think that was my actual answer. Thanks, Jess. LYLAS.

Jess:
When I first started cooking in earnest, it was right after college. I had a sourdough starter, I sprouted beans, I made bone broth, and I learned old traditions for cooking real foods. Fast forward a decade: my husband cooks more often than I do, and I now count buying organic ketchup for our toddler as a victory. Planning, shopping, prepping, and cooking meals is no longer the leisurely adventure that it used to be–I just don’t have the time!

About 6 years ago I began testing pre-made meal planning services. Here’s how it works: you sign up for the type of meal plan (Vegetarian, Paleo, Traditional, Gluten-free, etc), you then download PDFs of shopping lists and recipes. No thinking necessary!

A few things to know about these types of meal plans:

  • If there are meals that you and your family do not care to eat, you can eliminate specific meals from the weekly plan with ease.
  • Most of these services charge a subscription. Even though the subscription fee is very, very much worth the time I save thinking and planning on my own, I saved the PDFs in a Dropbox folder. Then, instead of renewing the yearly subscription, I just rotated through the previous year’s plan (since they rely on seasonal foods).
  • It may take a hot minute for your family to get on board with trying new dishes. That’s okay! I encourage you to persist. Don’t hesitate to explain how this new system lightens your mental load and stress level. And if outsourcing meal planning to a service doesn’t work, outsource it to your spouse or kids (if they’re old enough, obvi).

Pre-Made Meal Plans, Recipe Keeping Systems, and Other Resources

And now, the list! Please note that this list is not exhaustive, and as Pinterest will tell you, there are a million services like this. These are the meal plans that I have either a) used personally, or b) researched enough to have almost purchased and used.

Pre-Made Meal Plans

eMeals :

Probably the most well-known service, These guys are great because they have the most options. You can choose the type of food (Clean Eating, Paleo, Gluten Free, etc), the number of people, and even the grocery store (great for when you’re real broke and can only shop at Aldi). They also frequently have Groupons, so it’s a great deal! $30/year = $0.60/week = less than a penny an hour… which makes it compelling to not have to spend time manually meal planning. Oh, and they have an app!

The Fresh20 :

One of my absolute favorites! We used this one for about a year. You only buy 20 fresh ingredients every week (or every 1 1/2 – 2 weeks if you’re like us). Everything is made from scratch. I actually learned a lot about cooking this way. You do need a well-stocked pantry to make it work, and they provide resources for that as well.

Saving Dinner :

Haven’t tried this one, but I’ve come close to trying their low carb plan for those seasons when we want to *ahem* be more disciplined about managing weight.

5 Dollar Dinners:

Haven’t tried this one either. In addition to 6-week meal plans (classic, gluten free, paleo/whole30), she also has a “20 Meals for $150” series. And store-specific plans. I’ve been wanting to try her one of her Costco or Aldi plans.

Nourished Kitchen and Real Food Weekly:

These are two plans that I’d like to try in the future. They both focus on traditional and fermented foods. One day when I have more time… then I can be a real hippie again. 🙂 I do want to get back to baking my sourdough bread, and I’d love to learn more about fermentation.

Prep Dish:

Just saw an ad for this on Instagram! All their plans are Paleo + Gluten-free.

New Leaf Wellness:

Ok! This is what we are currently doing! So, technically this plan will take you into the realms of freezer cooking. I did a TON of searching before I decided to try their eCookbooks. For instance, Once A Month Meals is super popular and the recipes are by and large very healthy. But what I didn’t like about Once a Month Meals is that for many recipes, you have to cook the food, freeze it, then cook some more after you take it out of the freezer. With the New Leaf Wellness plans, you do ZERO cooking beforehand and then everything goes straight into the crockpot! Winning! The recipes are based on whole, real foods, and they come with printable labels and nutritional info for every meal. I now combine online shopping with Zaycon Fresh, which means that I’m spending even less time shopping and prepping.

Recipe Keeping Systems and Meal Planning Apps

If you prefer more customization, there is, of course, PepperPlate, which is free! I have tried it on and off for years, though it has yet to stick completely. This is a great option if you love collecting recipes from all over the interwebs. You add the recipes, it creates a shopping list!

I’ve also read great reviews of Plan To Eat.

Real Plans:

I tried Real Plans–which is kind of a hybrid between a recipe keeping system and pre-made meal plans. Even though I love many of the blogs the recipes are pulled from, the whole system ended up being a bit too high maintenance for my needs: I loved how powerful and customizable it was but didn’t have the time to tweak it to my liking. The customer service was super great; they issued me a refund promptly. I also tried it very soon after they launched, and it looks like they’ve made improvements! *Note from Paige. Ditto to this. It is amazingly customizable, but I just couldn’t handle the follow through.

Other Resources:

  • Stackable meal prep containers: These are stackable, uniform, and light weight! We use them for taking lunches to work. For lunch we either have leftovers from our crockpot dinners, or a simple combination of chicken breast, broccoli/green beans, and sweet potato (which I also cook in the crockpot!). *this is an affiliate link
  • momAgenda Weekly Planner Pad: This is what I currently use to communicate with my household about what we’re eating for the week. It also helps us to coordinate schedules and keep track of the foods available for snacking.

Phew! That’s what we got for you. But we wanna know… what meal planning services do you use and love? Do you have a different system that works for you and yours? What are your strategies for outsourcing this task?

Best meal planner websites

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