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Meal planning comes with a ton of benefits. It can improve overall diet quality, motivate you to try new foods and help you lose weight. It can also be beneficial to your wallet, too—when you plan meals, you’re less likely to overbuy groceries, waste food and/or order takeout since you have your weekly menu ready to go. But meal planning can take a lot of time, and it can feel complicated, especially if you’re new to it.
The best meal planning apps solve all of these problems. Instead of having to manually put together weekly recipes and grocery lists yourself, meal planning apps automatically do it for you. They can take dietary preferences and restrictions into consideration, too, so instead of searching far and wide for recipes that work for you, you can easily filter within the app. Many of these apps also track macros and calories and save your favorite recipes in one place so you don’t have to go searching for them when you want to cook.
Whether you’re looking for an app that can help you lose weight, or you just need help planning family meals and weeknight dinners, there’s a good fit for you. In this guide, we highlight seven of our favorite meal planning apps, discussing the pros and cons of each. We also include a comprehensive guide to help you narrow down the options.
This content is meant to be informative, but should not be taken as medical advice. It is not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention or treatment of health problems. Always speak with your doctor before starting any new supplement or exercise regimen.
Our Picks for the Best Meal Planning App:
- Best Psychology-Based Meal Planning App: Noom
- Best Free Meal Planning App: Mealime
- Best Meal Planning App for Weight Loss: PlateJoy
- Best Recipes Meal Planning App: Paprika
- Best Meal Planning App for Families: Cozi
- Best Meal Planning App for Kid-Friendly Recipes: Prepear
- Best Vegan Meal Planning App: Forks Over Knives
- Recipe database
- Access to Noom coaches and support groups
- Daily lessons and exercise, weight and step tracking
- Available on iOS and Android
Noom is a goal-setting and meal planning app rolled into one. The main focus is to help you reach your goals—whether you want to eat healthier foods or lose weight—by addressing behaviors and roadblocks that may be getting in the way. When you sign up for the meal planning app, you’ll take a quick survey about your goals, personal schedule and body type. You’ll also answer questions about how well you relate to specific statements, like “Food often provides me emotional comfort.”
From there, you’ll be set up with a Noom coach and a specific program that gives you access to various meal planning tools. There’s a recipe database that you can use to build your entire day (there are breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options). After trying the meals, you can save your favorites to easily refer back to them. You also have the option to add your own recipes or log your meals on your own—you just add each of the a la carte components, and Noom will provide the nutrition information for you.
In addition to these meal planning tools, you’ll get access to daily lessons around health and well-being, interactive challenges and support groups if you want help from the community. There are also exercise, weight and step tracking tools in the app. You can sign up for a monthly subscription or an auto-renewing plan for any length of time (there are one- to 12-month options). The cost is higher than other meal planning apps, but this is really a wellness service that includes meal logging and tracking.
Related: The Best Weight Loss Apps to Help You Meet Your Goals and Make Lasting Diet Changes
- Tailors programs to meet specific goals
- Gives access to a coach to help you plan
- Other tools, like exercise, step and weight tracking
- More expensive than others
- Recipe database
- Grocery list creation
- Ability to share plan and lists with others
- Available on iOS and Android
There are several free meal planning apps available, but Mealime is one of the most comprehensive. There are existing meal plans that you can utilize, or you can completely build your own from scratch. If you opt for one of the existing meal plans, you do have the option to edit it by removing any recipes you don’t like and adding ones that you do. If you choose a from-scratch plan, you’ll start with the app’s recipe database and completely build your plan from the ground up.
There are breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack and dessert options available. In the free version, you can filter by dish type and any dietary preferences or allergens. You can also navigate to the most popular or quickest meals if you’re short on time. Once you’ve built your meal plan, the app will automatically populate a shopping list for you with everything you need to cook them. You can also add or delete ingredients at your discretion if you already have something on hand or need to supplement the meal plan with other items. If you’re using the app with someone else—say a partner that’s stopping at the grocery store on the way home—there’s also an option to share the shopping list.
If you want to upgrade to the pro version, you’ll also get access to nutritional information for each recipe, calorie filters in the recipe database and the option to add notes to an individual recipe about any changes you may have made. You’ll also be able to access previous meal plans so you can refer to them again later instead of recreating them from scratch. The upgraded version does have a small monthly recurring fee.
- Existing meal plans available
- Automatically populates grocery shopping list
- Can filter recipes by food preferences or allergens
- Basic version doesn’t have as many features as paid version
- Specific diet meal plans
- Automatic grocery lists
- Digital pantry
- Available on iOS and Android
PlateJoy is all about streamlining the meal planning process to help you reach your weight loss goals. When you sign up, you’re asked a series of questions about your dietary restrictions and preferences (like if you prefer to eat meat or not). You also have the option to follow a specific meal plan, like Mediterranean, low-carb, vegan or paleo (to name a few), or just pick and choose certain likes and dislikes, such as avoiding avocado, eggs, dairy or gluten. Once you’ve got your food preferences nailed down, the app also asks about access to prep and cooking supplies, like a pressure cooker or a blender.
From there, the app populates a personalized meal plan from its recipe database based on your calorie goals—you can add your own calorie goals or ask the app to suggest one for you based on your overall weight loss goals. Once you go through and approve the weekly meal plan, you’ll get a grocery list of everything you need to cook the recipes.
You can also keep a “digital pantry” on the site. This is basically an inventory of what you have in your kitchen. When the app populates your grocery list from your meal plan, it will automatically take into account what you already have to reduce food waste and help you save some money. The app is also integrated with grocery delivery services, Instacart and Amazon Fresh. Once your grocery list is populated, you can click the option to order online instead of going to the store.
PlateJoy is a subscription service—you can choose to pay monthly or opt for a six- or 12-month recurring subscription. If you commit to the longer plan, the overall app cost goes down significantly.
- Many customization options for meal plans
- Creates grocery lists for you
- Can order grocery delivery through the app
- Can’t build a meal plan from scratch
- Recipe import
- Weekly and monthly calendars
- Interactive recipes
- Available on iOS and Android devices, as well as Mac and Windows
Paprika is more of a recipe manager than an independent meal planning app. It’s ideal for anyone who has their own recipe collections and wants to keep them all in one place. You can manually add your own recipes or import recipes from your favorite websites—Paprika will automatically populate the corresponding fields so you can properly track and filter it in-app. If you decide to add your own recipes, you can upload corresponding photos to the recipe cards.
Once you’ve built a library of recipes, Paprika’s meal planner can create weekly or monthly calendars from them. You can also tag your favorite recipes if you want to create meal plans just from those. Because all of the information is saved on the cloud, you can access it from different devices. For example, if you’re at the grocery store, you can follow the shopping list from your phone, but if you’re cooking in the kitchen, you can pick up where you left off on your tablet.
The app is really interactive too. When viewing a recipe, you can cross off ingredients as you go and/or highlight your current cooking step. If the recipe has timed instructions, such as letting pasta boil for 10 minutes, the app can recognize the timer and start it when needed. If you need to adjust the serving size of a specific recipe, the Paprika can automatically scale ingredients for you.
- Can compile recipes from anywhere
- Recipes are interactive
- Saved to the Cloud, so you can access through multiple devices
- Doesn’t have a recipe database
- Family meal calendars
- Manual grocery lists
- Recipe sharing via URLs
- Available on iOS and Android devices
Cozi is designed to help families keep schedules organized. While there are appointment and practice reminders, family meal planning is a big part of the app. There’s a recipe database that has Cozi’s own recipes, as well as recipe collections compiled from popular family magazines. You can also add recipes via a URL from a website or enter your own recipes step-by-step from scratch.
The app integrates with both Chrome (Android) and Safari (iOS), so if you’re browsing a website and you find a recipe you like, you can simply click the share button and send it right to the app. When all of your recipes are loaded, you can manually create meal plans by choosing a recipe and adding it to a specific slot in your family calendar. You can plan a week in advance and share the recipes with any family members who have the app to help with grocery shopping or just to keep them in the know.
Once the meal plan is created, you can add ingredients to your grocery list through each individual recipe. Cozi doesn’t automatically populate the list for you, but it compiles everything in one place so you don’t have to create a separate list outside of the app.
In addition to meal planning, Cozi has a handful of other family management features, including aggregated family calendars, to-do and chore lists and a daily agenda that highlights everything from your family’s calendars.
- Comes with a recipe database
- Can also add your own recipes
- Can share meal plans with family members in the app
- Grocery lists don’t populate automatically
- Recipes from numerous food bloggers
- Dietary preference filters
- Automatic grocery lists
- Available on iOS and Android devices, and accessible through your desktop
If you’re looking for a meal planning app with plenty of healthy meals to feed your kids, Prepear is an excellent option. This app features hundreds of thousands of family-friendly recipes compiled from food bloggers all over the world. You can search the general database or filter by specific food preferences or restrictions, like gluten-free, keto or vegetarian. There’s also a whole database of quick and easy recipes that are ideal for weeknight dinners.
When you find recipes you like, you can save them as favorites and/or add them to a meal plan. Once your whole meal plan is put together, Prepear will automatically compile a customizable grocery list for you. If there are additional things you need, like laundry detergent or toilet paper, you can add them to the list, and then take the list with you to the store or request delivery or curbside pickup via the app.
There are two versions of the app—a free version and a “Gold” version. The free version has all of these features, but with some limitations. For example, you can only use the app’s “Cook Mode,” which allows you to directly connect to a recipe on a blogger’s website, up to three times per week. The free version is also ad-supported and caps out at 100,000 recipes. The Gold version gives you access to every single recipe and cookbook from every blogger on the site and is completely ad-free. You’ll also get unlimited use of the Cook Mode.
- Can easily filter by food preference/restrictions
- Lots of quick, easy meals
- Grocery lists are customizable
- Free version has limited features
- Chef- and nutritionist-created meals
- Automatic or manual meal plans
- Serving size adjustments
- Available on iOS and Android devices
Many meal planning apps give you the option to filter by vegan meals, but they can have limited options. Forks Over Knives, which is 100 percent vegan, has more than 1,000 recipes at any given time, and new recipes are added weekly. Rather than just eliminating animal-based foods, the focus is on healthy recipes that incorporate a lot of whole foods for optimal nutrient density. All recipes are created by vegan chefs and nutritionists, and are also low in fat and sodium. They can all be made in 35 minutes or less.
There are breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack recipes that are categorized by type—like soups, salads and sides—for easy browsing. When you see one you want to try, you can add it to your recipe box and/or build your own meal plan. You can also take advantage of chef-curated meal plans in the app. If you opt for the latter, a chef will build a weekly plan for you based on your specific dietary needs, like soy-free, gluten-free and/or nut-free. If there’s a meal you don’t like, you can swap it for any of the recipes in the database. You can also move recipes to different days.
Serving sizes are adjustable, too. For example, you can opt for half-size servings if you just want a meal for yourself, or you can double servings to feed a family, meal prep or batch cook. Once you approve your meal plan, the app automatically creates a customizable, interactive grocery list for you. You can add to it or remove items and check things off as you shop.
- Can opt for chef-curated meal plans
- More than 1,000 vegan recipes
- New recipes added weekly
- Need to upgrade to paid plan for full access
What To Look For in a Best Meal Planner App
The best meal planner app for you really depends on how you want to use it. There aren’t a set number of features that work for everyone, but here are some things you might want to look for.
A recipe database, or an in-app collection of recipes, is a really helpful tool. This means that immediately after downloading the app, you can access these existing recipes and start building a meal plan right away. Some apps only have the option to manually add your own recipes, and while this is beneficial, it’s helpful to have access to recipes beyond that too.
Automatic meal planning
Meal planning apps work two ways: You can manually add meals from a database, or you can ask the app to put together a meal plan for you. If you’re new to meal planning, you may want to choose an app that has an automatic meal planning option. This takes the majority of the work out of the process, and, in most cases, the meal plan is customizable, so you can use it as a baseline and swap out recipes you don’t like.
Compiling a grocery list from your meal plan is another lengthy part of the meal planning process. Many meal planning apps automatically do this for you. Some even keep track of the ingredients you have on hand and will only fill in what you need to buy. This not only saves time, but can help reduce food waste, too, since you won’t be over-purchasing ingredients.
If you’re following a specific diet, or you have certain foods that you need or want to avoid, choosing an app that caters to different dietary preferences will save you a ton of time. Rather than searching through each recipe, you can simply filter by certain ingredients or diet plans and choose only from the populated recipes.
How We Chose the Best Meal Planning Apps
When choosing the best meal planning apps, we considered the number and variety of recipes, grocery list curation, customer reviews, ease of use and customizability of the meal plans and recipes. We wanted to make sure there were plenty of recipes available in the app, but that they could appeal to a wide variety of people by catering to different dietary needs and preferences. We also looked into accessibility to make sure all the apps we recommend are available on both Android and Apple devices.
What is a meal planning app?
Unlike a meal delivery service, which brings meals to you, a meal planning app is a digital way to organize recipes and menus and keep track of your health goals. Rather than compiling your own recipes from cookbooks and pulling them all together yourself, a meal planning app streamlines the entire process for you on your smartphone or tablet. Many meal planning apps can also build grocery lists for you, so you don’t have to do it manually.
Is meal planning a good way to lose weight?
Studies show that meal planning can be a good way to lose weight, as long as you stick to it. When you meal plan, you also tend to consume a wider variety of healthy foods, which can optimize nutrient intake and reduce obesity.
How do I make a realistic meal plan?
The first step in making a realistic meal plan is to be honest with yourself about what types of recipes you’ll make. Many people choose lengthy recipes that can take hours to prepare and end up giving up because it takes too long. Instead, choose quick, easy recipes with ingredients you’re familiar with. Also, make sure you’re considering your (and your family’s, if applicable) food preferences when choosing meals.
Can you save money with a meal planning app?
Yes, meal planning apps help save money by reducing food waste (as long as you stick to the plan). Not only do meal planning apps outline exactly what you’re eating that week—and utilize all of that food—they can also make it less likely that you’ll go for takeout because you don’t know what’s for dinner. If your meal planning app has a digital pantry, it can also save you money by tracking the ingredients you already have at home so you don’t overbuy and end up throwing food away.
Can meal planning apps give you a customized meal plan?
Yes, many meal planning apps can give you a customized meal plan. You input your food preferences, and then the app will build the plan for you. From there, you can swap out recipes to customize it even more.
The best meal planning apps can save you tons of time and money by organizing recipes and creating grocery lists for you. They may also help keep you on track with your health goals, as long as you stick to the plan. There are free versions, but most require a subscription to access the full features. If you’re new to meal planning, or looking for a way to streamline the process, we think they’re worth the upgrade.
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