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Getting three square meals on the table is no small feat, and the time required to shop, plan, and peruse recipes for inspiration feels increasingly in short supply. Fortunately, there’s an app for that.
Actually, there are many. In addition to helping users save time and money, you’ll find a wide array of meal planning apps, each designed to meet your specific needs—from learning new recipes and reducing food waste to promoting healthier eating habits designed to help you lose weight. Here are the best meal planning apps available today.
Best Meal Planning Apps of 2021
Why We Chose It: Paprika doesn’t require a subscription, and its highly customizable user interface makes downloading and organizing recipes from other websites a cinch.
Quick and easy access to materials
Easy download and sync capabilities
Extensive user's guide can seem overwhelming
No chance to try before you buy the app
Paprika feels like a digital version of an old-school family recipe box. Whether you want to build an entire database of carb-rich comfort foods or recipes that cater to a paleo diet, how you customize the app is entirely up to you. There aren’t any built-in recipes in the app, but the platform’s built-in browser allows you to easily link to numerous popular food and recipe sites, including Serious Eats, Cook’s Illustrated, Epicurious, and The New York Times. You can also add your own personal recipes.
The grocery list and pantry functions make it easy to organize your shopping list and keep track of ingredients you already have on hand. Since the data is stored locally, you don't need Wi-Fi to access recipes. Paprika has more than 27,000 reviews in Apple’s App Store and sports a rating of 4.7/5 stars.
Unlike the other meal planning apps in this roundup, Paprika, which is created by Seattle-based Hindsight Labs, isn’t a subscription. Instead, you pay a one-time download fee, which varies by device ($4.99 iOS; $2.99 Android; $29.99 MacOS; $29.99 Windows). One downside to this setup is that if you want to have the app on more than one platform, you have to buy each separately. However, if you decide to get the app for multiple devices, Paprika’s cloud service allows you to seamlessly sync your data across your desktop and mobile platforms.
Why We Chose It: In addition to being a great resource for those who already embrace vegetarian and vegan diets, Forks Over Knives is an excellent gateway meal planner app for omnivores who are looking to add more plant-based meals.
Flexible enough for curious omnivores
“Weekend Prep” streamlines cooking and prep work
Only connects to one grocery shopping service
Tied to the 2011 documentary and a New York Times bestselling book "Forks Over Knives," this meal planning app focuses on a whole-food, plant-based diet. Loading up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, tubers, and other starchy vegetables is encouraged. Nuts, seeds, tofu, plant-based milk, tofu and tempeh, and whole-grain bread can be enjoyed in moderation. A plant-based diet is the goal, but the movement recommends minimizing rather than altogether forbidding meat, poultry, and seafood, along with eggs, dairy, oils, and other more processed foods like refined sweeteners, white rice, pasta, and bread.
The app features hundreds of plant-based recipes designed by professional chefs that are meant to be prepared in 35 minutes or less. Each week, the app sends you a customized meal plan and recipes; all you have to do is shop, prep, cook, and eat.
Grocery lists are automatically uploaded and can be sorted by recipe or by aisle. If you have an AmazonFresh account, you can buy groceries directly within the app. The app also has a “Weekend Prep” feature that helps you plot out and batch-cook in advance. If you don’t like a recipe from your weekly meal plan, you can easily swap it out with a click.
More than a recipe resource and meal planner, Forks Over Knives feels like a mission-driven food community. Subscriptions are on the pricey side, at $119.99 per year or $19.99 per month, so this app, which is available for iOS and Android, may not be for everyone. If you want to give it a spin before committing, there’s a free two-week trial offered.
Why We Chose It: With over 2 million recipes available on the free version of this app, the sky's the limit when it comes to cooking inspiration. The step-by-step cooking videos featured in a number of recipes are also a nice touch.
Huge selection of recipes
Diverse chef voices
Step-by-step video instructions for some recipes
Occasionally clunky shopping interface
With Yummly, you can personalize your recipes based on cooking goals (learn new skills, try new cuisines, save time and money, or eat healthy), skill range (beginning, intermediate, and advanced), or dietary preferences (keto, vegetarian, low FODMAP, etc.). The step-by-step guided video instructions with some of the recipes are a nice touch. Yummly also enables you to schedule meals and sync directly onto your personal calendar rather than in the app. The shopping feature is set up so you can order ingredients instantly via a number of retailers and delivery services, including Instacart, Target, Walmart, Shipt, and AmazonFresh.
Owned by kitchen appliance giant Whirlpool, Yummly also lets you link smart appliances, such as Yummly’s very own smart thermometer, to the app via the My Connected Kitchen function. The Virtual Pantry feature enables you to keep a digital running tab on all the ingredients you have on hand and search for recipes that use up those items. The feature will even remind you when an ingredient is running low or about to expire. One of the biggest standout features in the premium version is Yummly’s diverse collection of recipes and instructional videos from featured chefs, including Carla Hall, Tunde Wey, Wen-Jay Ying, the Potash Twins, Judy Joo, and others.
The basic version of the app, which boasts over 2 million recipes, is free. Yummly Pro, which includes even more bells and whistles, is $4.99 per month or $24.99 per year. If you want to test out the upgraded version before committing, Yummly offers a free 14-day trial. Yummly is available on iOS and Android.
Why We Chose It: The app is good for more than recipes and groceries; it's also a family organizational app that handles calendars, chore-tracking, and more.
Helpful family organizing features
The app’s “keep screen on” function
Limited number of recipes within the app
Clunky to transfer ingredients to grocery lists
Cozi, which was started by former employees of Microsoft and Amazon, has been around since 2005 and has over 20 million users. Designed as a family organizing app, it also includes recipe planner and grocery list features. The basic version of the app, available on iOS, Android, Mac, and PC, is free. A premium version, Cozi Gold, is $29.99 per year and is ad-free, offers a calendar search and birthday tracker, and more.
The fact that the app helps you organize more than your cooking schedule makes it feel like you're getting your money’s worth. Recipe-wise, the app is a bit bare-bones, but it’s easy enough to add recipes from websites and even upload your own to the recipe box. One especially nice feature is the “keep screen on” function, which ensures your device's screen doesn't go dark while you’re cooking.
Why We Chose It: Nutrition is front and center, from nutritionist-designed menus to the option to meet with dieticians and nutritionists.
User-friendly and intuitive
Instagram-worthy recipe photos
Calendar scheduling only available on desktop
Unlike some of the other diet-focused meal planning apps we looked at, this one doesn’t feel like you’re getting stuck with humdrum diet food. The recipes feel fresh and modern, and the photos of each dish are so attractive that it feels like you’re scrolling through Instagram. The app itself is user-friendly and intuitive. Available as a six-month ($69 per month) or annual subscription ($99 per year), PlateJoy is one of the pricier meal planning apps which you can test out first with a 10-day free trial.
Meal plans are designed by nutritionists and customizable to suit your diet preferences and needs. There are options for clean eating, low-carb, Mediterranean, dairy-free, keto, gluten-free, plant-based, and even low FODMAP diets. Nutritional information is provided for each recipe. To help you even further along your healthy eating journey, the subscription even gives you access to coaches who are registered dieticians/nutritionists. Available on iOS and Android, you can also connect the PlateJoy app to your Fitbit or Apple Watch.
With optional grocery delivery, you can connect your shopping list directly to AmazonFresh or Instacart. PlateJoy also allows you to sync your meal plans with your own calendar or use the in-app one. (Calendar scheduling is only available on a desktop, though you can view your calendar on the mobile app.) Recipes are searchable by ingredient, cuisine, and appliance.
Why We Chose It: The app’s easy-to-use grocery lists and access to a wide variety of online retailers make shopping for ingredients a breeze.
Easy, straightforward shopping features
Food waste savings tracker
Breakfast recipes only available on paid version
Free version has limited features
The recipes featured on Mealime are created by chefs and registered dieticians, and you can choose the menu type you want to follow, from classic and flexitarian to keto, vegan, and paleo options. Overall, the recipes are approachable and healthy, albeit a bit basic. You can search recipes by diet, cuisine type, price per serving, and even calories (in the premium version), and build meal plans to reduce food waste, save money on groceries, and use up what’s in your pantry. One especially cool feature is the app’s food waste savings tracker, which keeps tabs on how much food waste you prevent by using Mealime’s recipes and meal planning.
What really sets this app apart for us is how easy and straightforward the grocery shopping features were. In the pro version, you can search recipes by calories. The app’s “Shop Online” feature allows you to shop for ingredients from a wide variety of stores and delivery services, including Walmart, Instacart, Safeway, Albertsons, Kroger, Aldi, Publix, Amazon Fresh, and Sprouts.
Available on iOS and Android, the basic version of the app is free, but you can upgrade to a premium version for $5.99 per month or $49.99 per year. With the upgraded version you get exclusive recipes, the ability to import your own recipes, a nutrition tracker, and advanced recipe filters (by nutrients, grocery price, and cook time), among other extras.
Why We Chose It: With a mission to make healthy eating easy, recipes designed to be made in 15 minutes or less, and an emphasis on preparing meals ahead of time, MealPrepPro sets users up for success, and takes the frustration of last-minute meal planning out of the equation.
Built-in water tracker for monitoring hydration
Emphasis on prep ahead meals
Recipes feel a bit tame
Adding your own recipes is slightly convoluted
MealPrepPro is a subscription-based meal planning app. Its health-focused recipes are straightforward and uncomplicated, hopping on trends like grain bowls, chia pudding, and sheet-pan meals. Choose the kind of plan you want to follow—from high protein, Mediterannean, low-carb, keto, vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian—and the app creates a weekly menu plan for you. There’s also a pantry staples-focused plan that helps you create budget-friendly meals and reduce the number of trips you make to the grocery store. If you don’t want to adhere to a specific diet, there’s a flexible plan that features recipes from all categories. Though it takes a few clicks to find, you can add your own recipes to the planner by tapping on the swap button for a particular recipe.
The prep ahead features of the app are especially handy. You can set the level of prep you’d like to do, from no prep to full prep. Recipes note nutrition info, prep time required, and if the dish is freezable. When you’re ready to grocery shop, you can either take your list to the store or use the app to link directly to Instacart. The water consumption tracker is another helpful feature.
The app is currently only available for iOS, but the website notes that an Android version is set to debut sometime this year. The app syncs to Apple Health and Apple Watch. It costs $6.99 per month or $47.99 per year, and a free seven-day trial is available.
With dozens of meal planning apps on the market, it ultimately comes down to deciding what your personal needs are. For those looking to curate their own digital recipe archive and easily “clip” recipes from various online websites, Paprika is a great choice. And it comes with a one-time download fee for your device, so there are no monthly or annual payments required.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do Meal Planning Apps Work?
From selecting recipes to generating shopping lists and creating menu calendars, meal planning apps help you streamline the process of getting meals on the table. Some apps focus on dietary needs and fitness goals, while others can help you track ingredients you have in your pantry and offer video tutorials to guide you through the cooking process. The options are almost endless.
Can Using a Meal Planning App Help Save Money?
Meal planning and meal planning apps can help you wean yourself off pricey food delivery services. MealPrepPro, Yummly, Mealime, and Paprika have features that encourage you to check what’s in your pantry before you shop, so you don’t end up buying an ingredient you already have. By determining the recipes you want to cook for the week and buying only those ingredients, you can minimize impulse purchases. Other savings from meal planning include more time in your schedule, less food waste, and less stress.
How Much Do Meal Planning Apps Cost?
Some meal planning apps have free options, with premium versions of the app available for a monthly or annual subscription fee; others require a one-time app purchase.
Can I Create a Personalized Meal Plan With a Meal Planning App?
Many of the apps we researched are highly customizable. With Paprika, you can build your recipe database and meal schedule from the ground up. Other services like Forks Over Knives send you a weekly menu, which you can customize by swapping out recipes.
To sift through the numerous meal planning apps on the market, we started by targeting those that had at least several hundred reviews and ranked 4.5 stars or higher in the app store. As much as possible, we tried to include apps that were available across multiple platforms (IOS, Android, and desktop applications). We also featured meal planning apps that might meet a variety of needs for different users, from vegetarian-friendly apps to those that provide guidance for health and fitness goals.