Meal planning, like brushing your teeth twice a day or meditating, is one of those practices that everyone can benefit from on multiple levels. But building the meal planning habit can be tricky, especially at the outset. Fortunately, finding the right meal planning app for you can make the process far smoother, and even downright enjoyable.
- Novice meal planner? Try MealPlan
One of the simplest, most stripped-down apps out there, MealPlan lets you drag and drop recipes—or just keywords, like “buckwheat” or “cauliflower”—to create a weekly meal plan. If you’re struggling to come up with meal ideas, or having difficulty moving from recipe to grocery list, this app gives you an easy and effective method for streamlining the process. As with the rest of the apps on the list, it’s a menu planner and shopping list generator. Once the app transforms the ingredients needed for the recipes you chose into a grocery list, you can email or print out the list, which has been conveniently sorted by aisle. After you’ve used the app for a few weeks, the Magic Wand feature will give you quick suggestions for future meals. The app isn’t free ($3.99 in the iTunes store), but users say it’s well worth the initial investment.
- Enthusiastic home chef? Try Pepperplate
This powerful meal planning app can tame even the most chaotic kitchen. Use it to bring order to your recipe collection, plan meals based on recipes you’d like to try, and build shopping lists to ensure you have all the ingredients you need on hand. Pepperplate is free to use and available for just about every platform out there (web, iOS, Android, Windows Phone/Windows RT, Nook, and Kindle, to name a few). You can search through in-app recipes, or add your own by pasting in the URL for online recipes or manually entering old favorites from cookbooks or index cards. You can also share your recipes, meal plans, and shopping lists with other users (super helpful if you’re meal planning for a multi-person household!). Pepperplate can also help you manage the cooking process itself, complete with built-in timers so you don’t lose track of how long that sauce has been simmering while you’re whipping up another dish.
- Struggling to find your culinary inspiration? Try Food on the Table
If you’re stuck in a recipe rut, this weekly meal planner can pull you out of it. Each week, the app sends you a set of recipes informed by the dietary restrictions and preferences you input. In addition to clearing away one of the impediments between you and an exciting selection of home-cooked meals, this can be a serious time-saver. The app generates grocery lists and easy-to-follow recipe instructions. It also suggests deals based on your location to help you cut costs at the grocery store.
- Fan of old-school meal calendars? Try Allrecipes
This robust meal planning app includes a database of recipes tagged by cuisine, dietary restrictions, and cooking times, among other categories. A special feature for those who like to supplement their digital planning is that Allrecipes lets you print out your weekly meal plan. Stick it on the refrigerator so the whole family can see what’s for dinner tonight. Users also love the video tutorials that help you master unfamiliar cooking techniques.
- Eco-conscious cook? Try Love Food Hate Waste
This meal planning app focuses on reducing the amount of waste involved in cooking a meal from scratch every night. Love Food Hate Waste keeps track of the odd remnants that all too often wither away in your refrigerator and matches them up to make new meals. For instance, if a recipe leaves you with more lettuce than you know what to do with, and it’s a bit wilted, the app suggests turning it into “Limp Lettuce Soup,” a surprisingly rich and sophisticated use for something that would otherwise be thrown out. Reducing (or even eliminating!) food waste isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for your budget, too. The app has a cheeky tone and is geared toward those looking to eat more healthfully. It’s free to download for iPhone and Android users.
- Looking for the Cadillac of meal planning apps? Try Cook Smarts
Cook Smarts goes above and beyond the offerings of the other meal planning apps out there. It’s basically a concierge meal planning service. For $6/month (if you pay for a year, it’s $8/month to pay as you go), Cook Smarts provides you with personalized weekly meal plans tailored to the way you want to eat (think vegetarian, high protein, low carb, paleo, and so on). In addition to four recipes tailored to your preferences, you get a downloadable, printable grocery list, step-by-step cooking instructions, and videos, infographics, and other resources designed to make healthy eating more doable, from cooking lessons to tutorials on produce upkeep.
- Looking for a meal planning utility tool? Try BigOven
This multifaceted, free, cross-platform meal planning tool makes saving online recipes a snap—or you can search its massive database of recipes by main ingredient, cuisine, dietary restrictions, preparation methods, season, occasion, and course. You can add specific recipes and dishes to each day and the app will generate a grocery list based on those meal ideas. You can also follow your favorite bloggers and friends to see what they’ve been cooking. BigOven offers an Idea Wizard to help you decide what you’d like to cook and a Leftover Wizard to help you avoid waste, a “Month at a Glance” meal calendar, and the ability to edit grocery lists by date range and to account for any ingredients you already have.