The Best Meal Planning Apps for Any Lifestyle

person preparing a meal


Getting three healthy meals to the table each day can be challenging in and of itself. It's considerably harder when you're feeding an entire family, navigating different dietary restrictions, and trying to juggle a thousand other personal and professional obligations. Thankfully, there are apps that can help you with effective meal planning. The best meal planning apps and services allow you to choose specific meal plans and recipes, to develop shopping lists, to keep track of nutritional insight, and more.

The right app can be an invaluable addition to your meal prep process—but which app is right for you? The ACTIVE Reviews Team has explored some of the top options and come up with a list of recommendations.

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The Best Meal Planning App - Our Top Picks

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Best Overall Meal Planning App - PlateJoy

Plate Joy

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  • Why we chose it: PlateJoy is the most nutritionally grounded meal planning app available today, even going so far as to let you connect one-on-one with a dietician.

Scrolling through PlateJoy, our first reaction was surprise at how delectable all the meals look. A lot of so-called diet foods look pretty bland, but the food pictured on PlateJoy looks appealing and vibrant. But in addition to being fresh, modern, and delicious, these meals are also carefully developed by nutritionists and dieticians; you can select dietary guidelines like Mediterranean, low-carb, plant-based, or dairy-free. Optional grocery delivery is available, and while the subscription cost is toward the high end (about $100 annually), we think PlateJoy is totally worth it.

What We Like

  • Meals designed by nutritionists
  • Fresh, delicious, appealing, and diverse menus
  • Very intuitive design

What We Don't Like

  • Higher price point
  • Some features, including calendar scheduling, are only available on desktop

Best Free Meal Planning App - Mealime

mealime

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  • Why we chose it: This easy-to-use app is rich with features, many of them available for free.

Mealime offers a decent library of recipes, made in conjunction with chefs and nutritionists. While they tend to be a little basic, there are plenty of options to accommodate different dietary preferences, and even options to filter recipes according to servings, ingredient cost, and more. Some of these features will cost you, but even the free version of Mealime comes with a fair number of bells and whistles.

What We Like

  • Food waste tracker
  • Plenty of ways to filter meals and recipes
  • Lots of options even with the free version
  • Easy, intuitive, and convenient shopping features

What We Don't Like

  • Recipes can be a little basic
  • For best value, you'll want to use the online shopping/delivery options

Best Meal Planning App for Weight Loss - Eat This Much

Eat This Much

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  • Why we chose it: Eat This Much automates the meal planning process, making it easy to work toward your weight-loss goals.

Eat This Much provides an automated approach to meal planning: You input your fitness goals, dietary restrictions, and budget, and the app does the rest. A built-in calorie counter helps you keep track of your food consumption and your progress toward weight loss. While other apps will offer you a little more control over your menus, Eat This Much makes it incredibly simple to eat smart, reduce waste, and even generate automated grocery lists.

What We Like

  • Easy and convenient
  • Options to input your dietary choices, including vegan and paleo
  • Automated shopping lists

What We Don't Like

  • Not as much control as other meal planning apps
  • Not quite as many dietary restrictions to choose from

Best Family Meal Planning App - Meal Board

Meal Board

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  • Why we chose it: While it's not our top option for weight loss or achieving fitness goals, Meal Board can be an incredibly helpful tool for anyone who needs to consistently plan meals for the whole family.

Meal Board integrates a number of features that can help make family meal planning more organized and efficient: Recipe management, pantry management, and shopping lists are all accessible from a single dashboard. This isn't the app you want for weight loss, nor for accommodating a variety of personal dietary preferences, but if you're just looking to stay organized and on schedule, Meal Board is outstanding.

What We Like

  • Easy and intuitive design
  • Great features to help you stay organized
  • Pantry management tool is especially great

What We Don't Like

  • Not a lot in the way of weight loss or fitness goal setting
  • Not a lot in the way of personal dietary preference

Best Meal Planning App for Bodybuilding - BigOven

Big Oven

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  • Why we chose it: BigOven offers a database featuring more than a million recipes, making it easy to plan meals that align with any personal wellness objective.

BigOven's features are pretty standard: Organize recipes, make a grocery list, and tweak your meal planning on the go. The real benefit here is the incredible library of recipes (more than a million and counting), making it easy to sort by preference, ingredient, cost, and beyond. Bodybuilders will find plenty to appreciate here, including meals that work well for developing muscle and mass.

What We Like

  • Huge database of recipes
  • Easy to organize and save your favorite recipes
  • Receive recommendations from friends or from favorite food bloggers

What We Don't Like

  • Not as easy to filter by dietary preference/lifestyle
  • The free version is bare bones; for the best features, you'll need to upgrade

Best Meal Planning App for Vegetarians - Forks Over Knives

Forks Over Knives

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  • Why we chose it: Whether you already embrace a vegetarian lifestyle or you're seeking an easy gateway into plant-based dieting, Forks Over Knives is invaluable.

Forks Over Knives is a meal planning app that focuses on whole-food, plant-based menus. While the app does accommodate some lean meats, dairy products, and fish, the focus is on nuts, legumes, fruits, vegetables, tubers, and whole grains. The app is rich in recipes, all designed by superior chefs and formulated to be made in a relatively short span of time. There's even a weekend prep option, allowing you to plan for big-batch meals in advance of a busy week.

What We Like

  • Works well for vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores looking to go more plant-based
  • Outstanding recipes, designed to be prepared quickly
  • Weekend prep and batch-meal options

What We Don't Like

  • Higher price point
  • Not quite as much control over your meal options as other apps provide

Best Meal Planning App for Shopping Lists - Paprika

Paprika

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  • Why we chose it: With Paprika, you can save and organize recipes from other websites, with no subscription required.

Paprika is essentially like an advanced, online version of one of those old-fashioned recipe boxes; it is a single place where you can compile and sort through all your favorite recipes, including recipes taken from other websites or food blogs. With no subscription required, and with automated grocery list generation, it's a seamless and intuitive option for anyone who just wants to streamline their meal-planning process.

What We Like

  • No subscription needed
  • Import recipes from anywhere on the Web
  • Automated, well-organized shopping lists

What We Don't Like

  • Not recommended for personalized health or weight-loss goals
  • Not recommended for addressing specific dietary needs

How to Choose the Best Meal Planning App

In your pursuit of the best meal planning app, there are several factors to keep in mind.

Features

Meal planning apps can vary quite a bit in terms of their features. Are you looking for an easy way to create grocery lists? For health and nutrient trackers? Be sure to carefully review the list of features accompanying any meal planning app.

Diets

Some meal planning apps do a better job than others at accommodating different diets and lifestyles. If you need something that's vegan, gluten free, or keto, for instance, you'll only find that on the very best meal planning apps.

Personalization

There are various meal planning apps that will allow you to set personal fitness goals, then track your progress. This level of personalization is especially welcome among athletes.

FAQs About Meal Planning Apps


How much do meal planning apps cost?

Some meal planning apps offer free versions, equipped with basic features. Others prefer a subscription, particularly to access more advanced features. The monthly cost can be anywhere from $2 to $45, depending on the app.

Are meal planning apps worth it?

Meal planning apps can actually help you save money, in addition to meeting personal nutrition goals. You may be able to wean yourself off of expensive grocery delivery services, or simply minimize impulse buys by having carefully pre-planned meals.

How do I plan meals for the week?

The old-fashioned way is to write out your meal plans on a calendar, then make a grocery list to correspond with your planned meals. A good app can automate the process considerably.

How often should I meal plan?

The frequency of your meal planning really depends on your lifestyle and on what's convenient for you. Most people do their meal planning on a weekly basis, though it may be wise to get ahead if you're approaching a particularly busy season.

How do I start a family meal plan?

Meal planning apps can make it really easy to develop your first family meal plan, encompassing a wide range of flavors and styles while also keeping in mind factors like nutrition and cost.

About the Author

Josh Hurst

Josh is a journalist and writer whose work has appeared in magazines and local newspapers such as Christianity Today, IMAGE Journal, Relevant Magazine, FLOOD, The Nashville Scene, True Tunes, Rise Up Daily, and Looking Closer with Jeffrey Overstreet. Josh is an avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast.

See More from Josh

Josh is a journalist and writer whose work has appeared in magazines and local newspapers such as Christianity Today, IMAGE Journal, Relevant Magazine, FLOOD, The Nashville Scene, True Tunes, Rise Up Daily, and Looking Closer with Jeffrey Overstreet. Josh is an avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast.

See More from Josh

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