The 8 Best Meal-Planning Apps of 2020

You can count on healthy, delicious food, every time

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Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Paprika

Paprika

Courtesy of Paprika 

Pros
  • Free version of app

  • Customizes chosen recipes and easily scales them up and down

  • Seamless cloud sync across devices

  • Saves recipes from all major food and wine sites and easily creates grocery lists

Cons
  • No built-in nutritional info

  • There is no recipe database and can't scan on-paper recipes from pictures

Paprika is our top pick because it gives you tons of flexibility and customization with the free app option. However, there’s no database of recipes or pre-set meal plans so you have to build up your own recipe collection first. Thankfully, Paprika’s recipe clipper makes it easy to save recipes directly from the web. And you can manually type in your own family recipes or cookbook favorites too.

When organizing saved recipes, users can name their own categories. So instead of just Beef or Chicken, you can have names like 30 Minutes or Less, Instant Pot, or Kids’ Favorites. If you tend to use recipes as guidelines instead of gospel, you can edit the recipes and add notes, but it’ll still have the link to the original in case you need it.

The app displays nutrition data from recipes that include it, but it doesn’t have a built-in program to calculate data for recipes that don’t have it. But it can automatically scale ingredients up or down depending on how many servings you want to make, and can automatically convert from metric to imperial measurements too. 

It’s easy to create a weekly or monthly meal plan using the recipes you’ve saved. the free app version allows you to downoad up to 50 recipes (you can upgrade for a fee to get more). It will automatically create a customized grocery list based on your plan, consolidating ingredients when necessary and allowing users to add anything else they might need, like paper towels.

Best for Time Crunched Cooks: Mealime

Mealime

 Courtesy of Mealime

Pros
  • Free basic version

  • Easy to use and convenient for people who are pressed for time

  • Curates recipes based on specific dietary needs, likes, or dislikes

  • Generates shoppings lists for digital purchases

Cons
  • The upgraded version requires a monthly payment

  • Lacks detailed nutritional information per recipe

  • Doesn't allow manual addition of recipes

If you want to eat healthier but don’t have time to scour the web for recipes or spend an hour cooking, Mealime is the app for you. Create a profile, add your food preferences, then choose your week’s meals from recipes the app curates just for you. The company promises they can be cooked in 30 minutes or less, and it’ll even generate a shopping list that can be imported into Amazon Fresh or Instacart for delivery.

The recipes all have a healthful bent and can accommodate many dietary restrictions, such as keto, paleo, and vegan. And you can import favorite recipes from the web, too, though adding recipes manually isn’t an option. The app is free, but if you upgrade to Pro you’ll get access to many more recipes, nutrition information, and the ability to filter meals by calorie count, save your meal plans, and add notes to a recipe.

Best for Weight Loss: Plate Joy

Plate Joy

 Courtesy of Plate Joy

Pros
  • Nutritionist-designed and supported for a highly personalized plan based on extensive intake survey

  • Free with some health-insurance providers

  • Generates shoppings lists for digital purchases that also aim to reduce food waste

  • Seamless cloud sync across devices, plus it syncs to fitness and calorie trackers

Cons
  • More expensive than competitors with no value add-ons like free ingredients

Plate Joy’s highly personalized meal plans are a boon to those with specific dietary restrictions. Users take a lifestyle survey, which includes things like food preferences, fitness and calorie goals, allergies, and schedules, and the app uses 50 data points to create a unique meal plan just for you. It even accommodates those who are diabetic or on a low FODMAP plan.

The meal plans are designed by nutritionists, who are available by phone or chat too, and recipes include breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. The meal plans will automatically generate a shopping list, which can be integrated with Instacart or other grocery delivery services. You can also add your own recipes manually. 

Users can sync the app to their FitBit, so it’ll automatically add their meals’ nutrition info to their calorie tracker. Even better, if your health insurance provider has joined the company’s PlateJoy Health division, you can get a free subscription, free Fitbit and free scale.

Best for Weight Loss Runner Up: Eat This Much

Eat This Much

 Courtesy of Eat This Much

Pros
  • Calorie-goal oriented; great for people who like to track their macros

  • Good nutritional info per recipe

  • Easy to use for website or manually added recipes

  • Large database of restaurants and packaged foods plus barcode scanner for nutritional info

Cons
  • Not ideal for families that have individuals with different nutritional needs or goals

  • No shopping lists or grocery deliveries for free version

  • Shopping list cost estimates aren't always accurate

  • Only allows daily meal plans unless you pay the monthly fee for upgraded version

The app will generate custom meal plans from its database using your preferences and calorie goals as a guide. It also allows users to import recipes from the web or manually add them. It’s also a calorie tracker with a database of popular restaurant dishes and packaged foods, which you can add to manually or with a barcode scanner. However, the app only allows daily meal plans unless you upgrade to the Premium account for $4.99 per month. Premium allows for weekly plans with nutrition targets for each day, automatic shopping lists and grocery delivery.

Best for Social Media Fans: PrePear

PrePear

 Courtesy of PrePear

Pros
  • Thousands of free recipes personalized to your goals, needs, likes, and dislikes

  • Good nutritional info on recipes imported from websites

  • Adding recipes from the web or by hand is quick and easy

  • Connect with friends and food-enthusiasts through the app

  • Generates smart shopping lists

Cons
  • Better features require purchase of the Prepear Gold upgrade

  • Takes a lot of work to add ingredients into your personal recipes to get accurate nutritional information

Many of the web’s most popular food bloggers have partnered with PrePear to offer their recipes and meal plans to users. With one click, you could have a month’s worth of recipes from one of your favorite bloggers added to your calendar complete with shopping lists. The caveat is you’ll have to upgrade to Gold to access those plans.

But even if you opt for the free version, which is blessedly ad-free, you’ll still have more than 100,000 recipes to choose from in the app’s database. The recipes have been uploaded by the community of users (including many bloggers) and often have reviews or star rankings. There’s everything from classics to keto, and if you set up a few preferences the app will curate what you see. You can easily add more recipes from the web or manually add your family favorites. The Food Feed tab is where you can create your own network of friends, kind of like a foodie Facebook group, to get inspiration from what everyone else is cooking and share your own.

Cooking from the app is very user-friendly: You can check off ingredients as you go and a split-screen format allows you to see ingredients on one side and the instructions on the other. You can also add reminders to alert you to defrost meat or start prepping.

Best for Meal Preppers: MealPrepPro

MealPrepPro

 Courtesy of MealPrepPro

Pros
  • Easy recipes for weekly or daily cooking

  • Nutritional information on all recipes

  • Personalized recipes that cater to your macro needs, goals, likes, and dislikes

  • Syncs with fitness devices

  • Generates smart shopping lists

Cons
  • After a 7-day free trial there is a monthly fee

  • Designed for batch cooking, so the math on scaling down is up to the user

  • There is a lot of time spent in the kitchen to comply with the week's suggested plan

MealPrepPro is designed for people who want to cook large batches of healthy food so they just have to heat and eat later in the week. The recipes are quick to make — just 10 to 30 minutes for four days’ worth of food — and designed for you to make a big batch one day, and then you’ll eat it for several days after. Sure it’s repetitive, but if you’re watching what you eat and don’t have a lot of time, you’ll always have a healthy meal waiting for you. If you’d rather cook fresh every day, or cook an even bigger batch to freeze, you can set the app to do that too.

Set up your preferences according to your diet (keto, paleo, plant-based, etc.) and either let the app determine your macro goals based on your health stats or you can set them manually. The app will create a weekly plan of lunch and dinner (plus breakfast and snacks if you want them) from its collection of recipes. Generally, you’ll be cooking just twice a week, though a couple of the breakfasts and snacks are made a la minute.

You can customize the plan if you want. It’ll even offer suggestions if you want to swap out a dish with something else. The recipes are easy to follow with step-by-step videos, but they’re made for one or two people, so if you’re feeding a family you’ll have to do your own math to scale things up. You can also add your own recipes. The plan generates an organized shopping list, and you can cross things off as you pick them up.

The app syncs with Apple Health and the Apple Watch, so you can keep track of your calories/macros, water consumption and follow the shopping list from your wrist.

Best for Using Up Leftovers: Big Oven

Big Oven

Courtesy of Big Oven

Pros
  • Free recipes that cater to your likes and dislikes

  • Use what's in your pantry with the leftover feature

  • Easily scales up for bigger amounts

  • Add non-recipe ingredients to grocery shopping lists

Cons
  • Most features require paying the annual fee

  • You have to pay to upload more than three paper recipes

  • Limited features for organizing your recipes

Big Oven’s app is stocked with more than 500,000 recipes from home cooks, food bloggers and cooking sites all over the web, plus you can easily upload your own from with web with the Recipe Clipper tool. You can easily add ingredients from each recipe to a grocery list with the click of a button, share the list and cross off what you buy. 

But there are a couple of things that really make Big Oven special: First, you can add clipped recipes and handwritten family favorites by simply taking a snapshot instead of having to type it in manually. The app will translate the photo into the app’s recipe format in about 10 minutes. You get three Recipe Scans free, after that you have to pay. There are a few bundles to choose from but the minimum is 12 scans for $9.99. 

The other cool feature is the Use Up Leftovers search button. Type in up to three ingredients and the search tool will find recipes that fit them.

The one drawback is that to use the meal planner function, you have to upgrade to Pro. But with the upgrade, you also get more ways to organize the recipes into folders, more refined search options, and the opportunity to add up to 200 recipes.

Best if You're Budgeting: Meal Board

Meal Board

 Courtesy of Meal Board

Pros
  • Small one-time fee

  • User-uploaded recipes; scan from books and magazines is also enabled

  • Digital grocery list with manually added prices to stay in-budget over the week

  • Personalized pantry is edited when you use any of your ingredients

  • Syncs to all devices; user-friendly web interface

Cons
  • No built-in recipe database

  • Building and editing your pantry takes some work

  • All recipes are uploaded and classified by users, so the results of your search can be opinion and not fact-based

Meal Board doesn’t have a database, but it allows users to upload recipes from pretty much anywhere on the web, and categorize them how they see fit. When you’re ready to make a meal plan with your collection, just add them to the calendar where you can drag and drop them to specific days. 

The app will generate a grocery list based on your meal plan, but the best part is you can add prices for items so you can see if you’re staying on budget each week. Also, its Pantry function allows you to catalog all of your staples and sync them with your recipes. When you make a recipe, click the update pantry link and the amounts used in the recipe will automatically be subtracted from the amounts in your pantry. Setting up the pantry takes a little extra work on the front end, but it means you won’t end up buying more than you need and wasting it.

What Is Meal Planning?

Meal planning is the process of choosing beforehand the meals you are going to prepare and cook. This can refer to meals that need to fit into a specific dietary requirement or nutritional preference—weight-loss, keto, vegan, paleo, vegetarian, dairy-free, FODMAP, pescatarian, gluten-free, nut-free, etc.—or simply to the process of planning what your meals are going to look like for a set amount of time. Meal planning saves time, takes the stress out of cooking, helps with portion control, encourages a more varied diet, and aids in improving household average food waste.

Is Meal Planning Expensive?

If done properly meal planning can actually save you money. By having a grocery list of what you need for the meals you want to prepare you can buy just what you will actually use. Meal planning also takes into account the pantry foods you already have so you don't buy them again. However, meal planning can get expensive if what you are planning to eat includes ingredients that are pricey; so basic, yet flavorful meals, can save you money, but repeatedly buying fancy ingredients could break your bank.

How Do I Start Meal Planning?

Firstly, you need to have clarity on your goal. Do you want to meal plan to make your life easier? To save money? Or, do you want to meal plan to adhere to a specific diet? Once you know your aim, research which app can suit you best. There are several apps that can cater to your specific need, or can be customized to fit your requirements. The next step is to give it a try; meal planning suits many people but you won't know if this lifestyle is what you need until you've tried it for a few weeks.

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