Use these smart meal planning apps to turn every meal—from weekend dinners to weekday school and office lunches—into something you’ll truly enjoy eating.

By Grace Elkus and Lauren Phillips
March 18, 2019

Downloading a few meal planning apps may not be at the top of anyone’s to-do list, but now’s a good a time as any to change that. Chosen carefully, the right meal planning app can put an end to slapdash, last-minute meals. You (or whoever the chef is in the house) will have more time to spend as you like outside the kitchen, and everyone will be able to sit down to a meal that’s healthy and filling.

Many meal prep apps focus on calorie-counting and weight-loss—which are admirable efforts, when appropriate—but sometimes meal planning comes down to making sure a delicious, satisfying meal is on the table every night. When ensuring that everyone is happy with the meal is the goal, finding an app that will do that (and not send ill-timed reminders about exactly how many calories are in that pizza) is key.

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Fortunately, there are plenty of apps out there that focus on the organizational aspect of meal planning. The best apps store recipes, offer suggestions, maintain grocery store lists, and more, all while making sure you always have an answer to, “What’s for dinner tonight?”

Certain apps even go above and beyond dinner, with suggestions for breakfast and lunch—and even special features just for packing lunches to go to school or the office. When deciding what to cook and what to buy at the grocery store for the week feels overwhelming, a good meal planning app can limit the options and make it all feel manageable.

Take a look at these top meal planning apps and decide which might work for you. Features vary—and online reviews can be helpful—so do your research before committing. These apps are all free (though some offer in-app purchases), so you can test them before structuring your meals around them completely and make sure your new cooking assistant is the right fit.

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1
Mealime Meal Plans & Recipes

This free meal planning app (note that it does have in-app purchases) offers healthy recipes, grocery lists, and more. It allows you to filter by eating restrictions—think low-carb, vegetarian, gluten-free, and more—and prioritizes meals that cook in 30 minutes or so. The grocery lists are even optimized to reduce the amount of time you spend in the grocery store, so the whole process, from planning to shopping to cooking, takes up less of your time.

To buy: Free; mealime.com. For iOS and Android devices.

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2
Cozi

This easy-to-use app (owned by Real Simple's parent company, Meredith) features a streamlined Recipe Box, which allows you to transfer recipe ingredients to your in-app grocery list. The list is accessible to every member of the family, meaning anyone can swing by the store to shop. Once you start dinner prep, turn on Cozi's Cooking Mode, which keeps your screen lit so you don’t have to touch it with dirty fingers. Genius!

To buy: Free; cozi.com. Available for iOS and Android devices.

 

 

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3
LaLa Lunchbox

This adorable app takes the stress out of packing lunches by getting kids involved in choosing their meal (the app makes planning into a fun feed-the-monster game). New dietary-specific bundles ensure that every kid, no matter their allergies or dietary restrictions, can use LaLa Lunchbox.

To buy: Free; lalalunchbox.com. Available on iOS devices.

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4
BigOven Recipes & Meal Planner

With a database of more than 350,000 recipes, there’s no shortage of inspiration in this app. Seasonal collections featured on the home screen ensure you’re using the freshest in-season ingredients. Our favorite feature of BigOven? The Use Up Leftovers tool, which suggests a recipe you can make with the three ingredients you enter.

To buy: Free; bigoven.com. Available on iOS and Android devices.

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