If your normal weeknight dinner plans involve dining out or scrounging around the fridge for leftovers, meal planning could be exactly what you need. A great meal plan can help you eat well while saving money.
With so many meal plans to choose from, which are the best? And which one is best for you? We’ve compiled nine meal planning services, so you can figure out which will work best for you.
The Best Meal Plans Available
$5 Meal Plan
At just $5 a month for the service, the $5 Meal Plan is super affordable. The recipes tend towards family-friendly comfort foods, but always include a health balance of fruits and veggies. The weekly meal plan comes with a grocery shopping list, as well as bonus desserts, drinks, or other treats.
- Pros: This service is affordable, and it focuses on affordable meals. The plans take advantage of seasonal products and what’s likely to be on sale, so that most meals cost around $2 per person. The plan is also great in that it always includes at least one crock pot meal and one 20-minute meal per week. Many of the meals can also be prepped ahead of time, for easier weeknight cooking.
- Cons: The meals aren’t customizable and neither are the recipes. (The website, however, offers a few four-week specialized menus, including a paleo option.) In other words, you can’t bump up a four-person recipe to accommodate six people easily. You’ll have to do the math – and adjust the grocery list – on your own.
- Who it’s for: The $5 -Meal Plan is good for average-sized families who are neither super-pick nor super-adventurous. If you don’t mind some cooking on weeknights and your main meal-planning goal is trimming that grocery budget, this might be the plan for you.
Once a Month Meals
This meal-planning service used to be known as Once a Month Mom, and it’s taken off for a reason. At $10 per month (or $99 per year), basic subscribers to Once a Month Meals get access to a menu, grocery list, and planning materials. You set aside one day a month to cook, stock the freezer, and then have meals for the whole month. Menus include traditional, whole foods, paleo, diet, vegetarian, gluten free/dairy free, allergen, mini, and baby.
- Pros: If you’re just too busy to cook on a typical weeknight, this is a great service. It offers customizable menus (for the pro membership), and makes it easy to change serving sizes for your meals. The service actually plans out your entire cooking day to a T, making cooking as efficient as possible.
- Cons: At $10-$15 per month, this is one of the more expensive services around, though it has more features. Cooking a full month’s worth of meals in one day makes for one very long day, and also requires that you can buy a month’s worth of groceries at one time. Also, you’ve got to have a fairly large freezer to store all the meals.
- Who it’s for: This service is great for people who don’t like cooking, but can bring themselves to cook once a month. It’s even better if you can team up with a friend, lighten the load, and split the meals for the month.
eMeals is one of the original meal planning services out there, and from the volume of meal plans available, that’s obvious. The service offers a huge variety of menus, from clean eating to low carb to heart healthy to crock pot to vegetarian. They even offer plans in partnership with Health, All You, and Paula Deen.
- Pros: With all the variety available, eMeals makes it easy to choose a meal plan that works for you and your family. They even offer store-centered plans that base recipes on what’s on sale that week. Plus, you can swap plans up to ten times a month, making it easy to fit meal planning to that week’s particular needs.
- Cons: With eMeals, you can’t switch the serving sizes. The meals are set to six servings per meal with most plans, and you’ll have to do the math to reduce them yourself if needed.
- Who it’s for: If you don’t mind cooking, and want some flexibility with your meal planning, eMeals has the biggest variety available. You can easily switch to a 20-minute-meal or crock pot plan on a busy week, and then go back to your regularly scheduled paleo plan when life slows down.
The Fresh 20
The unique angle of this meal planning service is that it focuses on twenty fresh, local ingredients per week. The Fresh 20 splits the difference between daily meal prep and monthly freezer cooking with a one hour per week prep period to make weeknight meals simpler to prepare.
- Pros: With a focus on simple, fresh ingredients, The Fresh 20 is a healthy option. They offer classic, gluten free, vegetarian, paleo, and one-person menus, with short-term specialty plans (dairy-free, kosher, and lunch) plans available as add-ons. The one-hour prep period per week helps streamline meal prep each evening, too.
- Cons: At $10 per month, this is one of the more expensive plans, though it’s still very affordable. Plus, you can’t switch between plans or pick from different plans, and you can’t adjust serving sizes.
- Who it’s for: If you want both a great meal plan and fresh ingredients, this could be a good option. It’s geared towards families who want good-tasting, easy meals, but who also want to reduce their environmental footprint.
Plan to Eat
Unlike the above meal plans, Plan to Eat doesn’t provide the recipes; you do. This app and online recipe planner collets your favorite recipes from anywhere. Then, you drag and drop your recipes onto your calendar-like meal planner. Plan to Eat then generates a grocery list for you.
- Pros: It uses recipes you already know your family loves, which makes your life easier and your dinner more likely to get eaten. Plus, the grocery list it generates is interactive, so you can check off items as you pick them up during the week. At $4.95 per month, it’s a pretty affordable option, too.
- Cons: It doesn’t do all the work for you, like some of these other services. You have to actually have a library of recipes your family enjoys to make this work!
- Who it’s for: This is best for people who don’t mind cooking and have beloved recipes they’d love to eat, but who hate the list-making (and item-forgetting!) part of meal planning and grocery shopping. If you don’t mind putting in a bit of extra work, it’s a great option for streamlined meal planning.
Food on the Table from Food.com
Food on the Table from Food.com is a great option for foodies looking to simplify meal time. It specializes in planning menus based on your favorite grocery store, which lets you leverage savings at sales. Then, the app asks you questions about what’s most important in your meal planning – saving time, saving money, staying healthy, etc. It sends you a weekly menu and grocery list, and you make the meals.
- Pros: This is a highly customizable option, and most of the meal suggestions come with a side dish. Food on the Table will send you recipe suggestions based on your preferences, but you can then sort through the suggested recipes to veto any you don’t think you’ll like. And with the ability to automatically shop sales at your local grocery store, you’ll find you save money automatically.
- Cons: If you like to shop multiple stores, you’ll have to do the leg work on your own. Food on the Table only lets you set your preferences to a single store, so you won’t be able to pick through the best deals at two or three places.
- Who it’s for: If your goal is to save money by shopping sales, this is a great option for doing that. You’ll still need to spend some time sorting through recipes, but if you like that sort of thing, this is a good option.
The Six O’Clock Scramble
At $3 per month for a two-year subscription, The Six O’Clock Scramble is one affordable meal planning service! The service focuses on healthy meals that are quick to fix, and all the meals include side dishes. You can also customize meals for gluten free or vegetarian diets.
- Pros: It’s very affordable if you decide to opt for the two-year subscription. With a focus on wholesome meals that are also easy to prepare, this is a great balance for families. Other reviewers have also noted that the weekly newsletter that comes with the service is helpful and interesting.
- Cons: Adding new recipes to the pre-planned menu can be difficult, and customization isn’t the easiest thing to do. And if you add a new recipe, you’ll have to print a separate grocery list.
- Who it’s for: The Six O’Clock Scramble is geared towards families with family-friendly recipes based on simple ingredients. If you’re not too fussy about customizing weekly menus, this is a simple way to plan quick weeknight meals.
Pepperplate is another app that will hold all your recipes. You can create and edit your own, or import them to the service by pasting in an URL. The app comes with unlimited library space for your recipes, and you can schedule them as needed. The app also lets you scale recipes, and will generate shopping lists based on your meal plan.
- Pros: As a free app, it doesn’t get much cheaper than this! If you already have beloved recipes you love to use, this is a great app for compiling them and making them simpler to use.
- Cons: This is another app that doesn’t do it all for you. With Pepperplate, you’ll have to take time on the front end to save and import your favorite recipes, and you’ll have to take the time to plan your menu each week.
- Who it’s for: Pepperplate is another good option for those who already have recipes they love on hand. And since it’s free, it’s great if you’re on a super-tight budget that just doesn’t have $5-$10 per month of wiggle room for a meal planning service.
This meal planning app mixes things up a bit by allowing you to choose from 15 meal ideas each week. You can choose which meals you want to make that week, save recipes to your database, and choose to use freezable meals to simplify meal planning in future weeks. You can also access coupons for local stores within the app.
- Pros: Relish is simple to use and gives you more options to customize individual meals, which is great for pickier families. You can also choose from specialized menus, like party menus and holiday menus. It also comes in both a desktop version and a mobile app.
- Cons: You’ve got to make some decisions with Relish, since it doesn’t just give you your five meals for the week.
- Who it’s for: If you’re concerned about getting stuck with meals your family won’t eat with other meal planning services, Relish can mitigate some of that. It’s great if you want some more flexibility, but don’t want to load up all your own recipes as with some of the other services listed here.