Eat well and save money. Here are our top 10 picks for the best meal planning service available online!
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 10 meal planning services, so you can figure out which will work best for you.
The Best Meal Planning Service Available
eMeals is one of the original online meal planning services, 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. eMeals costs $59.99 per year or $29.99 every three months. You can pay extra for lunch, breakfast, dessert, and special occasion plans.
- 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 when you want, making it easy to fit meal planning to that week’s particular needs. eMeals will also export your grocery list to shopping apps like ClickList, which can be helpful.
- Cons: With eMeals, you can’t switch the serving sizes. The meals are set to either two to four or six to eight servings per meal with most plans, and you’ll have to do the math to reduce or increase 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 or clean eating plan when life slows down.
Related: eMeals Review
$5 Meal Plan
At just $5 a month for the service, the $5 Meal Plan is super affordable. The recipes lean 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. The plan also offers a weekly gluten-free plan option.
More recently, $5 Meal Plan has introduced a Meal Plan Builder tool. This is great for pickier families, as it lets you build your own meal plan based on the site’s bank of cheap meals. Then, it will generate your shopping list for you.
- 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 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 six-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-picky 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, which used to be known as Once a Month Mom, is so popular it’s closed to new members right now. If you’re interested, though, you can put your name on their waiting list and be notified when you can sign up again. This service costs $16 a month, or about $170 per year, and it has a unique selling point: all the meals can be prepped in advance and stashed in your freezer. You can cook once a month, and then just basically warm things up on most nights of the week. Now, instead of giving subscribers access to set menus, Once a Month Meals lets you build your own menu from their database of freezer-friendly recipes. Then it tells you what to buy and in what order to prep your meals for the most efficient freezer cooking day possible.
- Pros: If you’re just too busy to cook on a typical weeknight, this is a great service. It offers customizable menus that make 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 $16 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 on weeknights, 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.
Plan to Eat
Unlike the above meal plans, Plan to Eat doesn’t provide the recipes; you do. This app and online recipe planner collects your favorite recipes from anywhere. Then, you drag and drop your recipes onto your calendar-based 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 or $39 per year, 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 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.
The Six O’Clock Scramble
At $1.44 per week 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, and even the one-year subscription at $2 per week comes in pretty low. 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.
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. Currently, it offers classic, gluten free, vegetarian, kosher, dairy free, and paleo plans, as well as plans for one person. Each plan costs $79 per year or $14 per month.
- Pros: With a focus on simple, fresh ingredients, The Fresh 20 is a healthy option. The one-hour prep period per week helps streamline meal prep each evening, too. When you pay for it annually, the plan is pretty cheap at just over $6.50 per month. You can also purchase specific plans, including dairy free, kosher, and six weeks’ worth of lunches, for an additional fee.
- Cons: You can’t switch between plans without adding additional costs, and you can’t change meal sizes easily with this one.
- 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 tasty, easy meals, but who also want to reduce their environmental footprint.
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.
Eat This Much
If you’re on a specific, calorie-restricted diet, Eat This Much may be the meal-planning app you’ve been waiting for. It lets you put in how many calories you want to eat per day. Then you can build out your weekly meal plan with pre-made recipes and those that you add. You can track calories and your weight over time, as well. It lets you filter certain types of foods out of your meal plan, as well, which is great for low carb diets, vegetarians, and more.
- Pros: The app has a free version, but you can use premium features, including leftover planning and automatic weekly meal planning, for $3.99 per month with an annual subscription. This app is great for planning meals specific to your dietary style, right down to the calories you eat. It also offers unique features like an option to plan your meals based on restaurants or pre-made meal options.
- Cons: Family meal planning is part of the app’s premium services, so it’s not free. It also will only integrate personal nutrition targets for one person at a time.
- Who it’s for: If you want to follow a specific diet plan, either as a bodybuilder or someone who wants to lose or maintain weight, Eat This Much offers unique features you’ll love. It’s probably not the most family-friendly option on the market, though.
The goal of PlateJoy is to help you be more joyful about your eating by providing you with meal plans that fit your life. When you sign up for an account, it will give you a quiz that lets the site customize a meal plan for your time constraints, eating preferences, and health goals. PlateJoy also offers a digital pantry, which keeps track of ingredients you should already have in your kitchen. And it automatically minimizes the number of ingredients on your grocery list to minimize waste.
- Pros: With the customization quiz, PlateJoy is likely to give you everything you never knew you wanted in a meal plan. It’s a good option if your family can all fit under the same time, health, and preference constraints.
- Cons: At $99 for a 12-month subscription or $69 for a 6-month subscription, this one is on the more expensive end of our list. But, still, if it results in a meal plan you love, the cost could be worth your while.
- Who it’s for: This meal plan could be for just about anyone, since it offers the get-to-know-you quiz when you start your subscription and then bases your meal plan on your personalized answers.
What if you really want to meal plan and eat at home more, but you don’t really know much about cooking? In this case, CookSmarts might be for you. It includes helpful how-to cooking videos for beginning chefs, making it great for learning how to cook. Other features include weekend prep steps to ease your weeknight meal prep, automatic food waste reduction, and several diet options. It also has a free version that gives you access to three meal plans, so you can try it.
- Pros: This is an excellent option that takes some of the stress out of learning to cook. At $6-$8 per month, it’s not too expensive, either. And customizing your meals is easy, since each meal comes with a gluten-free, vegetarian, or paleo option. Your subscription also gets you access to the archives, so you can shop for a different plan if you don’t like that week’s.
- Cons: CookSmarts doesn’t offer as wide a variety of menu types as some of the options listed here.
- Who it’s for: This one is formulated specifically for beginning or inexperienced cooks who want to cook fresh meals and learn more about specific kitchen skills.
Alternative Meal Plan: Home Chef
If you’re too busy to even shop for groceries, Home Chef might be a good option for you. It’s one of the most popular meal delivery services around. This service lets you customize your meal options, and it actually delivers the ingredients and recipes right to your door. You can have two meals up to eight per week delivered. Home Chef makes meal prep and planning incredibly easy.
- Pros: You get easy-to-make, delicious, healthy meals delivered to your doorstep. It really doesn’t get any easier than this, and you can customize how often you want your meals delivered, too.
- Cons: The biggest con to any service like this is that you’re paying someone else to do your grocery shopping, which gets expensive. If you already spend a ton on dining out, Home Chef might save you money. But if you cook at home and grocery shop frugally, it will most likely cost you more than you spend now.
- Who it’s for: Home Chef could be a great option to supplement and simplify meal planning for a couple of nights a week. Or if you really don’t have time to grocery shop and end up dining out, it could definitely save you money. And it has a $30 off your first order deal, so now is a great time to give it a try!
Related: Green Chef Review – Healthy, Hearty and Earth-Friendly Topics: Smart Spending