How to Choose the Best Meal Planning App for Your Family

As a crazy busy mom, I can tell you that meal planning used to be one of the most stressful tasks I had until I found the best meal planning app for our family. I still use paper to write out meals to post on the fridge, but that’s more for my husband or kids because…ya know, they have questions. For the husband it’s to determine whether or not he wants to undertake dinner (“Like how complex is this meal and should I offer to cook it…?”) and for the kids I assume it’s to gear up for what level of complaining they should commit to for the evening.

So if you have any or all of these issues, I’m gonna walk you through what I believe should be the criteria for using and choosing the best meal planning for your family. Because bottom line is that to make great health doable on the daily, we need to merge healthy + efficient: that’s where the magic happens! ✨

best meal planning app

Why use a meal planning app?

  1. What’s funny is that moms usually think menu apps will free them of the harrowing job of searching for recipes and just designating something for the meal for the night. But the truth is that a meal planning app with grocery list can actually keep you on budget. I’m sure you’ve heard about the whole impulse buy phenomenon. It’s real. And the first line of defense against it is to have a grocery list while shopping. The next line of defense is to not go into the store, but do curbside pickup or delivery. Many of the best meal planning apps can now send your list straight to the store, which means you’re not going inside.
  2. The second reason to use meal planning apps is to help stay on a diet or dietary style. In all honesty, just not having to make the decision of a meal because it may or may not fit your dietary style is a huge load off your brainpower every day because it can serve as your healthy food planner. The same holds true for meal prepping lunches and breakfasts. And although I don’t know of a specific meal prep app, the idea is something worth exploring for anyone who needs to stay on a specific way of eating.
  3. The third reason for using meal planning apps is to save time, plain and simple. However, this requires you knowing how to use the meal planning app to its full potential, coupled with other tricks for efficiency (like being able to send your list straight to the store for pickup or delivery). But you should also be aware that any meal planner program isn’t necessarily better to do your weekly meal planning simply because you can pop a meal on a specific date. (More about that in a minute).
  4. And lastly, finding the best meal planning app for your family is a fantastic way to reduce stress. This is because of the enormous amount of information we process each day, in addition to the overload of decisions that we make daily. For moms, this is such a crazy amount it’s silly. All those thoughts and decisions compounded with things like clutter through the house and every other responsibility at home are the perfect storm for mega stress levels. (Why do you think organization sites and stores are so dang popular? Cause once you get a taste of freedom of your mind, there’s no going back!) And believe it or not, managing those stress levels should be priority one of self-care for your health and wellness.

What is meant by a ‘healthy meal planning app’

Ok this question needs to be addressed. I don’t believe there’s a such specific thing as a healthy meal planning app, per se. Many meal planning apps require you to input your own recipes, so in those instances the responsibility falls on you to make sure the recipes are ‘healthy’ or ‘not healthy’ per your own standards. Other meal planning apps have tons of recipes loaded, and can be set from the start to only give you recipes that fit your dietary style.

The problem with seeing any program as a healthy meal planning app is that many of these are recipe-sourced from bloggers who have no credentials or knowledge for deeming a recipe ‘healthy’. And believe me, I’ve seen many a thousand recipes labeled healthy that contained loads of refined grains and cups of sugar.

My recommendation is to choose an app or program based on your HABITS and what will fit your family best, then curate your own recipes based on your dietary style (we recommend Anti-Inflammatory around here) and types of meals that you need.

Meal planning app for moms or families

I’ve read through many recommendations for apps, and my conclusion is that there are several differences that will meet or fall short of your family’s needs. This is because every meal planning app or program has its own features. So it will really depend on what you need to fit your habits and alleviate your frustrations.

I’ve seen lots of clients and friends go through specific meal planner programs because they already had recipes in them, only to be disappointed at the recipes given. Many of these are not free meal planning apps, so they’ve been out of money for the app itself and out of all the time it took to learn it and try it out. So even though an app may claim to ‘personalize’ your meal plans, there’s no guarantee the recipes are any good.

I’ve also seen the mistake of thinking that the best meal planning app will set meals for specific days when the reality is it’s super easy to use the ‘collections’ function for grouping and planning your weeks. There aren’t many now, though, that don’t have a ‘meal planning’ function built in.

And lastly, things should be taken into consideration like how easy or hard is it to add recipes. If it takes too much time, you’ll likely get frustrated and quit pretty early in. Is the interface easy to use when it’s time to cook the meal? Can you edit recipes? Can you add your own? Are you able to send the grocery list to the store? And if so, which stores does it interface with?

All these questions should be considered when finding the best meal planning app for your family and your needs.

What is the best meal planner app

So here’s the million-dollar question, right? So I’m going to list the apps that I love best and recommend. And keep in mind that these are NOT apps or programs that generate a meal plan for you. These are apps or programs that allow you to collect and organize recipes (so it’s stuff you’re choosing), and then generate a shopping list. But they all have different functions and features. And keep in mind that what people think of as grocery list apps may or may not be just simply a list-making app. What we’re dealing with here are apps or programs that generate your shopping list for you based on the meals you’re cooking and send to the list.

If you really want a meal planner program that has specific dates for your meals laid out in order, the three I recommend are Whisk, MealBoard, or PrePear.

Whisk is the app I use and recommend first; it pulls in recipes super fast + easy. It’s also a free meal planning app. They’ve recently added the dated ‘meal planning’ function, which is awesome if you’re attached to dates with your meal planning. They have a Chrome extension and use the ‘send to’ feature on your phone where you can immediately edit or categorize your recipe with a few quick taps. (Meaning– awesome for those of us with nearly zero time to fool with copy/pasting a URL and then having more steps to get it into a category.) They now have a feature where others share their favorite recipes in groups that you can joing. Otherwise, for recipes you find elsewhere online, you pull in all that you want, and can edit any of them. But with how easy + fast it is, I’ve amassed a really large amount of recipes in very little time. It also can send your shopping list to the store, and is integrated with Walmart, many other local stores, and Instacart.

MealBoard has a ton of features that include storing recipes of your own, pulling in recipes (only by copy/paste of URL), editing recipes, and organizing into categories. It also allows you create ‘templates’, which are sets of meals you can name and reuse any time later. You can customize everything for yourself within this app, including multiple stores, the order of the store aisles, and even add pricing and barcodes for items. It also has a ‘pantry’ feature. What it does NOT do is send to any store. So when you generate a shopping list, you can either send it to someone else, or use it in the app in the store to shop. It also only has a couple recipes in it as examples, so all recipes will have to be imported that you use. It’s $4 in the app store.

PrePear also uses the dates for meals setup, but it DOES have recipes in the program. The downside to that is that it’s free with ads, and you can pull in SOME of the recipes for free, but they push buying an annual membership pretty heavily to have access to more recipes, ‘cookbooks’, and ‘meal plans’. These are all generated by bloggers. PrePear will generate shopping lists, and you can send to the store, but right now they only send to Walmart. You organize your recipes by ‘cookbooks’ and then within those you can create more sections. I’ve found it a little difficult to navigate this app and figure out how to add and organize recipes up front.

The last 3 apps I recommend at least exploring are really more for collecting and organizing. But if you have no interest in adding your own recipes or editing them, this may be a better meal planning option for you. These apps also don’t use ‘dates’ to set meal plans.

The first is Yummly, because of the 3, I recommend it most. It’s powered by food bloggers (every notice that little orange ‘yum’ button?) and has literally millions of recipes in it. I like it the most of the 3 because they do a great job of narrowing down your preferences and dietary needs from the start because of your ‘feed’ that shows up when you sign in. They also have a cool function where you input whatever ingredients you have on hand and it’ll give you recipes to make with them. You can create collections, and it has a ‘meal planner’ function that serves as a placeholder for the meals you want to cook for the week. You can send these to the store and it’s integrated with stores and Instacart. The downside is that you can’t edit anything or add your own recipes. For this reason, I usually use it as more of an exploration app to FIND recipes. I’m also not crazy about how they have each recipe set up when you open one. It usually forces you back to that blogger’s recipe post, and if you’ve ever had to fight 87 popup ads and 1000 words of text + images just to find the darn cooking instructions, you get my frustration with this.

Next is Tasty. This app is so colorful and fun, that sometimes I go in just to see what’s happening today. It does what Yummly does, except is a little less robust. It also does not have a ‘meal planner’ function. The collections function it has is nearly useless because they decide what to name or categorize the collections as. You can’t set that up for personalization. But if you need recipes, they’ve got it.

And lastly, I wanted to mention Food Network kitchen app. I’m not crazy about the cooking videos, etc, that they push the membership for. But they do have an insane amount of recipes. Their collection and organization methods are also subpar. But again–if you need recipes, you’ll find them here.

How to use ‘collections’ in apps for meal planning

I want to address the ‘need’ for you to have a meal planner app that has specific dates on it for meal planning. Because that shouldn’t be a limitation for you choosing an app that uses collections instead. I actually really like the collections option because you can set up collections as ‘templates’ or ‘weeks’ of recipes, then use them again. The Whisk app allows you to easily set multiple collections that any given recipe can be in at the same time, and I create a collection for ‘this week’ and ‘next week’ to plan weeks ahead of time for my placeholders.

Free template + how to use with apps

Get the free meal planning template and grocery list below and use it along with the best meal planning app for your family. 👇

I use paper templates STILL because my kids help add stuff to our grocery list all week. But I also have a paper listing out meals for anyone else to help out or just know what’s for dinner. It’s attached to the side of the fridge.

How do I make my weekly meal plan

Making a weekly meal plan doesn’t have to be hard. You obviously need to start out finding recipes that fit your dietary style and needs. This can mean following a specific blogger or site that has lots of those types of recipes, finding some on Pinterest, or even googling your search requirements. Recipes are super popular now, so lots of stuff will come up. Collect and organize everything you find.

Next you should figure out how many recipes you need per week based on your schedule. Do you eat out any? Plan for a leftover night during the week? Also consider your time available to cook. This may mean you cook a lot of slow cooker meals or even decide to do some mega meal prep. All these factors should go into the types of recipes you collect.

Once you know how many and what type of recipes you need, just start plugging them in. Either create ‘collections’ for the week you’re cooking or plug into the specific dates you need.

How do I make a meal plan and grocery list

Once you’ve made the meal plan per the above guidelines, you have two options: use strictly the meal planner grocery list feature to generate a shopping list (which you can add anything else you need in the store to), or you can transfer those ingredients in the list or recipes to a paper list, like the one in the free meal planning template and grocery list below.

{Click the image below to grab it! 👇}

best meal planning app

Again– I highly recommend you take a step back to evaluate your own habits and tech limitations to determine which is the best meal planning app for you and your family. It could make the difference between wasting a lot of time in an app you hate, or saving loads of time, frustration, and stress that can actually turn your evenings into joyful mealtimes with your family. 🥰

Know someone who could use some help choosing the perfect meal planning app? SHARE this post! 💕

the best meal planning app for your family
Laura Brigance, MS, CHC

Author: Laura Brigance, MS, CHC

Laura is a Nutrition Specialist and Certified Health Coach with a Master of Science in Nutrition. Her goal is to help women reduce inflammation, balance blood sugar, and regain natural energy with an Anti-Inflammatory Diet + Lifestyle.

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