Breaking Down the Top Meal Planning Apps
Meal Planning, list making, and grocery shopping are a big part of my family’s Sunday Prep routine. For us, getting this work done on the weekend takes a lot of stress off of our busy weeknights. One trick we use is to assign each night a “theme,” like soup & sandwiches or pasta night. It helps prevent decision fatigue by giving us a place to start and some inspiration, too.
This year, we’ve also added a meal planning app to our routine, so we can find recipes we love, import them, add ingredients to our shopping list, and create a meal plan for the week all in one place.
There is no one “best” meal planning and grocery list app, as different apps have different features, pricing plans and user interfaces. The best app for you will depend on your specific needs and preferences. However, some popular and well-reviewed meal planning and grocery list apps include:
These were by far the most popular ones mentioned when I asked for feedback in my Instagram stories earlier this year, and they also consistently rank highest online.
In this post, I’ll break down the best features of each of these and give you an idea of what they look like so you can make the best choice for you. I’ll also discuss the free Notes/Google Keep app that comes with your smart phone as an alternative.
AnyList is a grocery list and meal planning app that offers a variety of features to help users plan and organize their meals. Here are some of the best features of the AnyList app:
- Shopping list: AnyList allows users to create and organize their shopping lists, which can be easily shared with others.
- Meal planning: Users can plan their meals for the week and generate a shopping list based on the ingredients needed for the planned meals.
- Recipe organization: AnyList allows users to save and organize their favorite recipes, as well as create custom recipe collections.
- Voice commands: AnyList allows users to add items to their shopping list using voice commands, which can save time.
- Collaboration: AnyList allows users to share their lists and recipe collections with others, which can make it easy for everyone to stay on the same page when it comes to meal planning and grocery shopping. (Note: Those you share it with will need to create their own accounts, too, and if you want everyone to have access to all features, you’ll need a household plan. See details on that below.)
The paid version of AnyList is a must if you want to use the meal planning calendar and want to have the ability to download unlimited recipes to the app. You also get a desktop version for your Mac/PC, an Apple Watch App, the ability to add photos and prices to your shopping lists, recipe scaling, themes, folders, filtering lists by store, location-based reminders (when you are near a store), passcode locks, and priority support when you need help.
The paid version of AnyList is $9.99/year for an individual or $14.99/year for your whole household.
One more positive feature of AnyList is that it isn’t formatted solely for groceries and meal planning. You can use it for a variety of lists (to-do, gifts, books to reach, vacation plans, etc.). It’s fully customizable in that regard.
One idea for an additional list would be to keep a running inventory of your pantry, so you can quickly see what you need to use up or replenish without having to go back and forth to the pantry while you’re planning or calling home while shopping.
Plan to Eat
Plan to Eat was a very popular suggestion when I asked my Instagram followers what their go-to meal planning app was. Here are some of the best features of the Plan to Eat app:
- Recipe import: Plan to Eat allows users to import their own recipes or search through a large database of recipes.
- Recipe organization: Plan to Eat allows users to save and organize their favorite recipes, as well as create custom recipe collections using tags and searches.
- Meal calendar: Plan to Eat offers a meal calendar that allows users to see their planned meals for the week at a glance (and on your main digital calendar), and make changes as needed (by individual meal or by group). You can also reuse meal plans to make meal planning fast and easy.
- The Freezer feature allows you to batch cook and meal prep recipes for the week. The Freezer keeps track of servings, number of meals, and the date you made the recipe.
- Shopping list: Plan to Eat generates a shopping list based on the ingredients needed for the planned meals, which can be easily edited and shared with others in digital or paper format. There is also an option for a “staples” list so you never run low on your favorite items.
- Recipe scaling: Plan to Eat allows users to scale recipes to match the number of servings they need, which can be useful for meal planning and grocery shopping.
- Meal planning by dietary restrictions: Plan to Eat allows users to filter recipes by dietary restrictions, making it easier for users to plan meals that meet their specific needs.
There is a two-week free trial available for Plan to Eat. After that, the cost is $4.95/month or $39/year ($3.25/month).
Whisk is a free, community-centered meal planning and recipe app that offers a variety of user-friendly ways to save recipes and add them to a meal calendar. Its list feature is a little bit more limited than apps like AnyList, but if you’re looking for more of a modern, social media feel, Whisk could be right for you.
- Recipe search: Whisk offers a large database of recipes that users can search through, which can be filtered by ingredient, diet, and dietary restrictions. You can also join “communities” within the app to learn about and share recipes.
- Meal planning: Whisk allows users to plan their meals for the week, and generates a shopping list based on the ingredients needed for the planned meals. Once you save a recipe you can immediately add it to your Whisk calendar, or you have the option to add it to your planner, where you can later drag and drop what you’ve saved to the days you’d like, making changes easy.
- Recipe organization: Whisk allows users to save and organize their favorite recipes, as well as create custom recipe collections.
- Shopping list: Whisk generates a shopping list based on the ingredients needed for the planned meals, which can be easily edited and shared with others.
- Preferences: Users can set preferences for diet, foods to avoid, dislikes, nutrition, the size of their household, preferred store, cooking experience, and favorite cuisines.
- Meal inspiration: Whisk offers meal inspiration feature on its explore page which can be searched by ingredient, meal type, diet, cook time, etc.
While Whisk is free, it does contain ads. It also works with Alexa, Bixby, and Google Assistant so you can add items to your list hands-free. There is a web-based version of Whisk available for users, as well as a chrome extension that makes it easier to add recipes. Generally, you copy and paste a link if a recipe is not one from their database.
If you are looking for a free meal planning solution like Whisk, and want the ability to add recipes quickly from anywhere, to customize many types of lists, and share easily across your family then keeping your meal planning within your Notes or Google Keep app might be the solution.
The trade off is that you lose a lot of the automation (recipe ingredients don’t automatically populate to your grocery list, for example) and some of the aesthetics that formal meal planning apps offer.
Essentially, using Notes is what you make it. You can have lists for your family’s favorite meals, meals you want to try, a grocery list, a pantry inventory list. When using Notes, you would simply use your phone’s calendar (or just a paper one at home) to keep track of what you are making each night, or you can make a list for that, too.
Lists in the Notes app can be viewed in list mode or in Gallery mode (pictured below). Here are instructions on how to best utilize the Notes app on your iPhone.
Google Keep looks similar to the Notes gallery mode, and colors can be added to each “sticky note” for some extra fun. It’s available across phone models, to anyone with a Gmail account, and works on your laptop as well, just like Notes.
Both apps allow you to set reminders and easily collaborate with others.
The best way to find out which meal planning and grocery list app is the best for you is to try a few of them out and see which one you like the most. My suggestion is to start with a free trial (or the free version, in the case of AnyList) and get a feel for it before committing to the paid version. And if one of the free options like Whisk or Notes works for you, even better!
Just like any organizational system in your home, this will take some time to initially set up and some trial and error to get it right. But once you find one that works for you, I know it will help make meal planning easier, which will free up your mind (and your time!) during the week to focus on getting in some quality time together.
Visit my Instagram page for a few more tips on Meal Planning, and let me know what your family is cooking tonight!
Each of my career choices-wedding coordinator, event planner, and teacher — gave me the creative freedom to organize everyone and everything. I have always thrived on to-do lists, planners, and systems! Now, I lead a team of organizers to help me on my mission. Read more…