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25 Meal Planning Hacks That Save Time And Money

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Meal planning is a great way to save money every month on your grocery bill. It’s easy to go to the store, buy food, then forget to use it.

According to the New York Times, $160 billion dollars worth of food is wasted in the United States every year. Utilizing a meal plan helps you ensure that the food you buy is what your family will actually use.

While many people avoid meal planning because it seems daunting, there are tons of great resources that make meal planning effortless.

With well-planned meals, you will keep more dollars in your wallet and more food out of landfills.

Meal Planning Apps

To access everything right from your phone, check out one of these apps to find one that would work for you.

1. Mealime (free; paid upgrade available)

Offering plenty of customization options, this app helps you plan meals based on your preferences and needs.

You can select from a variety of lifestyles (vegan, Whole30, allergies, etc) and choose your meals based on suggested recipes that fit your dietary needs.

Once you have meals planned for your week, the app creates a “done-for-you” grocery list. This can significantly cut down your time at the store and helps to eliminate those forgotten items.

The app is free, but there is a paid Mealime Pro version. The key difference between the free and pro versions is the depth of nutritional information offered for each recipe, adding notes, and access to Pro only recipes. The pro version is $5.99/month.

2. Cozi (free; paid upgrade available)

This comprehensive app is a great organizer for your whole family. Easily coordinate schedules, meals, lists, and more. It offers recipe storage, grocery lists (which you can share with others), and the calendar function helps you to plan out your meals each week.

Having everything in one place is really convenient, especially if you have multiple events each week that make planning dinner a challenge. For example, if you can see that you have a volleyball game on Wednesday, you could plan a simple meal instead of something more elaborate.

One really handy feature of the Cozi app is the Cooking Mode. The backlight stays on while cooking so that you do not have to touch your phone with messy hands to see the next step of the recipe.

Cozi is free, with a paid subscription available. Cozi Gold contains a few extra features and themes and is also ad-free. Cozi Gold is $29.99/year.

3. Big Oven (free; paid upgrade available)

BigOven is more than just an app. They have a great, comprehensive website stuffed full of recipes, a cooking glossary, seasonal recipe ideas, and a web-based view of your account to see all of the recipes from your computer, in addition to your phone.

One of the best features of BigOven is the “Use Up Leftovers” option, which further helps maximize your groceries and prevent your hard-earned dollars being thrown away in the form of wasted food.

BigOven is free for the basic version. They do offer a pro version with 2 ways to pay – $2.99/month or $24.99 for the year. The pro version includes money-saving organizational tips, nutrition information, and more.

4. Yummly (free)

Beautiful recipes greet you at the homepage, making it easy to daydream about making cream cheese donuts and cheesesteaks. This great app aims to help you know what to eat using technology that implements AI as part of the suggested recipes, making the recipes more custom to your needs.

Find new recipes to try, then save them for later to access as you shop. It also has a feature that allows you to input the ingredients you have on hand to see what you could cook without venturing into the store.

If you (or a family member) are picky eaters, Yummly allows you to exclude certain ingredients and will not display recipes containing them. Also, if you live in an area where Instacart is available, you can order your groceries directly through the Yummly app via Instacart.

Yummly is completely free and you can access all the features without needing to upgrade.

5. FoodPlanner (free; paid upgrade available)

Exactly what it sounds like, FoodPlanner helps you plan… food. You can import all of your favorite recipes, then store them to reference. From your selection of recipes, you can create custom meal plans for the day or week. While you do have to import recipes in order to use your current favorites, the app does have a database to pull from if you need fresh ideas.

Get organized at the grocery store by having a shopping list broken down by aisle or category. Saving time is just as valuable as saving money, making this a handy feature. You can also scan products by barcode and share your list with family or friends.

FoodPlanner is free and there is a paid version available. FoodPlanner Pro is ad-free, and has a family group manager feature (if you want to be the one to plan the potluck), along with the ability to sync to Google Calendar. FoodPlanner Pro is $3.99.

6. Mealboard (paid)

If you want an app that does it all, check out Mealboard. This efficient app allows you to curate recipes, plan out your meals, and keep a pantry inventory on one, convenient platform. Perfect for planning down the most minute detail, you can integrate your recipes with your pantry for the most efficient use of your time and money.

Since using ingredients efficiently is key to saving the most money, this app is a fantastic choice. By integrating your pantry into your meal planning, you can avoid buying duplicate ingredients, use up remnants of others, and make the most efficient use of everything you buy.

Currently, Mealboard is only available for iOS, and is available in the iTunes store for $3.99.

7. Spoonacular (free)

While most meal planning circulates around groceries and home-based cooking, Spoonacular combines this with efficient eating out. Perfect for families finding themselves needing to eat out frequently, this app makes it easier to stick to nutrition goals and money-saving goals.

If eating out is a central part of your family, definitely check out Spoonacular to help with efficient planning while on the go. This app is also really handy for storebought prepared foods, such as bakery items, as they have a product database.

Spoonacular is completely free.

8. Eat This Much (free; paid upgrade available)

If you are dieting or have specific nutritional goals, it can be tricky to meal plan with most of the common apps and services. Eat This Much is a great app for very specific or restricted meal planning. You can plan according to your calorie goals for the day, based on specific lifestyle goals, such as keto, vegetarian, or Mediterranean.

Eat This Much really caters to the gym and the healthy eating crowd, while also being an app that works with the needs of anyone wanting to be more efficient in the kitchen. Input your foods to avoid, other preferences, and then easily plan food that fits your lifestyle, budget, and goals.

Eat This Much is free for the basic plan. They do offer a premium subscription for $5/month or $59/year.

9. Paprika (paid)

This powerful recipe management tool helps you to organize, plan, and shop from one app. Easily sync your recipes across devices, so you can cook with your tablet in the kitchen, and browse for new meal ideas on your phone later.

Import your own recipes or from anywhere on the internet. Simply pop the URL into the app and it’ll do the work for you.

When you are ready to plan, you can create plans for a week or even a whole month in advance. The grocery list populates from the plan, sorting all the needed ingredients by the aisle in the store.

So many fun features are included as well, such as built-in timers, the ability to leave the backlight on while using the app, adding your own pictures to recipes, and measurement conversions.

The app does cost $29.99 to buy. However, for the amount of time and money you can save by getting organized, it is worth paying for.

10. AnyList (free; paid upgrade available)

This handy app helps you to create your grocery list easily, then share with anyone you need to. Input items using your phone’s AI, or use Alexa to help you as well. Collect recipes and view your grocery list broken down by category to save time.

Create recipe collections, such as for holidays or parties, then share the collection so everyone can pick one to make. This would make get-togethers much easier to plan. No more awkward potlucks with all desserts (although, who could really complain about that?)

If you want to subscribe to the complete version, AnyList features a Chrome extension to save web-based recipes. The basic version is free, and the complete version is $7.99/year for an individual or $12.99/year for a family. This is definitely one of the cheaper paid apps with good features, so if you are on a tight budget, check AnyList out.

11. CopyMeThat (free; paid upgrade available)

For a really powerful, free recipe collector, CopyMeThat is one of the best free apps. Easily clip recipes across the web, import your own, and never lose a recipe. The app offers filtered searches, so you could find all the recipes with a particular ingredient you need to use.

When meal planning, include notes that help you remember what you have planned, such as eating with a friend. All the recipes sync across your devices. Plus, the app is backed up daily so all of your recipes are safe and sound. There is no recipe limit either.

CopyMeThat has a free version that is fully functional, but there is a paid upgrade. With that, you get the ability to scale recipes to accommodate more servings, track what is in your pantry, and the ability to email recipes. CopyMeThat premium is $25 for lifetime access, or you can get a year of access for $12.50.

12. Plan to Eat (free trial; paid service)

Plan to Eat helps you take the stress out of meal planning by being a very flexible, customizable app. Clip recipes from the internet, then the app automatically imports it for you. Easily scale recipes, and add custom ingredients, snacks, and notes to your meal plan.

When you want to shop, the list is created for you and similar ingredients are all combined to make the list efficient. You can even separate out your ingredient list by different stores if there are particular items you want to get at one store over another.

While Plan to Eat does have an app, the function really is best in the web-based version. They do not meal plan for you, though, so this is not a “meal planning service.”

Plan to Eat offers a free 30-day trial, and it is $4.95/month after that. One really great feature of Plan to Eat’s philosophy is that they are very open with their subscribers. You do not need to put in credit card information to try the app. If your 30 days run out, they simply suspend your account until you decide if you want to keep using it or not.

Meal Planning Services

If planning meals yourself still feels daunting, consider subscribing to a meal planning service. Providing done-for-you plans, this eliminates the stress of meal planning at a very reasonable price point.

13. The Six O’Clock Scramble

Jessica Braider founded The Six O’Clock Scramble as a way to help her family connect over mealtimes. She believes that family dinners are important and can be made stress-free with good planning. Their service offers 5 dinner plans per week, which works well to plan a built-in leftovers night as well.

All recipes are supposed to take 30 minutes or less to prepare and are scalable to your family’s size. They also give you prepared, organized grocery lists and directions for cooking each meal. Additionally, each weekly plan comes with a slow cooker night, side dish recipes, and special diet accommodations.

They offer a 14-day free trial, and after that, you need to subscribe. It’s really risk-free to check out to see if it would work for your family before committing. There are three subscription levels:

  1. 3 Months = $35 ($3/week)
  2. 12 Months = $100 ($2/week)
  3. 24 Months = $150 ($1.44/week)

14. eMeals

eMeals is a feature-rich, complete meal planning service. Choose from a wide variety of plans to fit your lifestyle (paleo, vegan, kid-friendly, budget-friendly, classic, and plenty more). They offer specialty plans as well, including breakfast, lunch, and special occasion. Plus, they have plans with recipes pulled from popular publications, such as Better Homes and Gardens.

One amazing feature of eMeals is that they have partnered with several major grocery shopping services, such as Amazon Fresh, Instacart, and Walmart Grocery. This means that you can send your entire plan to the grocery service, they will shop, and all you need to do is simply pick up your groceries. This is a huge time saver for busy families.

If you try a plan and don’t like it, you can easily switch to another whenever you like. Plus, all the plans get emailed to you weekly, so you can save them forever.

eMeals offers a 14-day free trial. The monthly cost varies depending on the length of subscription you choose and the number of plans you select. A 12-month plan costs $5 a month, while a $3-month plan costs $10 a month.

15. Relish

Founded by two busy moms, Relish aims to reduce the stress of meal planning for busy families. Subscribers receive weekly plans emailed out on Thursdays. The idea is you would use the weekend to look over the meals, shop, and prep for the week.

Offering various menu options for different lifestyles, you’re sure to find a meal plan that fits your family’s needs. All plans include nutritional information. When you receive your list, you will also receive a grocery list. Meals are supposed to take around 30 minutes to cook.

Included with your membership are freezer meal ideas that include printable labels. Members also receive access to an exclusive article archive.

There are 3 subscription levels:

  1. 3 Month Premium = $21 ($7/month)
  2. 6 Month Premium = $35.70 ($5.95/month)
  3. 12 Month Premium = $58.80 ($4.90/month)

16. No More “To Go”

This service was created by a busy mom who loved cooking, but couldn’t find the time to make easy, healthy meals. Recipes are supposed to be chef-quality and easy to make in about 30 minutes.

When meal plans arrive every week, you can stick with the meals that have been planned or switch out meals if there is something you do not like. They also offer personalized support if you need help.

Most meals are made from fresher ingredients, rather than using boxed or canned goods. There seem to be fewer customization options than other services, although they do offer a gluten-free plan, classic plan, and a plan for just 2 people.

No More “To Go” offers 4 subscription levels:

  1. 1 Month = $7
  2. 3 Months = $18 ($6/month)
  3. 6 Months = $34 ($5.67/month)
  4. 12 Months = $64 ($5.34/month)

17. Deliciously Organic

If eating organic, whole, unprocessed foods is a high priority for your family, it’s important to be sure the meal plan service you choose focuses on that way of eating. Deliciously Organic does just that.

Their weekly meal plans go beyond just the 5 dinner recipes included and provide recipes for snacks, desserts, cooking tips, and access to more recipes each week. The recipes would have to be manually scaled if you want to serve more than 4 people, as they are designed with that number in mind.

Because many people who wish to eat whole foods do so for dietary restrictions, they offer several plans to choose from, including paleo, grain-free, classic, and more.

All plans are $6/month, but they offer an all-access plan for $8/month. This would be a great option if you need to accommodate several different dietary needs in your family and do not want to pay for 2 plans.

Additionally, they offer a recipe pack as a one-time purchase that includes 2 weeks worth of dinners for $4.99. This is a great feature, as you could purchase this pack and pair it with a free meal planner to really save money, while still having great meals on rotation.

18. The Fresh 20

The idea behind The Fresh 20 is that all the meals are prepared using 20 fresh ingredients, and take 20 minutes or less to make. This is designed for busy families who still want to eat whole foods while minimizing shopping.

All meals get prepped ahead of time, following their directions, which saves you valuable time throughout the week. They say that prep time should take about an hour, then the meals take far less time to cook each night.

There are a wide variety of plans to choose from, accommodating many dietary needs. A unique feature is that they offer a meal plan for just one person, which is difficult to find in meal planners. Cooking for one person is surprisingly difficult, so this is great if you want to meal plan but do not need family style meals.

Three subscription levels are available:

  1. 1 Month = $14
  2. 3 Month = $24 ($8/month)
  3. Annual = $74 ($6.17/month; includes access to recipe archives)

Specialty plans for dairy-free and kosher are available for $18, and a lunch plan is available for $12.

19. PlateJoy

Using over 50 data points, PlateJoy offers a truly custom meal plan created just for you. Input your family size, dietary restrictions, items you have on hand, how you prefer to cook, and other metrics, then PlateJoy creates the plan based on those preferences.

PlateJoy aims to help families reduce food waste by being smarter with portion sizes and utilizing local grocers for fresher food. Nutritional information is included, and the plans sync to your Fitbit, if you own one, to help with tracking.

They are Instacart partners and you can receive $20 off your first Instacart order through PlateJoy.

You can give PlateJoy a try if you aren’t sure. They offer 10 days free, and it is $8/month for the regular, custom meal plans. If you are looking to lose weight, they do offer a specialized weight loss plan for $19/month.

20. CookSmarts

CookSmarts goal is to help get you in the kitchen with as little hassle as possible, but also make the time you spend cooking enjoyable. To do that, they offer videos, tips, archives, and a community you can join to chat with other people with the same goals.

All of CookSmarts plans come done-for-you, with 1-click grocery lists. They include special diet options for each meal as well. Meals can be logged in Weight Watchers or MyFitnessPal.

The plans range from $6-8/month, depending on the options you choose. If you want to try before you buy, you can get 3 free plans without putting in a credit card.

21. $5 Meal Plan

If you are on a tighter budget, definitely check out $5 Meal Plan. If your budget is so tight that all of these plans seem unattainable, there is a tremendous recipe archive on their website for free. The meals are budget-friendly as well.

Each Friday, the plan gets emailed out so that you have the weekend to shop and prepare for the week ahead. You can opt to use the created plan, or use the custom menu builder available on their website. The plans include dinner, sides, one lunch idea, one breakfast idea, and a random recipe as well.

Perhaps obviously, the plan is $5/month, and you can download a sample plan for free.

22. Once A Month Meals

Freezer meal planning has gained a lot of popularity recently, with good reason. Cooking once a month, on a dedicated day, you prepare all your dinners (and sometimes other meals) in advance.

Storage is often in disposable pans or freezer-safe gallon bags. Once your prepared meals are frozen, all you need to do is defrost, cook or reheat, and dinner is done.

This is attractive for busy moms or professionals, who want a home-cooked dinner but simply do not have time every night. Once A Month Meals aims to help you gain those home-cooked meals you crave… while minimizing the actual cooking.

Subscriptions to this service include a recipe archive to pull from, and you can add your own recipes. Keep in mind that not all meals will freeze well if you add your own. You do not get a set plan emailed to you – pick whatever meals you wish from their archive and plan them into your month.

The value is in being able to have access to their extensive freezer-tested recipe archive to pull from since most traditional recipes aren’t adapted for freezer cooking. Once the plan is done, you will get a printable grocery list and a set of instructions.

When you prep the food, you will chop all the veggies at one time, all the meat together, and finally assemble your meals in containers. Prep day is quite involved, especially the first few times you cook this way. Many people do this with friends to make it easier and more enjoyable.

Having 20+ meals frozen, ready-to-go, when you need them, is well worth all that effort, though. Plus, you will then enjoy minimal cooking time until you run out of freezer meals.

The meal plans available accommodate dietary restrictions, come with freezer labels, and you also will get access to free freezer cooking classes.

Subscriptions are $16/month if you pay monthly, and $12/month if you purchase an annual subscription. Annual subscriptions also include 3 months free.

Pantry Organizer Apps

Once you have meal planning down, it’s a good idea to track what you have available in your pantry to save time and help further eliminate food waste.

23. NoWaste

This handy app keeps track of all the food in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Scan the barcodes on packaging, then update the app as you make meals to effectively track what you have.

Sync across devices so everyone in the family stays updated on what is available in your home. Also, the app allows you to track expiration dates as well, to ensure everything is fresh.

The app is available for free for iOS only.

24. Fridgely

Track expiration dates effectively with this free app. This is helpful for food, of course, but for other home products, such as medications.

Free for iOS; premium upgrade available for $2.99.

25. Chefling

If meal planning simply isn’t for you, Chefling just might be your perfect match. Scan receipts, then Chefling organizes your purchased groceries into categories.

It will then suggest recipes based on what you have on hand. Cook from that and the items get automatically deducted from your pantry inventory.

Chefling also integrates with the AI on your device, making cooking easier and more enjoyable. Need an item added to your list? Siri or Alexa can handle that. If you enjoy shopping sales at the store, rather than going to the store with a set list of things to buy, this app is perfect for you. Buy the items on sale, then create your meal plan around those items.

Chefling is available for free.

Online Meal Plans

If you are on a very tight budget, there are plenty of free meal plans available online. Below are some of my favorites:

Final Thoughts

Meal planning does not need to be overwhelming. With the right tools, you can easily plan healthy meals for your family to minimize food waste and maximize the dollars in your pocket. Even if you are on a tight budget and can’t afford to buy an app or subscribe to a service, there are plenty of free options that can really ease the stress of getting dinner on the table.

Get Paid To Shop: The Shopkick app is a free mobile app that pays you walk into stores, link your credit card, scan barcodes in stores, shop online, refer friends and more. Convert points into gift cards and other cash prizes. This app makes shopping fun, and you even get a 250-point bonus when you sign-up as a new member. The best part? It's 100% FREE to join.

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