It isn’t always easy to stay on track with eating healthy, balanced meals. After all, between the hustle and bustle of daily life, work, and responsibilities like child care, cooking is often what gets left behind.
However, preparing meals throughout the week and eating a well-rounded diet is essential for several reasons. From a nutrient perspective, the 2016 United States dietary guidelines recommend you load up on vegetables, healthy grains, and a balance of protein and fats.
Plus, preparing your meals and cooking at home saves money. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family spent nearly $3,500 on eating out in 2018.
If you struggle to find time to cook or find recipes, there are many affordable resources available.
When using a meal planning service, both planning and cooking your meals becomes much simpler. Plus, you can avoid food waste or the temptation to order pizza for every dinner by using a more regimented meal plan.
The Best Meal Planning Services
Meal delivery services deliver meal kits of ingredients right to your door. Meal planning services provide recipes and shopping lists, often tailored to suit your dietary needs and preferences.
You still need to shop, prepare ingredients, and cook. However, these services take the guesswork out of your weekly meal planning and are generally affordable.
There’s a wide variety of meal planning services out there. That makes it easy to find one that meets your dietary requirements and food preferences.
1. $5 Meal Plan
- Pros: Flexibility between preset meal plans and the meal plan builder; 14-day free trial
- Cons: Recipes set to four servings, forcing larger families or bulk cookers recalculate
- Best For: Anyone looking for a straightforward and affordable meal planning service
- Cost: $5 per month
Meal planning company $5 Meal Plan is exactly what it sounds like: monthly meal plans for only $5. For those who aren’t even interested in paying that much sight unseen, there’s a 14-day free trial.
However, don’t let the affordability fool you. This robust meal planning service offers individuals or families a range of benefits, including:
- Affordable Recipes. $5 Meal Plan states that their recipes typically cost $2 or less per person.
- Diverse Meals. Weekly newsletters contain five dinner recipes, including recipes involving a slow cooker, a 20-minute meal, and a freezer-friendly meal. Meal plans also have a lunch and breakfast idea. Finally, weekly meal plans also come with a random recipe that includes snack ideas, drinks, or desserts.
- Multiple Usage Options. Subscribers can use the premade weekly meal plan and shopping list. Alternatively, they can use the meal plan builder feature to customize their meal plan. The builder lets users find new recipes based on ingredients they already have, cooking method, dietary preference (such as paleo or vegetarian), or by meal type.
- Speciality Plans. $5 Meal Plan also offers six-week specialty plans for people searching for unique recipe categories such as paleo, keto, vegetarian, 30-minute meals, or slow cooker meals.
The service delivers recipes via email every Friday at 11am, making it easy to buy necessary ingredients during a weekend grocery trip.
- Pros: Impressive number of recipe categories; integrating your shopping list with pickup or delivery options helps save time; 14-day free trial
- Cons: Only offers family or duo plans, so larger families and individuals must adjust their shopping lists
- Best For: Anyone looking to commit to a robust meal planning service for an entire year
- Cost: Dinner plans cost $9.99 per month for three months or $4.99 per month for 12 months; option to add lunch and breakfast plans for an additional $3 to $4 per month
Meal planning service eMeals offers a single subscription with “endless variety,” according to their website.
Like $5 Meal Plan, eMeals specializes in dinner recipes and is relatively affordable. After the 14-day free trial, subscriptions cost as low as $4.99 per month for 12 months. You can also pay $9.99 per month for a three-month subscription if you don’t want to commit for a year.
Users can pay an extra $3 to $4 per month to enjoy lunch and breakfast plans in addition to dinner plans. These plans are more thorough than the freebies or single breakfast and lunch recipe $5 Meal Plan includes, but that comes at a cost.
The company also offers an immense amount of variety. There are plenty of categories to choose from if you want custom recipes, including:
- Quick and healthy
- Low-carb or keto
- Vegan and vegetarian
Furthermore, eMeals provides an option to integrate meal ingredient pickup or delivery through Walmart, Kroger, Amazon, Instacart, and Shipt. If you shop in-store, the eMeals Android or iOS app has a handy shopping list to keep you on track.
See our eMeals review for more information.
- Pros: Recipe prep and thaw cards make planning and preparing incredibly easy
- Cons: Pricey; no mobile app or free trial
- Best For: Anyone who wants to save time and money through bulk cooking
- Cost: $24.99 per month or $249.99 per year
Unlike other meal planning services that plan weekly meals, Once A Month Meals focuses on one simple premise: cooking in bulk and freezing. If you don’t like cooking and would rather have a stash of ready-to-go meals in your freezer, Once A Month Meals is the meal planning service for you.
Once A Month Meals takes eight steps from sign-up to mealtime:
- Choose Your Membership. Subscribe to a monthly or yearly membership and gain access to every recipe.
- Take a Quiz. The quiz helps subscribers find freezer recipes that suit their tastes and dietary needs.
- Make a Meal Plan. Choose an existing meal plan, individual recipes, or make your own recipe.
- Create a Shopping List. Select a serving size to adjust the ingredients you need per recipe.
- Shop. Buy ingredients in-store or use Instacart, a Once A Month Meals partner.
- Prep and Cook. Once A Month Meals provides a prep sheet that outlines how you can prepare ingredients ahead. Called cooking “mise en place,” this technique prevents cooks from becoming overwhelmed by tasks by asking them to prep all their ingredients before they begin cooking.
- Freeze Meals. Recipe cards include steps for how to freeze and store different dishes properly.
- Thaw and Enjoy. Recipes also contain an information sheet that outlines how to defrost your meals.
Once A Month Meals costs $24.99 per month or $249.99 per year. Yearly members can save up to 12 meal plans at a time, whereas monthly members can initially save up to three. Monthly members can save an additional meal plan per month of subscription, up to 12 plans. Unfortunately, there’s no free trial. But you can sign up to receive a sample meal plan if you’re willing to give them your email address.
Once A Month Meals is definitely an expensive meal planning service. However, by cooking in bulk, you save time and money, so the cost is worth it for some households.
Plus, Once A Month Meals isn’t only chilies and soups. There is a variety of meal plans on this platform. Vegetarian, keto, paleo, diabetes-friendly, Instant Pot, and slow cooker are a few available categories.
- Pros: Highly customizable meal plans based on data; pantry memory feature helps reduce food waste
- Cons: Relatively expensive
- Best For: Households with a variety of dietary needs that can make use of PlateJoy’s quiz feature
- Cost: Regular meal plans cost $69 for six months or $99 for 12 months; dietary plans cost $89 for three months or $119 for six months
PlateJoy provides custom meal plans to help members save time and eat healthier. Data and customization is undoubtedly the name of the game with PlateJoy, and that’s evident in how their meal plans work.
To create a meal plan, PlateJoy users answer questions about dietary restrictions, health goals, time constraints, and how many weekly meals they need assistance with. PlateJoy then uses information from 50 data points to create a custom meal plan.
PlateJoy’s Android and iOS apps have a built-in shopping list that helps save time and cut down on food waste. The app also tracks ingredients in your pantry to prevent unnecessary purchases. You can order your groceries through Instacart.
PlateJoy has two different membership options, and pricing varies depending on the time frame:
- Regular Meal Plans. Pay $69 for six months or $99 for 12 months. That works out to $8 to $12 per month. Members pay upfront for their membership.
- Weight Loss Plans. Pay $89 for three months or $119 for six months. That works out to $20 to $30 per month. Members still pay upfront for their membership.
PlateJoy has the same variety in plans as other meal planning services. Vegan, allergy-free, dairy-free, keto, gluten-free, and batch cooking are a few examples of custom plans.
5. The Scramble
- Pros: Affordable and prioritizes saving time and helping busy families; 14-day free trial
- Cons: No mobile app; less customization than services like PlateJoy
- Best For: Busy households looking for an affordable meal planning service
- Cost: One month for $12; three months for $35; 12 months for $100
If your family struggles to find the time to cook dinner, The Scramble might be the perfect meal planning service to try.
The Scramble aims to make meal planning for busy families a breeze. Most recipes take 30 minutes or less to prepare and cook, and kid-friendliness is also common for most recipes.
With The Scramble, you get weekly meal plans of eight meals and a make-ahead breakfast recipe to save even more time. Plus, you can customize plans to fit various dietary needs, preferences, and your family’s schedule.
Unlike other meal planning services like $5 Meal Plan or eMeals, you can easily scale recipes based on family size. Dinners include a simple side dish, and there are slow cooker and Instant Pot options available.
The Scramble has three membership options:
- One Month: $12 ($3 per week)
- Three Months: $35 ($2.90 per week)
- 12 Months: $100 ($2 per week)
The Scramble has more than 1,300 recipes and 600 meal plans already available. For as low as $2 per week, it’s one of the highest value meal planning services. If you’re on the fence, there’s a 14-day free trial.
6. The Fresh 20
- Pros: Simple and healthy recipes that avoid processed or frozen foods
- Cons: Not ideal for picky eaters or foodies
- Best For: Households seeking simple and nutritious meals using a single meal plan
- Cost: $14 per month, $29 per quarter, or $79 per year
If you don’t think it’s possible to prepare a week’s worth of meals with only 20 ingredients, The Fresh 20 will surprise you.
The Fresh 20 is a middle ground between bulk freeze cooking and weekly recipe ideas. With The Fresh 20, shoppers only need to worry about buying ingredients and a bit of prep work:
- Shop. Each week, The Fresh 20 instructs you to buy 20 fresh ingredients. Nothing on your shopping list is processed or frozen.
- Prepare. Spend one hour per week following instructions to prepare your ingredients; think chopping, portioning, or marinating.
- Cook. Prepare fresh and healthy dinners using ready-to-use ingredients.
The entire design of The Fresh 20 promotes eating healthy, unprocessed foods. Plus, for only an hour per week of prepping, you enjoy a week’s worth of nutritious meals.
The Fresh 20 has several meal plans available, including:
- “For One”
The Fresh 20 costs $14 per month on a monthly plan. Alternatively, you can subscribe for three months for $29 or annually for $79. You can also sign up for a one-week free trial for a meal plan of your choice. Each meal plan also shows an example of weekly recipes if you click on the specific plan. For example, the sample plan for the classic meal plan includes rice bowls, chicken enchilada, ramen, maple-soy salmon, and weeknight chicken soup.
Unfortunately, once you subscribe to a specific meal plan, you can’t switch for the duration of your subscription, meaning discerning or adventurous eaters may be out of luck. Annual members can add additional plans, but they cost 50% of the price.
7. Plan to Eat
- Pros: Affordable monthly plan; provides complete control; offers more than just dinner options; generous 30-day free trial
- Cons: Not ideal for novice cooks who aren’t comfortable having so much control over the plans
- Best For: People who know how to plan meals but need help with organization
- Cost: $4.95 per month or $39 per year
Plan to Eat is different from other meal planning services because it doesn’t find recipes; you do.
With Plan to Eat, subscribers save and organize recipes from around the Web. Plan to Eat also has a calendar component, so it’s easy to create a weekly or monthly schedule of upcoming meals. You can add recipes from a variety of sources, such as websites, cookbooks, and blogs.
Plan to Eat makes your shopping list automatically based on the recipes on your planner. Shoppers select the date range they want to shop for, making grocery shopping incredibly straightforward. Using the Plan to Eat mobile app for Android or iOS during a grocery trip is truly an easy way to keep track of your ingredients for the week.
Plan to Eat offers a 30-day free trial. Afterward, Plan to Eat costs $4.95 per month or $39 per year if you subscribe for an entire year.
If you want full control over your meal planning but lack an organization system, Plan to Eat is the right service for you.
- Pros: Free version offers plenty of meal planning ideas; geared toward those trying to meet a specific caloric target; 14-day free trial for premium version
- Cons: Fewer meal plan options than most meal planning services; features like customizing days of the week to have different macronutrient amounts aren’t necessarily vital for the whole family
- Best For: People trying to lose weight or athletes sticking to a specific diet
- Cost: $8.99 per month or $4.99 per month when billed annually
Many meal planning services offer meal plans that cater to individuals looking to lose weight or with particular dietary requirements. Eat This Much puts your diet on autopilot and creates healthy meal plans to suit your budget, schedule, and food preferences.
Using Eat This Much to create meal plans is also simple:
- Choose a Diet. Select from a flexible diet, paleo, vegetarian, vegan, keto, or Mediterranean.
- Enter a Caloric Goal. Enter your daily caloric intake target or use the Eat This Much calculator to find a target.
- Select Meals. Choose how many meals you want to eat per day.
- Generate Recipes. Eat This Much returns recipe ideas alongside a caloric breakdown of each meal.
If you don’t like your daily recipe ideas, Eat This Much has a regenerate button that returns an entirely new set.
Eat This Much uses a freemium model. Creating meals or customizing the generator with food preferences is free. However, the premium version lets users plan weeks of meals at a time, incorporate leftovers into future meals, create automatic grocery lists from recipes, and access grocery delivery through Amazon Fresh. The premium version also lets you customize specific days of the week to include more or less of various macronutrients, which is useful for anyone on a strict meal plan.
You can try the premium plan free for 14 days. After that, it costs $4.99 per month when billed annually or $8.99 per month without a contract.
9. Cook Smarts
- Pros: Educational resources useful for novices; diverse archive of dinner recipes; ample 30-day free trial; option for macronutrient tracking
- Cons: With four weekly dinner recipes, it’s not ideal for those who don’t eat out once per week; relatively expensive
- Best For: Anyone who wants to become a better cook and to learn about nutrition.
- Cost: $14.99 per month or $7.49 per month when billed annually
Cook Smarts simplifies dinner planning and helps cooks improve their skills in the kitchen. If you want a straightforward meal planning service and a host of educational resources on eating a more balanced diet, it’s worth considering.
Cook Smarts sends subscribers four seasonal dinner recipes every week. Additionally, the platform has more than 1,000 dinner recipes in their archives for easy access. With gluten-free, paleo, and vegetarian alternatives for every meal, Cook Smarts is also rather flexible.
What separates Cook Smarts from most meal planning services is their educational resources. Recipes have built-in how-to videos that cover recipe-specific questions like how to chop or prepare a certain ingredient. Cook Smarts also has a learn to cook section and weekend meal prep tips. It also syncs with MyFitnessPal for macronutrient tracking.
Cook Smarts is $14.99 per month for monthly plans or $7.49 per month for an annual plan. A free month trial is also available.
Other Useful Meal Planning Resources
Meal planning services are an often affordable way to stay on track with your nutrition, save time, and get inspired in the kitchen.
Luckily, there are also several free options and other useful resources you can turn to. If a meal planning service is too much to commit to, consider some of these resources.
Reddit is a free news aggregation and general discussion website. On Reddit, it’s easy to find communities built around particular interests. Subreddits, or subs, cover specific topics and enable Reddit members to subscribe and stay updated on information shared in the sub.
There are thousands of subreddits covering a wide range of topics. Additionally, many Reddit communities focus on healthy living, meal planning, and general wellness.
Some of the best meal planning subreddits include:
- r/EatCheapAndHealthy. This community has 1.8 million members. The goal of this sub is to help people eat healthily on a cheap budget. An ingredient of the week spotlight, healthy but frugal recipe ideas, and cooking tips are some of the best features in this sub.
- r/MealPrepSunday. With 1.4 million members, this is the ultimate meal prepping community on Reddit. This sub caters to serious meal preppers and people getting started with meal prepping. Recipes, tips, and mouthwatering photos are the main attractions of this sub.
- r/Fitmeals. Fitmeals has over 230,000 members. If you want to learn more about dieting, nutrition, or improving the taste of your own healthy meals, it’s the perfect sub to check out.
- r/Budgetfood. Budgetfood helps members find cheap yet nutritious recipes and ingredient substitutions to cut down on grocery costs. It has nearly 200,000 members and plenty of frugal recipes.
The best part about Reddit is that you can also ask questions. If you need help with a specific aspect of meal planning, like how to freeze food or prepare a certain ingredient, it’s easy to find knowledgeable community members to help out.
2. Meal Planning Apps
For the most part, meal planning apps are similar to meal planning services, as they make it easy to plan out your meals and find new recipes.
However, many meal planning apps are less in-depth than the more robust services, which might be useful if you just need a helping hand to stay organized. Plus, many meal planning apps are free, making them an economical alternative to subscribing to a service.
Some popular meal planning apps include:
- Mealime. This app is available on Android and iOS and has over 2.5 million members, according to Mealime’s homepage. Mealime makes it easy to find nutritious recipes and create meal plans for the week. With customization options and an automatic grocery list generator, this app has a lot to offer. Mealime has a premium version for $5.99 per month that offers more variety and comprehensive nutritional information. However, the free version still provides enough to plan your meals.
- Paprika. If subscription meal planning services aren’t for you, Paprika is a reliable alternative. Paprika is available online or on Android and iOS devices. The app costs $4.99 to download and lets users easily organize recipes, create meal plans, and build grocery lists. The online version is available for $29.99.
- Yummly. Yummly is a recipe catalog and meal planning app that also runs on a freemium model like Mealime. The free version of Yummly lets users find recipes based on dietary preferences and add them to their meal plan. Yummly Pro, which costs $4.99 per month, unlocks extra recipes and provides educational cooking resources. Yummly is available on Android and iOS, but if you already know how to cook, the free version suffices.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to meal planning. However, there’s no denying that eating a balanced diet and regularly cooking at home is beneficial for your overall health and wallet.
Finding the right meal planning service largely depends on your goals and dietary needs. Platforms like $5 Meal Plan or eMeals are perfect for households seeking a straightforward meal planning service. For specific nutritional needs or athletic training, PlateJoy or Eat This Much are excellent options. Finally, there are more niche meal planning options out there, such as Once A Month Meals or The Fresh 20.
If you don’t want to spend money, turn to online communities like Reddit. Alternatively, use a variety of free meal planning apps. As long as you take an active role in improving your nutrition and spend the time to cook healthy meals, your body and finances will be better off.
Do you have a favorite meal planning service or strategy to cook at home more often?