Last updated on October 14th, 2021 at 07:31 pm
In this article, we’ll review the three best meal planning apps and provide specifications to help you choose the best one for your lifestyle and goals.
When you hear the word “meal plan,” two people spring to mind: college students and bodybuilders. But meal plans are no longer just for the swole or the swipe; you can now plan an entire week for yourself or your family without ever leaving your couch (talk about convenience). This growing trend ensures that you don’t have to lift a finger until the preparation stage, from planning to shopping and delivery.
If your typical weeknight dinner plans include eating out or rummaging through the fridge for leftovers (no judgment, we are all guilty), using a meal planning app is worth a shot.
But first: why is it important to plan your meals?
Meal planning is the simple act of taking the time to plan any number of your meals for the week.
While this traditionally was done with pen and paper, often with the help of a costly nutritionist, modern meal planning apps and services leverage academic research to make it easier to keep your whole family fed – healthily and deliciously – all week long. It’s challenging to find time to plan with an insanely busy life balancing family, work, exercise, social activities, and side hustles. It’s no wonder that too often we find ourselves staring into the bottom of our freezer, wondering which bag is the least freezer-burned.
If you’re ready for a change, we promise there’s a meal planning service that can help you save time, money, lose weight, eat healthier, or expand your recipe repertoire. While each app is unique in its own way, most of these subscription services streamline meal planning, with others even offering shopping and ingredient delivery. This article will help you determine the best one for your situation.
And why do you need a meal planning service?
If you’re a seasoned meal planner, you may be wondering if an app or third party service is really necessary. The truth is, meal planning services can make a big difference to your lifestyle and your wallet. Here’s how:
1. Save time
For some, time management is more important than others. Everyone is unique and has distinct needs. Meal planning for the week can help you manage your time effectively. By planning and organizing your meals, you eliminate last-minute trips to the store and reduce aimless wandering and overspending while you’re there.
2. Eat healthier
When you plan ahead of time, you can make informed decisions about your personal health and fitness requirements which we tend to mostly overlook. Meal planning aids in making the easy option a healthy one. Instead of stopping at a drive-through or picking up an unhealthy takeout on the way home, knowing you have a meal ready for you at home can help you avoid the temptation of unhealthy last-minute options.
3. Spend less
Who doesn’t like to save money? Meal planning allows you to be more prepared, which reduces impulse purchases of unnecessary groceries at the store. Furthermore, it can help you become more aware of how much money you spend on food, and as we all know: what gets measured, gets improved.
PlateJoy vs eMeals vs Mealime: What’s the best meal planning service?
We understand how difficult it is to find a dinner that would please even the most discerning palate, so PlateJoy, eMeals, and Mealime remove the guesswork before committing. Each service provides unique features at various price points. The chart below depicts the key characteristics that distinguish each; let’s see how they compare.
Best meal planning apps: PlateJoy vs Mealime vs eMeals
|Mission||Plans personalized to your unique health goals||Easiest way for busy families to plan healthy meals||Less stress, more dinnersWe plan, they shop, you cook|
$69 for 6 months (~$12/mo)
Use code FINVSFIN10 for $10 off!
Free for dinner planning
$5/mo for 12-month subscription
|App store review||4.7 with 1.5k ratings||4.8 with 43k ratings||4.6 with 33k ratings|
|Delivery service compatibility||Instacart, Amazon Fresh||Walmart, Instacart, Shipt, AmazonFresh, Albertsons, Safeway, H-E-B, Kroger, Randalls, Tom Thumb, Jewel Osco, Aldi, Giant Eagle, Hy-Vee, Meijer, Publix, Sprouts, Target||Walmart, Instacart, Shipt, AmazonFresh, Albertsons, Safeway, H-E-B, Kroger|
|How to personalize?||
Online quiz to assess:
|Browse the menu to choose your menu for the week with tags for diet preferences (keto, low-carb, etc)||Choose your favorite plan or mix & match recipes from plans (access to all meal plans with subscription)|
|Meals||Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks||
Free version: dinners + sides only
Paid version: dinners, sides, breakfast, “lunch friendly”
Additional cost: breakfast & lunch (certain plans don’t have recipes for other meals)
|Meal plan options||Low carb, paleo, Mediterranean, diabetic / pre-diabetic, ketogenic, 30-day cleanse, low FODMAP, no red meat, pescatarian, flexitarian, vegetarian, vegan, clean eating, gluten free, dairy free, kosher, pregnant / nursing, low sodium||Classic, Low Carb, Keto, Flexitarian, Paleo, Vegetarian, Pescetarian, Vegan||Quick & healthy, low carb, keto, clean eating, budget friendly, 30-minute, low calorie, kid friendly, paleo, vegetarian, gluten free, diabetic, heart healthy, vegan, slow cooker, vegan, mediterranean|
|Free trial?||(10 days)||But $5.99 a month for pro version||(14 days)|
Search by “use up ingredients” – creates a meal with leftover ingredients from previous weeks
Search by appliance (slow cooker, instant pot, stove)
Shop in-app or printer-friendly
Saving a list of “pantry staples” – doesn’t add those ingredients to shopping list
Auto-calc nutrition info
Change portion size
Auto-recommends meal schedule based on perishability, but ultimately customizable
Ability to sync with fitness trackers
Add recipes from the web or create your own within the app
Add any other shopping list necessities (outside of the recipe) within the app
Save favorite recipes
View how much food waste you’ve saved since starting the app
Pro option: “fit within calorie requirements”
Pro option: sync with fitness trackers
|Personalize list for other needs (toiletries, office materials, pet supplies etc) to add all in one place|
Meals can occasionally be repetitive or lacking variety
Interface: sometimes doesn’t sync with Instacart
Fewer breakfast & lunch options and variety
Few low-FODMAP options
No family-friendly meals
Less customizable abilities
Doesn’t let you add servings per meal beyond 6 people
Can’t select by kitchen appliance (slow cooker, instant pot, etc)
Too many allergy removals result in much fewer recipe options
Doesn’t allow filtering by specific ingredients
Functionality: communications between app & computer are faulty, annoying amount of subscription offers
No filter for diet restrictions
Lack of customer support
Breakfast & lunch additional cost
Now that you have a general idea of PlateJoy vs Mealime vs eMeals, let’s get into the specifics of each app.
Review of plateJoy’s meal planning services
PlateJoy primarily focuses on the health and time-saving aspects of meal planning. The most customizable of the three options in this article; it uses a quiz right away to build your plan. The quiz delves deeply into dietary requirements, personal or family health goals, fitness goals, allergies, preferences, and time constraints. The algorithm claims to use 50 different data points to create your personalized menu and ensures that the plan is on track with the objectives you set.
PlateJoy is further customizable to allow for week-to-week meal choice adjustments based on calorie goals, preparation time, guests, meals required, kitchen tools, and more. This alleviates the stress of:
- “What if I’m hosting on Wednesday?” (Just up that day’s portion size)
- “What if my SO eats lunch out?” (PlateJoy allows you to account for that)
- “My impulse vegetable purchase from last week is about to go bad!” (Select recipes by ingredient).
After you’ve selected your menu, the app generates your personal shopping list. PlateJoy’s ability to keep track of your pantry staples is another unique feature offered, saving you from buying the 4th dill seasoning in your pantry because… “I’ll just buy it just to be safe.” You can plan meals to be cooked throughout the week based on the perishability of the ingredients. Moreover, the recipes are paired to reduce food waste, saving you another difficult nightly decision.
Another advantage of PlateJoy is that all four meals (snacks ARE a meal, ok??) are included in the membership fee. PlateJoy is a bit more expensive per month than other subscription meal plans, at $69 for 6 months or $99 for 12 months — i.e. $8-$12 per month. And, like the others, it doesn’t include delivery fees. This is because PlateJoy easily integrates with Amazon Fresh and Instacart for grocery shopping and delivery, both of which charge an additional cost.
Pros of PlateJoy:
Cons of PlateJoy:
- 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
Review of Mealime’s meal planning services
Mealime is the cheapest and easiest to use app on your phone out of the three. The phone interface, which is best accessed via the app rather than by web browser, provides the smoothest and most manageable experience. The free version allows you to build your meal plan from a vast array of recipes, but ultimately serves as a teaser with photos of the pro options sprinkled throughout. These of course are only accessible after payment.
You’ll first select a diet plan from eight options via the app, but can later choose recipes from different plans. After removing allergies and dislikes (a specific list of over 100 for even the pickiest eaters), selecting servings per meal, setting a personalized recurring reminder to create your weekly meal, and creating your account, you are ready to create your first meal plan.
While the user-customizable and detail-oriented features of other subscriptions, such as PlateJoy, can help you specify your meals and zero in on your diet, for some, the simpler option of choosing which meals you want for the week is preferable. This allows you to create a grocery list more quickly, with no restrictions on what you can choose.
After you’ve created the grocery list, you can add and remove items as you like, all from within the app. Like the other meal planning apps, shopping is available for an additional fee through the largest variety of integrated stores and delivery services, depending on your location. It’s up to you to cook from there!
Mealime’s easy-to-use interface simplifies the cooking phase, with well-written recipes that don’t require you to scroll while cooking (very important when your hands are covered in egg wash and you’re wondering what to add next.)
Pros of Mealime:
- Recipes are designed for minimal food waste.
- Optimized grocery lists
- More than 200 personalization options
- Free version available
Cons of Mealime:
- No free trial for the pro version
Review of eMeals’ meal planning service
eMeals was one of the first subscription-based meal planning services on the market, and it has gone through numerous updates and improvements as the market has become more saturated. eMeals now combines planning, budgeting, shopping, and delivery into a single platform for you to prepare your own home-cooked meals, rightfully claiming to be the “easiest way for busy families to plan healthy meals.”
After selecting the plan that best meets your and your family’s nutritional needs and preferences, with options ranging from keto to budget-friendly, low calorie, slow cooker, and more, eMeals provides you with a large selection to choose 7 meals each week. You can also mix and match from other plans, offering an even more comprehensive range of options. eMeals generates a shopping list based on your recipes that can be used to shop IRL, or schedule for pickup or delivery from a number of integrated partners, depending on local store availability.
Although the customization feature is limited, eMeals offers a variety of simple meals that can ease a new home chef into the shallow waters of cooking rather than forcing you to jump in headfirst. The ingredients and steps are simple, and users can easily switch between plans, so you’ll know exactly what you’re making for your family.
Pros of eMeals:
- eMeals makes it simple to find a meal plan that works for you and your family
- Provides store-centered plans with recipes based on what’s on sale that week
- Can switch plans whenever you want, making it simple to tailor meal planning to the specific needs of the week
Cons of eMeals:
- Can’t change the serving sizes. Most plans limit the number of servings per meal to two to four or six to eight
Customer reviews: What are customers saying about PlateJoy, Mealime, and eMeals?
PlateJoy has made living a healthy lifestyle as simple and stress-free as possible.
Mealime has made meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking as simple as getting takeout.
More than a million customers have trusted eMeals to help solve dinner.
The Verdict: Which meal subscription service is best for you?
The best service for you is determined by your personal/family goals, preferences, and budget. PlateJoy, Mealime, and eMeals are all excellent choices for different types of home chefs, aspiring or fully-fledged.
Let us summarize once more so you can decide which subscription service is most appealing to you.
For those looking for the most customizable and health-conscious option…
…PlateJoy is the best option for consumers who want to achieve their nutrition goals. It’s great for exploring new or intimidating territory in the home-cooking world, whether it’s simply improving overall health, losing weight, or trying out a new diet or lifestyle (newly GF, DF, pregnant, etc.) In making sure you have every meal of the day planned out and vouched for, PlateJoy has all the tools necessary to help you succeed. Start your free trial here and use code FINVSFIN10 for $10 off any subscription.
For those looking to get started with the most budget-friendly option…
… Mealime is for those looking for a free preview of subscription-based meal planning that is more than just a “trial” period. It offers the most affordable option that does not limit you to the bare minimum by including all of the features of other subscription services but with fewer recipes. The customization is just enough to fit into your daily routine, and it offers a wide range of upgrades that may just make the pro version worthwhile.
Mealime is ideal for anyone who wants to prepare healthy meals without requiring superhuman willpower or effort.
For the busy parent or chef who wants the least intimidating approach at being in the kitchen…
…eMeals provides the simplest, most crowd-pleasing recipes. If you want to reduce the number of meals you eat out each week or cook healthier meals for your family while staying on a budget, eMeals is for you. The founder of eMeals was a busy mom, and her target audience has remained the same. However, if you have specific dietary or nutrition needs or allergies, eMeals may not be the best option for you.
Also, if you don’t mind cooking and want some variety in your meal planning, eMeals has the most options. On a busy week, you can easily switch to a 20-minute meal or crock pot plan and then return to your regular paleo or clean eating plan when life slows down.
The Bottom Line: The most important thing to remember as you embark on your meal planning / home cooking journey is that none of these options are simple. Each of these still requires scarce time, effort, and proactivity for planning (though these reduce it significantly). You’ll still need to shop (unless you pay the extra for delivery) and need to find some time in your day to prep meals. The commitment can be intimidating, especially if you’re used to takeout and microwave dinners. But while none of these options are perfect, the health benefits and fiscal savings are worth it. We hope you now have the information you need to make the best meal-planning decision for you and your family!
Have experience with a meal planning app or service? Let us know about it in the comments below to help others decide on the right app.