Simplify Your Meal Planning and Preparation with These Top 3 Tools

Woman in a blue sweatshirt and red headband is standing in her kitchen with a box of groceries, looking at her phone.

18 Sep 2023 | ~13:11 Engagement Time


Baldwin Sanders , Dietitian

Are you looking to simplify your meal planning, save energy, and make it easier to choose healthier options? Meal planning apps, meal delivery services, and online grocery shopping have you covered. In this guide, we’ll explore these convenient options for meal planning and preparation that can be tailored to your needs and reduce the hassle of figuring out what’s for dinner.

1. Meal Planning Apps

Planning your meals is key to a healthier lifestyle but can often be time-consuming and hard to manage. Meal planning apps on your smartphone can help simplify that process. These apps organize your recipes, help you plan meals, and even generate shopping lists. Whether you’re following a specific dietary regimen like Mediterranean, Keto, Vegetarian, or Gluten-free, there’s an app for you. Many of these apps offer customization, allowing you to download recipes, specify ingredients, or find quick-to-prepare options. Some can even align with your fitness and nutrition goals. Best of all, most meal-planning apps offer free versions with premium options available at a reasonable cost.

Explore the Best Meal Planning Apps


Rated as the best overall app, Paprika simplifies recipe organization and grocery list creation. Upload any recipe and use recipe rating, customized categories (like 30 minutes or less or kid’s favorites), and automatic grocery list generation to keep meal planning easy. It also helps walk you through the recipe and provides reminders like when the stir for 5 minutes time is up. It’s like having a personal cooking assistant in your pocket!


If you’re short on time and prefer not to hunt for recipes, Mealime is perfect. It tailors suggestions based on your preferences, ensuring quick, healthy meals that suit your dietary needs. It also has features like shopping list generation and importing recipes from the web, but you cannot manually add recipes.  A Mealime subscription is free, but the Pro version gives you access to more recipes, nutrition information, and the ability to save meals by calorie count.  Note, there are some health insurance providers who will pay for this app.


Forks Over Knives is a great website for vegetarian, plant-based diets.  It is also useful for those who want to include vegetarian meals as it encourages rather than prohibits consuming less meat, poultry, seafood, and highly processed foods.  It provides plant-based recipes designed by chefs that may be prepared in 35 minutes or less complete with full meal plans, recipes, and a grocery list that can connect directly with an Amazon Fresh account.  It also has a “weekend prep” feature that allows you to get ready/prep in advance.  This app is pricey, but there is a free two-week trial offered.


Yummly offers a wide range of recipes and cooking videos. It includes features like dietary preferences (including low FODMAP) and the ability to schedule meals that sync with your calendar. It also has a unique feature – a virtual pantry that helps you manage the ingredients you have, know when you need more, and find recipes using what’s on hand. Yummly offers a free trial and upgrading to premium includes recipes from well-known chefs and instructional videos.


For personalized nutritionist-designed menus, PlateJoy is your go-to app. It takes your dietary preferences and fitness goals into account, providing you with delicious, tailored meal plans. It also includes features like nutrition information, meal photos and FitBit compatibility. This app is a bit more pricey, but some health insurance providers provide a free subscription and FitBit.

2. Meal Delivery Services

Imagine having restaurant-quality meals delivered right to your doorstep, finally taking the stress out of “what’s for dinner” and food shopping. Meal delivery services are not just a luxury; they offer numerous advantages. They save you time and energy, introduce you to new cuisines and ingredients, eliminate the stress of meal planning, and reduce food waste by being pre-proportioned.  These services can cater to various dietary preferences, including Mediterranean, Vegetarian, Wellness, Whole-30, and Calorie Controlled options so that you can find the perfect fit for your needs. With options for premium recipes, ready-to-cook meals, and heat-and-eat choices, meal delivery services are both versatile and convenient.

While the prices of these services may vary and often include a shipping charge, they cost less than most restaurant delivery meals. Below is a list of a few service options including cost estimates that are subject to change.

Pricing Key
$        < $7.00 per serving
$$      < $10.00 per serving
$$$    < $12.00 per serving
$$$$  < $14.00 per serving

Explore the Best Meal Delivery Services



Offering a wide selection of chef-designed recipes, Hello Fresh provides meal plans categorized by dietary preferences and convenience, from meat and veggies to family-friendly and more. The eco-friendly packaging ensures your ingredients stay fresh, and the pre-proportioned serving sizes for two or four help reduce waste.



Renowned for restaurant-quality meals, Blue Apron focuses on premium ingredients and culinary skill development. It includes options like Mediterranean diet-inspired Wellness, Low-calorie, Diabetes-friendly, Microwaveable dishes, and Ready-to-cook meals. Blue Apron’s shipping packages are well-organized and eco-friendly.



Factor specializes in no-prep, healthy meals available in various dietary options such as Keto, Low calorie, Vegan, and Vegetarian.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and smoothies are all on the menu.  No kitchen equipment or cleanup is needed since they are ready to heat up. While it’s a bit pricier with smaller portions it’s a convenient choice for busy individuals. Factor offers a free 20-minute virtual consultation with a nutrition coach, and meals can be tracked on My Fitness Pal.



Home Chef offers flexibility by allowing you to customize and tailor your recipes opting for specific proteins or plant-based alternatives. Whether you choose premium meals or family-sized portions, you’ll find a variety of options that take no longer than 20 minutes.  Or you can even choose no prep and over-ready meals. Although there are great choices for vegetarian, low-calorie, or low-carbohydrate diets, they are not suitable for those with severe allergies.



If affordability is a priority, Dinnerly is an excellent choice. You get budget-friendly recipes that take less than 30 minutes to prepare.  Choose from gluten-free, dairy-free, kid-friendly, low-calorie, vegetarian, healthy, and spicey meals all provided with complete nutrition information. It’s perfect for those who want quick, delicious meals on a budget.



For high-quality, organic ingredients and dietitian-designed recipes, Sunbasket stands out. Meal kits and ready-to-heat options are available with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and add-ons. It caters to various dietary preferences, including Mediterranean, vegetarian, diabetes-friendly, paleo, and gluten-free. The eco-friendly packaging is a bonus.



Thistle’s ready-to-eat meals provide wholesome organic foods to improve health and reduce the environmental footprint.  Rather than all the packaging other meal services use, Thistle’s meals come in bags and cold packs that you return so that they are reused.  If you are in their territory, you can order breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, sides, cold-pressed juices and shots.  Choose between “plant-forward” or a protein plan that includes chicken, turkey, or pork. The meals are high in fiber, phytochemicals, and nutrients that benefit your health and taste delicious. While it’s not the cheapest option, the health benefits and environmental consciousness make it a worthy choice.



Cook Unity brings you global cuisines and chef-designed meals from great restaurants. The meals are focused on fresh and sustainable ingredients with environmentally conscious, recyclable, and compostable packaging.  Set your preferences, choose your meals, and heat them in the oven or keep them on hand in the refrigerator for 4-10 days. Note this service is not available everywhere.

3. Online Grocery Shopping

Benefits of Online Shopping

  • Save energy!  Grocery shopping and navigating a store can be challenging.  Shopping can use up physical and cognitive energy, so by online shopping you can save that energy for other activities.
  • Save time!
  • Avoid potential crowds or lines at the store.
  • You can choose how you receive the items – pickup at the store or delivery to your home.
  • Budget friendly – you can easily take advantage of pricing, discounts, and deals.
  • Save money on gas or travel!
  • Add items to your virtual shopping cart throughout the week.
  • Most online grocery services save your previous shopping lists.  This makes it easier to reorder items or make changes.
  • Less likely to impulse buy!

Tips for Online Shopping

  • Keep a running list.  You save money and time if you order deliveries once a week or longer, ideally based on your flexible meal plan.  Check your refrigerator and pantry for what you have.  Keep a running list of staples, condiments, and baking ingredients, and check your stock before you order.  Meal planning apps are great for grocery lists.
  • Buy store brands.  Canned goods , ketchup, and other goods are rated as high in quailty as name brands and are much cheaper.  Store brands might be the same product – baking soda is baking soda, and salt is salt.  No need to pay extra.
  • Produce in the freezer section are flash frozen at peak ripeness, maintaining flavor and nutrients.  Frozen fruits and vegetables are cheaper than fresh and available year-round.  This encourages you to eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Look for coupons.  Online or flyers in your mailbox will help you save money and give you ideas for planning your meals and snacks.  Use coupons for what you usually buy rather than unfamiliar items.
  • Check your credit cards to see if you can earn cash back but avoid an annual credit card fee.  If you can save 1-6% you may shave hundreds of dollars off your bill, as long as you pay the credit card off each month.
  • Log what you have in the freezer.  An inventory will let you know what you have on hand, and you can cut back on your shopping list.
  • Some grocery stores add a tip automatically based on your order.  You can edit or remove the tip.  The driver is usually a third party, does not receive a tip from the store, and drives their vehicle.  The general recommendation for tipping is to consider the distance from your home and the amount you purchase.  A delivery tip is usually 10% or you may consider a 15-20% tip if possible.  Picking up your order from the store does not require a tip, as it is added to your bill.