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4 Meal Planning Apps That Take the Hard Work Out of Making Dinner

Figuring out what to cook can be easy.

Meal planning doesn’t have to be the bane of your existence—not with nifty new apps that help you create a week’s worth of recipes, and grocery lists too.

Working Mother

1. The Dinner Daily

Cost: Plans begin at $4 a month, with a two-week free trial.

About: Sometimes, the easiest and most cost-effective way to plan a week’s worth of meals is to look at what’s on special at your local grocery store. That’s the concept behind the Dinner Daily. A preference survey—including how many people you’re cooking for and any “no broccoli, ever” food restrictions—is used to produce a weekly menu of dinners based on your go-to grocery store’s weekly sale cycle. If the menu options don’t appeal—not chicken again!—users can rotate out selected dinners for new ones. Recipes, which tend to call for 10 ingredients or less, are spins on staples, such as savory chicken with rice and veggies and slow-cooker chicken teriyaki.

One Mom's Review:"I downloaded the app right after I got home from vacation with my two children. Our cupboard was bare, and I appreciated how easy it was to input information and get a grocery list and recipe ideas. I had never truly followed sales at the store, but I see how paying attention to specials could save my time and sanity. That said, I don’t think the recipes were different from what I would have made on my own. I don’t know if I would use this app all the time, but for a busy week, why not?”—Emerald-Jane Hunter, owner, myWHY marketing agency, Chicago

Working Mother

2. Platejoy

Cost: Plans begin at $8 a month, with a 10-day free trial.

About: Plagued by picky eaters? Counting calories? Just want to get a balanced meal on the table? Platejoy has you covered, thanks to its in-depth survey that asks about everything from food preferences and allergies to weight-loss goals and even the types of places you shop. (The recipes vary depending on whether your regular grocery store is, say, Whole Foods or Kroger.) Based on the results, and the size of your family, the app generates recipes for break- fast, lunch, dinner, snacks or desserts, or all five, as well as a shoppable grocery list. It even remembers what you’ve already got in your pantry. And the list can be synced to Instacart, so you can have the ingredients delivered to your door. There’s a nutritionist available via chat and email too.

One Mom's Review: “I consider myself a pretty good cook, so the recipes don’t depart much from what I can already make on a weeknight. But as a commuting mom of a busy toddler, I did find Platejoy helpful in being more aware of calorie counts and nutrition facts. I also appreciated that Platejoy creates recipes based on in-season ingredients. My daughter isn’t a picky eater, and I found her able to easily share the meal options we were given, but some of the recipes (like a honey-glazed salmon with avocado kale salad) might need to be deconstructed to appeal to young eaters.”—Patricia Rappaport, communications executive, Westchester, NY

Working Mother

3. Mealime

Cost: Free, with optional in-app purchases.

About: No mom wants to face down hangry kids after work, which is why all of Mealime’s recipes take about 30 minutes from turning on the stove to getting plates on the table. Recipe ideas are divided into broad categories (classic, gluten-free, vegetarian, low-carb) and account for any allergy info. You get a recipe and grocery list for the number of meals specified per week, as well as the number of people you want to prep for—so if you like leftovers for lunch, just double the number of people you’re cooking for to get the right ratios. Recipes, which include options for sides, tend to be crowd-pleasing favorites, such as chicken quesadillas and steak and mashed sweet potatoes, but there are a few unique twists—think cauliflower and chickpea couscous for your next Meatless Monday.

One Mom's Review: “I chose a low-carb option because my husband and I are trying to eat more healthfully, and I figured I could just throw in a side of noodles or rice for our 6-year-old daughter. I got an extensive selection of menus. Each option included the main protein, along with a veggie side or two. We really liked the pork chops with sauteed carrots and cauliflower mash, and grilled steak with a tomato, corn and avocado salad. Both dishes were yummy—and simple, which meant my grocery list was short. I also like the way the app organizes recipes. The ingredients are listed right next to the instructions at each step of the recipe, so I didn’t need to scroll back to the master list of ingredients and then back to the instructions.”—Regina Huston, real estate agent, Los Angeles

Working Mother

4. Paprika

Cost: $5 one-time download.

About: Curating recipes can be fun. Keeping them all in one place can be a nightmare. That’s where Paprika comes in. See an interesting recipe as you scroll through Pinterest? Open the recipe page in Paprika’s browser, and the app will store it. You can also search inside Paprika—look up “turkey meatballs” and find options from all over the Internet— and save the ones you like most. Once you’ve picked your recipes for the week, Paprika generates a grocery list. The app syncs across the cloud, so you can do a grocery run with your phone, then follow a recipe on your tablet. A simple interface makes it easy to follow recipes and tick off steps as you go.

One Mom's Review: “Every weekend I had been slogging through meal-planning, grabbing recipes on different sites, writing down ingredients, and trying to design a menu my kids will actually eat. I was impressed because Paprika does all of that in one app. Having ingredients automatically imported to my shopping list as soon as I add a recipe saved a ton of time—I was able to plan a week of meals and a grocery list in about 20 minutes, instead of my usual hour. And I could save the completed menu to reuse, which makes it easy to create a monthly menu rotation. My one complaint: There’s no shortcut for repeating recipes you use daily. I had to add my usual breakfast of overnight oats to my menu five times (once per weekday) instead of being able to click once and schedule it Monday to Friday. But that’s a small price to pay for a meal-planning app that’s functional and helpful!”—Ashley Austrew, writer, Omaha, NE

Written by Anna Davies for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to