There’s a lot to be gained by planning your meals. You eat better, healthier food, do more cooking for yourself and put more thought into what you eat, try new recipes, and save at the grocery store at the same time. However, it can be a little daunting; sifting through recipes and making lists. That’s why there are apps that help. This week, we’re looking at five of the best.
Earlier in the week we asked you which meal planning apps you thought were the best to help you save money, eat better, and keep making awesome food. You nominated way more than we can highlight here, but these are your top five, in no particular order:
Cook Smarts isn’t so much a meal planning app as it is an entire meal planning service. In addition to helping you plan out your weekly meals, the service aims to help its users learn to cook, explore new recipes, get familiar with and comfortable in the kitchen, and eat more healthy, homemade food. The site’s blog and newsletter are free, but to make use of their meal planning tools, you’ll have to sign up for an account. You can get three sample plans for free, but the service will really cost you $ 6/mo (if you pay by the year, it goes up to $ 8/mo if you want to pay monthly.) The meal plans themselves are incredibly robust though—you tell the service how you want to eat—vegetarian, high protein, low-carb, paleo, or just a plain balanced diet, and you’ll get four new and interesting recipes every week along with ingredients, a downloadable and printable grocery list, and even step-by-step instructions and cooking videos to help you make everything.
Those of you who nominated and praised Cook Smarts explained that for the money you spend, it makes meal planning about as hands-off as you can get, and the results are worth it. Sure, the service isn’t anything you couldn’t do on your own with the right amount of time, but the reason you’re paying for it is so you don’t have to—and Cook Smarts delivers on the quality of recipes, interesting foods, and tutorials. The service also has a robust and active community around it of home cooks and food lovers eager to explore new foods, try new things, and eat well. You can read more in the nomination thread here.
Pepperplate is a mobile app and meal planning tool that excels at organizing your recipe collection, planning your meals based on those recipes, building out shopping lists, and helping you cook the recipes you want to try. It’s available for free on the web, on iOS, Android, Windows Phone/Windows RT, Nook, and Kindle devices. Once you’re signed up, you can import recipes from the web by pasting in the URL for them, or you can enter them manually from your favorite cookbooks or that stash of index cards you have. Once you have a good collection of recipes, you can build menus for your regular meals, for special events, or any night of the week. From there, Pepperplate will generate a shopping list based on your meal plan that you can take with you and cross off at the grocery store. You can share your recipes, meal plans, or shopping lists with others if you need to. When you’re ready to cook, Pepperplate will walk you through the recipes, complete with cooking timers to help you stay on top of simmering or baking food.
The nomination thread for Pepperplate was full of praise for the fact that the app is free, cross-platform, and easy to use. Many of you highlighted Pepperplate’s bookmarklet that makes adding recipes to your account super-easy (and does a great job of scrubbing recipes from various websites.) Pepperplate isn’t perfect though—it may be free, but some of you noted that it hasn’t seen updates in a while, and the developers may have abandoned it. That’s not a problem as long as the app is good, but it is something to remember if you want support or you’re looking for new features. Read more in the nomination thread here.
Ziplist started off as a simple grocery shopping list organizer, but it’s evolved over the years to be a richly featured shopping tool, recipe organizer, and meal planner. The focus of the app is clearly on grocery lists and organizing your weekly shopping, but don’t count out its meal planning features. It’s free, cross platform (available for iOS/Android/web), and even sports a clipping bookmarklet to save all of your favorite recipes (if it’s not already in their database.) When you’re ready to build your meal plan, you get a weekly overview that lets you add specific recipes and dishes to each day, and then generate a grocery list based on those recipes. Then you can sync your meal plan with your calendar outside of the app so you get notifications on what to make, and can share your weekly menu with others. Ziplist can also notify you to sales, coupons, and other discounts available in the stores you shop, so you can save money and eat well at the same time.
Those of you who nominated ZipList praised its department-sorted shopping lists, built-in store circulars and coupons, and the fact that unlike many apps that generate grocery lists based on recipes, it gives you the option to cross items off that you already have before it adds the item to the list. Plus, it doesn’t just add everything blindly, so if you have two recipes that require salt, your shopping list isn’t cluttered with entries for salt. You can read more about it its nomination thread here.
Plan to Eat is a menu planning and grocery list organizer that is as elegant as it is simple to use. It’s great for organizing your recipes, makes meal-planning a drag-and-drop affair from your recipe list onto a calendar, and will automatically generate your shopping list week by week. We’ve mentioned it before, and while it’s web-only (there are mobile apps on the way, according to the folks behind it) it’s still easy to use, powerful, and it gets the job done. Once you have a meal plan all set, just tell Plan to Eat to build your meal plan, and they’ll send it to you when its done, no hassle. Plan to Eat also plays nice with special diets, which is great if you have to cook for people with different tastes, or you’re trying something new with your own diet. The only downside is its price—a subscription will set you back $ 5/mo, or $ 40/yr. If you’re willing to pay the price for that level of ease-of-use, it’s a worthwhile investment so you can spend your time doing other things. There’s a free trial available if you want to give it a whirl before you decide to spend your money.
Those of you who nominated Plan to Eat highlighted its drag-and-drop menu planner, its exceptional customer service for those people who may need it, and its ease of use. It’s probably one of the easiest menu planning tools in the lineup, and even though it’s not free, many of you noted that you’re busy people with busy lives, and it helps to have Plan to Eat take care of the grocery list and recipe search for you. You can read tons more in its lengthy nominations thread here.
Paprika is a recipe manager for iOS, OS X, Android, Kindle, and Nook devices. There’s no web interface, so you’ll have to use the apps, but it is great at keeping your recipes nearly organized and collected. Importing recipes from the web is easy enough, you just need the URL of the recipe you want to add. Paprika’s focus is on recipe management, but it also includes smart grocery lists and a menu planner that lets you add recipes to your plan, rate them once you’ve prepared them, and generate a grocery list for the week based on the things you want to make. Paprika will also help you when you’re in the kitchen, walking you through each recipe step by step, complete with cooking timers and notifications when it’s time to move on to the next step. If you like a little bit of form with your function, it’s worth a look—the only downside, beyond the fact there’s no Windows or web support, is the price. The OS X app is $ 20, and each of the mobile apps (including separate apps for iPhone and iPad; it’s not universal) are $ 5. You’ll have to buy a copy for every device you want to use Paprika on.
Paprika’s nominations thread was full of stories about its ease of use, especially compared to other apps, and its tablet-friendliness, especially on the iPad, Kindle, and Nook. Its smart grocery list feature will combine ingredients needed for multiple recipes, so you don’t have a grocery list that has “2 egg” in one place and “1 egg” in another—you’ll just have “3 eggs,” so you’ll know whether to pick up a dozen or a half-dozen, or whatever you actually need. You can read more in its nominations thread here.
Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to a vote and determine the community favorite:
No honorable mentions this week, as the votes fell off pretty quickly from these five, but there are plenty of other options in the call for contenders thread if you’re looking for alternatives. Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.
The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at [email protected]!
Photo by eiko.