Meal Planning Apps for Working Moms

meal planning apps2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on our favorite meal planning apps — but you may also want to check out some of our newer stories on tech for working moms.

Ladies, do you have any favorite meal planning apps?  Have you tried and abandoned any? Reader M wonders:

Are there any resources that you have gathered/written about for meal planning for working moms? I am looking for a good app or system that will help!

We actually have talked about this in general, rounding up 5 family dinner strategies better than delivery, as well as having a nice discussion about how to share dinner duties between two working parents — but we haven’t talked directly about apps (and I have a good one!), so let’s discuss — I’m always curious to hear what people are using!

We keep trying different things here at Casa Griffin.  We fell off The Fresh 20 because the meal prep was just too involved for the time we wanted to invest — we also don’t eat at home reliably 5 nights a week, and adjusting the shopping list to only 4 nights took a surprising amount of thought.  Prior to that we had a system of just cooking 10 easy meals “on rotation,” but we got bored with that.  I, too, was seeking an app that would help with meal planning, shopping lists, and also hold the recipe so I could consult it if I needed to in the store.  (Or am I the only one who, when faced with a food item I can’t find, consults the recipe and says, “well, screw it, they only want 1Tbsp of shallots anyway!” and moves on?)  I really like the free app we’ve found: Pepperplate. It has a web version, as well as an app for my iPhone and my iPad, and I’ve set it up on my husband’s phone as well (which gives him ready access to the recipes and shopping lists as well).  The program can import recipes from some of its partner sites (allegedly), but it’s also easy enough to add recipes manually.  (I like that you can add a picture — they’re always my favorite part when looking for recipes!) When you’re sitting down to do the meal planning for the week you add a specific recipe to a calendar, making it easy for your partner or a helpful third party (nanny, au pair, whomever) to know what the plan is for that night.  And one of the things I like best is that you can add all of the recipe ingredients to a single shopping list where items are grouped by general grocery store section (dairy, meat, etc) and consolidated.  (You can also pick and choose which ingredients to add to the shopping list, which is always helpful when you already have 60% of what you need in the house.)

One tip: I keep a backup of all my recipes in B-Folders (which doesn’t have an iPhone app, so it can’t quite serve the same purpose). Both in Pepperplate and in B-Folders, I organize recipes by putting the meal in the title of the recipe, so if I’m sorting by alphabet I see all of my BF (breakfast) or MD (main dishes) together.  I also put notations like MD:CP in the main title (so all of my crockpot main dishes are together), and I tag them with words like “slow cooker, clean, low carb, etc” since I sometimes go on and off different eating regimens. (Pictured: Spicy pork posole, from Self magazine many moons ago!)

This Lifehacker article rounds up some other apps, including the Lifehacker reader favorite, CookSmarts (currently $6-$8 a month).  Ladies, what meal planning apps do you use? If you’re still on the hunt, what are you looking for in one? If you’ve found a system other than an app, what do you use? 

Social media picture credit: Pixabay.

Wondering what the best meal-planning apps are for working moms and other busy families? We rounded up several of our favorites to make dinnertime easier for everyone, especially two working parents!


  1. Hi ladies, I’m sorry to go OT right away but I’d love some advice please! We’re expecting our second at the end of March. Our toddler will be 2.5 and it’s looking increasingly likely that my husband will be out of commission recovering from back surgery around the time of my due date. Toddler will continue at day care 5 days/week, full days if needed. I had a c section the first time around and while so far VBAC is still a strong possibility, it’s reasonable to expect that I may be recovering from surgery as well. My parents are in town but are CPAs and are totally off the grid in late March/early April due to tax time. ILs live out of town and can’t take the time off of work, and wouldn’t be helpful anyway.

    So, I’m thinking about hiring some help in some capacity, at least for the first few weeks to help us get through the really rough patch when DH and I may both be more or less out of commission physically. Has anyone done something like this? Would you recommend day or night help? We can afford either, and could dip into savings to do both if it was really truly essential, but I’m hoping that’s not needed. What kind of help would you even look for- baby nurse? Postpartum doula? How do you find these people? When is the best time to start looking? I’m so out of my depth here and don’t know where to start. Any thoughts/advice would be super appreciated!

    • Anonymous says:

      Woah, so sorry to hear of this predicament.

      If your husband is recovering from back surgery and you are recovering from a c/s AND you have a toddler and newborn, I don’t see anyway around 24-hour hired help for at least the first week and probably some sort of additional care for a month. (My understanding is recovery for c/s is ~1 week and back surgery is ~1 month). I would look at postpartum doulas through doula agencies/individuals and for providers who work nights, etc.

      Don’t forget about meals and housekeeping, too.

      Can your husband get into surgery asap? Has he told them he has a baby arriving in March? My husband had luck getting speedier care for a medical issue when the providers knew we had our third child arriving soon. Play that card!

    • Katala says:

      Definitely second the rec to try to get your husband in ASAP, simultaneous recovery sounds rough! If he can’t go in sooner, is it possible to delay his surgery for a month or so? I would think the doctors could work with you to ensure you both have proper recovery time.
      I found my doula here: you can search by postpartum vs. birth doulas and there are reviews. Some profiles include pricing as well.
      Congrats on the new arrival! You’ll figure it out and will probably have a great story ;)

    • Thanks ladies! He’s trying to get in earlier and playing the baby card pretty hard, so we’ll see how far that gets us. Hopefully he’ll be on the back end of his (projected 4-6 week) recovery by the time the baby shows up. But delaying later into the spring/summer is definitely not an option, he is 100% useless right now- not working (and he’s a lawyer, so not particularly physically demanding), not driving, sleeping on the floor, the whole 9 yards. Good times.

      But I definitely appreciate the reassurance that hired help is the way to go! I was wondering if I was stressing unnecessarily but you’re helping me feel like it’s a reasonable solution to some really bad timing. Last time my c/s recovery was amazingly quick and easy, but even if lightning strikes twice with that, it still seems so overwhelming.

      We already have housekeeping dealt with, and meals will definitely be part of the process.

      Keep the suggestions coming! The hive wisdom is so valuable.

      • kes – I cant opine on getting care issue, but can you please give some advice as to how you cope with your husband’s pain and you help him cope? My husband is also in a lot of back pain, sleeping on the floor for most of the day, also not driving, and although he goes to work, he is very depressed because of all the pain. Unfortunately surgery is not an option for him – he has degenerative disc disease, which cant be treated with surgery. Thanks a lot.

        • MRA, you have my total sympathy. We’ve only been in this since late December and so far, everything from the doctors has been encouraging in terms of a recovery within a few months, so we’ve been focusing on that. It became clear to me really quickly after this hit that we are not at all prepared (emotionally, psychologically, practically, or financially) for a chronic illness/long term disability, so I really have nothing to offer on managing the type of challenges you’re facing. I hope you and your family are able to find some peace!

          I believe I’ve seen posters (maybe on the main s!te?) mention spousal disability issues before. Perhaps it’s worth a post over there to see if anyone has thoughts on helpful coping strategies?

          • Thanks, I will try the main site. We’ve been coping with this for three years now, but the last year has been the most difficult. Thanks for the words of support.

    • (was) due in june says:

      I had an unplanned c for my first (and only) kid this past spring. We planned to have a night nanny a few nights a week for the fourth trimester because my husband was going to have basically no paternity leave and I was going to be basically on my own in the daytime a lot. The night nanny was without a doubt the best money I have ever ever spent. On those seemingly endless late nights alone with the baby in one room while my husband slept in the other room because he had to work the next day, I could tell myself “it will be ok… night nanny will be here in two days. You just have to make it to Tuesday. Tuesday. 48 hours. You can do that. Keep going. You will get some sleep on Tuesday”

      It was nearly $10k. In cash. It. Was. Totally. Worth. It.

    • Call Friends Too says:

      Do you have any close friends that live nearby? If you can’t handle day and night help, maybe some friends would be willing to take turn staying at your place and helping at night if they work days. I’m thinking about my closest friends and I would absolutely be willing to sleep at their place, wake with the baby, carry baby to mom, etc. I could survive a week or two of work with disturbed sleep, particularly if I was switching off with other friends. If I lived too far to do a shift, but could visit on the weekend I would do their laundry, tidy the house, walk the dog, cook some food!

      This is one of those times you call in the help that people always offer!

    • Call Friends Too says:

      One more idea. Talk to your doctor about the issue. I do personal injury work and I have single clients with no friends around that need help after surgery. They are not in medical need of in-patient care but can’t really get by on their own either. The docs around here seem to know a lot of home health aide type organizations. You pay for their services but it is very reasonable. I think my most recent client got 3 hours of help/day for $10/hour for two weeks.

    • kc esq says:

      I didn’t find my c section that hard to deal with recovery-wise once I limited myself (almost immediately) to one floor of the house. I would come downstairs in the morning, do everything downstairs all day (naps on the couch where I could), then once I was upstairs for the night, I stayed up there until the morning. Granted, my husband carried the rock n play upstairs. I brought a big tote bag full of provisions upstairs/ downstairs on each end. We had laundry baskets of baby clothes around (no bothering with dresser drawers). I don’t see that as a replacement for hired help, but if it’s possible in your home, it might reduce the hours needed/ speed up your recovery.

    • Not sure if anyone is still looking, but I am SO appreciative of all of the good advice here. Obviously I’m hoping for no need for back surgery for DH, and quick/easy recovery from childbirth (c/s or otherwise) for me, but all of your thoughts are really helping me feel better about preparing for a less-than-ideal situation. And whatever we end up dealing with will be (G-d or whoever willing) temporary and like someone upthread said, hopefully good story fodder for down the road! Thanks again, all, this has been really helpful to me in getting into the right mindset about the whole thing.

      • And healthy baby! Also, obviously, there on the list of things I’m hoping for. Starting to sound greedy I guess…

    • Laura says:

      Have you looked into an au pair?

  2. Anonymous says:

    We do it the analog way ;)

    We make a meal plan, then make a grocery list by hand. We post the meal plan on the fridge and stack the cookbooks (with bookmark) or printed digital recipe on the kitchen desk.

    • Spirograph says:

      I do to. Reading Kat’s description made me think “that sounds like so much more work than just pulling out some recipe cards/cookbooks and making a list.”

      But then, I am a Luddite.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It’s not strictly for meal planning, but I’ve been using Our Groceries for a few years. It’s free and accessible via web or mobile (my husband and I both have it on our phones). You can categorize items into groups like fruits, dairy, etc, and even adjust the order those categories appear in on your shopping list so that it matches your store layout. You can also save your favorite recipes manually, then add all the related ingredients to your shopping list with one click.

  4. Amanda says:

    Evernote! It’s not recipe-specific but I love the functionality and flexibility. I save each recipes as a “note” and can tag them (one pot, protein, side dish, slow cooker), etc. Each week I move my planned meals into the “This Week” folder — this syncs to our ipad, iphones, and desktops so both my husband and I have access. I do the grocery list manually in AnyList (which also syncs to everything), but I don’t find it too time-consuming.

    • Amanda says:

      Oh, and, with the browser plugin, you can save new recipes into Evernote without ever leaving the page you’re on. Awesome.

    • Katherine K says:

      I didn’t know about the browser plug-in – game changer! Thanks!

      My husband and I both LOVE Evernote. We both sign in under his (free) account, so we can share each other’s notes. I will make a grocery list at the end of the week, including all meals for the following week. The whole family (my husband, me and the 3- and 1-year-olds) goes grocery shopping on Saturdays, and he’ll take the first half of the list while I take the second half.

      I’ll also make a second note with meals (e.g. “Sunday: slow cooker chicken taco filling” followed by the recipe, Monday: tacos, rice, and salad, Tuesday: burritos and green beans”)

      During the week, he gets home earlier than I do, so he’ll check into Evernote to see what meals he can throw together.

  5. Stefanie says:

    We are a Lighter household. We do their 9 meals a week (4 lunches and 5 dinners) for two people (totally enough food for two people and a toddler), and it comes out to $107 per week. They send groceries directly through Instacart and create a meal plan based on your likes/dislikes/goals/allergies.

    They are entirely plant-based, so no meat, eggs, dairy, fish, etc.

    LOVE it.

    • layered bob says:

      This sounds like my ideal scenario. Will have to check it out when we move back to an Instacart-having location next fall.

      Until then, we use Voeden – five recipes per week with grocery lists and prep instructions. I like it because I don’t have to think about what we’re going to eat or make any substitutions since the recipes are already how we like to eat (i.e. lots of greens, very few refined carbs, vegetarian with occasional eggs and dairy). Just buy the groceries and do what the week’s plan tells me. Recipes are reliably delicious, easy, and seasonal. We eat the leftovers for lunches.

  6. Meg Murry says:

    For recipe storage and making grocery lists from them I use Paprika. I really like the format of the app to use while cooking, and the grocery lists are pretty ok, although their sorting isn’t quite the same categories as my grocery store, which is annoying.

    I checked the Fresh 20 cookbook out of the library, which I’m glad I did before subscribing because I’m a fairly picky eater and there was only one week where I really liked the whole menu. We also don’t eat at home 5 meals a week and I agree it was just as much work to separate out the grocery list for only some meals, which defeated a lot of the purpose. I did put a decent number of the Fresh 20 recipes into Paprika though, and a few have made it on to our rotation.

    One system we’ve fallen off and on the bandwagon for is a theme for each day of the week, like: Pasta Monday, Stir Fry and Rice Tuesday, Breakfast for dinner Thursday, Pizza Friday. It’s nice in that you don’t have to really think hard about dinner but it’s not always exactly the same and means that you just have to keep the pantry stocked with the same basics (pasta, rice, etc).

    And I also say “oh leaving out the shallots is fine, whatever!” and substitute things like garlic powder for garlic and frozen orange juice concentrate for fresh squeezed orange juice. For most meals, I’m taking the recipe as a guideline, not a hard and fast truth.

    But my husband is out of town tonight, so we are having delivery pizza, and that’s as much planning as I’ve done.

  7. shortperson says:

    I did a lot of research on this topic a few years ago and ended up choosing macgourmet. I mainly cook from cookbooks and old recipes so I didnt want to just use an internet clipper or something with preset recipes. I also wanted something I could use on my mac computer and not just on my phone. I only considered software that would allow me to select recipes for a week and then create a grocery list, organized by store. There arent that many such options or at least there weren’t at the time. I dont love the software, it’s a little clunky and not updated enough, and the app is awful, but I could not find anything better, and it functions well for my purposes. At the beginning I typed up the recipes i use from cookbooks, which was a process (I mostly did it during the year I clerked and worked 9-5 but it would also be a good maternity leave project.) Now I just go in and add new recipes I come across. It’s compatible with Paprika, which I use to have the recipes on my phone.

  8. Sounds like I need to get on the technology bandwagon! Isn’t that why I bought a $500+ phone? Thus far, my husband and I have been keeping a word doc list of recipes and have an excel spreadsheet grocery list template I found a couple years ago that groups foods by section in the store. But we manually have to look up the recipes once we decide on the menu to add all the ingredients. At first glance, Pepperplate looks pretty awesome. I will definitely look into it and other apps mentioned here. Thank you!

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  10. Anonymous says:

    I adore Plan to Eat. It’s a yearly subscription ($40 maybe?) You can easily import recipes from blogs/web pages using a bookmarklet (or enter them manually), then you drag the recipes onto a calendar to plan for the week. You can then flip back through your weekly calendars, which I do sometimes if I want to remember what I made when so-and-so last came over so I don’t repeat it. It even makes a grocery list based on what you have planned, although we use Our Groceries. I’ve been using it for a year and I can’t imagine meal planning without it.

  11. We tried Fresh20 and found the instructions were meh. We are using Cook Smarts right now and like that the portions are adjustable (though we are still on the free sample). We may try the Six O’Clock scramble also before signing up for one, just to have really done the research. (most of these sites provide a few free meal plans so you can try it out).

  12. Teymoor Tanweer says:

    Hey Kat!

    Great post. Have you heard of Meal Garden? ( It is a meal assistant tool with emphasis on healthy eating. What makes Meal Garden so great is that it provides a full nutritional breakdown for every recipe in the system (even the ones you import). We also provide full customer assistance to help users meet their meal planning goals, with access to nutritionists and health coaches.

    I think it would be worth checking out. The tool is $5.95/month or $45/annually, but there is a trial period at the beginning.

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