Published on December 17, 2019

Even if you love cooking, it’s easy to become fatigued by all the work that goes into figuring out what you’re going to eat. Ever wander into the grocery store and have no idea where to even start? There’s an easy fix: You might need a meal plan.

Unlike mail-in meal kits (such as Hello Fresh and Blue Apron), meal plans don’t deliver ingredients straight to your door. Rather, they assemble a week’s worth of recipes, a detailed shopping list, and a cooking schedule, so all you have to do is go through the motions. You can easily swap ingredients from your shopping list to suit your dietary needs or multiply the servings to feed more mouths, giving you flexibility and control.

From options that will help you cut back on food waste to others that will show you how to make the most of your leftovers, there are plenty of meal plans that can help streamline your cooking process, no matter what your tastes or concerns may be. Suddenly, that New Year’s resolution to cook more is sounding easier and easier.

If You Want to Reduce Food Waste

When Alison Mountford first had the idea for Ends+Stems, she was trying to find a way to enable families to eat healthy and sustainably without requiring a ton of mental effort. The day after the 2016 election, she says that her climate anxiety was through the roof, but instead of letting it get her down, she took action. “That day, I started offering recipes and zero-waste cooking tips on Instagram without really thinking it would be a business,” she explains. Her followers loved the tips, and two years later, the service was born. 

What you’ll get from signing up is much more extensive than the sneak peeks Mountford offers on social media. Along with recipes and shopping lists that will help you minimize food waste, the app also includes an ingredient index that will show you how to pickle, freeze, can, ferment, and preserve just about any ingredient before it goes bad, so nothing needs to go in the garbage (or even the compost). 

Sign up: $13 per month; endsandstems.com

If You Need to Work Around Dietary Restrictions

The idea of healthy eating can often feel restrictive, but PlateJoy has found a way to make it feel like less of a chore. According to Christina Bognet, CEO and cofounder of the company, the service takes care of all the organization, nutrition, and curation, so all you have to do is the fun part: picking and cooking recipes that sound delicious to you. 

With extensive options for all different kinds of diets, from keto to vegan, this service is also ideal for anyone who needs a little more flexibility in terms of food choice. Simply pick the plan that best suits you from one of the 12 customized options and relax—no need to worry that a recipe will contain an ingredient you can’t eat.

Sign up: $8 per month; platejoy.com

If You Want to Make the Most of Leftovers

With more than 500,000 recipes, Big Oven has by far the largest selection out of all the meal planning services. Unlike the others, you’re in charge of picking what you eat with this one. Once you select the recipes, it will organize your menu plan and shopping list from there, and you can make your food whenever you’d like. 

Along with providing you with tons of recipes, the service will also show you exactly how to reuse whichever leftovers you have on hand. Just put your ingredients into its leftover calculator and in seconds you’ll be presented with plenty of interesting ways to reinvent yesterday’s lunch. 

Sign up: $3 per month; bigoven.com

If You Want to Become a Better Chef

Cook Smarts isn’t just great for planning meals—packed with basic tutorials for tons of essential cooking skills, like chopping veggies and searing meat—it’s an excellent resource for anyone with little kitchen experience. 

The best thing about this service is how flexible its plans are, though. Each recipe encourages you to improvise. If you’d rather have chicken than pork or even make the whole thing meatless, these plans show you how to do it. Jess Dang, CEO and founder of the service, decided to create it in the first place because she noticed how inconvenient most meal kits actually are. “I don’t think they work for families, because you need different serving sizes and they don’t always offer enough,” she explains. “And most of the time, you still need to go to the grocery store to buy staples like eggs and milk.” 

Sign up: $8 per month; cooksmarts.com

If You Want Make Food for the Week

Meal prep can be pretty daunting—after all, how are you supposed to realistically cook an entire week’s worth of food on one Sunday afternoon? Prep Dish streamlines the process by figuring out exactly what you need and when you need to cook it so you don’t have to. “I was working as a personal chef, and my system for quickly and efficiently serving my clients healthy, tasty food was something I wanted to share with more than a handful of people,” says Allison Schaaf, CEO and founder of the company. “I knew I could help so many people by simplifying my method of meal prep to save time and offering it online.” 

Every week, the team at Prep Dish handcrafts each new recipe, rather than cycling the same ones in and out. “That means that we pay special attention to details like not leaving you with half an unused onion,” Schaaf explains. “Instead, we utilize it in another recipe.” They also keep recipes seasonal—more grill-friendly dishes during the summer, and soups and stews in the winter—and they rely on customer feedback to determine which recipes will stay and which will go. 

Sign up: $14 per month; prepdish.com

See more food stories:
7 Healthy Breakfast Recipes That Are Worth Not Hitting “Snooze” For
How to Make Breakfast Like the French, According to a Chef
7 Sheet-Pan Chicken Recipes for When You’re Too Tired to Do Dishes

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