Like many college students, the joy of getting my own apartment dwindled when I realized the inevitable: I didn’t have a meal plan, I had no idea how to cook and groceries are a lot more expensive than I anticipated. I know I should meal prep, but cooking the same two meals over and over again gets repetitive, and frankly I’m lazy and bad at cooking.
Enter: my saving grace, meal-prep apps. There’s a variety of them on the app store, so I’m here to review some of the top ones so you don’t have to. Let’s get into it.
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Turkey Egg Roll in a Bowl with Spicy Mayo.⠀ ⠀ Made for you with ️️❤️ by the wonderful 👩🍳s at Mealime.⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #mealplan #mealplanning #mealprep #nutrition #healthyfood #healthyeating #food #foodie #athomeeating #healthylifestyle #homemade #healthy #motivation #health #lunchbox #mykitchen #diet #chefathome
As a picky eater, Mealime is a blessing. When you first open the app, you create a user profile based on your eating preferences. It gives you eight diet options: classic, low carb, keto, flexitarian (low meat), paleo, vegetarian, pescetarian and vegan. After, it asks for your allergies and what kinds of food you don’t like. It then filters your preferences and lists out hundreds of recipes that match your user profile.
The meals are divided into categories ranging from things like “breakfast” to “budget-friendly” to “pan-fried.” Each recipe had a clear photo of what the resulting meal would look like. You can also search for meals based on title, ingredient or even identifiers like “Under $5” or “Under 500 calories.” Each recipe includes how many servings it makes, how long it takes to prepare, the instructions, and what cookware you need. I really like that it includes the cookware, because sometimes you might not have a whisk or something specific lying around, which is the worst thing to figure out halfway through cooking.
Once you choose a meal, you add it to your meal plan. The app then compiles all the ingredients you need for the week. It makes a grocery list, but you can check off things like olive oil or salt that you might already own. There’s also a grocery delivery option that will connect to apps like Walmart, Instacart or Amazon Fresh.
Like most meal-prep apps, there is a Pro option that gives you access to more recipes, but there’s already hundreds of recipes on the free version of the app. They don’t force you to pay if you don’t want to, another blessing on this already-super-useful app.
Plan to Eat
This app annoyed me from the start simply because it forces you to create an account to use it. Once you do, the app gives you a 30-day free trial, after which you have to pay $4.95 a month or $39 a year. It’s not the worst price, but as a poor college student, I’m immediately more likely to turn to a free alternative instead.
Plan to Eat is different from most other meal-prep apps because it doesn’t actually have any recipes within the app itself. Instead, you insert a URL from an online recipe and it’ll immediately list out the ingredients to add to your cart and provide the instructions right inside the app. You can also type in your own recipes. It creates a recipe book for you along with a calendar that lets you assign specific recipes to specific days. “Plan to Eat” also provides the shopping cart feature so you can purchase all your ingredients. However, the app’s interface is not user-friendly; I often clicked at random to find the page I needed.
In essence, Plan to Eat’s purpose is mostly to compile your favorite Pinterest recipes and plan when to cook them instead of to learn new recipes. I applaud the app for the innovative recipe-upload feature, but considering it doesn’t provide any exclusive content, I’d hardly say it’s worth paying for. You could easily just print your favorite recipes instead.
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Food bloggers, like Sophia (@veggiesdontbite), will be the first to tell you that having a plan in place for easy dinners on busy weeknights is important: “We pick a few recipes to make, then fill in the holes with quick and easy throw-together meals. We also allow room for balance so if a day throws us for a loop, we give ourselves permission to make something frozen or take-out or boxed. And feel zero guilt.” We tapped some of the most popular food bloggers on our platform, for their tips on getting from point A to point B in the kitchen during the week. Link in profile. #healthyeating #nyresolution2020 #healthy #healthyeating #january2020 #newyearsgoals #healthyeatinggoals #foodblogger #recipes #healthyrecipe #healthyrecipes
Yummly also started by asking me my favorite cuisines and if I had any allergies, diets or disliked foods. It then asked me how I’d describe my cooking skill, to which I immediately tapped “beginner.”
I like that Yummly offers more media than just recipes. It has guided videos that walk you through a recipe step-by-step, which is both helpful and creative. It also has articles that compile themed recipes (such as “Lucky Foods for the Lunar New Year”) and has a variety of categories from “Kid Friendly” to “Seasonal.” Each recipe is paired with the typical ingredients, nutritional value, etc., but Yummly is unique in that it also shows you user-written reviews. It also offers the shopping list option, which seems pretty consistent across all meal-prep apps.
The app’s interface feels like a mix between a lifestyle recipe blog and a Buzzfeed Tasty video. As you scroll, many of the recipes show videos of the food behind the text. While the app is educational and offers a lot of unique features, I found myself overwhelmed by how much was happening. Especially as someone with little cooking experience, I wanted something simple and easy to understand. It’s definitely a good app, but it’s a bit too flashy for me.
Meal Prep: Healthy Recipes cooking free app
This app, at first glance, is a simpler, less-advanced version of Mealime. It opens directly to three options: breakfast, lunch and dinner, each of which leads to a variety of recipes for that meal. Like the other apps, the recipes list the preparation time, number of servings, ingredients, instructions and nutrition facts. It does have a grocery list, but it’s hidden within the menu.
All and all, I’m not super impressed with this one. The app is pretty haphazardly thrown together. The pictures for each meal are stretched out of proportion, and the app’s yellow-and-hot-pink color scheme is an eyesore. The ads are intrusive and pop up randomly. With better alternatives on the market, it’s not worth it.
Final Verdict: Mealime is definitely my favorite of the apps I reviewed, and the one I think I’m actually going to end up using. For the amount of customizability and original content it provides, I’m actually surprised that it’s free. And for a picky college student with no cooking skills, it’s a great first step to figuring out how to survive adulthood. It’s not too flashy, and it provides everything I need to get started with meal prepping.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of Mealime on Instagram.
Courtney Gavitt is the digital editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.