As restaurant dining, delivery and takeout take a backseat to home cooking, many of us are looking for ways to streamline our routines. Instead of winging it — only to be ill-prepared — you may want to invest in a meal prep planner to help you plan your meals for the week, keep stock of groceries and specific ingredients you’ll need, and generally get you pumped about taking nutrition into your own hands.
“Often, we have the best of intentions, but when life gets busy, we don’t follow through on those intentions,” says Dr. Adrienne Youdim, an internist who specializes in medical weight loss and clinical nutrition, and author of Hungry for More: Stories and Science to Inspire Weight Loss from the Inside Out. “Meal planners are a way to anticipate our busy lives and plan for healthy eating in a structured and actionable way.”
You know the feeling: you’ve come home from a long day and can’t be bothered to think about cooking a balanced meal. Instead, you start spooning peanut butter into your mouth like it’s soup (we’ve all been there). “Going into mealtime without a plan is dangerous business,” says Dr. Paul Goodman, chief medical officer at Fresh N Lean. “Your stomach is empty, your blood sugar is low, and your hypothalamus is telling you that those potato chips look so good. By having a pre-planned meal, you can rely on your decision-making from before you were under the influence of all those hungry hormones and brain signals.”
Given that Americans chose to cook 82% of their meals at home during the pandemic with no signs of that trend slowing down, according to research group NPD, and cooking at home can save you upwards of 90% on restaurant dining, according to research conducted by Forbes, meal planners are a wise investment. But what should you look for?
“Meal planning, and therefore planners, should not be overly complicated,” Youdim says. “Essentially, you’re looking for a way to plan ahead in terms of what you plan to eat and what you need to follow through. A shopping list is always a helpful addition.”
Next, Goodman says a meal planner should contain elements you’ll actually use. “For example, a 25-pound notebook with unicorns on the cover would not be a good choice for me, as I would be unable and unwilling to carry it around with me,” he says.
If this is all sounding a little daunting, fear not: meal planners are actually designed to *reduce* cooking-related anxieties—not contribute to them. “Meal planning is the process of strategizing not only the recipes you want to enjoy, but also the approach you should take for preparing and cooking them so that they fit your schedule,” says Dan Zuccarello, executive food editor at America’s Test Kitchen. “The goal of meal planning should be to help lower stress levels, save time and money, and potentially prepare better tasting home cooked meals.”
So, what are your options? We’ve selected 15 top-rated meal planners that’ll help you kickstart—or maintain—your quest to cook at home more frequently.
Weekly meal planners with grocery list
You might just find home cooking so much easier if you fuse your meal planner with your grocery list instead of keeping them separate.
“Planning must go beyond the decision to eat a certain way,” says Youdim. “It must include logistics, and groceries are a big part of logistics. Often, creating automated grocery lists are part of my recommendations with my patients and have always proven to be one of the most important aspects of executing a meal plan.” Zuccarello also appreciates how meal planners with grocery lists can get you in and out of the store quickly, and “the recipes are designed to use up the ingredients you have. You can avoid purchasing food that [gets] wasted.”
$9.20 at Etsy
This citrusy 50-page weekly meal planner includes a section to list what kinds of ingredients you’re low on so you can stock up before you’re scheduled to eat a certain meal. It contains a separate notepad exclusively for shopping lists to help you stay on track.
$21.99 $15.33 at Walmart
Arguably the last meal planner you’ll ever need, this comprehensive set of three to-do lists will keep your life structured in more ways than one. It comes with a meal planner, grocery list and a weekly to-do list so you can consolidate your responsibilities, and it also features a magnetic back so you can display it on your fridge without using tape.
$7.99 at Target
Instead of stuffing the whole pad into your bag when you go grocery shopping, this meal planner allows you to tear it off from the bottom of each page. The magnetic pad includes 50 labeled pages decorated in whimsical cooking-inspired tropes.
Macro weekly meal planners
Unless your brain is a calculator, there’s a good chance you’ll need some extra help tabulating your desired macros, whether you’re aiming to reach a specific fitness goal or managing a chronic illness through nutrition.
“Having a macro meal planner is all but necessary if you intend to stick to macronutrient guidelines as part of your diet,” says Goodman. “I can’t imagine maintaining macros on the fly. It is way too complicated. You would have to know the macro content of foods off the top of your head and be able to keep track of the totals as you go.”
$3.59 at Etsy
This printable meal planner makes it easy to track macronutrients like protein, fat and carbohydrates, calories, water intake and more. The pad allows you to include your daily goals to help you stay accountable. Pop it in your journal or on your fridge for easy access.
$7.99 at Etsy
This digital meal planner does all the work for you by tallying your macronutrient intake at each meal (i.e.: no need to hand write it or pull out a calculator), while allowing you to keep tabs on upcoming meals. The spreadsheet is suitable for both Excel and Google Sheets.
$8 $6.40 at Etsy
This printable meal planning bundle is a no-fuss solution to your quest for more home-cooked meals. Each macronutrient is prefaced with “approx” to promote a laxer eating style, and its grocery list is broken down into categories like fruits/veggies, frozen and canned. The celestial design is also “out-of-this-world.”
Custom weekly meal planners
Custom weekly meal planners allow you to make the experience your own. But how should you go about it? “Aim to customize it to your schedule,” Goodman recommends. “Do you plan to have breakfast, lunch, snack, then dinner every day? Match your planner to that.” He also notes that you can incorporate your grocery shopping schedule or habits into your meal planner, and that visually, your planner should be something that appeals to you so you’re more likely to use it.
From $40 at Etsy
Customize virtually every facet of this meal planner from the size to the design and hardware color to the personalized text. As an acrylic dry erase board, it’s also a sustainable alternative to paper.
40.84 From $32.67 at Etsy
You’re more likely to use your meal planner if it speaks to you uniquely. Here, you can choose from dozens of designs like tropical leaves and paw prints, as well as your desired layout, fonts and headers. The dry erase board comes with a free magnet-lined erasable marker.
$34.95 at Etsy
With this menu-style meal planner on a magnetic sheet backing, you get to give your kitchen a bistro-like feel. Choose your header, font, color and more. Along with a grocery list section, you can write miscellaneous notes to yourself to help prepare you for the week.
Family weekly meal planners
Feeding several mouths (all with different tastebuds) might look a lot different than if you were to cook for yourself. Zuccarello says your family meal planner should reflect your family’s unique priorities, be it eating healthier, cooking to have leftovers, or saving time and money.
$14.84 at Etsy
This 50-page meal planner notepad will become your family’s food bible with its easy-to-use layout. Choose from a pre-selected array of main dishes each day from fish to vegetarian along with an optional note on which cookbook or website it’s from, and then fill in your own side dishes. A tear-away grocery list makes each ingredient easier to stock up on.
$14.95 at Amazon
Instead of keeping your meal plans and your *plan* plans separate, incorporate them into one comprehensive master list. The year-long calendar features a page for each week, allowing you to keep track of meals, groceries, chores and more.
$19.88 $14.88 at Amazon
This bold and beautiful dry erase board operates as a weekly menu planner and to-do list where you can include all your family’s responsibilities both food-related and non. Bonus: The included colorful chalk markers with magnetic caps may even inspire the kids to get involved in meal planning.
Printable weekly meal planners
There’s value in going old-school. Unlike an app you’ll only see once you reach for your phone, a printable weekly meal planner displayed on your fridge or desk will serve as a reminder of what you need to prepare or buy for the week. “For me, I’m accustomed to and prefer using printed meal planners,” says Zuccarello. “I like to cross out completed meals and tasks, and I like to add notes sometimes.”
$2.50 at Etsy
With its blank spaces each day of the week and ample note-writing space, this meal planner provides just enough guidance to help you stay on track, with enough flexibility to make it work for you.
$5.33 $3.20 at Etsy
This visually appealing printable meal planner comes with a grocery list and kitchen inventory sheet so you can see exactly what types of ingredients you have on hand before committing to a recipe. Both a water and fruit tracker also promote accountability, and you can print it in your desired size.
$3.99 at Etsy
This 30-day planner gives you a holistic picture of your meals for the next month. The seven-page digital file includes freezer and fridge inventory sheets, menus for the week and a grocery list for each meal of the day. Each section can be customized to suit your priorities.