The best meal plan services don’t have to be expensive. Here are the best and cheapest meal plan delivery services.
We’re all busy these days. And that sometimes translates into too much eating out. Or maybe for you it means meal-planning burnout. In an effort to save mental energy, you just make the save handful of meals week in and week out.
Trust me, I’ve been there.
Luckily, the internet abounds with meal planning options. I’m not talking about the actual delivery services here. These are services that give you a menu each week and the grocery list you need to complete that menu.
These services are a good balance for busy people who still want to live on a budget. Even the cheapest meal delivery services average around $10 per person per meal. In my book, that’s actually a lot to spend on dinner!
Using a meal planning service, instead, you can save by shopping for the groceries yourself. But you can get away from the same old dinner routine, as well.
With all that said, here are the four cheapest meal plan services I’ve found. In this list, I looked at both the cost of the actual service, as well as the cost of the planned meals.
Created by the blogger who started the blog Five Dollar Dinners, this meal plan sends you super-cheap menus each week. Each meal plan comes with the recipes for five dinner entrees with sides, plus one lunch and one breakfast idea. There’s also a random goodie each week. This could include a dessert, a beverage, or a snack.
Each meal is marked with one or more icons. These stand for 20-minute meal, freezer-friendly, slow cooker meal, one-dish dinner, chop ahead, or make ahead. The symbols make it easy for you to rearrange your dinners according to what you have going on during the week. Every menu includes at least one slow cooker meal, one 20-minute meal, and one freezer-friendly meal.
Another option with your membership is to use the drag-and-drop meal planner. This planner features cheap recipes from the blog, but lets you customize your own meal plan. As with the pre-made meal plan, the meal planner will build your shopping list for you, too.
- Cost: $5/month
- Cost of Meals: $2/serving or less
- Best Parts: The best part of this meal plan is just how cheap it is! You can potentially serve your entire family a meal that costs less than $5.
- Drawbacks: Unlike some of the other plans featured here, this one doesn’t allow for a lot of customization. They now offer limited specialized meal plans, including paleo and vegetarian. But these are six-week meal plans and aren’t guaranteed to be as cheap as the standard meal plan.
This service is similar to $5 Meal Plan, with a few key differences. For one thing, it offers a much larger variety of plan options, but most aren’t focused solely on being cheap. It’s also a more expensive option. But on the other hand, it has two meal size options. The smaller one serves two to three adults, and the larger one serves four to six adults.
eMeals has a number of great meal plan options, including Clean Eating, Paleo, Quick and Healthy, Low Carb, Low Calorie, Portion Control, Slow Cooker, Classic, Budget Friendly, Gluten Free, and Diabetic. If you’re on a specific type of diet, this is probably the meal-planning service for you. You can only access one meal plan at a time, but you can switch between plans whenever you’d like.
My family has been using the two to three person Paleo meal plan while my husband and I do a Whole30. It’s enough to serve the two of us and our 6-year-old and 1-year-old. Sometimes we have leftovers if the side is super filling. We aren’t saving a ton of money on groceries, but we also haven’t significantly increased our frugal-ish $150 per week, even while on the Whole30. Since the Whole30 is notorious for busting grocery budgets, I’m going to call that a win.
- Cost: $29.99/three months or $59.99/year
- Cost of Meals: Varies with meal plan, but budget options are available
- Best Parts: The huge variety of meal plans makes this one a winner in my book. You can also add in additional meal plans if certain family members have specific needs or preferences.
- Drawbacks: It’s slightly more expensive unless you pay annually, and it provides seven meals per week. For my family, this means actually weeding out items on the provided grocery list, since we don’t cook full meals at home every single night of the week.
This site is unique in that it lets you build your own weekly menu out of categories of meals that revolve each Thursday. When you log in on a Thursday, you can choose recipes from several categories, including Simple Gourmet, Quick, Kid-Friendly, Vegetarian, and Gluten-Free. You can customize individual recipes to suit 2, 4, 6, or 8 eaters, and choose your sides separately. Once you set your menu, Relish will generate your shopping list.
I can see this level of customization being really helpful if, for instance, your kids aren’t with you every night of the week. Choose kid-friendly meals for four when they’re with you, and gourmet meals for two when they aren’t.
It could also be helpful for those who host frequently. We typically have friends over for dinner at least once a week. That’s been one of my frustrations with eMeals. It’s hard to automatically scale up our amounts for just those nights when we’re hosting.
- Cost: $8/month, $21.70/3 months, $78/year (there is also a free plan with fewer features)
- Cost of Meals: Depends on plan, but puts you largely in control each week
- Best Parts: I love how customizable this one is. That’ll make it worth the extra few bucks a month if the group around your dining room table is constantly changing!
- Drawbacks: This is a slightly more expensive option, too, and it doesn’t seem to have a menu on hand that’s specifically low-budget.
What if you already have a decent bank of recipes your family likes, but you just hate pulling them together into a weekly menu? Then Plan to Eat may be the best option for you. It lets you create a virtual recipe book of recipes from anywhere on the web. Each week or month, you can drag and drop the recipes onto your calendar-based planner. Then, Plan to Eat will make your grocery list for you.
I love this idea because it means you can use the recipes you already know that you like. You can also see your grocery list on your phone, which would be helpful for my family’s grocery shopping routine. The calendar-based planning is helpful, too, so that you can easily plan around certain events or rhythms.
- Cost: $4.95/month
- Cost of Meals: Depends on what meals you use
- Best Parts: If you have picky eaters or already know what meals your family loves, this is a great app to try. It’ll help you build in some variety without veering away from the food you know your family will eat. It’s also the cheapest option in our roundup.
- Drawbacks: This service isn’t automated enough for me. Plus, it looks like you’ll be stuck with the serving sizes of the meals in your menu, which could be limiting.
Updated October 31, 2017 and originally published October 5, 2017.