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Best recipe apps and software: Meal planning apps to make life easier

Best recipe apps and software: Meal planning apps to make life easier
(Image credit: Getty)

It's easy to get stuck in a food rut. Using any of the best recipe apps or software programs can really give your weekly menu a boost, and help you eat healthier and more adventurously. While you can find a recipe for almost any meal with a simple Google search, these apps are far more useful because they will spark creativity and give you loads of ideas about what to eat, and not just how to make it. What's more, they can give you fresh perspective on classic meals, suggesting new ways of cooking and additional ingredients that can take your food to the next level.

Most of the best recipe apps are available on your smartphone, so you can use them while you're actually cooking. If you're looking to prep meals and print off recipes instead, many either have dedicated software for your home computer, or they can be accessed via a web browser at any time.

Some of these recipe apps are free, but others may require a one-off payment or monthly subscription. Obviously, it all depends on your budget, but we recommend some of the paid-for apps because we believe that what you actually get from them is good value for money. Of course, if you'd rather not cook yourself, we do have a guide to the best meal kit delivery services, which will send over all the ingredients you need, and will have done much of the prep work for you. And if you need ingredients without leaving the home, check our shopping list of the best grocery delivery services too.


1. Yummly: Best recipe app 

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Yummly

(Image credit: Yummly)
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Yummly

(Image credit: Future)

Yummly

Yummly has a huge range of recipes for every diet and preference.

SPECIFICATIONS

Free: Yes, with paid option | Desktop: Yes | App: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Curates recipes to your tastes
Options for every skill level
Virtual pantry

Reasons to Avoid

No meal planner

Yummly is an app and website designed to make meal planning fun and easy. Its first step involves selecting your favorite cuisines and preferences, and you can choose anything from Irish to Moroccan depending on your tastes. It allows you to input any allergies and dietary requirements, including ovo vegetarian, paleo, and vegan. It also allows you to filter out any disliked foods, which means you won’t be bombarded with meals full of mushrooms, cilantro, or avocado unless you really want to. Something that really sets Yummly apart is its “Cooking Skills” feature. Many recipe apps will assume that every user has the same level of skill, but this filter allows beginners to try their hand at entry-level meals without feeling overwhelmed. 

Yummly also allows you to work on a “Virtual Pantry” where you can add any fresh or store cupboard ingredients you already have, from flour and sugar to onion and frozen peas. This allows Yummly to put together a user profile and create a bespoke shopping list as you select your meal plan. Yummly uses its own recipes, but it also features guest chefs, brands, and bloggers with recipes from Simply Ella, Betty Crocker, Beauty Bites, and more. If you’re running low on fresh food (or grocery money), there’s the option to find “Pantry-Ready recipes” that you can make with what you’ve got available. 

A lot of the Yummly recipes come with calorie breakdowns, which will be welcome news to dieters (but unwelcome to those who have a difficult relationship with calorie counting), and it has the option to add ingredients from recipes to a shopping list. You can also schedule the eat time for your chosen recipe, which sets up a prompt for when you need to start prepping and cooking if you want to eat at a specific time.  

Yummly does have a paid option, Yummly Pro, which offers bespoke cooking courses on anything from Modern Paleo to Comfort Food Cooking with top chefs. There’s a 14-day free trial for Yummly Pro, and after that you’ll pay $4.99 for the service each month. Compared to some of the alternatives, this feels pretty reasonable. 


2. Whisk: Best free recipe app

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Whisk

(Image credit: Whisk)
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Whisk

(Image credit: Future)

Whisk

Whisk is a free, community-based recipe app that makes meal planning easy.

SPECIFICATIONS

Free: Yes | Desktop: No | App: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Totally free
Makes shopping lists for you
Curate your own meal plans

Reasons to Avoid

No pantry lists

Whisk takes a community-based approach to recipe curation, and it’s easy to find recipes for vegan, diabetes-friendly, or keto diets. Diet-related options aren’t the only communities you can follow though, and we enjoyed the seasonal recipes, as well as the global cuisine and cooking method options which are sure to be a hit with those who have a slow cooker, instant pot, or air fryer. 

Whisk offers something that many recipe apps don’t: a meal planning tab. You can add meals to various days of the week and save the recipe links under each, making them easy to access. You can also save recipes under various collections, such as the meal or diet type, to organize your new cookbook, and the app allows you to select the number of desired servings and adjusts the measurements of its ingredients accordingly. This is especially useful for those who cook for one or two and find it hard to find recipes that won’t give mountains of leftovers. When this is done, Whisk allows you to add the recipe to your shopping list, where you can deselect ingredients you may already have and sort by either recipe or shopping aisle. 

Unlike Yummly, you can’t add a list of ingredients you already have, such as flour, sugar, or onions, to a pantry list, meaning your app won’t automatically filter out ingredients you already have, or curate recipes that you can make with any odd ingredients you have lying around in your refrigerator. 


3. Mealime: Best recipe app for meal planning

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Mealime

(Image credit: Mealime)
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Mealime

(Image credit: Future)

Mealime

Mealime is designed to cut down on food waste, but you need the paid version to make the most of this recipe app.

SPECIFICATIONS

Free: Yes, with paid option | Desktop: No | App: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Unique and healthy recipes
Fantastic user experience 
Plan your meals for the week

Reasons to Avoid

You need Pro to make the most of it

Mealime has an abundance of impressive recipes, all photographed and presented beautifully. Suffice to say, if it was a restaurant menu, we’d want to order everything. The main drawback of this app is that you can’t have everything - that is, unless you pay for it. Like other recipe apps we reviewed, Mealime has a free and paid version, but it advertises Mealime Pro far more front-and-center than other paid apps do, with a large proportion of the recipes on the app only available to those with Pro plans. Pro only costs $5.99, and if you ask us, it’s a reasonable price to pay for the huge range of healthy and unique recipes on offer.

One thing we really like about this app is that it’s designed to cut down on food waste. Some recipes ask for things in silly quantities, such as two thirds of a lime, or an inconvenient proportion of a bag of carrots. Mealime tries to use convenient proportions of the foods in its recipes, so you won’t be left with an awkwardly small cut of meat in your refrigerator that ends up being thrown out. With Mealime Pro, you can access entire plans designed to use every last bite of your grocery shop, but there’s a lot more guesswork involved if you use the free version. 

Mealime allows you to choose your eating preferences and even add recipes, although there’s a limit to how many you can add if you’re not on Pro. It curates grocery lists that have convenient tick boxes to keep track of your grocery shopping, and as you add meals to your weekly plan, it accumulates everything you need of one ingredient. You can also adjust the portion sizes of the recipes, which is a neat feature for large or small households. The meal planning could be better though - there’s no option to set the dates and times that you’d like to eat the recipes.


4. Paprika: Best recipe software

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Paprika

(Image credit: Paprika)
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Paprika

(Image credit: Future)

Paprika

This recipe software works across Mac, Windows, Android and iOS devices.

SPECIFICATIONS

Free: Yes, with paid option | Desktop: Yes | App: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Meal planner
Cloud syncing across devices 
Access thousands of recipes

Reasons to Avoid

Not the most visually appealing

Paprika’s smartphone app isn’t quite as easy to use as the other app alternatives you can buy, but where it shines is its recipe desktop software. The concept is the same across all devices - you can browse recipes from all your favorite food bloggers, websites, and brands, and download the instructions and ingredients in one place. You can then set a meal plan for the week ahead, which will sync with your calendar apps or software to keep you on track. The ingredient list is also available to download as a shopping list, and you can untick anything you already have at home.

There is a pantry option with Paprika, but note that it doesn’t come up with automated suggestions like those offered in other apps. This means you’ll have to make a note of them all yourself, which could take some time. The pantry app does allow you to keep track of when you bought items, and when they expire, which is sure to come in useful with perishables such as sauces and jams. What’s more, because this software is available on phones and laptops alike, you can sync your preferences across notifications and keep your shopping list handy and sorted by section or aisle as you do your online shopping or head to the grocery store. Because recipes are downloaded, you can also edit them and make your own notes.

Where Paprika falls down is its presentation, which isn’t nearly as smart or as user-friendly as Whisk or other apps where recipes are available direct, without the use of an in-app browser. However, if you want a great recipe software option and are willing to pay, it’s got everything we looked for in our testing. 


5. WW: Best diet recipe app

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WW

(Image credit: WW)
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WW

(Image credit: Future)

WW

WW, formerly Weight Watchers, is a tried and tested recipe app with plenty of healthy options.

SPECIFICATIONS

Free: No | Desktop: No | App: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Thousands of recipes 
Easy to track and plan
Fridge filter helps to use up ingredients

Reasons to Avoid

No shopping lists

Technically WW is a diet plan, and it’s one of the more costly ones in our guide. That’s because you’re given so much more than just recipe options with this app - with your WW subscription you’re allocated a set amount of points, which you can spend on set recipes and easily calculate using a barcode scanner on snacks and other foods. WW allows you to scroll through its thousands of recipes and add them to your meal plan in advance, which helps you stay on track. 

A relatively new WW feature is the Fridge filter, which allows you to select a range of foods you already have in your pantry, as well as a SmartPoint limit and any foods you don’t like or are allergic to. When you do this, it brings up dozens of suitable recipes, so you’re not tempted to turn to takeout when you’re faced with an empty fridge. 

WW is designed to be a diet app, and while the recipes will keep you on track to your desired outcome, it’s not a great choice if you simply want to expand your culinary repertoire. It doesn’t offer you any shopping lists, so you’ll need to make a note of the ingredients you need when meal planning, and it also doesn’t allow you to adjust the amount of portions you make. In our experience though, WW is a great weight loss recipe app for those who are getting started with cooking healthy food and need a helping hand. 


6. Allrecipes Dinner Spinner: Best recipe app for saving money

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Allrecipes

(Image credit: Allrecipes)
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allrecipes

(Image credit: Future)

Allrecipes Dinner Spinner

The Allrecipes Dinner Spinner is packed with ideas and tried and tested recipes.

SPECIFICATIONS

Free: Yes | Desktop: Yes | App: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Tried and tested
Works with what you’ve got
Shows what’s on sale near you

Reasons to Avoid

Visually, it’s not the best 

If you’ve ever Googled a recipe, odds are you landed on Allrecipes. The site gathers thousands of user-tried recipes on anything from slow-cooked cobblers to boozy cocktails. The Allrecipes Dinner Spinner brings what’s great about Allrecipes to an app, but it also brings the bad. Allrecipes allows users to upload their recipes and review others, so odds are, if you go with a tried and tested recipe with a high rating, you’ll experience success. However, unlike many of the recipe apps we tested, there’s no professional element to the app. You’re putting all your faith in fellow home cooks, with little added guidance.

That said, the Allrecipes Dinner Spinner does have a range of really fantastic elements. It’s free, for one, and it can actually save you money if you know how to use it. The ingredients list can be synced with local grocery stores to show you what’s on sale right now, meaning you’ll know what the most cost-effective dinner will be before you even head to the store. That can save you all the confusion and stress of deal hunting once you get there. 

The Dinner Spinner is as fun as it sounds. Simply enter the meal type (e.g. breakfast, dessert, appetizer, or even drink), choose an ingredient you have to hand (such as a type of meat or vegetable) and narrow it down by how much time you have to spare. You can have a roulette of suitable meals on offer in seconds, which is great for those days where you’re short on inspiration.