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Save Money and Eat Better With These 6 Online Meal Planners

Stretch your food dollars with online guidance from the experts.

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Meal planning is a necessity to save money on groceries, and avoid the fast food drive-thru. However, if you are anything like me, the idea of sitting down each week to plan your meals does not sound exciting. These six meal planning sites take the time and guesswork out of making grocery lists and deciding what to make each week.

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1. 5 Dinners 1 Hour

I am a big fan of 5 Dinners 1 Hour. The site offers a variety of plans, including classic, clean eating, paleo, and gluten-free. With this site, the meals are already planned out for you, and the goal is to assemble five dinners in one hour at the start of your week. Each month is a new menu, and you can reuse past menus, as well.

This meal plan is very organized. The printable shopping list is convenient, and each meal has a designated letter, so if you don't want a certain meal, you will easily know which items to cross off the shopping list. It takes me about two hours to shop and complete meal prep, but of course this is with two little ones nearby.

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Most of the meals have been delicious, while others were bland. However, it has been convenient to have all of the week's dinners in the fridge and ready to go at the start of the week. Some meals are marked as freezable, so I always double up on those so I can build up my freezer stash without much more effort on my part.

2. Plan to Eat

Plan to Eat cuts the time it takes to establish a grocery list and meal plan. You integrate your favorite recipes either by hand, by file or through your favorite online recipes. The site will take a meal you find via search or link and transform it into a shopping list and meal plan.

Plan to Eat also allows you to plan every meal — not just dinner. This is helpful for those who want to know what exactly they will need throughout the week for groceries. Another nifty thing about this site is that you can keep a freezer inventory on the side and plan meals from the freezer.

3. Once a Month Meals

I love making a batch of freezer meals, because it means only cleaning up one big mess per month. Once a Month Meals used to be free when I started using the site many years ago. They now charge a subscription fee, but they have also updated their site to include multiple menu plans and better technology to incorporate and change your monthly meal planning.

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The site does a great job of adding variety and organizing everything needed to assemble meals, but it is a huge undertaking. When I have done this site's plans in the past, it has taken me a whole day to shop and assemble meals.

4. Dinner Daily

Dinner Daily plans come with five select dinners each week along with a shopping list and links to printable coupons to save money on that week's grocery haul. Most of the meals selected take 20-35 minutes to make, which is great when you are short on time. Dinner Daily has quite a few plans but no specialty-diet plans, such as paleo, gluten-free, or dairy-free.

5. eMeals

eMeals has the biggest variety of menu types and is recommended by finance guru Dave Ramsey. The site offers plans from paleo, slow cooking, diabetic-friendly, low carb, vegetarian and more. You are not stuck with one menu type, and you can change based on your preference. I appreciate that the plans come in two formats: family-size or servings for two. Even though we are a family of four, the two littles don't eat enough to count, so it's nice not to waste food.

6. The Fresh 20

The Fresh 20 is a unique meal planning site that creates plans based off 20 ingredients per week (plus pantry staples). The goal of this site is to help reduce food waste and help others eat healthier. However, this site does not allow you to change plans and does not have as much flexibility and customization as the other sites listed.

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All of the meal plans come with menu samples or free trials, so be sure to try a few out to see what works best for you. The best meal planning site is one that you'll actually use.

This article is from Ashley Eneriz of Wise Bread, an award-winning personal finance and credit card comparison website.

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This article is from Wise Bread, not the Kiplinger editorial staff.