Choose the Best Meal Planning Tool for Your Private Practice

November 10, 2023

Jay Harrison, the CEO at Edison Health, describes manual meal planning as “a hideous and laborious exercise.” 

He’s not wrong: it can be. This may ring especially true if you’re creating meal plans manually. It can take hours of painstaking work to produce an end product that some clients will abandon too soon. Or will they?

When a client asks for a meal plan what they’re really seeking is a solution for eating better to support their health goals. Helping them succeed requires meeting them where they are – which means a cookie-cutter approach won’t work. 

Effective meal planning considers many factors, including a person’s likes and dislikes, how much time they have to shop for and prepare meals, who else they’re cooking for, ingredient availability where they live, and even cultural practices. 

If you’re doing all this personalizing manually, then your instincts are spot-on: it is a lot of work. But it doesn’t have to be. Using a meal planning software tool significantly lightens your workload. The trick is finding the right tool for your practice. 

In this article we’ll outline the different types of meal planning tools available and give you ideas for evaluating the different options out there.

Why nutrition professionals need meal planning tools

A person browsing healthy recipes on 'That Clean Life' displayed on a laptop screen. The user's hands are typing on the keyboard, with a focus on the webpage showcasing a variety of meal options. On the desk, there's also a white computer mouse and a coffee mug, adding to the relaxed, productive atmosphere. The background is bright and minimalistic, suggesting a modern, clean workspace.

There’s no disputing the evidence that meal planning is a viable strategy to support healthy eating habits. Regarding the general public, it’s no surprise that time is a major barrier to meal planning. No wonder clients count on your expertise to create meal plans they will stay motivated to follow.

Your time is a precious commodity, too. Having the right meal planning tool can supercharge your meal planning efficiency: 

  • Information is power. Access to a large food and recipe database frees you from scouring the internet or your private collection in a folder or drive.
  • Math is overrated. Recipes that include caloric, micronutrient, and macronutrient values eliminate the need to perform your own manual calculations. 
  • Sharing is caring. Built-in automation makes generating and sharing meal plans based on calories, macros, and diet type easy. 
  • Swapping is a snap. Interactivity frees clients to make changes to your meal plans based on preference, ingredients, or mood. 

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to meal planning software. Choosing the best meal planner app or tool for your private practice will come down to personal factors including your goals, client base, area of specialization, and budget.

Next up we’ll explore the pros and cons of different meal planning tools available to help you make the best-informed decision. 

Types of meal planning tools

A person's hands are shown holding a meal prep container filled with a balanced meal, including portions of green spinach leaves, sliced carrots, and black beans, suggesting a focus on health and nutrition. A green apple and another meal container with cherry tomatoes and rice are visible on the white countertop, emphasizing fresh and wholesome food choices.

When you’re researching tools to help with meal planning you’re likely to come across different terms, including top meal planning apps, effective meal planning software, and even best nutrition coaching apps. 

On the face these tools may appear similar, but when you look under the hood you’ll see that many offer very different features and functionality. Understanding the similarities and differences will help you choose the meal planning tool that works most effectively for your business model.

Meal planning software

Meal planning software is just what it sounds like: a tool that greatly simplifies the process of creating comprehensive meal plans and recipe collections customized to your clients’ needs. 

Target users: Dietitians, nutritionists, and health coaches. 

Common features:

  • A database of recipes, including full nutrition data 
  • Filters for finding recipes based on different parameters, like diet type, nutrition, and time
  • Built-in automations for generating meal plans; some include prep guides and grocery lists
  • Templates for quickly building meal plans that support specific health goals (e.g., renal support, plant-based, ADHD management, etc.) 
  • The ability to send plans to clients in a ready-to-use format; interactive plans allow clients to swap out recipes to match preferences while preserving nutrient profiles

Combining robust meal planning functionality with practice management technology is an awesome way to save time and streamline the number of tools you need to run your business. Nutritionist Ashley Sauvé experienced the benefits firsthand by using the power duo of That Clean Life and Practice Better. Take a peek at her streamlined workflows. 

Nutrition tracking apps

Nutrition tracking apps are primarily focused on helping individuals track their nutritional intake and exercise, usually on a mobile device. These apps don’t typically have an interface for practitioners or functionality to support meal plans. 

Target users: Individuals who want to keep a record of what they’re eating and how they’re moving.

Common features:

  • Tracking calories, vitamins, water intake, macro, and macronutrients 
  • Ability to log food intake and exercise 
  • Set personalized goals related to fitness, weight, and intermittent fasting
  • Some offer barcode scanning on a smartphone for easy journal entry
  • Some offer community and social features for support

Macro and calorie calculators

Wellness pros don’t typically use these apps in private practice. They are similar to the nutrition tracking apps described above, but are more suited to individuals with specific macronutrients goals. For example, people who adhere to specific diets, like low-carb or keto, would be more inclined to use a macro and calorie calculator. 

Target users: Individuals with specific macronutrient goals

Common features:

  • Macronutrient (carbs, proteins, fats) and calorie tracking
  • Charts and graphs to visualize intake
  • Ability to set macro goals by gram 
  • For individuals seeking a meal plan generator based on macros, some solutions on the market offer that functionality

Food diary and journal apps

Food diary and journal apps aren’t intended for meal planning. Rather, they provide a tool for making associations between the food people eat and how they feel, including mood, sleep, pain, energy, and more.

For example, the Practice Better Food and Mood Journal helps clients increase their awareness, engagement, and motivation while also providing practitioners with deeper insights into a client’s nutrient intake and mood in relation to what they’re eating. 

Target users: Individuals who want to increase accountability and self-awareness around their eating habits. Wellness pros can offer these apps to clients to enhance their nutrition coaching 

Common features:

  • Ability to log food intake and any symptoms experienced 
  • Track medications, sleep, stress, and energy levels
  • Analyze trends and share them with health support teams

Dietitian and nutritionist software

Dietitian and nutritionist software is more robust than the other tools profiled here. Typically these solutions offer full practice management capabilities that streamline workflows and lighten the administrative load of running a private practice. Many also offer integrated, robust nutrition and meal planning functionality.

Target users: Health and wellness pros, including dietitians, nutritionists, health coaches, and other nutrition experts.

Common features: 

  • Scheduling and appointment reminders 
  • Charting and protocols
  • Time-saving automations
  • Client portal and other client engagement tools 
  • Food and lifestyle tracking
  • Robust security and HIPAA-compliance

Creating custom meal plans for clients

Creating custom meal plans manually easily wastes hours that you could spend on higher-value activities. Technology makes all the difference When it comes to making meal plans for clients.

The manual wayThe tech-enabled way
Use the first appointment to directly assess a client’s unique eating habits, lifestyle, and dietary needs.Access a large database of tested, high-quality recipes with photographs that up the enticement factor for clients.
Search and filters help you find the right recipes to build a balanced meal plan.
Spend hours scouring through your folder of recipes and the internet looking for recipes that fit your client’s needs. Tap into a library of templates that provide ready-to-go, tested meal plans you can use as-is or as a jumping-off point for further customization.
Start from scratch each time you work with a new client.Trust the tech to auto-adjust nutrition information in real-time as you make changes to the recipes.
Calculate and recalculate nutrition information as you edit recipes to accommodate client needs. Auto-generate meal plans in seconds based on calories, macros, and diet type, with prep guides and grocery lists attached.
Create meal plans and grocery lists by hand.Send a Word doc or .pdf of your meal plan to the client.
Create a Word doc or .pdf of your meal plan and send it to the client.Send clients their custom meal plans through a secure link, with the flexibility to swap recipes on their own. 

How to sell meal plans online

A shopping cart in a grocery store filled with a paper bag of fresh produce, including a long baguette and leafy greens. A spiral notebook rests on top of the bag, with "Shopping List" written on it and a list of items like bread, milk, apples, tomatoes, strawberries, eggs, and salad visible in handwriting. The background is a blur of store shelves, emphasizing the shopping environment.

You’re already investing time and money into creating individualized meal plans for clients. Why not think beyond 1:1 client counseling and consider how to sell meal plans online?

As a basis, you’ll need a reliable platform to launch and host your programs and a marketing plan to raise awareness. Here are a few more ideas to get you started on expanding the reach of your expertise and generating more income:

You organically grow your owned email list by requiring an email address to access the free meal plan. It’s much easier to nurture and convert folks on future offers when they have opted in to hear from you by email and see you in their inbox regularly.

  • Sell pay-to-play meal plans to the general public and/or other nutrition professionals to set up a flow of passive income into your practice. Make it easy for people to pay and download from a landing page. 
  • Create an on-demand online course to share your nutrition counseling expertise to a particular audience. For example, imagine you regularly counsel clients on how proper nutrition can reduce systemic inflammation. Why not package that into a saleable course that generates passive income for your practice while you focus on other areas of your business? 
  • Use your social media accounts to regularly share thought leadership on nutrition best practices. By offering up advice for free, you attract new followers and build audience trust. They will be more willing to purchase programs and meal planning services from you if you’ve already provided value to them without asking for anything in return. 

When it comes to how to sell meal plans online, there are lots of avenues to explore. Get more ideas on how to choose and create programs for your practice.

Evaluating the best meal planning app

Your technology needs are as unique as your business. This means the best nutrition software for dietitians won’t necessarily work for a personal trainer who dabbles in dietary counseling. 

Whether you’re researching the best nutrition software for dietitians, best nutrition coaching apps, or some other term in between, some basic questions will help you find the right nutrition software to grow your business: 

  1. Is it important for you to maximize your efficiency and productivity? Look for a solution that will fit seamlessly into your workflow. It should also offer powerful search with filters you can use to find recipes based on different criteria, like micronutrients, diet type, preparation time, and more. 

The ability to upload your own tried-and-tested recipes to the solution also saves a lot of time. Bonus points if it automatically generates a grocery list to go with your recipe.

  1. Does your client base need basic nutritional guidance or very prescriptive planning? 

For example, if you are coaching individuals on nutrition to manage perimenopause symptoms, your meal plans will likely focus on repeatable advice, like adopting a Mediterranean diet and accommodating intermittent fasting.  

On the other hand, if you’re working with renal patients who need to carefully manage their kidney disease, your meal plans may require more complex customizations.

  1. Do you want to ease the load of time-stealing nutrition analysis? Look for a solution offering real-time nutrition data that automatically adjusts as you make changes. 
  1. Are you craving an escape from messy folders holding your recipe collections? Seek a solution that lets you organize your meal plans and recipes intuitively for your business. 
  1. Do you want to allow clients to swap comparable recipes in and out of their meal plans? If so, you need a solution that empowers them to modify their plan after you send it. Providing a secure link to an interactive online plan works well for this. 
  1. Do you regularly check in on clients to keep them engaged in their nutrition journey? If so, integrated functionality like food journaling and secure chat are important considerations.
  1. Is it important to have your branding on the meal plans you generate? Seek a solution that makes it easy to make meal plans look and feel like you. 
  1. Is ensuring your clients’ data security and privacy top of mind? Insist on a solution that is security-obsessed and HIPAA compliant.
  1. What’s your budget? Make sure you understand the pricing structure of any solution you’re considering. Is the cost charged in US dollars? Are there different plan tiers (e.g., Starter vs advanced)? Do you get charged more based on how many clients you serve or is it a flat rate that stays consistent as your practice grows?
  2. Do you want ongoing support? Some solutions leave you to your own devices once you enter your credit card information. If you want ongoing support to troubleshoot technology make sure that’s an option with the tool you choose.

Case studies: successful implementation

We all have an inner skeptic. Yours may be wondering how much time meal planning software actually saves nutrition professionals. Here are a few real-life stories to inspire you:

Jessica Mantell, Registered Dietitian and founder of NextGeneration Nutrition, used to spend up to 10 hours searching for recipes and putting together a single meal plan from scratch. After implementing That Clean Life she reduced time spent on meal plans to a maximum of 30 minutes per client. See how she does it.

Dietitian, Kayley George, and her team provide interactive custom meal plans for clients based on each individual’s budget, kitchen appliances, time, calories, and more. Kayley and team regularly use analytics to check how often clients view and use their plans and follow up accordingly. This enhanced level of support prompts clients to stay in the 6-8 month program longer. Clients love the experience so much they often come back for more support in the future. 

Read more real-life meal planning app success stories

What is the best meal planning app for you?

A screenshot of the 'That Clean Life' nutrition planning software, displaying a renal diet meal plan. The interface shows a weekly overview with daily nutritional breakdowns for calories, fat, carbs, fiber, sugar, and protein. Below, images and names of meals are arranged from Monday to Sunday, including 'Blended Blueberry Baked Oats' for breakfast and 'Kiwi Yogurt Parfait' for a snack. The layout is user-friendly, with a green and white color scheme and organized sections for easy meal tracking and planning.

Dietitians and other wellness professionals are passionate about bringing their nutrition guidance to life for clients. Most are less enthusiastic about the time investment required to build meal plans for clients using traditional tools. 

A meal planning app is a powerful tool you can use in your private practice to drastically cut the time you spend meal planning without compromising on the quality of your client experience. After all, the way to drive high compliance with your plans is to give clients a plan to make sure the food they enjoy each day makes a difference to their long-term health. 

The best way to answer the question, “What is the best meal planning app?” is by doing your homework to compare different solutions. This upfront research will pay off in the long run by ensuring you choose a technology that meets the holistic needs of your practice. 


If you’re interested in exploring the power of an all-in-one platform that combines the power of meal planning with a full suite of practice management functionality you’ll be interested to know about the upcoming That Clean Life + Practice Better integration.

FAQs

Q1: Why should I use a meal planning tool in my private practice?

A: Meal planning tools help you efficiently provide customized dietary guidance to your clients. They streamline the meal planning process, making it easier to create personalized nutrition plans, leading to better client outcomes and overall success in your practice.

Q2: What’s the difference between meal planning apps and meal planning software?

A: Meal planning apps are typically more user-friendly and accessible on mobile devices, while meal planning software offers more extensive features and may be designed for desktop or laptop computers. The choice between the two depends on your specific needs and preferences.

Q3: Can I create custom meal plans for my clients using these tools?

A: Yes, meal planning tools allow you to generate custom meal plans tailored to your clients’ unique dietary requirements, preferences, and goals. This personalization is a key feature of many meal-planning apps and software.

Q4: How can I effectively sell meal plans online?

A: To sell meal plans online successfully, you should develop a clear marketing strategy, create a professional online presence, and establish a secure and user-friendly platform for clients to purchase your services. The blog discusses various strategies for selling meal plans online.

Q5: What criteria should I consider when choosing the best meal planner app or software for my practice?

A: You should evaluate factors such as the tool’s ease of use, customization options, compatibility with your workflow, pricing, and client support. The blog provides detailed guidance on selecting the most suitable tool for your practice.

Q6: How can I incorporate macros into meal planning for my clients?

A: Many meal planning tools offer the ability to create meal plans based on specific macronutrient goals. You can input your clients’ macro targets and use the software to precisely generate meal plans that meet their dietary needs.

Q7: Are there any real-life examples of nutrition professionals successfully implementing meal planning tools?

A: The blog includes case studies highlighting how nutrition professionals have effectively integrated meal planning tools into their practices. These examples offer practical insights into the benefits and outcomes of using such tools.

Q8: How can I stay updated with the latest features and trends in meal planning tools?

A: To stay informed, regularly visit the official websites of the meal planning tools you use, follow their social media accounts, and subscribe to newsletters and blogs related to nutrition and dietetics. Networking with peers can also be a valuable source of information.

Q9: What are the data security considerations when using meal planning tools?

A: Data security is crucial when handling client information. Ensure that the tool you choose complies with privacy regulations, has robust encryption, and provides data backup and recovery options. The blog emphasizes the importance of safeguarding sensitive information.

Q10: How do I know which meal planning tool is best for my practice?

A: To determine the best meal planning software for your practice, carefully assess your specific needs, budget, and goals. The blog offers guidance on evaluating these factors and selecting the tool that aligns most closely with your requirements.


Practice Better is the complete practice management platform for nutritionists, dietitians, and wellness professionals. Streamline your practice and begin your 14-day free trial today.

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