8 Free Food Apps Changing the Way We Eat out, Eat in and Shop

In anticipation of our upcoming innovations issue, we’re exploring some of the latest free food-related apps and how they might transform how we shop for, cook, eat and relate to food.

Munchery_Multi Colored Carrots_Curtosy of Munchery

For each meal purchased on Munchery, the company donates the equal value to local food-related charities such as City Harvest (so far the tally is 132,651 meals donated across the US). Photo courtesy of Munchery.

Diet is the new religion.

Or at least our food choices these days seem more like existential statements about our views on the world than mere sustenance alone. As the old adage goes: we are what we eat, and in this digital age, the apps and services we choose to use on our phones and tablets are an extension of this idea — we are what we download.

Given the importance of the digital marketplace in today’s consumer landscape, each app has the power to “create a better marketplace for healthy foods,” according to Ingredient1 founder and CEO Taryn Fixel. So in anticipation of our upcoming innovations issue, we’re exploring some of the latest food-related free apps and services on the market by evaluating how each app maps to the Edible mission to transform how we shop for, cook, eat and relate to food.

Some key themes emerge: a drive for greater transparency into what we eat and buy, more responsible attitudes towards the environment and one-stop ways to order or book to eat meals. There is an emphasis on sharing food with family and friends or, in the absence of either, providing a digital interface some users might just fall in love with instead.

However work is still clearly needed to boost app parity; too many homegrown apps are only available on the Apple platform when 80.2 percent of phone users globally in 2014 were predicted to be on an Android according to Business InsiderMany apps also only provide English-language menus when at least 45 million people in the US spoke other languages (at home at least) in 2011 according to the Pew Research Center.

Finally, many apps currently out there do a lot to facilitate purchase and delivery of food but little to support healthier or sustainable choices. Even still, this batch of apps shows a heartening trend towards accountability for what goes into our food and what we choose to buy. They represent the start of a bigger drive towards educating consumers from the ground up and we’re excited to see how they grow in 2015:

How we eat out

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From left to right: Diners Guide to Ethical Eating, Clean Plates and Luka

  1. Diners Guide to Ethical Eating
    Released by: Restaurant Opportunities Center
    Available on: Android (Google Play) and iOS 8.1+ (iPhone, Tablet, iPod Touch)
    App rating: 3/5
    Tags: Living Wage, Restaurants, Consumer Action
    Description: A consumer guide to working conditions in American restaurants. The guide provides information on wage, benefit and promotion practices across 150 of the most popular restaurants in America. It also lists restaurants across several major U.S. cities where staff are paid equitable wages and paid sick leave. Covers restaurants in Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington DC.
    What we like: In-built functionality to survey restaurants and report back to ROC; includes fair wage information to determine restaurant ranking; tweets to restaurants about their working conditions and encourages more responsible employer practices.
    What could improve: There’s little data to provide a truly accurate reflection of practices right now. As more users start to engage with the app the content should improve.
    Local relevance: Providing workers with a fair living wage is a hot topic in New York and across the country right now. This app provides a targeted way for consumers and workers to expose bad practice and arm ROC with data to convince lawmakers to implement change.
  2. Clean Plates
    Released by:
    Clean Plates
    Available on: Android eBook (Google Play) and iOS 7.1+ (iPhone, Tablet, iPod Touch)
    App rating: 4/5
    Tags: Dining Guide, Restaurants, Lifestyle, Sustainable
    Description: App/eBook versions of the highly acclaimed Clean Plate guide and site dedicated to healthy and sustainable dining. Menus are rated Zagat-style based on guidelines from nutritionists and food critics, then categorized according to choices such as “vegan” or “slow food.” The app enables users to find the closest dining spots tailored to their location and city, which provides a handy tool for travelers everywhere. What makes this special is the taste-centric reviews. This is an app for folks who care as much about taste as how their food is made. Covers restaurants in Los Angeles, New York and Austin.
    What we like: In-built functionality to locate healthy and sustainable food choices on the fly; provides feedback, suggests new cities and keeps information up-to-date; supports individual dietary or lifestyle choices; encourages travelers and locals to dine out in style without stinting on their ethics.
    What could improve: An Android native app would be helpful. We’d would also like to see the reviews expand beyond the initial three cities.
    Local relevance: With New York-specific guides covering Manhattan and Brooklyn, this is one of the more city-centric and well developed apps we’ve seen so far. Though the app is only available on the iOS platform for now, Android users can download the New York 2015 guide to get the same information though with less useful functionality. More work needs to be done to include all five boroughs but his is a great start to guiding dedicated diners as much as the health- or environmentally-curious out there.
  3. Luka
    Released by: 
    Luka (formerly IO)
    Available on: iOS 7.0+ (iPhone, Tablet, iPod Touch)
    App rating: 3/5
    Tags: Dining Out, Travel, Virtual Friend
    Description: Siri-style app Luka helps you locate and make reservations for restaurants and food hotspots in the San Francisco area, all in the blink of an iPhone. Also covers the South Bay area.
    What we like: Saves the amount of time that you might wait in line and is designed with a mission to make looking for restaurants and recommendations more like having a conversation with a friend rather than an engine. Could this be the future of search?
    What could improve: For an app developed by an international company, the US launch seems half-baked without an Android app limited geo. However, spending its early days in the food-loving tech hub of San Francisco could make for an ideal spawning ground for the next version of this app.
    Local relevance: Luka isn’t ready for New York just yet, but we’ll keep an eye on developments. In the meantime it might just be a handy tool next time you’re in San Francisco or the Valley and want to dine like a tech mogul.

How we eat in

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22 Days Nutrition (left) and Munchery (right).

  1. 22 Days Nutrition
    Released by: 
    Marco Borges
    Available on: Desktop only
    App rating: n/a
    Tags: Meal Delivery, Lifestyle, Vegan
    Description: A vegan meal delivery plan and service. Having Beyoncé promote your meal delivery service was always going to be a “flawless” move (harhar). The star and her fellow musician husband Jay-Z have health and exercise guru Marco Borges to thank for enjoying their Vegan Challenge. Subscribers to the desktop-based service can select to receive up to three vegan, soy-free and environmentally-conscious meals delivered to their door on a weekly basis.
    Covers: USA
    What we like: Promotes healthy lifestyle choices; prioritizes non-GMO and allergy-conscious meal plans; meals are designed to be environmentally-conscious.
    What could improve: The co-branded snack pop-up site that appears when you access the main site feels gimmicky and detracts from the overall positive message. Also, relying solely on a desktop site reduces accessibility for consumers. The $15 price-per-meal is not the most expensive out there, but it will be prohibitive for some.
    Local relevance: Well, we know Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” with the service for starters. She’s already convinced one Brooklyn-born resident to try it. Need we say more?
  2. Munchery
    Released by: Munchery.com
    App rating: 4/5
    Tags: Meal Delivery, Charity, Living Wage
    Description: California meal delivery service superstar Munchery is reinventing the weeknight dinner. Order healthy dinners handmade by top local chefs using only the highest-quality ingredients, delivered to your home or office each weeknight. Covers lower Manhattan, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Los Angeles (mid 2015).
    What we like: For each meal purchased on Munchery, the company donates the equal value to local food-related charities such as City Harvest (so far the tally is 132,651 meals donated across the US). At $10-13 a meal, Munchery is cheaper than other comparable meal delivery services operating in the same area. They attempt an environmental consciousness by preferring bike deliveries and offsetting carbon generated from car deliveries by planting trees through The Conservation Fund. Additionally, their packaging is made from recycled materials and users can order a range of menus including vegetarian and gluten-free options. They’ve also integrated the app UP by Jawbone to keep track of nutritional aspects of each meal. Finally, menus and meals have a local flavor thanks to partnerships with community chefs.
    What could improve: Though Munchery will be up-and-running from a Brooklyn location this month, the service will initially only be available to a small portion of New Yorkers in Lower Manhattan. Though Munchery tries hard on the organic and local fronts, more attention is needed to create menus with ingredients that are truly sustainable.
    Local relevance: New York meals have been put together through consultation with chefs from Le Bernadin and Daniel. Based out of Brooklyn’s Pfizer Building, Munchery will be keeping good food and drink company with many notable local makers.

How we shop

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From left to right: Ingredient1, EWG Food Scores and Certified Humane

  1. Ingredient1
    Released by: Ingredient1
    Available on: iOS 7.0+ (iPhone, Tablet, iPod Touch)
    App rating: 5/5
    Tags: Gluten-Free, Allergies, Ingredients
    Description: Part social media, part database, Ingredient1 has a mission to create a better marketplace for healthy foods. The makers want to do that by transforming the way people discover food. Products can be located and rated using a “FOOD ID.” This extra branding layer helps shoppers learn more about products, promotes new products and can provide analytics information for stores keen to better understand consumer behavior related to healthy lifestyle product. It covers the US.
    What we like: A great compendium for the ingredient-curious with a database that contains over 22,000 ingredients vs. 8,000 in the USDA Nutrient database. Food products listed map against fourteen diets and allergens (six more allergens than legally required on packaging by the USDA). Only 29 ingredients are listed by the USDA as triggers for peanut allergy sufferers versus 120 captured in this database. A tool for brands and businesses as well as consumers that helps promote transparency in food labelling and by extension educates consumers about what goes into their food.
    What could improve: Though the app was launched last Summer it’s still early days in terms of content. As a result the range of products listed is limited.
    Local relevance: Developed by a New York-based journalist who was worried about the lack of information available to allergy-sufferers, Ingredient1 has obvious benefits for consumers and producers alike. By extension, the popularity of this app could help guide brand strategy (in terms of popular/unpopular ingredients and brands) as well as support new businesses. New products have an 82 percent failure rate, but the app could provide consumer connections and insights that drive early market adoption.
  2. EWG Food Scores
    Released by: 
    Environmental Working Group
    Available on: iOS 7.0+ (iPhone, Tablet, iPod Touch)
    App rating: 4/5
    Tags: Environment, Ingredients, Consumer Action
    Description: EWG’s food score app provides information on tens of thousands of products in a simple, searchable format. The aim is to guide consumers to food that’s good for people and the planet. Covers the United States.
    What we like: An easily searching database filled with 80,000 of the most common store products. A single EWG rating applied to each product makes it easy and accessible for consumers to know more about their food products on the go. The rating is determined by a complex algorithm of factors including the chemicals, additives and processing methods used to make each product.
    What could improve: This app is in its early stages so average user reviews are few and far between. However the app shows promise and could be a valuable tool for shoppers keen to take a look under the hood. As with other apps, releasing an app for Android users would help cater to a broader section of the consumer market.
    Local relevance: The mission of this app aligns well with our mission to promote healthy and sustainable food choices.
  3. Certified Humane
    Released by:
    Certified Humane
    Available on: Android (Google Play) & iOS iPhone, Tablet, iPod Touch 6.0+
    App rating: 4/5
    Tags: Animal Welfare, Consumer Action
    Description: An app launched to promote transparency into animal welfare by tracking stores across the US with food products certified as humane.
    What we like: Multi-language app to reach a broader audience (this is rare among other food apps); ability to locate stores on the fly that use or stock certified products; dedication to promoting animal welfare and a conscious approach to food choices; this app is easier to find and learn more about outside of the app stores as compared to many of its counterparts.
    What could improve: Though the app was launched last summer, it’s still early days in terms of content. As a result the range of products listed is limited.
    Local relevance: For New Yorkers keen to buy welfare-certified products, some will be disappointed. A search revealed only 96 stores listed in across New York City. This is more than Los Angeles or (far more than) Chicago but less than San Francisco. While that is a commendable start, this also reveals how much work has yet to be done to get a consistent label or standard in place to showcase animal welfare. In the meantime, shoppers can use this app to guide purchases as this movement continues to grow.
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Ruth Temianka is a writer, editor and entrepreneur.