I like cooking, generally. I’m not a great cook, but adequate. And I’ll try new recipes on occasion, but usually it’s the same fare. With lots of chicken. Shopping at least twice a week (often daily), trying to make good, healthy choices, then preparing meals, is a lot of work. If I could afford delivery from my favorite local restaurants, I can assure you we’d be eating several Thai, Mexican, Italian, or Indian suppers a week.
But dinner “kits” delivered nowadays—a trend that began in 2012, although Schwan’s has been delivering frozen foods and meals since the early 1950s—is the golden mean between shopping/cooking and take-out/delivery. Meal kit delivery services allow everyone from single urbanites to busy families to skip the planning and the supermarket and instead, receive a box with all the ingredients and an easy-to-follow recipe for a tasty, chef-inspired dinner, often quickly. And it turns out, one in four American adults have chosen a meal delivery service, according to the Harris Poll. So not everyone’s on board, but a lot of us are.
According to an industry report,
meal kit delivery services “will generate approximately $1.5 billion in sales in 2016 and will grow to a multi-billion market over the next five years,” offering people a convenient way to cook at home without coming up with a dinner plan (“What do you want for dinner?”—“I don’t know” is a common refrain in our house) then shopping.
You’ve seen the ads in magazines, on TV and online. The idea is appealing, whether it be for diet and nutrition, convenience and time savings, or for a break from the routine. The question is, though, is a meal delivery service for you? Start with our tips and look at some of the more popular—and newest nationwide—meal delivery services, and if you go for it, bon appetit.
The Cost of Meal Delivery Services
There’s some data that suggests it’s just far more expensive to pay for meal delivery, although that may be relative, says Consumer Reports. For example, the amount of time and energy spent on planning, shopping and preparing, plus the cost of ingredients, may be an even trade-off, especially for very busy people. And, it turns out, especially for Generation Xers, Millennials and some Baby Boomers, who are more likely to be meal delivery customers.
The average cost of a box of fresh foods delivered to your door, with easy-to-follow recipes for gourmet-inspired meals, range from $9 to $14 per meal—until Dinnerly appeared on the landscape very recently, where fresh and “unfussy” meals run $5 each.
When looking at costs, make sure to also check each service’s subscription requirements, if any, and cancellation policy. Most of the meal delivery services I’ve looked at don’t force you to remain locked in, and often provide choice and flexibility in how often your order and with what type of regularity—but not all. So read the fine print before signing up. And since none of the services we’ll look at here have actual brick-and-mortar locations, know the basics about online shopping and online privacy tips.
A highly rated service—and not affiliated with Consumer Affairs, where Hello Fresh pays for its top billing—BistroMD is designed for weight loss and meals average $9 to $10, but the meals are frozen, so it’s heat-and-eat.
But we’re focused on delivery services with ingredients you prepare yourself—or in the case of a couple of services, fully-prepared meals that are shipped same or next day in refrigerated containers. But fresh and whole is the trend. Why?
Fresh food without preservatives, if the plate includes plenty of greens and lean proteins, is just better nutrition. If you’re going to pay $13 per person per meal, make sure it’s the best food you can buy. So crunch the numbers and include your time as a value, because in the final analysis it’s time-saving convenience that makes meal delivery a good option for most folks.
Healthy and Targeted Nutrition in Meal Delivery Services
First, fresh is best, although there are no shortage of frozen or prepackaged diet meal delivery services like Nutrisystem, South Beach, Medifast, Freshology (formerly Diet-to-Go), or the aforementioned well-reviewed BistroMD. So making sure the meal delivery service you choose features fresh, whole healthy foods is key.
The plate should be a colorful one. The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate is a good guide, where half the dinner consists of vegetables and fruits and the other half is divided equally between a lean protein and whole grains with the use of limited but super healthy fats (think olive oil). If the meal doesn’t fit those parameters, or come very close, it’s likely not as healthy as it could be.
And for many, organic foods or ones not made from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are important, so double-check the quality of the food.
Targeted and specific nutrition is another important factor to consider. Weight loss or weight management may be a reason one opts for a meal delivery service. Or perhaps it’s a Paleo, Vegan, heart-healthy, or low sodium diet you follow—the latter of particular importance, as many prepared meals include more sodium than we need. In the case of fresh meals you make yourself, if the recipe calls for too much salt, just use it judiciously. You can always tweak the recipe to fit nutritional needs.
Pros, Cons, Cost and Fine Print on Ten Meal Delivery Services
Cons: It’s not cheap. The meals are prepared in advance. Maybe that’s not a “con,” though—the reviews I saw were overwhelmingly positive.
Cost and fine print: The more meals you buy, the cheaper each is. So if you purchase four meals a week each is $12.50, but if you purchase twelve meals a week, the cost is less than $9 each.
Blue Apron—around since 2012 and leader of the meal delivery kit trend—says its chefs and farmers provide sustainable high quality delicious foods and recipes people can create at home from scratch, a model it claims “means better ingredients, better pricing and a better planet for us all.”
Pros: Longevity. Plus, fresh ingredients and easy to follow recipes.
Cost and fine print: Meals start at $8.99 each. You can cancel your subscription, but some consumers have complained about the process.
Pros: Wide ranging meal choice, fresh ingredients, 30 minutes to prepare, and the website offers promotions.
Cost and fine print: Pretty basic at just under $10 per meal. Make sure to review your order carefully, and know what you’ve signed up for. Some consumers have complained they received meals they didn’t order.
They describe themselves as “dinnertime decluttered.” All meals come with six ingredients and a digital recipe, and all can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. Their Facebook reviews are pretty revealing. Folks seem to like the service and applaud the low cost, but want more options.
Pros: Inexpensive compared to the other services by half or more.
Cons: It appears the menus are rather limited, although the service is very new (started business the summer of 2017), so keep in mind it’s likely still a work-in-progress.
Cost and fine print: $5 per meal. It’s a subscription service but claims you can cancel at any time.
Pros: Lots of meal options that feature dairy, gluten, and nut-free options. Hello Fresh also has a vegetarian plan and a family plan.
Cons: Inexplicably, Hello Fresh with almost 400 consumer complaints lodged with the BBB in the past 3 years—though it appears all have been closed or resolved—still received an A rating from the business website.
Cost and fine print: For two people eating three meals a week it’s $9.99 per dinner with free shipping. Again, while you can cancel, make sure to double-check what you’re signing up for.
Green Chef described itself as “…easy-peasy. We’re your sous chef. Ingredients come pre-portioned, pre-measured, and prepped. Recipes are quick and easy, with step-by-step instructions, chef’s tips, and photos. You don’t just get dinner in about 30 minutes, you get your time back.” Sounds great.
Pros: Choice. Green Chef provides certified organic, gluten-free, Keto, Vegan, and Paleo meal options.
Cons: Again, while the food may be great, the problem people have is with shipments they didn’t want and difficulty canceling.
Cost and fine print: It’s not cheap. Paleo is $14.99 per meal. Gluten-free is $13.49 per meal. And though they do have a clear cancellation policy and claim to be flexible, consumer complaints allege otherwise. Still, they earned an A-plus from the BBB.
Pros: Organic, non-GMO, grass-fed meats, no gluten, soy, or “junk,” Pete’s Paleo is also Instagram-famous. The meals are prepared, so “no apron required.” Pete’s also has options like the 21-Day Sugar Detox Plan, which is a cool way to go Paleo.
Cons: It’s not cheap. See below.
Cost and fine print: You’ll need a calculator to figure it out but it appears that the average cost of a meal ranges from $24 for 1 person just ordering five meals for one week without a subscription to about $16 per meal for a family plan.
Cons: If you aren’t into being in the kitchen for an hour, this ain’t the meal delivery service for you. This is more about skipping the shopping part. You have to enjoy cooking and have some skills. But if the reviews are any indication, the reward is the taste payoff; the meals are said to be delicious.
Cost and fine print: The more you buy, the less expensive the meals are and range from $9.95 to $11.95. Free shipping is offered on plans of more than $60 per week.
Pros: The food is all plant-based and organic. “When you choose to eat plant-based meals, you’re choosing to drastically reduce your environmental footprint.” And Consumer Reports reviewed Purple Carrot very favorably.
Cons: If you’re not a seasoned cook, this service may pose a challenge. The meals sound great, but it looks like it takes up to an hour to prepare meals, so if you’re short on skills and have little time, this may not be a great choice.
Cost and fine print: From $10 to $13 per plate. Free shipping.
Pros: There’s a lot to like about Peach Dish. This meal delivery service says it uses local farmers who employ sustainable farming practices, its meals are created by award-winning chefs with an on-staff nutrition team of registered dietitians, and Peach Dish is all about “in-house recycling, composting and “verified sustainable sourcing” Sounds great, but what about the taste? With tens of thousands of followers on social media—and if real-life reviews are true—folks love the food.
Cost and fine print: From $9 to $12 per meal; the cool thing is Peach Dish has a subscription plan or a guest plan so you can order your meals when you like with no pressure.
Final Tips for Deciding on Meal Delivery
- Check reviews on sites like the Better Business Bureau, which also features tips for consumers, and Consumer Reports.
- If you’re not a cook, make sure the preparation or skills involved in making the meal are familiar; otherwise this may be more hassle than it’s worth. (I’m thinking single young person who’s culinary skills range toward “what can be microwaved?”)
- Family-friendly? For the single mom or dad with two kids, whose life is run, run, run, the last thing needed is a meal delivery plan featuring recipes with ingredients kids may not welcome. No, it doesn’t have to be chicken fingers and mac-and-cheese, but while White Bean, Lentil and Kale Slaw sounds super healthy, it may not have your kids jumping up and down.