Choose the Best Meal Kit Delivery Service That Suits Your Lifestyle
ByKerstin KuhnJan. 01, 2020
Convenience is a quality many of us look for when it comes to dinnertime. And with the explosion of meal delivery companies, the choice has become seemingly endless. Bridging the gap between home-cooked meals and restaurant takeout, meal delivery services offer something for everybody.
If you’re a busy mom looking for more variety to feed your family, a single guy hoping to sharpen your knife skills, or a hardworking professional lacking the time to cook altogether, there is a service perfectly suited to help mix up your dinner routine.
These meals are healthy, tasty, easy to make, and maybe best of all, you don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike and then battle the crowds at the grocery store. With home meal kits, you just go online and browse the latest recipe ideas, and they come straight to your door ready for you to put together.
So if you’re eager to establish a healthy dinnertime routine that works for your diet, palate and budget, but are overwhelmed by the growing field of competitors out there, we’re here to help you out.
Choose a service that offers enough flexibility for your lifestyle.
Understand the level of difficulty and time needed to complete recipes to avoid disappointment. Some services are easier than others.
Understand the kind of food a service provides before you sign up. If you’re into homey, comfort foods, some of the companies may be too exotic for you and vice versa.
We cooked and ate our way through 10 of the most popular meal delivery services so you can make an informed choice without having to try them all.
Special dietsVegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free
HelloFresh is one of the easiest and most convenient meal kit delivery services. With straightforward recipes and pre-portioned ingredients, all of its meals are done and dusted in 6 steps or less, allowing you to sit down and enjoy your dinner within 30 minutes. What’s more is that the convenience doesn’t end with the meals: HelloFresh’s website is extremely user-friendly, and modifying, cancelling or reactivating a subscription is as easy as pie.
There are 3 different meal plans: the Classic Box, Family Box and Veggie Box, with 17 recipes overall but a somewhat limited choice for the vegetarian option. However, if you’re an omnivore, there is plenty of variety, with an array of proteins, fresh produce and grains. Dishes range from zucchini flatbread to lobster ravioli and Korean beef Bibimbap, offering something to suit everyone’s tastes. Plus there’s a recommended wine pairing with each recipe, which we felt was a nice touch.
The diversity of meal plans may not be as great as other meal kit delivery services but the quality, ease and convenience of HelloFresh is second to none.
Simple and time-efficient recipes
Easy to manage subscriptions
Fresh ingredients need to be used in a timely fashion
Special dietsVegetarian-free, soy-free, dairy-free and more
Price$7.99 or $9.95per serving
Home Chef lets its customers set up a "taste profile” to help it to determine the meals best suited to them. Each week there is a selection of 18 different dishes to choose from, including quick, 5-minute lunches and entrées, and there are also add-ons such as smoothies. Plus there are options for all types of dietary specifications, including nut-free, gluten-free and dairy-free. The recipes are simple and easy to prepare, and some of the ingredients even arrive pre-cooked, which is a huge time saver.
As the name suggests Home Chef’s meals do have a homey feel to them, meaning they’re not overly exotic or ambitious, which may put off some of the more adventurous home cooks. That said Home Chef certainly delivers on its promise to save you time, reduce food waste and bring people together around the dinner table.
Helps you build a “taste profile” to match you with recipes
Chances are, the first time you heard about home meal kits it was through Blue Apron. The company is the most well-known in the industry and has taken leaps and bounds in recent years to try and change how we’re eating at home.
Blue Apron is trying to “pioneer a new model of the food to table journey,” and while that may seem a bit lofty, basically the company is just trying to provide better, more sustainably produced food for all of their clients.
The company wants to help customers learn more about how to cook well at home, and to become more intimately acquainted with their food and the ingredients that go into it. One drawback of Blue Apron si that there are only 8 meals to choose from each week, and only 4 if you’re on the family plan. That said, even with the smaller selection you can experiment with some brilliantly designed and delicious recipes.
Special dietsVegan, quick and easy, lean and clean and many more
If you’re looking for innovative, healthy, tasty and sustainable meals, then Sun Basket is undoubtedly the service for you. The company caters to a variety of diets, including vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free and pescatarian, with 18 different recipes to choose from each week for all of its special plans.
Developed by award-winning San Francisco chef Justine Kelly, Sun Basket’s menus showcase ingredients and flavors from around the world. You may be eating Okinawa flaked tuna and egg stir-fry with arugula-mango salad one night, and Tex-Mex chicken fajitas with sweet-pepper tomato salsa the next. But while seductive and exotic, the recipes are neither gimmicky nor overly complex, but rather they are simple to follow and easy to prepare.
The variety of meal plans and dishes as well as the high-quality of ingredients and focus on sustainability sets Sun Basket apart from many of its competitors. There is a higher price tag for this premium product, but when it comes to interesting, easy-to-make meals and clean, organic eating, Sun Basket won’t let you down.
What’s in the box2-6 mealswith 2,4, or 6 servings each
Special dietsLow-calorie, low-carb
Fresh and Easy’s meals come with oven-ready pans and grill-friendly bags that will leave you with a full stomach and an empty sink. A new service offered by Home Chef, Fresh and Easy offers an even simpler take on the meal delivery kit.
The menu includes about 9 meals a week that focus on hearty comfort foods. Dishes such as pretzel crusted chicken and grilled salmon and salsa come with all the ingredients pre-cut and portioned to save you the leg work. Simply toss them in the oven pan or grill-bag, cook for around 40 minutes, and enjoy a home-cooked meal without the clean up. Although the menu’s heavy on meat and not as diverse as other meal delivery services, it’s simplicity is refreshing and a nice solution for families who’d like a low-maintenance meal with a home-cooked feel.
As a part of the larger Home Chef brand, Fresh and Easy has its ordering and shipping process down to a science. You can order anywhere from 2-6 meals a week for 2, 4, or 6 people and choose from a new menu released every week. Meals take around 40 minutes to cook and include a number of salads in addition to entrees.
EveryPlate is known as being the budget-friendly meal kit delivery service. And if you are watching your spending, there’s no better option than this. Each week, EveryPlate offers a variety of scrumptious meal options that you can throw together yourself. But the best part is the price tag. For less than $5 a meal, you can have healthy, hearty, and home-cooked meals all week long.
EveryPlate is also generous when it comes to portion sizes, so you will never walk away from one of these delicious meals hungry. Meals take about half an hour to prepare, and you don’t need to be Gordon Ramsay to prepare these dishes either. Instructions are clear, colorful, and easy to follow.
Special dietsVegetarian, low-calorie, family-friendly
If you’re a Martha Stewart fan, this service will make you feel like a kid in a candy store. Straight from her cookbooks, Martha & Marley Spoon offers the domestic goddess’ signature recipes each week, with a choice of at least 20 different dishes.
Martha & Marley Spoon caters to a number of specialty diets, including gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, and low-carb, but it’s worth noting that the majority of the recipes do revolve around meat or seafood.
What we enjoyed about Martha & Marley Spoon is that many of the dishes come with unique and flavorful side dishes and garnishes. Grilled steak for instance comes with a tomato-ciabatta panzanella salad; and mustard-glazed salmon is paired with a delightful side of summer corn, snap peas and tomatoes, with a mustard and dill vinaigrette.
Simple to prepare, Martha & Marley Spoon’s meals are both tasty and look great on the plate. If you're looking to step up your cooking game with new techniques and interesting sauces and dressings, this is a delicious choice.
Special dietsCarnivore, pescatarian, paleo, keto and more
Green Chef is your one-stop shop for chef-driven recipes using USDA certified organic, non-GMO, and sustainable ingredients from trusted suppliers. The first certified organic meal kit delivery service, the company has a cooperation with farmers, purveyors and fishermen, bringing you the kind of top quality ingredients you’d otherwise have to hunt for at the farmer’s market.
All of its recipes are designed to be cooked and ready to eat within 30 minutes. Ingredients come pre-portioned and many additional items such as flatbreads, sauces or dressings arrive premade. This convenience simplifies things and makes for a definite time saver,but the downside is you’re not learning how to make them.
Green Chef’s mantra is “you are what you eat,” and its family of meal plans gives you enough choice and flexibility to make up your own mind about who you want to be. Whether that’s an omnivore, carnivore, pescatarian, vegan, vegetarian, paleo or keto, its diverse range of meal plans has your eating habits covered.
Special dietsKeto, diabetes, low carb, low calorie
If you’ve tried to lose weight in the past to no avail, Diet to Go is the right meal delivery service for you. Based on science and research, these meals are each designed to deliver the proper nutritional balance to keep your body healthy while promoting weight loss at the same time.
Diet to Go takes all the hard work out of meal prep, cooking, and dieting by providing you with meals that are already cooked and ready to eat. And since the plans are geared toward healthy eating and weight loss, you don’t even need to count calories or guestimate amounts. Each meal gives you just what you need. Losing weight and eating right has never been easier!
Special dietsDiabetic, menopause, heart-health and more
If you’re having a hard time staying on the path to healthy eating, BistroMD can really help you. By providing tried and tested meals developed by a team of doctors and chefs, the company makes it easy for you to stick to a diet plan without the hassle of worrying about poor food choices and portion control.
BistroMD offers 6 different programs: standard, vegetarian, gluten free, diabetic, heart healthy and menopause. There are 4 meal plans designed specifically for women and men: a 5-day plan, comprised of 5 breakfasts, lunches and dinners (15 meals in total); a 7-day plan, which includes 7 breakfasts and lunches, and 6 dinners, for a total of 20 meals, and 2 custom plans of only lunches and dinners.
For naturally healthy eaters, who enjoy fresh, wholesome foods, BistroMD is probably not the best choice. The meals arrive frozen and must be heated up in the microwave, a bit like airline food. But if you’re at a loss and struggling to shed pounds and need guidance, the service will take the guesswork out of dieting and help you stay the course to meet your weight loss goals.
To rate these meal delivery services and help you to decide which companies are worth your money and kitchen time, we dug in deep so you don’t have to. We ordered and tried out each of these meal kits to assess the user experience online, the flexibility of a subscription, the diversity and variety of meal plans, as well as the quality of the ingredients, recipe accuracy, difficulty level, time, and of course the most important aspect: taste.
Why Try a Meal Delivery Service?
With a meal kit service, you choose recipes each week, are shipped fresh, pre-portioned ingredients along with a step-by-step recipe card, and put it all together to cook up the meal when you’re ready.
This takes care of the hassle of grocery shopping—and of thinking of what to eat—leaving you only to cook up the food. It’s a fresh and convenient way to get familiar with different cooking techniques and seasonings.
Some of the main advantages of meal delivery services are:
1) Creativity and variety
One of the hardest parts of cooking at home is finding inspiration. By the time we get home after work, we put a premium on easy and fast, and even if we have the energy to cook, the lack of ideas can be a deal-breaker. With meal kits, there is virtually an endless variety of recipes that you can instantly work into your repertoire without waiting for inspiration to strike.
2) No shopping, no prep
With meal kits you don’t have to worry about heading out to the grocery store hungry (and coming back with all types of stuff you didn’t need) and wrangling with a long ingredients list. The recipes come broken down into their components for easy cooking and preparing.
3) Mix healthy and convenient
Meal kit delivery services have found a way to combine the speed and convenience of fast food, with the healthy, fresh ingredients of home cooking. You don’t have to be a Michelin-starred chef to whip up the recipes, and the prices are affordable, so you can start phasing out the fast food.
4) Dietary restrictions
If you have dietary specifications other than being vegan—like a gluten allergy, or you’re abiding by a low-carb diet—meal kits can be a great way to help you break the monotony. Most companies have special meal plans that are suited for specific diets, so you don’t need to feel so limited by your dietary limitations.
5) Weight loss and dieting
Most meal kit companies print the nutritional information online, so if you’re on a diet, it can be an easy way to track what you’re eating. Some companies will offer low-calorie dishes and low-carb dishes designed for dieters.
How to Choose the Right Meal Delivery Service for You
The question that stops most people in their tracks is, which meal delivery service is right for me? With so many options out there, placing that first order can be overwhelming. As with any decision, when picking a meal delivery service, you'll want to look at your particular needs and circumstances to narrow down the selection. We’ll take you through the top questions you should consider when choosing the right meal delivery service for your needs.
Are you tied to any dietary restrictions?
Are you looking to lose weight?
Are you cooking for kids?
Are you cooking for one?
Are you trying to save money?
Are you new to cooking or do you struggle with cooking?
How much does the environment factor into your daily decisions?
These types of questions will help lead you to the meal delivery service that will best suit you. Let’s take a look.
1) Are You Tied to Any Dietary Restrictions?
If you have an allergy to nuts, are staying away from gluten, or are vegetarian or vegan—you’ll need to make sure the meal delivery service you choose offers meal plans that suit your needs.
Some meal delivery providers like Sun Basket will let you select a meal plan tailored to your dietary preferences—be it paleo, diabetes-friendly or vegan. Services like Martha & Marley Spoon label dishes clearly so you’ll know what you can order and what to stay away from, and you select exactly which ingredients you like and don’t like so your meal options will be tailored according to your preferences.
Whether you prefer a specialty meal plan or want to pick dishes from a full list of options is entirely up to you.
2) Are You Looking to Lose Weight?
Another way to narrow down the options is if you are looking to lose weight. Fast and convenient generally translate to unhealthy, so you might be concerned with the ingredients and cooking methods of some meal delivery services.
Health-focused meal delivery services won’t just offer you better quality ingredients and recipes, but they’ll also offer you tools, instructions, and support to guide you in your weight loss journey. Pick from services that are focused on portion control, calorie reduction, and healthy menu planning.
3) Are You Cooking for Kids?
Ordering meals when there are kids in the house is a totally different ballgame. Not only will you require more food, but you'll also want kid-friendly options and lots of them.
Chances are you don’t want to be standing in the kitchen for 3 hours preparing a meal every day. If you’re concerned with time-management and kid-friendly recipes, choose from the best meal delivery services for families with kids.
4) Are You Cooking for One?
What if it’s just you—you don’t have too many preferences, and you are pretty flexible with your food requirements? Well then, you can easily go with just about any meal delivery service with a good reputation that delivers to your area.
If you’re cooking dinner for one, keep in mind that most companies offer a 2-serving minimum per recipe. Of course, that allows you to invite a friend for dinner or save the tasty leftovers for the next day’s lunch.
5) Are You Trying to Save Money?
The idea of meal delivery sounds great, but to some people, all they'll hear is the cha-ching of the cash register. While some services charge an arm and a leg for choosing, preparing, and delivering your meals, there are still several options that will fit even the tightest budget.
Meal delivery companies like Dinnerly charge just $5 per portion for all meals. You can also opt for a higher priced service and take advantage of special offers to keep the price down.
Get 50% off your first order with Sun Basket
6) Are You New to Cooking or Do You Struggle with Cooking?
Okay, getting the ingredients is nice and all, but if you're the type who can burn water, meal prep can be intimidating. If this sounds like you, you may want to choose a meal delivery service that will walk you through every step of the cooking process—or better yet—do all the work for you!
Companies like Home Chef focus on offering tasty meals while keeping the prep work and difficulty level to a minimum. Most recipes will take less than 30 minutes to prepare, and the step-by-step recipe cards will walk you through it all.
If you’ve decided to cut out cooking altogether, services like Freshly or Balance MD will deliver ready-made meals to your door. All you’re left to do is heat and enjoy!
7) How Much Does the Environment Factor into Your Daily Decisions?
Do you care about your carbon imprint? Do you recycle your bottles, sort your papers, and collect the deposit on your cans? If sustainability and environmental awareness is a priority for you, you’ll want to go with a meal delivery service that shares these values.
Ordering a meal kit every week can mean a lot of waste. There’s the carton box, the plastic packaging, the ice packs, and everything else used to deliver your ingredients in a convenient and organized way. So, if your meal kit company doesn’t take recycling seriously, you’ll be asking for some green guilt.
Luckily, most meal delivery services have earth-conscious values that make it possible to enjoy their services without causing too much harm to the environment.
With HelloFresh, for example, all packaging is fully recyclable—from the insulating liners to the ice packs and the meal separators.
What Types of Meal Delivery Services Are There?
With the growth of the meal delivery market has come an increase in specialty purveyors focusing on anything from vegan to kid-friendly or gluten-free. No matter what your food preferences or allergies may be, there is a service that will meet your needs.
Vegetarian Meal Services
While meat and fish still dominate, most companies now provide decent vegetarian options. And the variety of ingredients and recipes offered is pretty broad. From Asian inspired noodle or rice dishes to Indian vegetable curries, Mexican quesadillas or Mediterranean pasta dishes, many of the vegetarian options will leave even the most ardent of meat eaters satisfied.
Vegan Meal Services
Anybody living a plant-based life knows it’s not always easy. Choosing a meal delivery company that caters to vegans is therefore a smart choice. Recipes feature seasonal ingredients, innovative sauces and novel meat substitutes such as jackfruit, seitan or tempeh, keeping things interesting, environmentally sustainable and healthy.
Gluten-Free Meal Services
There is a growing number of companies delivering fresh or frozen gluten-free meals. While some follow stringent enough preparation practices to make them GFCO certified and safe for those suffering from celiac disease, others admit they’re aimed at consumers who choose to eliminate gluten. Be sure you know what you’re ordering.
Organic Meal Services
The benefits of organic living are plenty when it comes to healthfulness and reducing our impact on the environment. And if you want to increase your intake of organic homemade foods, meal delivery companies make it easier than ever to eat well without the hassle, offering organic produce and antibiotic and hormone free meats.
Weight Loss Meal Services
Just like anything else that’s inherently good for you, sticking to a healthy eating regime can be a challenge. That’s why weight loss focused meal deliveries can really work for you. Chefs and nutritionists collaborate to design a structured menu of meals that will help you stay the course to meet your health goals.
Paleo Meal Services
Eating like our Stone Age ancestors has become a firm part of the 21st century’s dieting landscape. But following paleo’s rigid rules can be difficult. That’s where paleo-focused meal delivery services have your back. They take the guesswork out of what is and isn’t allowed and make it easy and hassle free to stick to the regime.
Kid-friendly Meal Services
For time-crunched parents trying to put interesting new meals on the table every evening can quickly turn into a nightmare. Fortunately there are plenty of kid-friendly meal delivery services, with healthy recipes that are both interesting enough to appeal to grown ups and yummy enough so that little ones will gobble them up.
Diabetic Meal Services
Nearly 10% of Americans live with diabetes and if you’re among them, you know that it is vital to keep on top of your diet. A number of companies offer meal plan customization to meet American Diabetes Association (ADA) standards, helping you to manage your food and calorie intake and stick to a regular eating schedule.
Place Your Order
Of course, make sure the service you choose delivers to your area before getting too excited. Then pick the best service that offers the right combination of features and food for your lifestyle. There’s something for everyone, so get on the meal delivery service bandwagon, and find out what it’s like to eat healthier and easier today!
ByKerstin KuhnOct. 23, 2019
Kerstin Kuhn is an award-winning journalist and food writer, who has traveled and eaten her way around the world and written about it. She is also the founder and CEO of Little Foodie Club, the California baby food delivery company that is revolutionizing the way babies eat and learn about healthy food.