How Does Meal Delivery Work?
Once you select and sign up for a food subscription service, you'll need to choose the number of servings and meals you wish to receive each week. Next, you'll be directed to a page of curated recipes based on your tastes and selected package.
Search through the meals and check how much prep time each recipe requires. Unlike an ordinary grocery delivery, a meal delivery kit provides pre-portioned ingredients and instructions on preparing the recipes. Heat-and-eat services require zero prep and are ready to devour after a quick warmup in the oven or microwave.
What Are the Advantages of Meal Kit Delivery Services?
Using a meal kit delivery service has quite a few advantages, including:
- Convenience: Busy schedules can make it challenging to prepare meals. Meal delivery services send all the ingredients you need for each recipe straight to your door. There's no need to leave the house or plan what you'll make each week. These kits also often come with easy-to-follow instructions.
- Waste reduction: A survey by LendingTree revealed that 31% of respondents overspend "almost all the time," even when prepared with a shopping list. Meal delivery kits are complete with everything you need to make a meal, allowing you to purchase the exact amount of items required, and avoid unused produce going bad in the fridge.
- Variety: Meal delivery services spice things up with an endless variety of recipes. Try several new ones per week to keep things exciting.
- Portion control: Each year, 30%-40% of food is wasted in the US, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Meal kits make it easy to reduce waste with pre-portioned, balanced meals.
- Health: A survey by Finder shows that 74% of American adults each spend $4,073 a year on convenience foods instead of fixing a home-cooked meal. Meal kits can provide an accessible option to order healthy food on a budget.
- Diet-specific plans: Certain meal kits can also cater to dietary needs, like low-sodium, low-calorie, or low-glycemic options. These are useful to those looking to lose weight or who have heart conditions or diabetes. Meals are not often labeled with this dietary information in most restaurants or grocery stores.
- Time-saving: Ingredients are already pre-measured, and recipes take roughly 30 minutes to make. Fully prepared meal kits only require an oven or microwave to heat them in under three minutes.
What Do You Get in a Meal Kit Delivery?
The content in each delivery varies depending on the meal kit you select and your chosen plan.
However, a standard kit includes the following:
Packaging: Most services deliver kits in a reusable or recyclable insulated box with ice packs to keep ingredients fresh or slightly frozen.
Ingredients: In each package, you'll find all the ingredients you need to make the meal you chose. This might include fresh produce, proteins, spices, sauces, and marinades. Ingredients are pre-measured and sometimes even pre-chopped for you to assemble and cook.
Recipe card: A meal delivery kit usually contains a recipe card with simple instructions and visuals. You get all the nutritional information of the meal, as well as information on how you can modify the recipe for different dietary restrictions.
Choosing the Right Meal Delivery Service for Your Needs
Several factors play a role in selecting the meal kit delivery service that works best for you. Take into account your budget per serving, dietary needs, and whether you'd prefer ready-to-eat meals or kits that require preparation. From there, consider other factors such as ingredient sourcing, sustainability, and available recipes.
Prepared Meal Services
The best prepared meal delivery services can cut out prep time with pre-cooked meals to your door. This makes them ideal for a new diet, juggling a busy schedule, or devoting more time to life outside of the kitchen.
Vegetarian Meal Services
Vegetarian meal delivery services are the perfect choice for vegetarians or those who want to integrate more veggies into their diet. For example, Veestro provides fresh, chef-curated meals with clean ingredients free of meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey.
Vegan Meal Services
Vegan meal delivery services like Green Chef offer plans free of animal and animal-derived products like eggs, milk, cheese, and honey. Purple Carrot is also fully vegan, consisting entirely of plant-based ingredients. A plant-based diet may include meat substitutes such as tofu, or utilize ingredients derived from vegetables.
Gluten-Free Meal Services
HelloFresh and Sunbasket are ideal for people who struggle with gluten-induced digestive discomfort. These and other gluten-free meal delivery services also help with Celiac, a disease that causes gluten (the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye) to damage the small intestine's lining, leading to medical complications over time.
Organic Meal Services
Organic meal delivery services like Freshology offer meal kits made with organic ingredients and cleaner produce. This means that ingredients come from certified organic suppliers that undergo annual compliance inspections. They have stricter guidelines that don't allow for pesticides and herbicides that may harm the immune system when consumed regularly.
Weight Loss Meal Services
Weight loss meal delivery services can be provided by Nutrisystem and Diet-to-Go with different diet plans limiting carbs and/or calories. They're helpful in keeping you satiated without overeating—a major deterrent to weight loss. Diet-to-Go has a keto-friendly package that replaces carbs with fat to speed up metabolism, whereas Nutrisystem offers higher protein, lower calorie meals.
Keto Meal Services
Keto meal plans take a low-carb, high-fat diet approach to replace carbohydrates with healthy lipids to help your body burn fat instead of sugar for energy.
Fresh and Easy makes it more convenient to follow a keto diet by providing low-carb foods for every meal.
Paleo Meal Services
Paleo meal delivery services provide meals based on the concept that we should eat the types of foods that early humans ate. These mainly include meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit and exclude dairy, grains, and processed food, which our ancestors didn't have access to.
Home Chef lets you enjoy paleo-friendly meals by customizing your meals' proteins and salads to adhere to these guidelines.
Diabetic Meal Services
BistroMD and Magic Kitchen are two of the best diabetic meal delivery services that can help you better manage blood sugar levels through their low-sugar, low-carb meal plans.
What Do Meal Delivery Services Cost?
Meal delivery service prices vary from $4 to $12 per serving, depending on how many meals you order a week, portion size, and how the ingredients are sourced.
Since companies offer different pricing structures that can appear complex, the best way to compare meal kits is to look at how much each serving costs.
Cheapest Meal Delivery Services
Of the most budget-friendly meal delivery service companies, EveryPlate has the lowest prices at $4.99/serving across the board. However, HelloFresh—one of the best meal delivery services we reviewed—charges $7.49 to $8.99/serving, which is still competitive compared to most meal kit services.
Expensive and High-End Meal Delivery Services
For those with more refined palates, Green Chef provides high-end meals ranging between $11.99 and $12.99. These feature USDA-certified organic produce ingredients and a wide variety of recipes. They also source the best organic produce from local farms.
Meal Delivery Shipping Cost
Most companies will waive the shipping cost if your overall order is above a certain total. For instance with Plated, shipping costs $7.95/order but is waived if your order totals more than $60. With Home Chef, shipping is free if your order exceeds $45.
How to Choose and Compare Meal Delivery Services
There are many meal delivery services available, each with unique offerings. Some present only gluten-free or vegan options, whereas others are more family-friendly with homestyle dishes for everyone to enjoy.
Before ordering a meal delivery kit, there are several things you need to consider:
- Budget: Choose a meal delivery service that fits the desired price range you want to spend on weekly meals.
- Dietary needs: Consider whether the service caters to your dietary preferences and needs. For example, some meal kits let you filter out recipes with dairy, gluten, or nuts, or let you choose an entirely keto or low-carb plan. Others are solely focused on providing hearty meals on a budget, without catering to allergens or specific dietary needs.
- Servings required: How many people will be eating with you? Take into account whether you'll have nights out, travel plans, or extra dinner guests. If you want an extra serving for lunch, you can prepare two servings for dinner.
- Delivery area: Not all services deliver to every part of the US, so check whether your area is covered. Most meal kit services ship to all states except Hawaii and Alaska.
- Preparation time: Consider whether you want to spend time cooking and improving your culinary skills by learning new recipes and techniques. Otherwise, opt for fully prepared meals that only require reheating.
- Nutrition: Ensure your selected meal delivery service meets your nutritional or wellness goals. For example, if you want to increase your protein intake or decrease your carb intake, check if these options are available.
- Meal kit reviews: Meal delivery service reviews like those above can give you a sense of what it's like to use the service, its reliability, and overall quality. Read them carefully and check for patterns in complaints or compliments.
Who Uses Meal Kits?
Customers may opt into meal delivery kits to simplify meal time. They could be busy families with no time to cook, want to experience new flavors, and/or wish to learn new culinary skills. Since many meal delivery kits cater to specific diets, consumers are more likely to stick to a particular diet and improve their nutrition, according to a study by researchers Huichen Zhu and Ruopeng An.
More Meal Delivery Services and Companies We Reviewed
Aside from our list of meal kit delivery services, our certified dietitians and nutritionists reviewed other meal kit services, including the following:
- My Patriot Supply - Best for enjoying hearty meals on camping trips
- Dinnerly - Best for low-budget meals
- Splendid Spoon - Best for gluten-free and vegan meals
- Fresh N Lean - Best for USDA organic, heat-and-eat meals
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Meal Deliveries: Worth it in 2023?
How much time do you dedicate to ensuring you and your family eat satisfying and nourishing meals? Meal kit delivery services are an ideal way to save time and money, allowing you to do the things you enjoy. Plus, with pre-portioned, balanced meals, a meal subscription plan won't lead to cutting corners on overall nutrition.