Meal Prep Kits: Which is right for you?

Hate Grocery Shopping? Get Your Meals Delivered!

The hype around meal kit delivery services has caused a plethora of different companies to “hang up a shingle” and add their version into the mix. There are currently over 150 meal kit companies in the United States. As the competition grows, you, as the customer, benefit off higher standards of food quality, sustainability practices, customer service, and a greater variety of food and meal options. 

What you can expect with most meal kit subscriptions:

  • Nowadays it is standard for all the participating companies allow you to change the delivery day, skip a week, or cancel your subscription at any time
  • Ingredients arrive in an insulated box; no signature required
  • Pre-portioned food minimizes food waste
  • Printed recipe cards are always included – save these for future meals if you’d like to make them again
  • A mobile app is usually available that allows you to adjust orders on the go
  • Ingredients will stay fresh for a maximum of 4-5 days in your refrigerator
  • Salt, pepper, olive/vegetable oil, butter and eggs (and sometimes sugar and flour) are to be supplied at the customers expense

So how do you pick the perfect service that fits your lifestyle?Everyone has different dietary needs that cater to their health/physical goals, food intolerances/sensitivities, allergies, and of course, food preferences. And if you’re trying to cater to the preferences of a family of picky kids and/or partners, the challenge to find a fitting service can be even more difficult. 

As is expected, there are a few necessary items the services don’t provide. 

For all recipes you’ll need running water to wash all the produce (highly recommended as you never know what exactly the produce has been through beforehand) and to cook grains/lentils/pasta. You’ll also want a full-size refrigerator because if you order several meals at a time, your fridge will be fully stocked (sorry dorm-bound college kids!). 

Appropriate cooking utensils and cooking ware are necessary for certain recipes; be sure to identify the equipment you’ll need on the company’s website before you order. A knife/cutting board, mixing bowls, oven/baking pan to bake or broil vegetables, a grater for grating cheese/carrots, a potato masher, zester, whisk, pot/strainer for pasta, a sauce pan, and any other tools/appliances the recipe calls for. Measuring spoons/cups are sometimes needed if they send you a packet of seasoning that you have to portion out and use at different steps in the recipe. 

TIP: if you have a rice cooker or pressure cooker, it’s much easier to make loose grains/lentils that way instead of using a saucepan (as they instruct in the directions).

In picking the best service for you, there are several variables to take into account. Some of the most popular services have the least amount of meal options to choose from. And some of the newer services have less of a reliable track record, but can cater to the exact dietary parameters you’re looking for. And of course, cost is a factor; the price can range from $5.99-$15.00 per serving. I’ve had experience with a few services myself and am able to provide first-hand testimonials for those. 

Here’s a breakdown of 5 popular meal kit delivery services:

  1. HelloFresh

My unaffiliated favorite. HelloFresh offers 3 different meal plans:  the “Veggie Plan” ($8.99/serving), the “Classic Plan” ($8.99/serving), and the “Family Plan” ($7.87/serving). You can choose from 2 or 4 servings/box and 2, 3, or 4 boxes/week (depending on what meal plan you choose). All seafood is sustainably sourced/ocean friendly and there is also a wine bottle delivery option.

If you’re looking for simple meals with a tasty twist, this is the meal kit service you’ll want. Some of the recipes you’ll find are astonishingly simple, such as quesadillas, cheesy pasta, or roasted chicken/pork, but they always add a little special ingredient that totally transforms the dish, such as adding cherry/apricot jam on pork or adding their own spice blends into the mix. Occasionally you’ll get a dish that isn’t innately exciting, but since the recipe calls for a lot of cheese, salty stock concentrate, and/or sour cream, it tastes more delicious than usual. I’m not a big dairy person, but I think I ate more cheese and sour cream through HelloFresh than I would normally agree to…

All recipes come with a nutritional information card, where you get a full nutrition facts panel for each dish per serving (as packaged and as prepared). Some dishes can have as low as 480 calories to as many as 1210 calories/serving.

There is usually a protein, vegetable, and starchy portion. Many of their receipts are tagged with “global eats”, “spicy”, “gourmet”, “calorie smart”, “20-minute meal”, “hall of fame”, or “family feast”, so that you have a general idea of what you’re signing up for when you order them. The only aspect I didn’t like was that there were fewer options if you went with the Veggie Plan or the Family Plan. The Classic Plan would be the way to go if you’re looking for variety of choices.

You may find yourself being inspired by these recipes. I hadn’t heard of zaatar seasoning until I made the “Freekeh Feast Bowl”, but since then I bought it myself and put it on roasted vegetables all the time. I’ve also learned new skills, such as making thick sauce and gravy from scratch.

  • Plated

This is one I haven’t tried myself, but it stuck out to me because they have an incredible number of recipes to choose from (and optional desserts!). Choose from 20 recipes per week that are tagged with various specifications to fit your needs. Just like HelloFresh, there are filters that help you choose; “meat”, “seafood”, “vegetarian”, “low-calorie” (<600 calories/serving), “low carbohydrate” (no specifications on how they categorize low-carb), “no gluten ingredients”, “stove-top only”, and “spicy” are ones I’ve seen on their website. Calories per serving can range from 350 calories to 1100 calories per serving, so choose wisely! 

Plated gives you a bit more flexibility in options than HelloFresh; choose from 2, 3, or 4 servings/box and 2, 3, or 4 boxes/week and you can mix and match meals from any category. This service claims to not use pork/poultry raised with antibiotics, beef with added hormones, and they choose organic, local, and sustainably sourced fish when possible.

Ingredients are handled in a facility that processes milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soy, gluten, and sulfites. Calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrates per serving is also provided (does not include any ingredients you may use from home, such as oil).

  • Marley Spoon

Marley Spoon is one of the more basic meal kit services. It lets you choose from about 10 recipes each week for either 2 or 4 people. Unlike the other services, this one can only cater to two diets: regular (omnivore) and vegetarian. Usually 3 to 4 vegetarian options are in the mix, but they are mostly meat/poultry based. There are tags for each meal, such as “kid-friendly”, “gluten-free”, “under 30 minutes”, “meat”, “poultry”, “seafood”, “one-pot meal”, “low-calorie”, “low-carb”, and “healthy” (although there are no clear guidelines as to what they constitute as “healthy”). For each recipe, there are always 6 simple steps that anyone can follow. All recipes come with the allergen information. Calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrate per serving information is also provided.

Knowing what Martha Stewart is capable of in the kitchen, I had falsely high expectations for this one. With her expertise, I was hoping to be turned into a talented chef, but I didn’t learn any new cooking skills that I didn’t already know. To be fair I only tried it for one week (3 different recipes), mostly because the recipes were surprisingly bland and only seasoned with salt and pepper. No unique spice blends were used in the ones I chose, so none of the meals were as flavorful as I had hoped. Since no non-traditional ingredients were used, the meals felt very familiar and were easy to prepare without any guess work. But if you’re looking to use ingredients you wouldn’t otherwise try out and new tastes to excite your pallet, this meal kit is not for you. 

On the upside though, they claim to favor grass-fed beef, artisanal vinegars, and seasonal produce. You can also plan up to 5 weeks in advance. The 4 person plan starts at $8.70/serving for 4 meals per week and the 2 person plan starts at $9.50/serving for 4 meals perweek. 

  • Blue Apron

Blue Apron was another service I really enjoyed. They were one of the first meal kit companies to establish themselves, so they have a great track record. Choose from about 5 to 8 dishes each week for 2 or 4 people (and choose 2, 3, or 4 recipes per week depending on how many people need to be fed). Unique flavors and ingredients are utilized in each recipe. Just like HelloFresh, Blue Apron inspired me to cook with less-common foods like delicata squash and capers, put raisins in my couscous, add Calabrian Chile paste in my pasta sauce, and sprinkle Padano cheese on my chicken. They even used their own “weeknight hero spice blend” for one of the recipes, which you can buy separately from their website if you are a fan. 

Dishes can take anywhere from 25 minutes to 50 minutes to prepare, so choose wisely for your own time constraints. The only tag you’ll see on these recipes are for the vegetarian options (about 3 per week), so if you have any other meal specifications that you would like to stick to, you’ll have to click on the recipe and navigate it yourself.

Blue Apron also offers a Whole30 optionthat is dairy-free, grain-free, no added sugar, and paleo-friendly. The 2 person plan starts at $9.99/serving and the 4 person plan starts at $7.49/serving. In the “Cookbook” section of their website, you can find a nutrition facts label for each dish (as packaged and as prepared). Calories usually hover around 500-800 calories per serving. All recipes show their Weight Watchers Freestyle points, if that intrigues you.

  • Green Chef

Green Chef is all about choosing exclusively organic foods, non-GMO, antibiotics, growth hormones, or steroids, and makes a point of being eco-friendly with their packaging, offsetting their carbon emissions from all their operations, and partnering with food manufacturers that reinvest in the environment. Compared to other services, Green Chef has the most options if you’re cooking for 2 people: keto, paleo, lean and clean, omnivore, heart smart, vegan, Mediterranean, vegetarian, gluten-free, and pescatarian meals are available. If you opt for the family plan (4 people), then you can choose from an omnivore or carnivore plan. 

Each recipe is ready in about 30 minutes and they look fairly easy to prepare based off the recipe cards. All the nutrition information is online in the form of a nutrition facts panel. Meals cost between $10.99 to $12.99 per serving (doesn’t include $6.99 shipping and handling per box).

And if you’re conscious about the environment (as we should all be!), do look out for what the company’s website says about their packaging. Jenny Tato works as a Global Program Development Associate at TerraCycle, a company focused on providing zero waste solutions to our waste streams. She says, “While companies will tout their products as recyclable consumers should take heed that this doesn’t mean that their products will be recycled. Companies will use this tactic known as greenwashing with terms such as “eco-friendly” to appeal to eco-conscious consumers. The best way to reduce your environmental footprint is to reduce the amount of plastic packaging you buy.” Most delivery services will give you step by step instructions on how to dispose of their packaging. For example, most companies use ice packs where you have to empty out the gel contents into the trash before recycling the rest.

If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for with these 5 meal kit delivery services, don’t fret. Here are a few others that are available:

  Why choose them Additional Information Price
Freshly 30+ meal options per week. Pre-cooked (never frozen). 100% certified gluten free by GIG. Peanut-free No artificial ingredients, hydrogenated oils, refined sugars,
artificial preservatives
Nothing off their list of 85 banned ingredients
Starts at $8.99/serving
Purple Carrot 100% plant based; vegetarian and vegan options TB12 Performance Meal option (vegan, low soy, gluten-tree, and high protein) Starts at $12/serving
Home Chef Breakfast/dessert/fruit/smoothie optionsDiet options: vegetarian, carbohydrate-conscious and calorie-consciousSome options with no nuts/soy/wheat/milk Can add on fruit, smoothies, etc.Plan up to 5 weeks ahead. Offers a “premium meal” each week. Can customize some meals Starts at $7.99/serving
Terra’s Kitchen Mediterranean-focused meals. Pre-chopped ingredients. Accommodates several dietary restrictions. Can buy individual ingredients from their website. Diet options: paleo, gluten-free,vegetarian, vegan. May choose salads, snacks, and smoothies Delivery vessel can be reused up to 100 times. Thorough Nutrition facts. Proteins are non-GMO, hormone/antibiotic-free, seafood is sustainably sourced. Ingredients are organic when possible Starts at $6.99/serving
Daily Harvest Smoothies, soups, harvest bowls, lattes, oat bowls, and chia bowls Food is frozen to ensure produce ripeness/freshness Starts at $6.99/cup
Gobble <15-minute cooking time. Breakfast, lunch meal prep options. Diet options: gluten free, dairy free, low carb, and vegetarian Voted #1 meal kit by Parents Magazine Starts at $11.99/serving
Every Plate 5 choices/week.  Low-cost Suppliers vary by week and region Starts at $4.99/serving
Sun Basket Diet options: gluten free, paleo, diabetes friendly, Mediterranean, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, lean and clean  Emphasis on ethical sourcing of animal productsUse 99% USDA certified organic produceMeat/poultry is antibiotic and hormone freeSeafood is wild-caught, never farmed Starts at $10.99/serving
Peachdish

Farm fresh/local produce.  Southern cooking style.  Can order up to 12 servings per meal. Diet options: vegetarian, no added gluten, and superfood menu options

No hidden or artificial ingredients. Sustainable and seasonal sourcing Starts at $12.50/serving

 

I hope you have a strong backbone for cancelling subscription services over the phone. Many of these services require you to call them to cancel your subscription. Easy, right? Just wait a couple weeks and you’ll find a random number attempting to call you… surprise! It’s the delivery service trying to get you to re-subscribe. Subscriber retention is a major issue with all of these services and they will try their darndest to keep you from leaving them. As always, never overlook the terms and conditions before you order.

If you are like me and actually enjoy grocery shopping, just look up the free recipes that these companies post online. They usually come with a complete nutritional facts label and everything else you need to make the meal, except for the physical ingredients!

-Miriam Eackloff, RDN

 

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