What to cook for dinner? For people who are busy, culinary-challenged or looking for a simple solution -- or just a break from shopping -- meal kit delivery services aim to solve that problem.
There are many options available, from organic meal kits to those aimed at weight loss at a variety of price points. Of course, meal kit delivery services aren't cheap. For some, the cost per serving hovers around $10 and can be a similar expense to a takeout meal for a family. (According to the USDA, a moderate food budget for a family or four, including two parents and two kids -- one between ages 6 and 8, and one between 9 and 11 -- is $140.90 a week.)
But if you accept the added expense of meal kits, we'll get right to it and offer up what's on the menu, from the more expensive meal kit delivery services to the cheaper ones. And for dessert? We'll take a look at some pros and cons of using these services.
-- Purple Carrot.
-- Sun Basket.
-- Blue Apron.
-- Home Chef.
Best for:Vegans. This meal kit delivery service is also best for people who are financially comfortable and not living paycheck to paycheck.
Cost: $9.99 to $11.99 per serving, depending how much you order. You'll get two to four servings and three to four meals a week. There is a discount the first week that should knock $20 off the price. That's a typical benefit of meal kit delivery services: They tend to discount heavily on the first order or two, so you can get a sense of whether the meals are worth the money and if you enjoy them. It's also worth noting that while the price may seem high, the shipping is free.
Average time to prepare a meal: Generally about 30 to 40 minutes.
Types of meals you'll get: Vegan meals, which means no animal products such as milk, butter and eggs. The vegan meals rotate every week, and so you never know what you'll get, but you will certainly find nutritional dishes. They include:
-- Dilly carrot bisque with baked cashew cheese and arugula salad.
-- Harissa roasted butternut squash with buttered dates and crunchy quinoa pilaf.
-- Mushroom fajita bowls with Spanish rice and mango salsa.
Best for: People with very specific diets who are also financially comfortable. This isn't a cheap service.
Cost: Prices vary. Expect to pay at least $9.99 per serving and probably a bit more. If you're getting a meal kit, you'll be required to get two meals per week (or more). If you get a "fresh and ready" meal (ready in as little as six minutes), you're required to get four meals.
Average time to prepare a meal:Six to 30 minutes.
Types of meals you'll get: Sun Basket specializes in healthy foods, which is not to say that the other services are unhealthy. Plans feature meals for carb-conscious, gluten-free, pescatarian, lean and clean (whole foods with less than 600 calories a serving), diabetes-friendly and Mediterranean diets, among others. A few example meals:
-- Curried pork with roasted root vegetables and apple-ginger mostarda.
-- Stuffed bell peppers with quinoa tabbouleh and tahini-yogurt dressing.
-- Cheesy chicken tetrazzini with braised kale.
Best for: Like the other meal kit delivery services on this list, Blue Apron is best for people who want variety in their meals and enjoy cooking. This meal kit plan is a bit more affordable, but if is saving money a priority, you may fare better at the grocery store.
Cost: $8.99 to $9.99 per serving, depending how many meals you order. But you'll probably find, at least in the beginning, prices slashed around 50%. And shipping is free.
Average time to prepare a meal: Around 25 to 45 minutes.
Types of meals you'll get: The meals are always changing, but some of the dishes recently included:
-- Pan-seared steaks and hot honey biscuits with glazed shallot and sauteed kale.
-- Pimento cheeseburgers with roasted potatoes.
-- Seared shrimp and orzo pasta.
Best for: Probably a family whose finances are squarely middle-class . We're starting to get to prices that feel a little more budget-friendly, at least if you compare the prices to what you would spend on takeout.
Cost: $7.99 per serving, though if you buy more, the price goes down a bit. You'll also probably get a significant discount on the first order. Shipping prices vary, but there's a good chance that the first order will be free.
Average time to prepare a meal: Between 20 to 50 minutes per meal.
Types of meals you'll get: As with all of these services, the meals are always changing. Some recent menu items included:
-- Meatballs with bulgogi sauce, plus roasted carrots, ginger rice and sriracha cream.
-- Spaghetti with Brussels sprouts and parmesan, sprinkled with panko and chives.
-- Blackened chicken and cauliflower grits, with lemon pan sauce and roasted green beans.
Best for: Likely someone whose finances are firmly middle-class.
Cost: Standard meals start at $6.99 per serving; meal types, however, vary by price. If you spend $49.95 on an order, shipping is free; otherwise, it's $9.99.
Average time to prepare a meal: Generally no longer than 30 minutes, though some meals can take up to 45 minutes.
Types of meals you'll get: They run the gamut from teriyaki steak and chicken tacos to baked chicken and pork tenderloin. Home Chef offers a lot of variety: Depending what you choose, you might have one of those 45-minute meals to make, but you also can request oven-ready meals that basically mean you put some fresh ingredients on a baking tray and put it in the oven. Meal examples include:
-- Chicken with peppercorn-mushroom gravy and truffle mashed potatoes.
-- Honey-mustard pork meatloaf with red cabbage and Brussels sprouts.
-- Cashew tofu with broccolini and sweet teriyaki sauce.
Best for: Families on a budget.
Cost: $4.99 a serving. There is an $8.99 shipping fee per box.
Average time to prepare a meal: About 30 minutes or less.
The types of meals you'll get: It's almost as if this company decided to take some of the criticism of the other services out there -- that typical meal kits are too expensive and hard to prepare -- and went in the other direction. You'll get a lot of comfort foods with EveryPlate, but that doesn't mean unhealthy fare. Some of the recently available meals include:
-- Smothered and stuffed meatloaves with potato wedges.
-- Caramelized zucchini linguine.
-- Crispy blue cheese chicken with bacon and chive mashed potatoes and roasted broccoli.
Best for: Families on a budget.
Cost: $4.69 and up per serving. There is an $8.99 shipping fee per box.
Average time to prepare a meal: Generally 30 minutes or less.
The types of meals you'll get: Dinnerly bills itself as "the affordable meal delivery service," though they are pretty close in pricing to EveryPlate and Home Chef. They also specialize in offering meals for picky kids. As for what you get, some of the meals on their website include:
-- Creamy chicken and spinach pasta bake.
-- Cheesy pizza burger with oven fries.
-- Kung pao chicken and udon noodle stir-fry.
Advantages of Meal Kit Delivery Services
There are a lot of advantages to employing meal kit delivery services. Here are some pluses.
They can make preparing homemade food easier. "These meal kit options tend to be easy to prepare and help to make cooking and meal planning far less cumbersome than starting from scratch on your own," says Mary Wirtz, a registered dietitian based in Rochester, Minnesota, and a consultant for the parenting site MomLovesBest.com.
The food is usually healthier. Many of the companies that provide meal kit options offer calorie-, sodium- and carbohydrate-controlled meals for those who are interested, Wirtz says. In addition, "These meal kits can be a massive strategy in helping to control your portion sizes and calorie intake if weight management is your goal," Wirtz says. "Many individuals that utilize these meal delivery kits are less apt to order takeout, fast food and other higher-calorie dining options and prepare these calorie-controlled meals at home."
They offer variety and convenience. Tricia Rosen of Andover, Massachusetts, says she sends HelloFresh meal kits to her elderly mother every week since she doesn't drive anymore, and "it's a way for her to get good quality meals."
Rosen, who owns the financial firm Access Financial Planning LLC, says that there's a bit of prep work involved, but the directions are easy to follow and the portion sizes are pretty good.
"It is pricey, but as a financial advisor I understand that the answer from a purely quantitative standpoint is not always the best answer," Rosen says. "In this case, the quality of life is well worth the extra cost, and it's the greatest thing since sliced bread."
Drawbacks of Meal Kit Delivery Services
They can be expensive. Meal kit delivery services can get pricey from a cost-per-serving standpoint, plus there may be shipping charges.
Meal kits raise environmental concerns. Some critics suggest that it's not great for the environment to have your food shipped, perhaps from across the country, and there's all that packaging that the food comes in. On the other hand, advocates for meal kit delivery services point out that with precisely measured portions, meal kits can help reduce food waste.
You still have to cook. For all the excitement around how meal kit delivery services can make your life easy, you still will have to spend some serious time in the kitchen. For some people, that's a plus. Cooking is a good skill to have, and if you're preparing a few complex dinners a week with a spouse or kids, that can be some really nice bonding time.
But if you don't like to cook, you may find yourself drifting away from meal kit delivery services and circling back to takeout meals.