How Meal Delivery Works
For various reasons, many of us wish we could cook at home more. However, trips to the grocery store or trying a new recipe can be overwhelming, especially when you don’t already know how to cook, or simply don’t have the time. Restaurant and fast food meals are tasty and pre-prepared, making them an attractive option at the end of a long day. However, it’s no secret eating out all the time is expensive, and your options for fast food might not always be the healthiest or freshest.
Meal delivery and food services attempt to meet these needs by sending their products directly to your door. These heat-and-eat meals or kits are perfectly portioned, helping to minimize waste. They also come with exclusive recipe cards, making it easy to try out foods you otherwise might not, without the risk of being left with a lot of leftovers. They often operate as a middle ground between restaurant and fast food or from-scratch cooking by streamlining the process. This makes them an especially attractive option for people who want to eat at home more—or learn how to cook—but don’t have the energy to go to the grocery store or are unwilling to buy large quantities of novel ingredients that might go to waste.
What Are the Benefits of a Meal Delivery Service?
Meal prep and planning takes a lot of work, and trips to the grocery store can be exhausting. But with a meal delivery service, delicious food is sent right to your door along with detailed recipes or heating instructions. These meals are also portioned out in advance, so you know exactly how much you’ll be getting.
Less food waste
Many of us have experienced the frustration of letting asparagus go bad in the dreaded veggie drawer of our refrigerator. When trying out new recipes or learning how to cook, it can be difficult to gauge how much of an item you’ll need for the meal you want to prepare. The remainder can either go bad or sit untouched in our spice cabinets for years. Meal delivery services seek to minimize this by only giving you what you need to find a new favorite dinner.
More cost-effective than delivery or eating out
People who eat out almost every day are likely to spend roughly $89 a week on food, whereas meal delivery kits can start as low as $40 a week. While you’ll want to look at what you spend on prepared food vs what you would spend on a meal kit to see if it falls within your budget, many people find they end up spending less per serving than they would have on restaurant food.
Chance to try new things
With food, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut—especially if you’re cooking for yourself, it’s tempting to only put that time and energy into meals you know you love. One benefit to meal delivery services is the opportunity to try out delicious foods, flavors, and ingredients you might never have considered otherwise. These services are always working to diversify their menus, meaning you don’t have to eat the same thing week to week.
What Comes in a Meal Delivery Box?
There are two primary types of meal delivery services:
- Kits – These are packages of raw ingredients with an accompanying recipe card and clear instructions for how to turn them into delicious meals. One selling point (or downside) of meal kits is that you will generally need to prepare the food yourself. With this in mind, each meal kit should be labeled with an estimated prep time when you order it, making it easy to plan out your food for the week.
- Prepared – These are “heat and eat” meals sent to you frozen or refrigerated and ready to go in your oven or microwave. They are pre-cooked, making preparation a snap. Most meal delivery services with a prepared food option boast 3-5 minutes of prep time.
Can I expect the same number of meals from each service?
How many meals a company offers per week will vary from service to service. Some plans are better for singles or couples, while others with larger serving options are a great fit for families. Diversity in recipes will also be different for each brand, with some focusing more on one flavor genre while others may have more adventurous options.
What about scheduling?
Most meal delivery services ship weekly and give you the option to choose the day your dinner subscription box arrives. You will be able to schedule out your meals using their website or app.
How does the food get to me without spoiling?
Safety is a huge concern for any company dealing in food products. In order to keep their customer’s order safe in shipping, meal delivery services send ingredients with gel ice packs and heavy insulation. Generally, these rules are guaranteed to keep your food within safe ranges until you’re able to get it in your fridge (usually allowing for a grace period of about 24 hours).
Are Meal Delivery Services Good for Specific Diets?
Many meal delivery services have menus that are compatible with a variety of different eating plans. Among these are:
|Paleo||Paleo—or the “hunter-gatherer” diet—is based on meats, fish, fruits and vegetables and de-emphasizes processed foods.|
|Keto||The ketogenic diet (or “keto” for short) is a high fat, low carb diet focused on protein, fats, and vegetables.|
|Vegetarian||Vegetarian diets emphasize plant protein over animal protein, with exceptions made for non-meat products like milk or eggs.|
|Vegan||Vegan diets are exclusively plant, algae, and fungi-based, with all animal products completely excluded.|
|Organic||Organic food is grown without the use of certain antibiotics and artificial pesticides.|
|Gluten-free||Gluten-free refers to diets entirely without wheat, rye, or barley—this excludes most breads.|
|Pescatarian||Pescatarian diets are similar to a vegetarian lifestyle but include fish and shellfish as protein sources.|
|Diet||A diet is a plan someone sets for themselves to attain a healthier lifestyle by restricting certain foods.|
Pros and Cons of Meal Delivery Services
Compare Our Featured Picks
Home Chef is a premium meal delivery service with options ranging from pre-packaged kits to heat-and-eat style prepared meals. Their menu emphasizes flavor and fresh ingredients, allowing you to select a handful of great restaurant-quality meals that you can make right at home. Keep an eye out also for some delicious extras, which include a variety of sides and pastries that make it easy to make a night in feel like a night out.
Home Chef understands you’re busy and that your meal-prep needs might change from week to week. As such, they emphasize prep time, making it easy to plan ahead. While their ingredients are certainly worth the premium pricing, Home Chef also does regular promotions, making it easy to sign up and get a heavily discounted first month. Read the full review.
Freshly is a meal subscription service specializing in weekly deliveries of ready-to-go meals. These chef-prepared, nutritionist-reviewed foods bridge the gap between meal kits and takeout while making a healthy diet as easy as a spin in the microwave. Freshly’s varied menu also keeps things interesting, with dishes that take inspiration from around the world.
With their heat-and-eat philosophy, Freshly has all the convenience of microwave dinners while prioritizing thoughtful ingredients and nutritional value. True to their name, all of your subscription meals arrive at your door fresh—not frozen. Lastly: pick your meals week-to-week, skip a week, or cancel at any time. Read the full review.
Over the last few years, meal kit delivery services have exploded in popularity, and HelloFresh has a well-earned reputation for being one of the best. Their subscription delivers weekly, perfectly portioned ingredients and instructions on how to prepare delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. This makes them a great option for people looking to cook at home but also save time at the grocery store.
HelloFresh also has great vegetarian and low-carb options, but if you’re on a more specialized diet like paleo, they may not be the best fit. Likewise, they are a little more expensive than similar services. Ultimately, HelloFresh is a premium option compared to some competitors, and that extra cost goes towards great ingredients, diverse menus, and happy customers. Read the full review.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do meal delivery services work with food allergies?
Many meal delivery services give you the option to exclude certain items. However, if you have allergies, you will need to pay special attention to the meal delivery service you are interested in and what precautions they take to limit cross-contamination.
Do meal kits save time?
Meal kits absolutely save time. While you still need to prepare the foods yourself, having a weekly food delivery means not needing to plan meals or go to the grocery store to get diversity in your diet.
What is the best meal delivery service?
The best meal delivery subscription for you is … the one that fits your lifestyle! Everyone has different diet and budgetary needs, so finding the meal delivery service that sends you the foods you want or need at your target price point is the trick.
Are meal kits a big commitment?
In a word: no. At least, they shouldn’t be. Reputable meal delivery companies will give you the option to skip or cancel at any time. Additionally, most major providers offer steep discounts on your first several deliveries, giving you time to decide if the meal kit service meets your needs.
Who is meal delivery best for?
Every company has a different target audience, but generally, meal kit delivery services are excellent choices for professional couples or individuals without much time to shop or try new foods.
Too Long, Didn’t Read?
Whether you’re looking to cook more or just want a program of ready made meals delivered to your house, home delivered meal kits and frozen meals are great options to explore. These food subscription boxes make it easy to eat at home while giving you access to great ingredients, at a specified time every week. This cuts back on time at the grocery store and on the added strain of planning meals on top of a busy schedule.
Like any service, meal delivery is not going to be the best choice for everyone. However, the emphasis on convenience, ease for working professionals, and diverse recipes with fantastic foods you might not think to try otherwise leave plenty of people happy with their subscriptions.