Are Meal Delivery Kits Worth the Investment?

<p>Verywell / Amelia Manley</p>

Verywell / Amelia Manley

Medically reviewed by Kristy Del Coro, MS, RDN, LDN

We all occasionally get stumped when the evening dinner question rolls around. A busy lifestyle often makes meal planning a nice-to-have, rather than a weekly must. If you’re among the many who struggle to get a healthy homemade dinner on the table, meal delivery kits may save your proverbial bacon. Not only are these DIY cooking packages a time-saver, but they’re highly customizable to suit your dietary requirements, family size, and price point. 

Still, getting food dropped at your doorstep can be rather costly—more so than simply purchasing groceries at the supermarket. And since many kits come with hefty amounts of packaging, they can be harder on the environment than typical grocery shopping. Find out whether meal delivery kits are worth the investment.

What Are Meal Delivery Kits?

In the early days of meal delivery services, things were pretty basic: You’d choose from a short weekly menu of pre-made meals, and then receive them in the mail.

Now, as the market for these services has grown, delivered meals come in a variety of formats. Some brands, such as Sunbasket and Fresh n Lean, offer fully prepared meals you can simply heat in the microwave and heat. (Some arrive frozen, others should be stored in the refrigerator.) Others like Purple Carrot, Hello Fresh, and Gobble provide kits that include pre-portioned ingredients and recipe cards, setting you up for success with a home-cooked meal. Certain meal delivery brands are geared toward special diets, too. Purple Carrot, for example, caters to vegetarians, and BistroMD is intended for weight loss.

Whatever meal kit you select, choosing your week’s menu is up to you. Most meal delivery kits feature an online platform where you’ll select meals in advance from a list of weekly options. You’ll also fill in details about how many people you need to feed, any dietary restrictions, and your preferred drop-off time. Most services even allow you to specify likes and dislikes, too, so you won’t end up with ingredients you’re really not a fan of. Once you’ve made your week’s selections, you can sit back and await the arrival of your food box.

Benefits of Meal Delivery Kits

Having meals boxed up into individual, perfectly prepped ingredients offers the ultimate convenience for the dinner hour. No need to think about what’s for dinner—or how to get it on the table. Simply follow instructions on a recipe card, using ingredients when called for. Besides saving time on meal planning, you’ll also eliminate the heavy lift of weekly grocery shopping. (You’ll likely need to shop here and there for essentials, but probably won’t spend as much time at the store.) You’ll even end the evening with fewer dishes in the sink since most ingredients come in disposable packaging. 

Another unexpected bonus of meal delivery kits: they can be a gateway to new foods and cuisines that you might not normally try. Perhaps an intriguing recipe gets you to sample tempeh for the first time or introduces your little ones to an unfamiliar fruit like jackfruit. For kids and adults alike, expanding the palate in this way can open doors to more adventurous (and potentially more nutritious) eating.

Having ingredients measured out ahead of time also keeps portion control appropriate. This helps you make and eat just enough—a major plus for weight management. Many meal delivery kits come with nutrition information, allowing you to keep tabs on your intake.

Nutritional Considerations

Meal delivery kits are certainly convenient—but are they good for you? The quality and sourcing of ingredients are what make or break each meal’s healthfulness. As you decide whether a meal kit service is worth the investment, it pays to do your homework about a brand’s practices. Many have FAQ sections on their websites where you can find details like how ingredients are sourced, where they come from, and whether they’re organically or conventionally grown. It’s a good sign when a company is transparent about the origins of its food.

Despite their reputation for helping people eat better, though, not all meal delivery kits are as healthy as they may seem. Some are loaded with sodium, saturated fat, and high calories. If possible, always check nutrition information as you make your weekly selections. This way, you’ll ensure you’re meeting your health needs. Alternatively, if nutrition info isn’t provided, look for meals that feature plenty of healthy ingredients like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. 

If you’re on a special diet or have food allergies, meal delivery kits can also take the guesswork out of dinnertime. Some offer meal plans for diets like low-carb, Mediterranean, vegetarian, pescatarian, and more. Allergy-friendly options are available, too. Just be sure to verify whether a brand’s meals are made in a facility that processes your particular allergen. (This info should be available on their website.)

Cost and Budget Analysis

For most of us, the question a meal delivery service's worth comes down to financial investment. We’ll be honest: most meal delivery kits aren’t cheap. If you’re looking to subscribe, you’ll need to consider the equation of money versus time. 

Of course, meal delivery kits range from the low end (such as Hello Fresh’s $7.49 per serving) to the high end (like Sakara Life’s $26.50 per serving). Some throw in free shipping, while others charge each week to ship to your door. But even a lower-cost delivery service probably won’t be less than grocery shopping for yourself. 

This is especially true when cooking for a family since buying groceries in bulk generally reduces the cost per serving. Let’s take the example of Hello Fresh’s meat and veggies plan, which features meals like grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Using current grocery prices, home-making this meal for a family of four might cost up to $20, depending on where you shop. When ordered from Hello Fresh, on the other hand, this meal costs $30, plus shipping. Granted, each meal and delivery service varies in its value-to-price ratio, but it’s food for thought.

Environmental Sustainability

There’s an unfortunate underbelly to the sweet convenience of meal delivery kits: their impact on the environment. Individually packaged meals and ingredients require copious amounts of plastic to ship—not to mention cooling elements like ice packs, plus a large cardboard box to hold everything together. Even the most sustainability-minded meal delivery companies can’t get around the fact that weekly meal shipping takes a lot of materials, many of which end up in landfills. Then, too, there’s the question of how much fuel it takes for the delivery truck to reach your home each week. 

Fortunately, many meal delivery companies are taking steps to reduce their planetary footprint. Green Chef, for example, provides their meals in recyclable and compostable materials whenever possible. Other companies like Territory list instructions for how to recycle or compost their packaging. Martha Stewart & Marley Spoon releases an annual sustainability report to keep users informed about their efforts to stay carbon neutral. Plus, meal kits that use organic ingredients put less stress on the environment than those that use conventional ingredients. 

To minimize your planetary impact while enjoying a meal delivery service, look for one that makes recycling and composting easy, presents its sustainability practices online, and uses at least some organic ingredients.

Cooking Skills and Long-Term Benefits

The meal kit experience is a little bit like a mini-cooking school. As you follow recipes and get to know various culinary techniques, you’re likely to develop skills you wouldn’t acquire on your own. If you’re new to cooking, developing your culinary prowess in this way can build kitchen confidence. Little by little, you’ll learn how to cook healthy meals on your own (even without a recipe card).

"Meal delivery kits can be a great convenience option for folks who don’t love to cook, want to improve their confidence in the kitchen, or just want to take the mental load out of cooking. You’ll want to consider the cost, value, and quality when making your choice about which meal kit is right for you."

Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES

If you have the budget to spend on a meal delivery service, it can be a helpful way to get healthy dinners planned and made in a flash. But these kits can be pricey, so purchasing them may depend on how much you’re willing to spend to save time. And remember that using a meal kit service isn’t all or nothing! Typically, you can choose how many meals per day, week, or month you’d like, and many plans allow you to take breaks. Consider using meal kits during busy seasons of life, then taking a break when your schedule slows down.

Read the original article on Verywell Fitness.