Meal Kits Might Be Cheaper Than Groceries Right Now

·4 min read
Photo:  Brent Hofacker (Shutterstock)
Photo: Brent Hofacker (Shutterstock)

You’re not being paranoid: Your Chipotle bill is high, but your grocery bill is even higher. That’s because, per the Consumer Price Index (CPI), home cooks are currently experiencing worse inflation than restaurants, largely due to wholesale prices and economies of scale that benefit restaurants. Turns out that the food-away-from-home CPI (aka restaurant purchases) rose 7.4% for the year ended April 2022—but the food-at-home CPI (grocery purchases) was a full 11.9% higher for the year ended May 2022. Still, it’s not like I can down a Chipotle bowl for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I love cooking for myself—I just don’t want to blast through my emergency fund in the process. Could meal kits be the answer?

How much do meal kits cost?

Kits like Sakara Life are liable to break the bank unless you’re balling on an NBA budget. But meal kits range in price dramatically, with some companies offering meals as low as $5 per serving. I’ve tried a few different kits, including HelloFresh, Daily Harvest, and Blue Apron, and have always found the quality of HelloFresh ingredients and recipes to be the most similar to my usual home cooking rotation. But I wanted to know: Could a week of HelloFresh meals be cheaper than a week of groceries?

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One week of HelloFresh: How much does it cost?

HelloFresh offers a few different box sizes depending on the number of people you’ll be feeding. I live alone, so I’ve historically opted for the two-person box. That box includes three meals and six total servings for a total of $59.94. Per the HelloFresh website, that boils down to an average price of $9.99 per serving. That seemed like a steal compared to my grocery bill, which has been hovering around $120 per week for the last month or so. Ouch.

Comparing HelloFresh and grocery prices

Are HelloFresh prices actually as good as they seem? To find out, I selected three HelloFresh recipes and priced out the ingredients on my local grocery store’s website. Although I used the cheapest result for each ingredient, there was one catch: HelloFresh sends subscribers individually portioned ingredients. For example, if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of sesame seeds, you’ll receive exactly one tablespoon of sesame seeds in your HelloFresh box. That’s not how the grocery store works. I can’t walk into the store, pour out a tablespoon of sesame seeds, and pay for the exact quantity I need. I have to pay for the entire container of sesame seeds.

With that, it’s not hard to see why HelloFresh might be cheaper than a grocery run. But how much cheaper? What does the meal cost if I buy everything from the grocery store, rather than using a meal kit? Below are my calculations for each dish, with tax included in the final serving prices.

Classic Roasted Salmon: $35.10 ($17.55/serving)

  • 4 oz. Heirloom Grape Tomatoes: $3.88 (10-oz. package)

  • 2 cloves garlic: $0.99/head

  • ¼ oz. dill: $2.29/bundle

  • 12 oz. Yukon gold potatoes: $3.99 (3-lb. bag)

  • 6 oz. green beans: $1.79 (1-lb. bag)

  • 10 oz. skin-on salmon fillets: $7.50 (2 7-oz. fillets)

Winner Winner Chicken Orzo Dinner: $31.98 ($15.99/serving)

  • 1 zucchini: $0.60

  • 1 Roma tomato: $0.40

  • 1 tbsp. Italian seasoning: $2.99 (0.75-oz. container)

  • 3 oz. orzo: $1.99 (16 oz.-box)

  • 12 oz. chicken breasts: $11.98 (2-lb. package)

  • 4 oz. fresh mozzarella: $3.50 (8-oz. package)

  • 1 lemon: $0.99

  • ¼ oz. parsley: $1.49/bundle

  • ¼ c. panko: $2.49 (8-oz. box)

  • ¼ c. Parmesan cheese: $4.50 (5-oz. wedge)

Ginger Beef Stir-Fry: $32.28 ($16.14/serving)

  • 12 oz. beef sirloin tips: $11.99 (1.5 lb. package – only size available)

  • ¾ cup basmati rice: $2.79 ( 2 individual rice serving cups – on sale)

  • 6 oz. asparagus: $2.99/lb.

  • 2 cloves garlic: Use leftover garlic from first recipe

  • 1 thumb ginger: $1

  • 1 jar hoisin sauce: $3.99 (20-oz. bottle)

  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds: $4.99 (3.25-oz. jar)

  • 2 scallions: $0.99/bunch

  • ½ oz. soy sauce: $2.49 (10-oz. bottle)

Hypothesis proven! If I stopped by the grocery store and picked up the necessary ingredients to make these dishes, I’d need to spend $83.22, which is significantly more expensive than HelloFresh—even after accounting for the kit’s roughly $10 shipping fee.

There are, of course, a few qualms. First, the kit only includes six meals, which isn’t enough to see me through an entire week of lunches and dinners. The kit also doesn’t include any of the divine snacking materials I pick up during my weekly grocery run. But if you’re looking to save money on a specific meal—dinner, for example—kits like HelloFresh really do seem more affordable at the moment, given the current inflation hitting supermarkets. Just be prepared for cardboard. Lots and lots of cardboard.