The meal delivery business exploded during the pandemic as many of us quarantined or chose to avoid stores and restaurants. Today, companies like HelloFresh and Blue Apron have some serious competition. There are more than 150 meal delivery services currently in the U.S.
True, having food delivered to your door is less of a necessity lately. But these meal delivery services do have other advantages beyond COVID safety. This is especially true if you’re trying to stick with a particular diet or have dietary restrictions.
“My husband and I have subscribed to the same meal delivery service for a few years and have been happy with it. There are so many options now that it’s easy to find a service that fits your dietary needs,” says dietitian Katherine Basbaum, RD.
Beyond vegetarian and family-friendly, many services now have keto or low-carb, diabetic-friendly, gluten-free, low-calorie and Mediterranean options. “I even found some that offer low-calorie and low-sodium dishes. This is ideal for my patients because so many of them have hypertension and heart disease," says Basbaum.
We asked Basbaum to share her thoughts on the pros and cons of meal kit delivery services, so you can decide if it’s time to give one a try.
Meal Delivery Service Pros
From sign-up to delivery to meal prep, simplicity is the greatest advantage. Just register online and choose your menu (vegan or carnivore, for example), dietary restrictions (gluten free, peanut allergies), and the number of meals and servings desired. All the ingredients you will need — except cooking oil, salt, and pepper — arrive boxed and labeled. Each box also comes with detailed recipes, which range in difficulty based on the plan you pick. Because ingredients are pre-measured, there’s no waste. You can also cancel, change, or put your meal plan on hold as needed.
More of a grab-and-go type? Many companies are now offering readymade meals that you can pop in the oven or microwave. You may even find local businesses getting on the meal-prep bandwagon. Do your research if you prefer to keep your dollars in your community.
With so many companies to choose from, picking the right one for you and your family may take a bit of trial-and-error. The good news: most services offer a one-week trial, either for free or at a reduced price. This way you can try them out before you commit. Some have a few ingredients you just chop up and toss in a pan or crockpot. Others take a bit more skill and have more unique flavors. Chances are, any of the meal plans you choose will expand your food horizons a bit, with ingredients you may have never tried. You can pick dinner dishes only or add in a breakfast or snack in some cases. It’s not all health food — choose the types of foods that appeal to you.
Despite the fact that meal delivery companies ship food in a box, they are good quality. You might get the occasional mealy tomato out of season. For the most part, produce is fresh and crisp and meats are lean and tender. If you prefer all organic or locally sourced ingredients, those options are available in many places, too.
When it comes to meeting your dietary needs, meal delivery plans may be a good option if you’re having a hard time getting five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. In most cases, delivered meals include 2-3 servings each. This is a great way to up your intake without having to brainstorm new recipes or buy big bags of produce that spoil and go to waste.
Meal Delivery Service Cons
The sodium content in many recipes can be on the high side. It’s a good idea to review nutrition information before meal selection if possible. You want to stick to those dishes that have 500 mg or less of sodium per serving.
Depending on your grocery budget, the cost of having meals delivered may be more than you would typically spend. On average, you can expect to pay between $60-$80 per week for three meals feeding two people. That’s around $10 per person per meal for meal-prep kits; readymade meals tend to cost more. Compared with eating out, you’re likely saving a bit, not to mention eating healthier.
Every meal kit comes in a box with individually wrapped ingredients, plus a cold pack to keep food fresh. The extra cardboard and plastic has made some sustainability-minded consumers walk away from meal delivery. But one study found that meal kit delivery actually has less of an environmental impact than hitting the grocery when you account for food waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, most delivery companies have made great strides in ensuring all packaging is recyclable. It’s up to you to make sure it gets tossed appropriately.
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Even meals designated for two people tend to go much further. So if you’re watching your weight, be mindful of your portion sizes. The good news is you’ll have leftovers for lunch the next day.
Hit or Miss
Not all dishes are going to please your tastes. If your family isn’t as adventurous when it comes to eating new things, do your research to find meal plans that are more traditional.
The Final Verdict
Meal delivery services are a good investment if you’re crunched for time, are in a weekday meal slump or just don’t enjoy meal planning and grocery shopping. Cooking at home is always a good idea health-wise. If having food delivered will keep you out of the restaurants and drive-through, then give it a try!