Meal kit delivery services like Blue Apron, HelloFresh, and Home Chef seem to be everywhere. You see advertisements for them in your social media feed, get coupons for them in the mail, and hear friends debate about their favorite one.
What’s all the buzz about? Are they worth the cost and effort? Read on for the pros and cons of using meal kit delivery services.
How Do Meal Kit Delivery Services Work?
If you’re already familiar with how meal kit delivery services work, you can skip on down to the pros & cons list. If not, you can keep reading for a description of how the services work.
Choose the Meal Kit Delivery Service
If you Google “meal kit delivery services,” a whole bunch will pop up in your search list. They each offer slightly different reasons for choosing their service. One might focus on being inexpensive. Another on its organic ingredients. One might offer paleo and gluten-free options, while another might be for vegetarians.
If don’t have special dietary needs, I would recommend starting with one of the more popular services like Blue Apron first. They’re a little more established, so have been able to work out some of the issues that come from starting a business like this.
Choose Your Meal Plan
Once you decide the meal kit delivery service, you’ll sign-up for the service online and choose a meal plan. The meal plan will determine how many servings per meal you’d like. Standard options are a two-serving plan or a four-serving plan. The service might call it a two-person plan or a four-person plan. End result is the same – you’re deciding how many servings you want per meal.
The meal plan might let you decide how many meals you’d like for the week. Meals are the recipes you’ll be cooking. Some services describe this as the number of nights per week you want to cook. Most services have a set number of meals you’ll get per week. This is usually three meals per week. But some services let you decide how many meals you want for the week. Options might be two, three, or four meals per week.
Say you opt for the two-serving plan and three meals per week. That means you’ll get the ingredients for three different meals to cook, with enough ingredients to create two servings per meal.
Choose Your Meals
After you choose your meal plan, you’ll decide which meals you want for the week. Each week, the service will provide you with a list of recipes. If you picked a three meal plan, you’ll select three recipes.
Some services will limit what recipes you can pick to reduce costs. So if you picked an expensive lobster recipe, it might not let you pick the expensive salmon recipe, too.
Most services provide the list of recipes several weeks in advance, so you can pick your recipes ahead of time.
Delivery & Packaging
Depending on the service you choose, you may be able to select the day of the week you’d like the ingredients delivered. Some services limit which days you can receive the ingredients for cost savings.
You’ll typically get an email or text (depending on the notification options you chose) alerting you that the package is on its way.
Most services send the ingredients in a recyclable cardboard box. Inside, there’s some sort of insulation and cooling packets to keep the ingredients fresh. Some services will sort each meal into an individual bag for you. Other will put all the ingredients into a single bag and you’ll need to sort them by meal using a provided recipe card.
Regardless of the service, you’ll probably end up with a lot of packaging material. Most services indicate that the materials are recyclable – but that doesn’t mean that your recycling center will accept them. Plastic bags might be recyclable, but many municipalities don’t accept them in general recycling because they jam the recycling machines. Your municipality likely has a list of dos & don’ts for recycling that you can read before tossing all the packaging in the recycle bin.
Cooking Difficulty & Time
In the box of ingredients, you’ll receive a recipe card for your selected meals. While the meals themselves usually aren’t that difficult to cook, sometimes the recipe cards are difficult to follow. I’ll sometimes need to look at the final picture of the meal on the recipe card to figure out what kind of cutting, chopping, or slicing the recipe is asking me to do.
I’m not an expert cook, but I do pride myself at being pretty efficient time-wise in the kitchen. The length of time it takes to cook these meals can be a little frustrating to me. No matter how I try to make the recipe more efficient, it still takes me upwards of 45 minutes to cook every meal. I don’t mind that length of time when I’m cooking in bulk, but you only get two to four serving sizes (depending on your meal plan) from these delivery services.
I now listen to podcasts while I cook, which makes the time much more enjoyable for me.
If you’re a cost-conscious cook, you might find that meal kit delivery services are not cheap. Cost per serving size generally ranges from $10-$15. You can likely get a full, pre-cooked meal from your grocery store for less than that.
You’ll have to determine if the potential benefits of meal kit delivery services (see pros below) outweigh the financial cost for you.
I recommend these *cost-savings tips* to make the services more affordable:
- Always use a discount code when signing up for a meal kit delivery service for the first time. Some of the services will give you the first week entirely free! You can use my links to get discounts off your first orders (note that the discount amounts sometimes change seasonally):
- After you sign-up, see if there’s a referral link you can send to friends and family. Most of the services will give you a discount off a future order if someone uses your referral link to enroll in their service.
Commitment & Cancellation
Most meal kit delivery services don’t require any commitment. You’re charged on a weekly basis for the next week’s order.
You can also skip weeks. If you’re going to be out of town or know you won’t have time to cook for a certain week, you can select the option to skip that week in your online account. You’re not charged for weeks you skip.
Cancellation for most services is fairly easy and you can do it through your account. Some services require you to send an email. In case there is a delay cancelling your account, I recommend marking all subsequent weeks as “skipped” in your account so you’re not charged while your cancellation is processed.
What are the Pros?
- If you haven’t done a lot of cooking in the past, this is a great way to learn how to cook.
- Great exposure to different types of tastes and recipes that you wouldn’t normally try.
- The recipes are pre-vetted, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time digging through Pinterest and recipe books to find something you’ll like.
- You don’t have to go to the grocery store to get all the ingredients – they’re shipped to you.
- Less grocery waste, because you’re only provided with the ingredients you need to cook the meal.
- If this gets you to eat a home-cooked meal instead of going out to an expensive restaurant, you might save money over the cost of an expensive restaurant.
What are the Cons?
- Time is the major con for me. I like to cook in bulk once or twice a week, so I end up spending more time in the kitchen cooking fewer serving sizes when I use meal kit delivery services.
- Cost is the second biggest con for me. $10-$15 per serving size seems pretty steep when you still have to cook the meal yourself.
- You’re only getting two to four meals per week (depending on the meal plan you choose), so you’ll still need to plan something for the other meals of the week.
- You need to provide some items of your own, so can’t rely entirely on the provided ingredients to make the meal. You’ll need your own olive oil, salt, and pepper. You’ll need your own pots and pans, strainer, peeler, cutting board, and knifes.
- If you rely on leftovers for lunch, a lot of the recipes don’t translate well into leftovers, so you’ll need to plan something else for lunch.
- Lots and lots of packaging — these services create an incredible amount of packaging waste. Expect to make extra trips to take out the recycling/trash.
Are meal kit delivery services right for you?
I like meal kit delivery services as a way to introduce me to new types of tastes and recipes. Plus, they do the work of finding the recipes for me, so I don’t have to spend as much time searching Pinterest for a recipe that might not even work out. For me, these pros outweigh the cons.
The major cons for me are time and cost. I mitigate the time con by listening to podcasts while cooking. It doesn’t reduce the cooking time, but it makes me less frustrated with the length of time it takes to cook. I mitigate the cost con by using promotion codes to get discounts when I first sign-up for each of the meal kit delivery services.
If you’re still on the fence – give them a shot. Use a discount code to try one for cheap (or for free!) for a week. Most don’t require a commitment, so if you don’t like it, you can immediately cancel your account.
I recommend starting with one of the more popular services like Blue Apron first. They’ve been vetted by a few more people and have had a chance to work out some of the early issues that come from starting a business like this.