What’s Really for Dinner? The Skinny on Meal Delivery Services.

As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I am always intrigued by products that help consumers eat healthier, such as meal delivery services. Let’s be honest, eating healthy takes time and time is often limited. The question, “What’s for dinner?” can be overwhelming and anxiety producing especially for someone short on time, lacking in kitchen skills, or averse to grocery shopping. Despite these limitations, people are still interested in eating healthy and are always looking for resources that help them pull that off.

Over the past 5 years, companies have started to offer meal delivery services as a solution. Their driving force is their desire to make home cooked, healthy meals convenient and easy. Meals typically come in one of two forms: as a meal kit that includes a recipe and it’s required ingredients or as a prepared meal.

I spent some time breaking down the brand leaders. Here’s my take:

Blue Apron

This is a meal kit delivery subscription service. Its niche is that it partners directly with farmers, ranchers, and artisans to develop recipes that highlight ingredients at the height of their season. Kits arrived with a recipe and pre-portioned ingredients, a big time saver and waste reducer.

Cost: $9.99/serving for 2 person plans (3 meals/week for 2 people)
$8.99/serving for the family plan (2 meals/week for 4 people)

The low down: I love that people are being exposed to a variety of recipes and are getting back in the kitchen. Blue Apron’s direct relationship with farmers ensures fresh, seasonal ingredients, which are fundamental to a healthy diet. There is, however, some work to do on the calorie levels of the portion sizes. A typical serving offers between 620 to 750 kcals which is simply too much. Sure, you can tweak the serving size but the whole point of these services is to make things simple.

Hello Fresh

This is also a meal kit delivery subscription service. Their ingredients are sourced directly from independent producers. The kits offer clear, easy to follow, detailed recipes that take no more than 30 minutes to prepare. A team of on staff RDs evaluate every meal before it appears on the menu. These kits arrive with all pre-portioned ingredients as well as a nutrition facts label. Same time savings, added bonus on the nutrition info.

Cost: $9.99 for 3 meals/week for 2 people
$9.99 for 3 meals/week for 4 people

The low down: This service also wins for getting people back in the kitchen and eating fresh, whole foods. The subscription prices are comparable to those of Blue Apron. In my humble opinion, the edge that Hello Fresh has is that the meals come blessed by a RD. With eating healthy as a driver in purchasing, this definitely offers a competitive edge. Two thumbs up from this practical RDN.

Plated

My description of Plated is a meal kit delivery service for foodies. Each week, classically trained, award winning chefs develop 14 new recipes to choose from. The ingredients are fresh, seasonal, and sustainable and their quality is guaranteed. The kits come with everything you need to create a “chef worthy” meal.

Cost: $11.95 for 3 meals/week for 2 people
$9.95 for 2 meals/ week for 4 people

The low down: This service offers the same benefits as its competitors in terms of the quality of ingredients and getting people back to meal prep. It is slightly more expensive, which I assume is a function of the experts used for recipe development. That is clearly the added value. This is a great option for a more skilled cook or the “foodie” who enjoys more interesting recipes. It also offers a greater variety of recipes, which helps to keep things interesting.

Freshly

The difference with Freshly is that it’s meals arrive already cooked and individually portioned. Their meals are prepared by chefs and arrive fresh, never frozen. Each meal is then microwaved and ready in under 3 minutes. Meals are 100% natural with artificial colors, flavors, or refined sugar. They are also gluten and peanut free as is their prep facility.

Cost: $12.50/meal for 4 meals/week
$9.99/meal for 6 and 9 meals/week
$8.99/meal for 12 meals/week

The low down: I wanted to include Freshly because I love that their meals are individually portioned. The ingredients are fresh and they offer a ton of variety. They are costly but are comparable to the other meal kit delivery services if you are ordering at least 6 meals/week. This is a great resource for people who are short on time and need a healthy, convenient option to turn to. Think: an alternative to eating out that is guaranteed to be healthy and fresh. As the mother of a highly allergic kid, the peanut and gluten free facility is music to my ears. Pure ingredients make this RDN’s heart sing.

Sarah Marjoram, MS, RDN, LD

A Registered Dietitian supporting nutrition businesses with impactful content and marketing strategy.