Confession: I’ve never been confident in the kitchen. In college and my early twenties, it didn’t matter — I was happy with prepared food or even a bowl of cereal in a pinch. But once I started a family, I wanted to make home-cooked meals a priority. Not only was takeout expensive, but the hour-long wait for delivery didn’t fly with a hungry toddler. I also wanted to expose my daughter to different flavors, and to help her develop an appreciation for the time and energy that go into home-cooked meals.
Meal kit subscription services
I signed up for Blue Apron and HelloFresh — which were accidentally delivered the same week. I’m a single parent. I was on trial by skillet. That six-recipe week taught me it was possible to have a home cooked meal, even on a busy weeknight. And as I had hoped, my toddler became more adventurous with food.
Thanks to meal kit services, I’ve become way more confident in the kitchen. I find the twenty to thirty minutes it takes to prepare a meal a really relaxing time period that helps me power down after work (especially important since I work from home and need a way to mentally transition once I pick up my daughter from daycare).
More than a year later, we still regularly get a meal kit. My daughter, now almost 3, “helps” alongside me, and I like to think that seeing how food is prepared will eventually expand her picky toddler palate. At the very least, she’s much more likely to try something if she helped make it. As for me, when I have guests, I can actually prepare dinner and talk to them — something I could never do in the past. Victory!
We’ve had a few hiccups — the time I forgot to skip my order when we were out of town, the schedule juggling to make sure I cooked all meals within a five-day frame so the ingredients wouldn’t go bad, and the nagging feeling that I could make the same meals for far less money if I only went to the grocery store — but overall, my experience has been a net positive.
In fact, since we are a family of just two, I know that if I bought the ingredients myself, I’d end up with too many leftovers and too much waste. I love that if a recipe needs one radish, a meal subscription service will send you one radish. I know that many people balk at the copious packaging used for each ingredient, and I do too. But the services promise their commitment to sustainability, with a focus on eco-friendly and recyclable packaging.
If a meal kit is something you’ve considered, here’s what you should know before you sign up.
These services work similarly — they’re subscription based, membership is free, and you won’t pay a fee if you cancel. The right one for you will be based on your family’s eating habits and your preferences after you give them a try.
Note that pricing can vary, depending on your location.
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Blue Apron offers eight menu options per week, with inspiration from cultures across the globe. You pick three, within some parameters. A weekly sample menu includes orange beef, zesty shrimp and fettuccine, baked harissa chicken, creamy pesto cavatelli, chicken tinga tostadas, and pork chorizo tacos. Members can enter dietary restrictions, including gluten-free or vegetarian, and are only shown applicable options.
Cost of Blue Apron: A standard plan — three meals for two people — is $59.94, which includes free shipping. It’s possible to choose as few as two meals, for $20 each, plus a $7 shipping fee. A family plan of two to four recipes per week costs $8.64 per person, per meal.
Blue Apron reviews: “I love Blue Apron! I’ve been using it for over a year and have yet to have a bad meal. I basically had zero cooking knowledge before signing up, but now I’m cooking 3 meals a week and loving it,” says Molly, 31, who makes Blue Apron meals with her husband. “Some of their recipes tend to be a little involved (chopping tons of veggies, making your own sauce, etc), but they give you the option of “30-minute meals” which is super helpful. Overall, everything is reasonably healthy, relatively easy to make and delicious.”
Sarah, mom of a 6-year-old, loves using Blue Apron, but not every week. “Blue Apron is great for getting new ideas and flavors into your cooking mix.”
Best for: Couples who have a little more time.
HelloFresh offers 15 different weekly meal options in the categories of classic, veggie or family. You can customize menus based on your family preferences. HelloFresh prides itself on the ease of its recipes; they take 30 minutes or less to prep. An example of weekly menu options includes Southwestern stuffed peppers, Argentinian Chimichurri steak, shrimp pasta, chicken pizzas, balsamic fig chicken, or orecchiette pasta with broccoli.
Cost of HelloFresh: HelloFresh costs $9.99 per person for a two-person meal, with a three-meal minimum for free delivery. HelloFresh family meals are a little bit less expensive, per meal, per person (around $9). Some meals, labeled “premium,” cost an additional $5 per person, because of ingredients or proteins that are more expensive to source. For example, a cranberry-drizzled duck recipe is a premium selection.
HelloFresh reviews: “HelloFresh is terrific. The price point is excellent. We do not have a refrigerator full of unnecessary items. We have yet to have a bad meal,” says Georganne, a married mother of three.
Jamie, mom of two, found that HelloFresh gets her kids involved in the kitchen. “HelloFresh has great and easy recipes that the kids and I love. In fact, the kids made dinner last night from HelloFresh. They are 10 and 13. When I know we are going to be busy and I want healthy, inventive meals, HelloFresh all the way.”
Heather, a mom of one, likes the online interface for knowing exactly what she’s going to get. She likes some recipes enough to shop and prepare them on her own. “Some HelloFresh meals have made it into our regular dinner rotation. We’ve started making almost all of our veggie sides based on recipes from HelloFresh!”
Best for: Busy families who want to get a meal on the table fast.
With 20 recipe options, including optional desserts, and recipes to accommodate two, three or four people, Plated touts flexibility as one way they stand out from the pack. You can mix and match in any combination, a perk most meal kit services do not offer. An example of their options for the week: Caprese chicken, green chile chicken tacos, french onion soup burgers, Sicilian-style calamari, cauliflower Tinga tacos, and baked rhubarb and raspberries.
Plated cost: The price of Plated is on par with other services. The standard three meals a week for two people is $71.70 a week with free shipping.
Plated reviews: “Plated is our go to,” says Carolyn, a mom of three. “We don’t order it every week, but I like that the recipes are pretty standard. They’re things I could make myself, but having all the ingredients on hand is a lifesaver.”
Joelle, a mom of one, agrees. “I feel like Plated gives me some home-run meals that I know will be amazing. I also really appreciate that they all stick to the 30-minute mark for prep.”
Suzy, a single mom of one, loved that Plated could help her daughter get involved in meal prep. “I used Plated for about six weeks, twice a week. I really enjoyed learning new cooking techniques and tips, and of course, I loved not having to think about what to eat those two nights. My 7-year-old loved picking out what we were going to order, too!”
Best for: People who want more variety each week.
Green Chef is an organic meal kit delivery service with gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, keto, carnivore and omnivore options. Green Chef offers customized menus based on food preference, with a focus on sustainable packaging. An example of the options for a week on the omnivore menu: rosemary-lemon chicken, coconut shrimp tacos, and a barbeque white bean burger.
Green Chef cost: The cost of Green Chef varies depending on menu plan, but are in line with other delivery services. For example, a vegan or omnivore plan costs $11.99 per person, per meal, while specialized menus can be a little more pricey. A Paleo menu, the most expensive option, costs $14.99 per meal. The vegetarian plan is the cheapest, at $10.49 per meal.
Green Chef reviews: “We have been through them all, and they never stuck until recently we tried Green Chef. We had a few main issues with the others that Green Chef seems to nail: organic ingredients, the amount of prep work required, and sauces and marinades made [by them] from scratch,” says Randy a dad of two.
Ready ingredients are key for Randy and his family. “Green Chef is all organic, and delivers a nice balance of pre-prepped ingredients and pre-made sauces and dressings that make cooking much quicker. The meals have been excellent — nice bright flavors and interesting meals that we would never have come up with on our own.”
Best for: Eaters with dietary requirements.
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Sun Basket offers organic ingredients with an emphasis on clean-eating recipes. You can choose a paleo, lean and clean, vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian, Mediterranean or pescatarian meal plan. Sample menu options include black bean quinoa burgers, chipotle red bean and potato hash with tempeh, spicy chorizo, and tomatillo chili, and shrimp tostadas. Sun Basket offers 18 different meals every week.
Sun Basket cost: The cost of Sun Basket is comparable to other options — customers can choose two to four meals per week, at $11.99 per meal. The family menu, priced at $10.99 per meal, offers six recipe options, all chosen for being kid-friendly. Veggie options on the family menu are also available.
Sun Basket reviews: “We’ve been trying to eat healthier, and I like that Sun Basket gives me inspiration for healthy, plant-based recipes,” says Jen, a mom of three.
Mark, a single dad of one, has ordered Sun Basket for the past six months and says that the meals are great for providing enough food, with leftovers, for his picky 9-year-old son. “I like having the ingredients on hand, and I’ve found that the recipes are easy enough to follow that it’s an activity we can do together.”
Best for: Pescatarians.
Home Chef emphasizes easy crowd pleasers, with 12 different dinner recipes per week. Sample recipes include sirloin steak with a wine demi-glace, chicken enchiladas, BBQ shrimp pizza, avocado and sushi rolls, and one skillet lemon orzo risotto.
Cost of Home Chef: Home Chef is unique in that it also offers three lunch options each week. The price is slightly lower, at $7.95 per meal. These “five-minute lunches” include steak caesar salads, apple and chicken salad, and a steak sandwich with horseradish cream. Lunches are all pre-cooked and pre-chopped, designed to be thrown together in five minutes.
For dinners, Home Chef starts at $9.95 per meal. Each recipe serves two. Family options for 4 or 6 are available, and all orders over $45 get free delivery.
Home Chef reviews: Vincent, a dad of two, appreciated the locally sourced ingredients from Home Chef (locally sourced ingredients are common across meal plans). “The recipes were great, and I loved knowing where my ingredients came from.”
Jen, mom of three, likes that Home Chef recipes serve up to six people. “We don’t do it often, because it gets expensive, but as someone with a larger family, I like that this can feed all of us, with leftovers.”
Best for: Families who want lower-cost lunch options.
Choosing the right meal kit
All services offer promo codes, especially to first-timers. Look around and find available offers in your area. You might get an additional discount if you shop through eBates or another rebate sites. All of these services are available nationwide, but some may not yet have delivery capability in all areas, so check to see if your zip code is eligible.
For me, the best part of meal delivery services is that they are low-commitment. If you find it’s not for you, just cancel. Personally, I want to try all the meal kits. My experience has already been good enough that I’ve got two favorites. HelloFresh is my go-to for a busy week since I love having a home-cooked meal on the table within 30 minutes. Blue Apron has expanded my palate and kitchen skills. Now I’m really tempted to try Green Chef.
That’s the brilliance of the meal kit subscription services (as long as you don’t forget to cancel if you won’t be needing it that week) You can experiment until you find the one that works best for you.
In my experience, the cost and convenience of a meal delivery kit seems to be optimized for couples or families with only one child, where two portions can easily extend to accommodate a toddler or small child, or to lunch the next day in the form of leftovers.
I’m single-ish, and my daughter definitely doesn’t eat a full portion (not to mention that her “helping” is my extra 20 minutes in the kitchen). Luckily, I live in a close-knit building, with plenty of friends who are happy to swing by for dinner, but in my research, there’s no optimal meal kit delivery service for a single person — a definite downside.
On the flip side, having the answer for what’s for dinner on lock is priceless. Meal delivery kits can give you the best of both worlds: convenience and a home-cooked meal. Why not explore them to see if one is a fit for your family?
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Anna Davies is an editor at Haven Life. She has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, Refinery29, Glamour, Elle, and others, and has published 13 young adult novels. She lives in Jersey City, NJ, with her family and loves traveling, running, and trying to find the best cold brew coffee in town.