Complete Meal Delivery Buyer's Guide
Do you love cooking but need more time for your favorite recipes? Are you just jumping into the art of cooking but need some guidance? You don’t need a personal chef to help you with a cooking routine; you can get started with the help of a meal delivery plan that caters to your needs. Thanks to the growing market of meal delivery plans, consumers have more options than ever when it comes to cooking.
What We Considered
While many companies offer meal-delivery services, not all meals are created equal. Below are some of the top factors to consider when deciding which service fits your needs.
Cost: We've done the math for you and included the cost per serving for each service we recommend. Some charge a flat fee per number of servings, while others vary depending on the type entree you choose. Most services are quite a bit cheaper than restaurant prices but more expensive than buying all the ingredients at the store. Prices listed above reflect the price-per-meal for a single, weekly delivery of three, 2-serving meals. While we try to keep our information as up to date as possible, prices are subject to change by the merchants at any time.Ingredients: It's fairly easy to find recipes that accommodate common dietary needs like vegetarian or low-calorie. However, you may have to search more carefully if you have more specific restrictions such as dairy-free or diabetic-friendly recipes.Flexibility: Be sure to read the details of each plan in regards to flexibility of menus and frequency of delivery. If you like to be in charge of your menu, check out plans that allow you to customize your order every week. If you want to be able to skip a week or change the number of servings, most services have cutoff days for how far in advance you need to notify them of any changes.Shipping: Delivery costs can significantly increase the price of your meal service, so we've included shipping in the cost per person calculations. Some services offer free shipping on all of their meals, while others charge a flat fee or only cover shipping charges on orders over a certain amount.
What is a Meal Delivery Plan?
You’ve heard the names and you’ve seen the ads for fresh ingredients and recipes delivered straight to your door, but what exactly is a meal delivery plan?
A meal delivery program is mostly targeted to busy professionals who still want great-tasting, homemade meals integrated into their hectic schedules. When you’re balancing long work days, family schedules, social commitments, and extracurricular activities, you should not have to sacrifice the quality of your food.
After all, eating food is something you should do every day...so don’t downplay it with TV dinners or take-out.
Meal delivery offers a solution to your recipe woes. It removes the task of searching for recipes and going to the grocery store. On top of this, a meal delivery plan offers perfectly portioned ingredients so you can limit your food waste.
Who Needs Meal Delivery?
Do you eat? Yes? Then you can benefit from pre-portioned meals delivered to your door. However, we know the need to not throw your money around willy nilly when you don’t necessarily need a product.
A meal delivery program is perfect for the beginner chef who wants to learn the basics of cooking without experimenting on expensive ingredients. When you’re on a budget, it’s hard to test out a recipe when you don’t quite know how it will turn out. You tend to cling to recipes you know will work, because honestly, who has time to cook something that you’ll end up throwing out?
Most meal delivery programs give you step-by-step recipes to go with your ingredients, helping you ease into the journey of cooking meal by meal.
Along with beginner chefs, meal delivery plans are perfect for the busy professional looking for homemade meals or the family trying to eat healthier.
What do I Need in my Kitchen to Start?
There may have been a time in your life where the only cooking utensil you needed was your microwave and a fork, but you are a refined adult now...or at least you’re posing as one. You can really knock your own socks off just by owning a few things that will help with most dishes.
You’ll find that each meal delivery service is unique in what you’ll need in your kitchen. While most are aimed at beginner chefs and don’t expect you to have every spice under the sun, you are still expected to have a pot, pan, more than one bowl, and some plates.
We know, this is a lot to ask for. But trust us, just adding these to the kitchen will be a minor investment in your successful culinary future.
As far as some preliminary foods to have in your kitchen, grab a box of salt, some ground pepper (whole peppercorn if you want the chef-like experience of grinding fresh pepper through a pepper mill), olive oil, and a few sticks of butter. We also recommend stocking up on a mixing spoon, a large cutting board, and two essential knives: a chef’s knife and a paring knife.
You might as well get a pair of scissors and a can opener while you’re in the kitchen accessories. There are plenty of homemade YouTube videos on how to open a can of food without a can opener in case of emergency, but you’re not in a post-apocalyptic world and almost every grocery store offers these simple tools at a cheap price.
When you start cutting more and more vegetables, from raw onions to poblano peppers, you’ll realize how a good knife can make or break your cooking experience. With a dull paring knife, your diced tomatoes turn into mushed salsa on your cutting board. While the taste might still be there, the presentation sure loses a few points.
Depending on the meal delivery program you choose, you could get by without prepping your kitchen with all these tools. However, if your meal doesn’t come pre-prepared and ready to stick in the microwave, you will more than likely be cutting and chopping veggies. There’s nothing wrong with a little prep; in fact, the meal will taste even that much better.
Just make sure you don’t have to make a panicked grocery store run mid-meal to grab an oven mitt.
How Delivery Works
The appeal behind meal delivery services lies in the fact that you don’t have to get in your car and make an extra trip to the market for ingredients. Since meal delivery has been a fast-growing competition between brands, they’ve quickly evolved their delivery methods to make your experience simple and enjoyable.
Once you schedule your meals for the week, you’ll get a notification of which day your meals will arrive. Your ingredients are packed at the nearest distribution center and placed into refrigerated boxes. From there, UPS delivers the boxes straight to your door, where they stay safely refrigerated and sealed up until you get home for the day.
Most meal delivery programs are cognizant of using recyclable materials in their packaging, especially because every portioned ingredient is compartmentalized into even more packaging.
One thing you should be aware of when choosing your meal plan is the day that your meals deliver on. If you’re someone who is gone on Mondays and Tuesdays but your delivery arrives on Monday morning, you’ll want to see if there is any flexibility to your meal's arrival.
You’re paying for a weeks’ worth of dinners, and you don’t want them to go to waste just because it arrived on a day that you’re not home. This might not be something that crosses your mind in planning out your meals, but in a practical sense for the weekend warriors or work travelers, this should at least be a point of focus on your comparison list.
How Many People Does a Meal Delivery Plan Serve?
It’s no secret that there’s a large difference between the serving needs of a larger family and a couple. You don’t want to sign up for a plan that only feeds half your household with each meal.
Most meal delivery programs offer Family Plans to give you enough servings for the entire dinner table. Whether it’s the simple family plan offered with HelloFresh or the more intensive “Omnivore” vs. “Carnivore” options for the family plan in Green Chef, you can find the perfect menu for your family.
Luckily, for each meal delivery program, you won’t have to dig too deep to find out if a family plan is offered. One of the first steps you take when shopping around is selecting the plan you want. From there, you can take a look at the menu options.
If you’re searching for a “Classic” plan, you can choose the number of meals you’ll receive in a week. Most of these will serve more than one person, which for the single person means that you’ll get a good deal of leftovers to enjoy the next day. You can consider this a free lunch prepared by your past self. What a nice gesture you’ve done for yourself!
What does Pricing Look Like?
Pricing will likely be a driving factor to most folks and for good reason. After all, if money weren’t an issue, you might as well go to a restaurant every night to enjoy a delicious, prepared dinner.
Each meal delivery program is priced based on the number of ingredients offered with each meal, meal sizes, amount of protein, and market rate. For programs with more intensive options like gluten-free and vegan choices, you may find yourself with a heftier price tag. But, if you find yourself replacing ingredients to make up for foods you can’t eat, you’re also investing more into the total than you originally planned.
Remember, a serving is different than a meal. For meals that are priced per serving, and each meal serves 3 people, you need to multiply that price by 3 per meal. Anyone who is dining alone can usually depend on the leftovers lasting for the next day’s lunch, so factor that into your cost analysis.
Our advice for price comparisons: Settle on a budget before you start comparing numbers. It’s best to take a look at what your price point is before overwhelming yourself with different meal delivery pricing. There are so many great options, so you’ll likely benefit from narrowing down your target.
How should you set up a budget like that? Simple. Take a look at the amount of money you’re spending at restaurants and cooking at home. For a single person, each meal can serve as lunch and dinner (typically), so a two-serving meal takes the cost of your dinner and lunch.
How much are you normally spending on dinner and lunch? Eight dollars for a 12-inch sub? $1.50 for a taco? Are you sacrificing some life-sustaining ingredients to achieve that one-dollar food budget? Have you thought about future doctors’ visits? Work hours lost in the restroom?
These should all be factored into the equation. In the end, meal delivery plans usually even out as a solid investment with the added bonus of crafting your own meals and learning how to cook.
Why the Quick Email Sign-Up?
One of the biggest criticisms that you’ll see with meal delivery sites is their quick email address grab when a consumer signs up to look at a meal plan. It’s natural to be hesitant with this step, especially when you’re just browsing and comparing.
Once you enter your email address and continue to the menu options, you’ll see that coupons and daily deals start adding up in your inbox. These are helpful for those food adventurers wanting to test out these new programs. With introductory discounts, you really do benefit from these savings. However, you can easily opt out of these subscriptions, so don’t let the email sign-up deter you.
What if I Don’t Like the Options?
You’ve dug past the email sign-up and you’ve made it to the actual scheduling of your meals. Turns out, the meal delivery program you signed up for doesn’t have gluten-free allergies or you’re just not feeling the flatbread options.
Breathe easy because the cancel button works.
The meal delivery programs that we’ve rated and compared are legitimate, consumer-based programs that depend on user input and feedback to work properly. The plans that fall under our scrutiny have made it to the highest spots for a number of great reasons. One of those being that they follow through with easy cancellations and simple scheduling.
We’ve scoured reviews to ensure that if a product’s customer service is lacking, it’s made clear before you make a commitment.
A powerful tool of 2018 is flexibility, and products are using this as their marketing campaign. Since these programs are designed for the busier individuals, they know that you won’t go through a 20-step cancellation process. Most meal delivery programs are designed to be user-friendly, accessible via mobile, and streamlined. If they don’t meet these criteria, reviewers are sure to mention this as it’s an essential part of the user experience.
How Complicated are These Meals?
You can literally go Martha Stewart style home cooking to straight up stick the meal in a microwave and call it a night. The average meal delivery plan is focused on shortening your night’s routine while still offering a flavorful recipe that everyone in the house will enjoy. That said, most meals take about 30 minutes from prep to serving.
As testimony from this writer, a beginner chef will likely take more than 30 minutes from beginning to the end of the meal. That’s not to say you won’t improve your cooking speed over time but plan on some turbulence as you take off for this culinary flight.
You will need to take into consideration that clean-up for these meals is not an added feature of meal delivery. While they show up in a tidy, organized parcel, you’ll have some clean-up ahead of you as you separate newly discovered cremas and chimichurri sauces into different bowls. You’ll suddenly find yourself wanting to separate the scallion whites from the scallion greens, which means more cutting board space.
All in all, you should allow an hour of time dedicated to cooking and cleaning for each meal, give or take the simpler and more complicated meals.
Want to go the Super Easy Route?
Maybe you don’t want to touch another cooking utensil for as long as you live, and you’d rather die than walk into the grocery store again (hate to break it to you, but you’ll probably have to go there at some point). If this is the case, look for a pre-prepared meal delivery program where you don’t have to chop or slice a single carrot. Instead, every meal is prepared before it reaches your door.
All you need to do is heat the dish up and it’s ready to go.
Diet Meal Plans vs. Non-Diet Meal Plans
Are you looking for a lifestyle change where you’re changing every food habit you have? Or, are you just needing a good dinner a few times a week? Asking yourself this question will direct you in the direction of a dietary meal plan or just a classic plan.
While meal delivery plans strongly take nutrition into consideration when offering certain dishes, they do not portion their ingredients based on the specific nutrients your body needs. But, there are meal delivery plans that do offer this.
Plans such as Nutrisystem actually strategize their daily meals to coordinate with what your specific body needs. With these kits, you receive meals for every meal of the day, not excluding your midday snacks. These plans are more of a lifestyle change since they change every dietary choice that you make. This isn’t just a meal that you can cook for dinner.
Dietary meal plans are perfect for anyone looking for a diet that complements their healthy workout routine. These programs can revolutionize a person’s nutritional balance by providing the right amount of proteins, vitamins, and nutrients without requiring intense meal planning. Consumers should be aware that while these meal plans are designed to taste good, they’re not as focused on the liberty of spices and garnishes.
Some of these meal plans can be considered to be an affordable version of an at-home dietitian. For anyone looking for a meal delivery program that is weighted more heavily on dietary portions, make sure that the program is accredited and meets your daily requirements. It’s best to talk with your doctor beforehand to understand your dietary needs so you can focus on a plan that matches your goals.
What About Allergies?
There is no meal plan specifically aimed at someone with food allergies, although we have a feeling that will be in the works in the near future. With how quickly the meal delivery market is evolving, this is an issue that can be revamped without changing much infrastructure.
Some meal delivery plans are more in tune with dietary restrictions than others, though, and it’s important to look for the plans that differentiate between vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, diabetic-friendly, paleo, and other options. Plans like Green Chef offer a wide array of options that meet most diets.
These plans will offer more specific options so you can limit the ingredients that go into your meal options. For meal delivery plans, all ingredients are separated, so you can leave the cheddar out if you just aren’t feeling cheese that day. But for serious allergies, we have yet to find a meal delivery program that can offer a full guarantee of no cross-contamination between ingredients.
We believe the future of allergy-inclusive meal plans is on the cusp of the horizon, so keep sending in your feedback to these consumer-based meal delivery companies. Based on what we’ve seen with the quick changes implemented, they’re listening to consumers.
Meal delivery plans are the solution to the new-age problem of simply not having enough time to cook. You’re working hard — you deserve a home-cooked meal, even if you’re the one preparing it! From the less advanced to the more complex meal plans, they all have one thing in common: They reduce the steps needed to cook a meal you can enjoy.
Once you get a box of meals on your doorstep, you can avoid the grocery store. Just in that small step, you’ve successfully added some time to your evening. Plus, you don’t have to run into that gossip queen Carol who you’ve been trying to avoid for the last 5 years.
Yes, there is a little bit of investment that comes with a meal delivery set-up, but compared with eating at a restaurant every night or grabbing a ready-to-eat meal from the store, you actually save money. There is a certain joy you’ll get out of preparing a gourmet for yourself and friends, and we can promise you that these meals are easily Instagram-worthy. Just think of all the capital you’ll rake in with your fancy food photos.
This isn’t just an investment into your weekly diet, this is an investment in your career. We’re probably joking, but fortune does favor the meal delivery box.
With the discounts you receive on your first go at a meal delivery program, there is really no risk in trying. We encourage it, as do thousands of others who have tried out these highly-ranked plans. Take a look at the top meal delivery plans, and start 2019 on an exciting foot as you venture into new food territory.