With daily schedules becoming busier every day, it seems that the simple act of shopping and preparing food for dinner is becoming harder to squeeze in.
Now, a new “meal category” has emerged that has the potential to meet consumer needs and change the way we shop and eat: meal-delivery plans. These meal-delivery services provide all of the components of a complete meal with step-by-step instructions — delivered right to your doorstep.
Available in a variety of types — from traditional meat and potatoes, to vegetarian, gluten free, vegan and even regional specialties — these plans can provide as few as two to three meals per week, with no obligation. All are shipped with ice packs, to keep food safe and cold for many hours.
They’re a fun way to have the whole family (including children) prepare a meal together. And it’s a great way to try new fruits and vegetables along with unusual seasonings and spices, to make you and your family adventurous eaters. All of this without leaving the convenience of your own home!
Here's a quick review of the most popular options:
HelloFresh has a unique packaging advantage. Unlike most other plans, the meals come in small, aerated boxes containing all of the ingredients for a single meal. This can be a big timesaver, without having to find the recipes and group the ingredients on your own. With high-quality ingredients and generous portions, these recipes are generally easy to prepare. Both animal and plant protein (vegetarian) options are available.
Cost: About $11.50 per meal
2. Peach Dish
For healthy regional Southern recipes (in addition to traditional options), this Atlanta-based service ships across the country. Easy to prepare, with step-by-step directions for regional favorites like tomato pie, the meals are well portioned, with complete instructions, and photos of the finished dish. They offer vegetarian options as well.
Cost: About $12.50 per meal
3. Blue Apron
Blue Apron is full of fresh ingredients, with traditional or vegetarian options. Like many of the plans, the food is delivered in one big box, and it’s necessary to get out the recipe card to separate the meal ingredients for individual preparation. There’s good variety and the recipes are generally easy to prepare.
Cost: About $10.00 per meal
4. Terra’s Kitchen
A unique feature of Terra’s Kitchen is it’s delivery: it arrives in what they call a “vessel” — a reusable large styrofoam, insulated box, with pull-out shelves. A big advantage for some people is that much of the produce comes already chopped and ready to use. That can be a big time saver, especially when combined with easy-to-follow recipes cards, and step-by-step directions.
They also offer vegetarian and calorie-controlled options. A note to new users: The “vessel” is pretty heavy so be prepared for that!
Cost: About $12.50 per meal
If your idea of a meal is a smoothie, the fruit and vegetable variety provided by Greenblender could be a good fit. A box filled with enough fruits and vegetables for five smoothies (10 servings, total of 12 ounces each) comes with recipe cards and easy-to-follow directions. Several foods like almonds and chia seeds are included, to boost the nutrient content of each drink. By adding more water, milk, or coconut water and ice, the total volume of these drinks can be boosted for a larger serving size.
Cost: $50 for five smoothies (10 servings)
In several locations across the country, Munchery provides fresh, complete meals delivered right to your door to “heat and eat”. No ice packs or special handling is available, but they offer a narrow range for a delivery time within a one hour window — to ensure food safety (food can stay out at room temperature for up to two hours without risk). From main dish salads, to grilled salmon, there is a wide variety of meal types, with some of the most popular items selling out before the end of an ordering period.
Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD is NBC News Health and Nutrition Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.