the 411 on meal kits

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about Blue Apron and other meal kit companies, especially now that Amazon is getting into this business. But what exactly is a meal kit and might it be something you’d like to try?

Meal kit companies deliver, right to your home, [almost] all the ingredients needed to prepare one or more meals that you’ve selected from their website. Recipe cards to cook the meals are included in the food delivery package and, typically, the only ingredients not included in a meal kit are salt, pepper and cooking oil. So, when you order from a meal kit company, you are getting the exact amounts of what you need without going to the supermarket. You will, however, need to do the cooking and clean up!

There are many benefits to ordering from a meal kit delivery service. First, you can explore a variety of ethnic dishes without investing in pricey ingredients you may never use again – such as fish sauce or exotic spices. You also receive the exact amount of the needed ingredients so there is no wasted food. Moreover, the recipes are professionally developed and the step-by-step instructions with accompanying photos are easy to follow. These meal kit services also provide a much-needed remedy for people who cannot get to the grocery store – or simply don’t want to go. And recipes are marked with calorie counts: something that would normally be difficult to figure when cooking on your own or eating out.

Meal kits provide an easy way to socialize without the expense of a restaurant. Since one meal delivery equates to two servings, sharing time in the kitchen with a partner, friend or neighbor to prepare a home-made dinner can take the hum-drum out of an uneventful day.

There have been a lot of entrants into the meal kit market – some have already come and gone – and it can be confusing which service to choose as the offerings are similar. There may be a few bells and whistles to differentiate them, including the types of meals and the number of meals you need to order. To bring customers on board, many of these companies are sending discount coupons into your mailbox and promoting similar offers online. So keep an eye out for deals.

Here are some better-known meal kit companies you may want to consider:

Blue Apron
Blue Apron promises meat with no added hormones, farm-fresh seasonal produce, and sustainably-sourced seafood. New recipes are created by their culinary team each week. A recent viewing of selections included Korean beef steam buns, roasted cauliflower pasta, and cornmeal-crusted shrimp Po’ Boys with heirloom tomato salad. Price per serving starts at $8.99 per meal. Shipping is free.

Hello Fresh
Hello Fresh offers three meal plans including a standard one for two people, with a variety of meat and fish, and a veggie plan for two, with plant-based proteins and grains. The Hello Fresh marketers remind us that they’re interested in making cooking fun, with dietitians creating new recipes each week. When we took a look, the offerings included balsamic fig chicken, parmesan-crusted fish with herbed potatoes and carrots, and creamy mushroom pork chops. You can select either three or four meals a week, with three meals/six servings coming in at about $60.

Martha & Marley Spoon
Martha & Marley Spoon stands out as the celebrity meal kit company, with recipes from Martha Stewart. While they offer a subscription model like the other meal kit companies, you can also find single meals (two servings) like Moroccan spiced chicken with vegetables on, starting at $24 ($12/serving). Martha offers vegetarian and gluten-free meals. On the Marley Spoon site, you can order as few as two meals (four servings) per week for $48, with free delivery. As with the other meal kit services, you can skip weeks or cancel.

Chef’d differentiates itself by offering “meal solutions” that have been developed in collaboration with Weight Watchers to reflect their point system; the American Diabetes Association for people living with diabetes; and Atkins for low carbohydrate meals. Orange beef stir fry, Polynesian steak with sweet potatoes, and kale, shrimp and quinoa salad were recent offerings. You can order as few as one meal (two servings) a week for about $24-$26. And for a small premium, you can get fish for every meal – that comes to about $82 for three meals (about $14 per serving). Chef’d provides free shipping and incentive discounts for ongoing orders.

Plated’s twice a week or more service allows you to skip weeks, swap recipes or cancel, and is good for every cooking level. First-time users can take advantage of incentive pricing that will significantly lower the $12 cost per serving. Some of their “back by popular demand” recipes include fish tacos and the Cuban beef bowl. There are dessert add-ons such as Snickerdoodle blondies which will take 30-40 minutes to prepare but are considered “easy” to make.

Other meal kit companies to check out include: Home Chef, Sun Basket, Purple Carrot (which are plant-based meals), and Munchery.

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