Meal delivery services are the new fad among busy young professionals who don't have time to cook, college students looking to learn how to cook, and parents wanting some support in coming up with family dinners.
Meal delivery services can either offer ready-made meals that you reheat and eat within minutes or meal kits that help you whip up your dinner on a whim.
But... do you get bang for your bucks? Are meal delivery services really worth it?
In this article, we've taken a closer look at what to consider before subscribing. Let's dive in!
A Look at Meal Subscription Boxes
Since the beginning of the 2010s, meal delivery services have been growing – and are expected to continue to see a steady rise . In 2018, the US meal kit delivery service market was a $1,362.3M industry – more than double its worth only two years prior!
But what exactly does meal delivery service refer to? Let's have a closer look:
Types of Meal Delivery Services
There are different types of meal delivery services:
Full Meal Delivery
Full meal delivery means that you get pre-made meals delivered directly to your door – either fresh or frozen. And no worries – if you're away at work during delivery time, the meals are packaged to keep freshness for a few hours. Prep time varies from 0 if it's a cold meal like a salad to a few minutes in the micro. This is a great alternative if you don't enjoy cooking, are short of time, or just want to make sure you get your nutrients on fleek.
Meal Kit Delivery
With a meal kit delivery service, you get most or all ingredients you need – often in separate, labeled bags or containers to make cooking easier. Just like for full meal delivery, you can count on your company to send you the ingredients in insulated packaging so that it lasts until you get home. Ingredients are already chopped and prepped, and you only need to stand for the cooking. You also get instructive recipe cards with easy-to-follow instructions and – in some cases – video tutorials explaining the more challenging steps.
Meal kit delivery is optimal for those wanting to enjoy the fun of cooking and indulge in a fresh meal that hasn't been frozen or reheated – but skip the hassle of planning, shopping, and prepping.
Some services don't send you ingredients or meals but take care of the first and maybe most creatively demanding step – meal planning. Choose between tons of pre-made plans catering to your dietary requirements. Some services combine meal planning with grocery bags that you can simply pick up at the store to save time from grocery shopping.
In-Home cooking means that a chef or nutritionist comes to your house and creates a set of meals that are tailored to your health needs. This is ideal for those who desire a personal, customized approach from an expert with profound knowledge in nutrition. It's an amazing opportunity to learn healthy cooking directly from a pro.
Factors to Examine
There are a few factors to contemplate when choosing which meal delivery service is the best one for you.
Are you vegan, gluten-free, or have any other allergies or preferences? Then make sure that the meal delivery service caters to your specific needs! Some services are 100% gluten-free or plant-based, while others might have few or no options apart from the standard American diet. If you have allergies, it can be a good idea to ask about potential cross-contamination.
See how you can get the best gluten-free meals delivered to your home in our full review of meal services!
Does it matter to you if the ingredients are organic, locally produced, fresh, or non-GMO? And if the meals or ingredients are beneficial for your health? Check with the meal delivery service to make sure they meet your expectations. Some companies deliver only frozen meals and frozen ingredients, while others have everything fresh. There are services offering full organic, no organic, and a mix. If you're ordering animal products, some companies have a policy to only buy from small farmers with grass-fed meat, standards for how they treat animals, and no antibiotics.
If time is a critical factor for you, it might be smart to choose a company with shorter preparation times or even ready-made meals to reheat. Bear in mind that you might wanna add some minutes to the indicated prep times for meal kits (where you cook the meals yourself), especially if you're a novice in the kitchen or are trying out a recipe for the first time.
Level of Customization
Do you prefer a meal service with a more or less set menu so that you don't have to choose the meals, or do you enjoy composing your own menu? Different companies have different levels of customization. Also, you might wanna strike a balance between new, exotic discoveries on your plate (especially if you have a family) and well-known meals. Or go all in and let yourself be surprised. It's also good to check how often the recipes are changed to know if you can get your favorites back in the coming weeks.
The cost is a vital factor for many. Are you on a food budget and prefer to find the cheapest meals possible, or do you wanna splurge on premium ingredients? The cost per meal is often indicated on the menu page. Usually, the price lies somewhere between eating out and cooking for yourself – so it's up to you to decide whether the saving in grocery shopping, prep, and cooking time makes it worth it.
Most home meal delivery services let you choose between 2 or 4 servings per meal. If you're in a single household, the 2-serving meal can come in handy since you can use the leftovers the following day for lunch or invite a friend (or your cute neighbor). When it comes to serving sizes, some companies are more generous while others err on the small end – so it can be wise to look into reviews or reach out to the customer service and ask what's true for the company of your choice.
Subscription Terms & Conditions
A meal delivery service is a little more complicated than ordering a pizza. With most meal delivery companies, you need to sign up for a subscription of set length or on a recurring basis. Most of them let you cancel your subscription anytime. Some require that you email or call customer service, while others let you cancel from your account.
Also, can you change the number of meals per week if you have family or friends over and pause if you're away on vacay or feel like cooking your own meals for a while?
The companies use varying amounts and quality of packaging. Are you gonna get tons of plastics each week? Is the packaging recyclable and eco-friendly? Those things are a good idea to look up beforehand.
Quite a few of the companies are engaged in social and environmental causes and regularly donate to charities and organizations striving for a better world – such as Feed America. For example, they can donate one meal to someone in need for each meal you purchase. You can find information about this on the respective websites.
The Benefits of Meal Delivery Services
The Price You Pay
The major setback with home meal delivery services is for many people the price. Some services are more suitable if you're on a food budget and start at as low as $5 per person and meal. However, most services land at around $10 per serving, with some going up toward $15. If the service has more of a health profile and simultaneously serves as a personal nutritionist, meals can go upwards of $30 per serving.
It's worth noticing that you pay not only for the meals themselves but also for the convenience of having everything delivered and freeing up time for making a meal plan, prep work, and – in the case of ready-made meals – cooking. Also, most companies offer some kind of deal for first-time buyers – something that can be worth looking for!
It starts with getting clear on what's important in a meal delivery service for you. Are you an aspiring home chef, wanting a fun challenge and to learn new, high-level cooking skills? Have you never cooked before and want the simplest recipes possible? Do you have dietary preferences or food allergies? How many meals per week do you want, and for how many people? Are you looking for ready-made meals to grab on the go, or do you prefer to participate in the cooking process? Those are some of the main factors when choosing between the many food delivery companies out there.
Food delivery from your restaurant allows you to buy once and get your food delivered instantly. A meal delivery service is meant to be integrated into your everyday life to facilitate your day-to-day. Thus, it requires some kind of subscription and commitment and ordering of more than one dish at a time. You can often start with one week and pause or cancel anytime – so there's still no strings attached!
So... Are Meal Delivery Services Worth It?
Using $10 per person per meal as a benchmark, you’re paying a relatively high price to have your food delivered right to your door. A survey from the United States Department of Agriculture  tells that men between the ages of 19 and 50 will spend between $44.70 a week and $88.80 a week on groceries (October 2020) while women in the same age range will spend between $39.70 and $78.70. These numbers account for all meals and snacks during a week.
This implies that even on the most expensive level, seven days of breakfast, lunch, and dinner would cost a man a little over $4 per meal and a woman about $3.74. The verdict is that you save around $6 per meal when you do your own grocery shopping instead of using food delivery services. That said, there are budget-friendly meal delivery services for about $5 per meal. While they won't save you money as compared to home-cooked, you'll pay only $1 more per meal.
The advantage of grocery shopping is that you have the freedom to adapt the meals to your taste and get leftovers and extra ingredients. Many meal subscription boxes contain just enough of each ingredient for one meal. This means no leftover ingredients. Plus, you won't get a full three meals a day seven days a week – most services offer three or four dinners per week.
To answer the question whether meal delivery services are worth it: it depends mainly on if time or money is your most abundant resource.
In strict terms, home-cooked will save you money. If you're on a restrictive budget, you might find it preferable to go grocery shop on your own and invest the extra time. On the contrary, if you have the money, you'll save time and energy by subscribing to one of the many home meal delivery services.
A good idea to get started with a meal subscription box can be to opt for the lowest plan and pause the following week's subscription so that you can try out all the meals before you decide if you wanna continue.
As uncovered in this article, a meal delivery service might unleash your inner home chef, have you try new flavors, and use that extra time for something you love. Even if you're on a budget, the convenience of skipping the grocery store, stop hunting for recipes, no longer sweating over prep work, and getting delivery to your door can be worth the extra money – especially with the budget-friendly services available.
Meal deliveries are definitely something to consider if you have a lot on your plate!
 Meal Kit Delivery Services Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Offering (Heat & Eat, Cook & Eat), By Service (Single, Multiple), By Platform (Online, Offline), By Region, And Segment Forecasts, 2020 - 2027 (May 2020) by Grand View Research
 https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/media/file/CostofFoodSep2020.pdf as seen on Oct 28, 2020