If you’ve ever wondered what the best way to eat healthily and conveniently is, you’re not alone. It’s a question we are constantly searching to answer at Meal Matchmaker. Supermarkets nowadays are packed full of ingredients from all over the globe, while walking down your local Main Street you’ll find an array of eat-out options from fine dining restaurants to greasy takeaway shops to fast-casual healthy-ish spots.
Add in hundreds of online delivery sites, with the option to order any meal you wish with the click of a button, and you have an overwhelming number of options to eat. With such an abundance of choices, navigating them can be a little overwhelming. That's where we come in.
We'll explore the pros and cons of all the different ways we eat, from good old-fashioned cooking from scratch to eating at your favorite restaurant to ordering meal kits. While ordering a meal kit is essentially still cooking from scratch, they allow you to skip an entire stage by gathering ingredients and choosing/following their own recipes, saving your valuable time.
Each has its positives and negatives, and while this is certainly not written to promote any particular way of cooking and/or eating, we will consider factors such as health, affordability, convenience, control, and quality when comparing. We have a lot to get through, so let’s dive in.
Cooking From Scratch
In an increasingly busy world, cooking at home can take a bit of a backseat, and we understand life gets in the way. Whether you love or hate cooking at home, it certainly comes with its upsides and downsides.
Heading to the supermarket to source ingredients for home-cooked meals is one of the cheaper ways you can eat. Because there are considerably fewer steps in getting your ingredients from a supermarket compared to having a restaurant prep, cook, and serve it for you, the costs are much cheaper anyway and less susceptible to inflation.
According to Value Penguin in “Average Household Cost of Food” Americans spend around $550 per month on average on groceries. Depending on where you shop, this can be a lot less. Cooking vegetable dishes with basic ingredients can help keep food costs down and provide the flexibility of cooking exactly what you want.
According to Balanceverything.com, the cost of feeding one person for one month in the U.S. is just over $340. To feed a family of four — two adults, one child aged 6-8 years, and one child aged 9-11 — comes in anywhere between $600 and $1,300 a month.
Because you have complete control over the ingredients you purchase, you can choose exactly what goes into your food. Cooking at home means you decide exactly what goes into your food, from sourcing the most organic fruits and vegetables to choosing the healthiest cooking oil and eliminating any unnecessary chemicals.
Because you’re choosing everything that goes into your food, you can be careful of your dislikes, allergies, and portions. This can be hard when eating at a restaurant or when ordering meal kits. While you can still inform all food-related businesses of your allergies and dislikes, what they put into a dish and how much they serve you is still entirely up to them.
In 2022, not everyone has the time to go check every supermarket in town for the best prices and their favorite ingredients. Cooking meals, especially large ones for a family of five, is not only time-consuming but extremely hard work. Gathering ingredients, prepping, cooking, and cleaning is a time-consuming process.
If you don’t have time to do this due to work, kids, and life getting in the way, cooking often takes a back seat, and the temptation to order from that favorite online app becomes all the more appealing. The time it takes to cook healthy, tasty food that satisfies everyone is one of the biggest disadvantages of home cooking.
Hard Work & Enjoyment
From prepping to cooking to cleaning, more or less everything involved with cooking takes effort, and after work, it might appear as yet another grueling task to get through. If you don’t enjoy cooking on top of this, you’ll pretty much do anything it takes to avoid it, and ordering from your favorite takeout place is only a click away.
If you’re a great cook and confident in making delicious food, home-cooked meals can taste just as good, if not better, than the food you’ll find in a restaurant. However, if you don't enjoy it or make a mistake in the recipe, then there goes the taste out the window.
Eating out is an amazing way to socialize and enjoy amazing food, and depending on where you’re dining out or ordering in from, convenient all at the same time.
However, eating out at even the top-end restaurants is not always that healthy and is certainly one of the more expensive ways to eat. According to ICSID, the average American spends $67 per week on takeout, translating to over $3,400 per year!
So what are some of the major advantages and disadvantages of eating out at restaurants?
Eating at restaurants comes down to how enjoyable it is. Going to your favorite establishment with friends and family is a true American pastime and a great way to tell stories, and catch up with people all while eating great food.
Depending on your restaurant of choice, you can head there safe in the knowledge your food is being prepared and cooked by professional chefs and that it's going to taste great. At least, this should be the case.
Whether you're going to your favorite restaurant or ordering takeout, there’s one reason that rises above every other, and that's the taste. You can order food from your favorite or trendy restaurant or take it out and know that it’ll appease your tastebuds for the most part.
By far, ordering takeaway and having it delivered to your home or going out for a sit-down meal is the most expensive way you can feed yourself. This is true in almost every case, and if you're on a budget, it can prevent you from eating out altogether.
According to Numbeo, the average price of a takeout meal costs around $15 while a sit-down meal at a mid-range restaurant sits around $30.
When you eat out, you never truly know how healthy the food is. While most businesses market healthy produce, you don't know the exact products they use and what they cook with. For example, the cooking oils they use.
Takeaway food is the most unhealthy food you can eat and what you gain in convenience, you lose in goodness. Oils, salt, and saturated fats used in fast-food restaurants can lead to serious health issues and take a major toll on the body over time.
Frequenting your favorite restaurant can become very regular and turn into a habit. Because your “friends are going” or “you’ve had a long day” there are endless ways to justify not cooking at home. You can suddenly find yourself eating out several times a week.
In 2022, numerous companies offer at-home meal kits that allow you to receive your ingredients in exact amounts, measured out exactly—meaning you don't need to plan or spend time finding good produce.
Meal kits let you pick and choose your favorite ingredients, then all you need to do is follow the instructions and prep/cook your meals. Kits are a super-easy way to eat healthily and conveniently, and if you’re a busy professional with a lot going on, they are by far the easiest way to eat well. Let's check out some of the pros and cons of using meal kits.
The ease of having everything measured and portioned to create an amazing meal is why meal kits are so great. All you have to do is prepare and cook your meal, safe in the knowledge all the ingredients and portions will be spot on.
There are several large companies across the U.S. offering this type of meal kit delivery service. For example, HelloFresh, Sun Basket, and Blue Apron are all very popular across the country and all provide fantastic ingredients.
Ever screwed up when cooking your favorite recipe? Yep, we feel your pain. Whether you missed the key ingredient or forgot the seasoning to give your signature dish its finishing touch, using meal kits makes this problem a thing of the past. When you order a kit, you know you’ll be getting the exact ingredients needed to cook the meal and some of the best companies have a wide range of meal choices.
If you’ve got a big family or a pack of "starving" teenagers to feed, portion sizing can be a problem, and most meal kits are limited with their sizing. I mean, you're only getting a set amount, but when you go to the supermarket you can grab as much as you need. So if that extra person comes over for dinner, it leaves you stuck.
Although more affordable than eating at a restaurant, meal kits are significantly more expensive than buying ingredients to cook with at home. They can dig into your wallet deeper than you think.
You can order a wide range of meals from all the major companies, and some meals are more cost-effective than others. For example, a vegetable dish you can make easily at home Is less cost-effective than ordering a meat dish, requiring specific ingredients.
According to Forbes, this is true for many meals. For example, a Cauliflower bowl costs $13, whereas cooking the same meal from scratch would only cost $1.18, meaning you save almost $12 by taking that extra bit of time to prep and cook.
Compare that to shrimp pasta, which costs $24 as part of a meal kit, while at home it would cost around $7 to make. This is still expensive, but more cost-effective than most vegetable-based dishes.
Regarding average costs of meal kits, Statista states the average meal kit cost in the U.S. is $9.99 when ordered from Blue Apron and Sun Basket, whereas ordering from Freshly and HelloFresh, averaged $8.99. Although cost-effectiveness will depend on the particular kit, it will always be more expensive than cooking at home.
Lack of Control
Although you can choose and select your ingredients with much more control than you can at a restaurant, you still leave yourself at the whim of the company, which ultimately decides what goes in your kit.
Yes, you can select the ingredients you want, but you don't know exactly where products have come from, and their quality can vary greatly depending on the company and time of year.
Now you’ve seen some of the pros and cons of eating out, cooking at home, and ordering meal kits, you’ll know that each has its positives and negatives. Using one method 100% of the time is not only boring, but can also be unhealthy for the mind, body, or wallet.
To summarize, here are the main points you need to remember for each:
- Meal kits are the most convenient way to eat.
- Home-cooked meals are the healthiest way to eat.
- Cooking at home is always more affordable.
- Restaurants and takeaways are considerably more expensive than cooking and meal kits.
We think a great way to eat would be to use a combination of all three methods in conjunction with each other. Having a balance can provide a great mix of healthy and tasty food, social life, and convenience. A normal day during the week? Home-cooked meal it is. Super busy week? Order a meal kit. Friend's birthday coming up? Head to your favorite restaurant.
While there is no "perfect" way to eat a balanced diet that is also enjoyable and convenient, you can certainly come close to achieving perfection through a combination of cooking at home, eating out, and using meal kits.