Weeknights are not for the weak of heart. Amid the chaos of homework, piano lessons, and sports practices, somehow you’re supposed to prepare a healthy family meal. Not to mention spend quality time with your spouse, work out, prepare lunches for the next day, meditate, read, tidy up… (Does anyone really do all that? If so, I hate him or her.) Rather than a peaceful gathering around the dinner table, the evening meal often ends up as a hodgepodge of questionable leftovers or a drive-through trip.
So are meal kits the answer? There’s Home Chef, Hello Fresh, Sun Basket, Green Chef, and Blue Apron to name just a few. You can’t interact with any form of media these days without seeing an advertisement for one version or the other – from gourmet to Keto to organic – meal kits are everywhere. But are they right for you? Here’s a look at the pros and cons from my experience with a few meal kit services.
- Convenience Most meal kits allow you to choose your meals for the week with a few clicks and have them delivered to your door on a set day. They vary in the prep needed from some providing the whole ingredients, others with everything chopped and measured, and a few ready to go directly in the oven. One now-defunct meal service we tried called Plated was actually more work than our typical home meal. (For example, scraping vanilla beans and dicing mini hot peppers rather than using the pantry staples.) Still, it cut out the meal planning and grocery shopping. Currently we get two meal kits a week, and it’s a bit of a relief to know I will have everything I need for two dinners without running any errands.
- Taste Very nearly 100% of our meals have been tasty. They’re not always kid-friendly, but that’s nothing new. As a rule, the more complicated kits are more delicious. The kits you simply pop into the oven can taste like a TV dinner, which is essentially what they are. The kits have introduced us to some new flavors and gotten us out of our usual weekly meal rotation.
- Health Many of the meal kit services have very healthy options. One of the biggest advantages I have found is that they enforce portion control. You receive a set number of servings with nutritional information, so you are less likely to overeat. I also often use a leftover serving for lunch the next day.
- Cost This is not a budget-friendly option. You are paying for convenience, and meal kits will generally cost close to a casual dinner out. Most average about $10 a serving. Even the cheapest are $5 to $6 a serving. If you’re looking for low-priced convenience, there are definitely better options.
- Time This might seem contradictory to meal kits providing convenience, but convenient doesn’t necessarily mean quick. Some kits say they require 15-minutes, though 30 minutes to an hour is more common (including cooking time). Keep in mind the advertised time is usually five to ten minutes shorter than actual time. I can slap a sandwich together or pour a bowl of cereal in less than a minute, so meal kits aren’t necessarily the time-saving answer. You also have to make sure you are going in to the app or onto the website and selecting the meals you want and skipping weeks you’re out of town. If you don’t plan ahead, it’s easy to have unwanted meals (and the associated charges) piling up.
- Waste This might be my main issue with meal kits. The sheer waste involved is enough to make you queasy as you are sauteing your onions. Perfect portions of minced garlic and red wine vinegar are appealing in theory, but that means lots of tiny plastic bags and bottles for each individual ingredient. Not to mention the disposable trays, boxes, and ice packs that arrive each week. Many companies make efforts to offer recyclable packaging, which is admirable, and I’ve found ways to reuse some of the containers for other purposes. But there is still a lot of packaging. Be sure to factor in the amount of waste created for a single meal when evaluating the true cost of a meal kit.
So are meal kits the answer for you? Maybe. You should weigh the pros and cons and what solution you’re really looking for. If you want quick, inexpensive meals, you’ll likely be disappointed. If you’re willing to pay more for convenience, then give them a try. Right now, I am satisfied with my twice weekly delivery. But, I’m not convinced it’s a long-term solution. In this hectic time of life, convenience is key. However, in general I prefer cooking the old-fashioned way. (Or just getting takeout).