Meal kit delivery services have become increasingly popular over the last few years, with more than a dozen companies now offering Americans a variety of options to deal with the age-old question, “What’s for dinner?”
According to consumer research company Packaged Facts, meal kit delivery services have grown into a $1.5 billion market since 2012, with the likes of Martha Stewart, the New York Times and Amazon joining the space in the last year.
Now, all of these programs appear to have the same overall goal: delivering pre-portioned, high-quality ingredients and delicious, easy-to-follow recipes to customers, saving them time shopping and creating a fun, stress-free cooking environment.
And you get to cook recipes you may not normally have opted to try, and use ingredients that you don’t have to worry about going bad when eating leftovers (I’m looking at you, cilantro). However, when you compare services a bit more closely, you soon realize there are definitely some key differences.
We tried out two of the major national brands, Plated and Blue Apron, as well as two DC area brands, Sooma Eats and Healthy Fresh Meals, for a brief look at what’s available.
From the start, Plated seemed to be a touch more expensive than Blue Apron, but certainly offered more flexibility. Customers can choose to order recipes for two, four or six people, making this service equally ideal for couples, families and those looking to entertain a group. Pricing will run you $12 per meal, with the ability to choose from seven to nine menu options. The insulated box that arrives at your door keeps all the food fresh up to midnight of your delivery date, and once you put everything in your fridge, it will stay fresh for up to five days after the delivery date.
We tried the salmon and bowtie pasta with pink sauce and peas, and the chicken al forno with salsa verde and parmesan-mashed potatoes. When our box arrived, all the meals came in individually wrapped bags, with all the ingredients for each meal clearly labeled, definitely saving some time. Recipe times will average you 25 to 45 minutes, unless you are a bit slow on the chopping. We did really appreciate the focus Plated has on making sure all the products it uses are sustainable (nontoxic and nonhazardous bags), and they source locally when possible.
Blue Apron comes in a bit less expensive than Plated, at around $8 to $10 per meal, with a two or four-person subscription and a flat rate of three meals per week. The two-person plan offers you six menu options for the week, while the four-person only offers four recipes. Ingredients arrive in an insulated bag (inside a delivery box), will stay fresh in the bag several hours after delivery and can be stored in the fridge for up to a week from the delivery date. We wish they had grouped all the ingredients together per meal, like Plated, just to save a touch more time. Meal prep will run you around 40 minutes or so.
The cooking process for Blue Apron was a bit more beginner-friendly, with links on the recipe cards to online tips and how-to videos. We tried out the fontina-stuffed pork chops and seared salmon with lemon labneh. The Blue Apron meals came out a bit more impressive and we picked up some new skills along the way, plus they offer a wine delivery to pair with their meals.
Sooma Eats is positioning itself away from the Blue Aprons and Plateds of the world by delivering ingredients for multi-serving meals, geared toward low- to medium-income families. The DC-based service, which launched this past month, says their meals are “less a fancy two-person dinner and more multiethnic comfort food, something that makes sense for a large group of people or an individual who just wants to eat for the week.”
Customers can cook in larger batches once or twice a week to save time, with meals priced at $29, each providing five to seven servings (around $5 per serving). Currently, the service has six meal options including Indian vegetable curry, roasted chicken with root vegetables and pork carnitas. Meals are delivered Wednesday and Saturday mornings, and are currently available in the city, as well as in Arlington and Alexandria.
For Washingtonians looking to skip the whole cooking process entirely and get health-conscious meals, Healthy Fresh Meals is the way to go. The local year-old company delivers pre-prepared packaged meals to customers’ doors on Sunday, prepared within 24 hours of delivery. All meals are 500 calories or less, with a full breakdown of the nutritional content. Menus are offered weekly, with 20 options to choose from and 10 rotating options. Customer favorites include the turkey chili and bison-stuffed peppers.
And Healthy Fresh does not require subscriptions, which they say is due to the fact that a lot of their clients travel and have changing schedules. Customers can order as many or as few meals per week as they’d like, with pricing running $10 to $12 per meal, depending on protein choice. The service operates within a 30-mile radius of DC, delivering to Arlington, Reston, Herndon and upper Maryland.
Pick Your Kit
Healthy Fresh Meals