Meal kit delivery services review

You may have noticed advertisements about this trendy service while listening to your favorite podcasts, tuning in to the radio, streaming shows online, and scrolling through your social media. Meal kit delivery services, such as HelloFresh, Blue Apron, and Sun Basket, seem to be everywhere.

These services are all generally based on a similar model: you select meals to cook and then receive the ingredients to make those recipes at your doorstep. Could anything be more convenient? The touted benefits of meal kit delivery services seem to be universal across all the various companies: consumers should sign-up because the service will

  • deliver you fresh, healthy foods,
  • make cooking at home easier and more convenient,
  • improve your cooking skills, and
  • do it all in a sustainable way.

Meal kit delivery may seem like the answer to the problems of busy, working individuals and families, but is it really? To dig into that question, I looked into five of the popular meal kit delivery services including HelloFresh, Blue Apron, Sun Basket, Plated, and Home Chef.

Are the meals healthy?

As a nutrition professional, one of the first questions in my mind is: Do the meals support a healthy diet? Each service’s website allows you to see the nutrition information about the recipes that are available to select. In terms of calories, the meals generally fall between 550-950 calories. This is quite a large range, and some meals may contain too many calories to fit into consumers’ diets if they are struggling with weight management. For example, Blue Apron has a chicken and quinoa burrito bowl available that contains 690 calories, 940 mg sodium, 11 gm fat, 87 gm carbohydrate, 59 gm protein, and 22 gm fiber. This meal is almost 700 calories, and although that may fit the needs of some individuals, it could contain too many calories for those trying to maintain a healthy weight. The protein in this recipe, similar to many of the other available meals, is quite high. It is recommended that healthy female and male adults consume 46 gm or 56 gm of protein per day, respectively. The protein content of this burrito bowl exceeds both male and female daily protein needs in just one meal!

Another notable nutrition issue is that many of the offered recipes are packed with sodium. For example, the spinach and ricotta ravioli with chicken sausage and tomatoes from HelloFresh contains 1930 mg sodium! Sodium may not be a concern for everyone, but it is certainly important for individuals with high blood pressure or heart problems. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that Americans consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Despite this recommendation, the average American eats 3,400 mg per day. Recipes such as this that contain more than half of the daily recommended amount of sodium may make it difficult to limit sodium intake.

Is this service environmentally sustainable?

Every company I reviewed noted that several components of the packaging are recyclable. The plastic ice packs that keep the food cool are also recyclable if you cut them open, squeeze out the gel, and wash the plastic off. However, I wonder how if consumers would take the proper efforts to recycle the packaging as opposed to simply tossing it all in the garbage.

The services also claim to source their food products from farmers and food service suppliers that have sustainable practices. However, most of the services did not publish from what farms or supplier they buy from making it difficult to verify this claim.  

Are the services economical?

Many might consider meal kit delivery to be a luxury service because of the price. In Table 1, I compiled the price per week of ordering three recipes of two servings each for the services I reviewed. The price is around $60. You might think that this price is fairly reasonable. However, consider the fact that these meal delivery services only ship you dinner. Food for breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and any other food or beverage items will still need to be bought at the grocery store. Additionally, the cost per servings for these delivered meals is around $9-11. Similar recipes can be made with ingredients from the grocery store at a much lower price per serving.

Are the meals appropriate for everyone?

Unfortunately, these meals are not appropriate for everyone. Almost every company has a disclaimer on their website that individuals with allergies or conditions such as celiac disease should not order these meals due to the risk of cross contamination. This service may also be contraindicated for individuals with health concerns such as diabetes, heart disease, or other health conditions that require a special diet due to the inability to control the nutritional content of the meals.

Are there any other considerations?

One benefit to these meal services is that they may help people get in the habit of cooking meals at home. Although it may not be economical or entirely healthy, getting fresh ingredients delivered to your door likely pushes individuals to cook at home instead of going out.

Additionally, this service may encourage consumers to taste new foods, flavors, and recipes that they would likely not have tried on their own.

Testing HelloFresh in my own kitchen.

You have likely heard the saying, “don’t judge it before you try it.” I took those words to heart and tried HelloFresh in my own kitchen to see for myself if meal kit delivery is really a healthy, convenient way to cook meals at home.

  1. Delivery: After first opening the box, all I could think to myself was waste, waste, waste. Each food item from every recipe is packaged in little plastic packets and a larger paper bag. The three recipe bags are then put into a larger box surrounded by ice packs the size of your face and massive plastic bags filled with cushioning material. Even though some of the material is recyclable, I still felt like I was throwing a lot into the trash.
  2. Preparation and Cooking: Preparing the food was fairly easy. I made the wasabi zinger salmon over jasmine rice and green beans. Considering the nutritional content of this recipe, it was slightly better than other available options. It contained 700 calories, 370 mg sodium, 38 gm fat (11 gm saturated fat), 57 gm carbohydrate, 38 gm protein, and 4 gm of fiber. If I were to adjust the recipe, I would have swapped the jasmine rice for brown rice to increase the fiber content. I would also nix adding 1 tbsp of butter to the rice because it added fat and calories that did not noticeably improve the taste. The directions were, however, brief and not as detailed as I had hoped. One strength of the recipe was that it did not include any jargon that a home cook would scratch their heads at. Additionally, the pre-portioned ingredients did expeditie the cooking process.
  3. Eating (the best part!): Although I am not sold on the nutritional content and economical burden of meal kit delivery services, the recipe I made was very enjoyable. The salmon was crispy and tender, the sesame seeds added a pleasant crunch to the green beans, and the wasabi sauce was tart and spicy. This recipe is not one that I would normally make, and I appreciated that HelloFresh encouraged me to try something that was not in my, truthfully limited, repertoire.

What’s the verdict: Should I sign up or not?

If you want to determine if signing up for a meal kit delivery service is the appropriate choice for you, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Will the meals fit into your diet taking into consideration calories, sodium, protein, carbohydrates, and fat?
  • Is the service in your budget?
  • Are you willing to still go to the grocery store to purchase food for other meals?
  • Is the meal service you are choosing environmentally sustainable?
  • Do you have any allergies or health issues that would prevent you from ordering from a meal kit delivery service?

Copyright: All content © 2020 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.