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Monday, July 19, 2021

Are Shipped Meal Services Worth the Cost?


You get a box in the mail and half an hour later, dinner is ready. No planning, no shopping, and in some cases, no prep. But is it as good as it sounds?

Raise your hand if you’re tired of trying to come up with new recipes for dinner. The grind to find a new recipe, shop, cook and then figure out what to do with leftover cabbage and an entire bottle of Korean chili flakes can be mentally exhausting. In our busy lives, it’s often a lot easier to make another grilled cheese sandwich with a pickle on the side. But there are other options available to you.

Inexpensive Meal Options

Many older adults are on a fixed income that doesn’t allow for fancy meal delivery. Often, there are community-based alternatives that provide a hot meal at a small charge, or even for free. Meals on Wheels has a network that covers nearly every community across America. Check to see if your local senior center provides lunches. Many offer the socialization of a sit-down meal for about $4.50. Meals on Wheels also provides delivery of nutritious meals with a friendly visit and safety check. Meals are generally offered on a sliding scale, with no one turned away for an inability to pay. There may be a wait to get on the list for meals due to lack of funding for the program. 

Another option can be local churches, which may offer a meal once a week or once a month. Finally, Feeding America provides a network of food banks and information about the need-based, government Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Food banks provide free food, but check with your local outlet to see when it is open, as they often have specific days and times, especially if they offer fresh food. SNAP participants get a Benefits Transfer card that is used like a debit card at authorized retail food stores.

Boxed meals shipped straight to your door solve a lot of problems at once. A chef has planned a delicious, healthy dinner. Just enough ingredients to make the meal arrive fresh — and no more.  The prep takes 15 or 20 minutes at most. Follow simple, step-by-step instructions, and before you know it the smell of a savory dinner begins to rise from your stove. (Some companies specialize in microwaveable meals, or pre-prepped ingredients that only need to be combined and cooked.) You put some music on, leave the meal to simmer for a few minutes, and realize a smile is replacing the usual stressed dinnertime demeanor.

Is the Price Right?

However, this luxury doesn’t come cheap. The least expensive options run $5 per serving, with most in the $10 to $12 range. Is it worth the cost? The answer is elusive: it depends. A busy professional or senior who hates to shop may find them the perfect antidote to that grilled cheese. If the money is in the budget, it can be fun to choose from a wide variety of selections (usually around 25) that offer both familiar flavors and some that come from exotic parts of the world. They may be the right solution for older adults who have begun to default to crackers and peanut butter and just need a simpler way to put a healthy meal together. 

How often you have a box delivered is usually up to you. You may want a meal for four once a week, or dinners for two delivered on Tuesday and Thursday. Most companies give you the option to skip whenever you like, such as when you’ll be away from home but many companies do require e a minimum standing order.

Boxed meal delivery services offer a wide variety of specializations. Some offer only organic ingredients, others accommodate specific diets like paleo, gluten free, low carb, vegetarian, vegan, kosher, etc. Having such options can make sticking to a special diet, or just eating healthier, that much easier. 

If you do decide to give boxed meals a try, check for coupons online. Many of them offer a deal right on the website when you start the service. Below, we’ve listed a variety of companies (though certainly not all!) that offer boxed meals.

  • Blue Apron. About $10 per meal. Quality ingredients with meals sometimes created by celebrity guest chefs.
  • Dinnerly. About $5 per serving. The least expensive option.
  • Factor 75.  About $15 per serving. All meals arrive microwave-ready and are gluten free, soy free, non-GMO, and include zero antibiotics, hormones, or refined sugars.
  • Freshly. Starts at $50 per week. No refined sugar, gluten, or artificial ingredients.
  • Gobble. About $12 per meal. Each dinner can be cooked in a single pan, and is ready in 15 minutes. Gluten free, dairy free, low carb and vegetarian options.
  • Green Chef. About $7 per meal. USDA organic meals that can be tailored to any dietary need you have.
  • Hello Fresh. About $7 per meal. A great price for fresh, pre-measured ingredients has made it the No. 1 service.
  • Home Chef. About $7 per meal. An affordable option with meals that are ready in half an hour.
  • Marley Spoon. Starts at $62.93 per week. Martha Stewart is affiliated with this meal service.
  • Purple Carrot. About $12 per meal. Exclusively vegan, this could be a great way to add more plants to anyone’s diet. 
  • Real Eats. About $13 per serving. Responsibly sourced, junk-free, no-waste meals that are ready to eat in 6 minutes.
  • Sun Basket. Starts at $72 per week. All meals are USDA organic, with vegan, paleo, lean and clean, gluten free, and other options.