There you are, at the end of a long workday, standing in front of an open refrigerator, wondering, “What in the world am I going to make for dinner?”
For a growing number of Americans, meal-kit delivery services provide the answer. Every week, you pick several meals from an ever-changing list of offerings on a company’s website, and a few days later a box packed with chilled, premeasured ingredients and detailed cooking instructions arrives on your doorstep.
It’s a trend that began in 2012, then took off. Today there are more than 100 meal-kit companies in the United States, and new ones are springing up all the time.
But do the kits deliver on the easy, healthy and fresh fronts? Consumer Reports’ food and nutrition experts, admittedly experienced cooks, ordered from five popular services to try them. They also asked 57 meal-kit users (some of whom described themselves as beginners in the kitchen) to report on their experience.
Are they healthy? The ingredients were indeed fresh, but not all of the services provided enough nutrition info for their meals. HelloFresh listed the most — calories, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, sodium and sugars — on its recipe cards. Others provided only calories. Most of the meals included a generous amount of vegetables.
The biggest concern was the high sodium content of many of the meals. Almost every recipe that was tested called for seasoning the ingredients with salt several times — as many as five times for one recipe.
Do they taste good? Yes! Twenty-four of the 27 recipes Consumer Reports tested received an “excellent” or “very good” score for taste. What’s more, they may be a smart way to broaden your family’s palate.
What’s the cost of convenience? All things being equal, you’ll usually pay much more per portion for a meal from one of these services than you would if you cooked the same meal with ingredients you bought yourself at a supermarket.
But all things may not be equal. For example, if you have a cabinet full of spices you’ve used only once or you often throw away most of a bunch of parsley because a recipe calls for only a quarter of a cup, these kits may actually be a good financial deal because you aren’t buying more of an ingredient than you need.
Meal prices are based on three weekly meals for two people. All meal services offered free shipping except Green Chef, which adds $1.50 per portion.
HelloFresh: $11.50 per portion. Best for diet-conscious diners. These meals were the lowest in calories, fat and sodium, on average. And the HelloFresh recipe cards listed the most nutrition information.
Green Chef: $11.99 per portion (Ominvore plan). Best for those who want to eat organic. Organic meat and poultry are raised without antibiotics. Recipes provided the most veggies per portion.
Plated: $12 per portion. Best for foodies. The meals were the best-tasting overall as well as the easiest to prepare. But the average fat and sodium counts were higher than those from the other services tested.
Purple Carrot: $11.33 per portion. Best for vegans (or meat-eaters trying to cut back on meat consumption). None of the dishes contain animal products. The recipes tested were all high in fiber.
Blue Apron: $9.99 per portion. Best for adventurous eaters. Offers interesting cuisines to choose from. Nutrition-wise, the meals Consumer Reports reviewed came in the middle of the pack among the five services.
For further guidance, go to www.ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.