This post has been in the works for a long time, mostly because whenever I think I’m basically done, I come across another relevant link! I wanted to round up links about food delivery, more specifically meal kits, ready-made meals and grocery delivery services. I’ve divided the links in sections below.
First, a short intro on meal kits, for those of you not familiar with them. Here is an article on The Kitchn titled How meal kits made my marriage better, essentially because one spouse was handling the bulk of the cooking while the other spouse, when it was his turn, had trouble planning and executing a recipe. Meal kits eliminate the need to plan and shop, and the pre-portioned ingredients make prep a breeze. Yet you still get a good home-cooked meal out of it! I admit this would be a draw for our family, because I find that meal planning takes a lot of mental energy.
The same was true for Bryan Walsh of Time magazine: like 1/3 of Americans, he didn’t cook, mainly because he was scared of the process, which seemed complex, confusing, and a little scary to him. His wife is a good cook, but he wanted to take more responsibility for housework, so he turned to meal kits to help him learn to cook. “According to the consultancy Technomic, the global meal-kit market topped $1 billion in 2015 and is projected to hit $10 billion by 2020,” so he’s clearly not the only one feeling that way. Even though instructions are clear and often illustrated, though, you still need to actually do the work: chop vegetables, cook chicken to at least 165 °F, etc., so it’s possible to mess up dinner (and at $8 to $12 per person per meal, it isn’t cheap, but it’s still less expensive than a restaurant). Over a year, however, he reports greatly improving his skills and broadening his palate. It even gave him “the confidence to try cooking without training wheels.”
These seem to be the most popular right now. You pick your meals on the website, and the ingredients are sent right to your door. There are too many services to list them all, but here are reviews of Home Chef, Blue Apron, Chef’d, Plated, Peach Dish, Terra’s Kitchen, and Hello Fresh, as well as a round-up of several options to help you choose (all on The Kitchn).
And to vary my sources a bit: a review of Blue Apron by a professional chef, a review of Plated, and a review of six meal kit services, with a clear winner.
Real Simple also did a face-off with 15 national services and distilled it down to six, based on your priority (fastest to prepare, most customizable, etc.); the results are here. For me personally, while just not having to come up with a meal idea and not having to shop for it would already be a weight off my shoulders, I’d certainly prefer to take it one step further and buy ingredients that come fully prepped – that would be Fresh Realm.
There’s also a very complete review of Blue Apron by a long-time user. I found it interesting, but I disagree with one point: he compares the cost of Blue Apron with that of dining out and therefore concludes that he’s saved money. To me, even though you obviously save time because you don’t have to bother with meal planning and grocery shopping, I’d still compare that service to cooking at home, so I’m not sure how cost-efficient a $10/serving meal is.
Some celebrities are getting in on the game, too: Jamie Oliver has teamed up with Hello Fresh, while Martha Stewart has a partnership with Marley Spoon.
In San Antonio, we have a service called Sue Sheff; they use local ingredients as much as possible, and the meals are dietician-approved. I haven’t tried them, but I’d consider it, especially since there’s no subscription fee! As one of the founders said in the July 2016 issue of San Antonio Magazine, “Our customers have turned out to be busy people who value the idea of home cooking using some local ingredients.”
Canadians can try Good Food, and I’m sure there will be more and more options as time goes on.
There are also vegan options, like Purple Carrot (with which Mark Bittman was affiliated) and Beyoncé’s vegan 22 Days Nutrition. Another service, Sun Basket, has vegan as well as paleo and gluten-free options.
There are many reasons why people chose meal kits, such as saving time, remedying lack of inspiration, or trying new foods without being stuck with most of a container in your pantry for the next several years (we’ve all been there). That is, of course, if you don’t mind all the packaging waste and added expense, although it may help curb food waste since you only get as much of any ingredient as you need for the recipe (this does depend a bit on how you shop/cook to begin with).
As for cost, here’s a dollar-to-dollar comparison with grocery shopping, although you should keep in mind that different services will have different fees, including in some cases membership fees.
For more information, here’s a cursory behind-the-scenes look at the businesses, with a more interesting article about Blue Apron specifically.
There’s also Foodstirs that I thought looked interesting, perhaps mostly for people who are intimidated by baking or who want to buy a kit to make cupcakes with their kids and decorate them in a Pinterest-worthy way without too much trouble. The baking mixes don’t contain the “bad” ingredients of most commercial mixes. Personally, though, I wouldn’t spend $25 on a dozen cupcakes that I make myself, even if the toppers are included.
There are businesses that deliver ready-made meals: some are essentially restaurants without a store-front, but create meals designed to still look and taste good after a 20-to-30-minute trip in a box; others ship frozen meals to your doorstep.
If you live in Manhattan, David Chang has a food delivery service called Maple this “restaurant” focuses exclusively on delivery, so prices are lower. If you live in San Francisco, Seatlle, New York or Los Angeles, there’s Munchery, which delivers chilled meals to your door. Spoonrocket went under, but Sprig is still operating. A little Googling even led me to vegan meal deliveries in San Antonio.
In addition to these, there are also services that will pick up your favorite dishes from local restaurants and deliver them to your home. For example, Favor lets you order from any restaurant and have food delivered within an hour; this is available in San Antonio, but only in the more central areas of town, not outside the second beltway. Those of you with a mobile device can also try UberEATS, which is basically an Uber driver delivering your food.
In Montreal, try Avec plaisirs, which delivers bento boxes for at least five people – this is great for office workers at lunch time, though perhaps less so for families who lack time to make dinner. Plus, Hungry Box will even deliver an equivalent meal (sandwich and salad) to someone in need – this is also more of a work lunch option.
Four Canadian provinces can also get frozen meals delivered from MamaLuv. This used to be my go-to gift to new parents, but since the company isn’t really allergen-friendly or kosher, I had to come up with other ideas in recent years. I’m not sure there is an American equivalent, at least not one framed specifically as “gifts” for new parents, people going through a rough patch health-wise, etc. Then again, there are so many ready-made meal companies out there that it hardly matters (as long as one can get deliveries without a subscription).
If you have to eat gluten-free, you won’t be left out, thanks to Freshly; the meals are delivered frozen to your door.
For people who like to snack, Graze looks absolutely awesome! There are over a hundred different snacks, and each $11.99 box contains 8 snacks. If I weren’t afraid of getting fat, I’d totally sign up for this. The food looks fantastic! The downside is that you can only enter preferences and someone on their staff chooses snacks for you, and then you can give feedback. If you want to choose your snacks from the start, then Nature Box would be a better match. Click here for more snack delivery companies. Another option is Love with Food, which has a plan curated to be gluten-free
I also like the idea of Try the World, which sends curated boxes of food items from a different country every other month. In Canada, try Food Trip To…, which is basically the same concept, with a bonus playlist (although you can order boxes only when you feel like it, without a subscription).
If you want to get groceries delivered, there are services like Instacart. It’s obviously a little more expensive than going to the store yourself, but it saves you time and can even save you extra expenses: you can get stuff delivered from Costco without being a member! Delivery is actually not that expensive, about $3.99, and the prices are supposed to be the same as what’s in store. The link has a very good pros and cons chart. Plus, some people say having groceries delivered actually saves them money. Another service is Shipt, though you have to pay for an annual membership. (This, to me, makes it less attractive because I only see myself using such a service temporarily, say if I have a newborn or am recovering from an illness. Or on the rare occasion when I run out of something and need it urgently, but my child is napping. That being said, it could make it more attractive to someone with a chronic illness or disability, or perhaps the elderly.) This is assuming that your grocery store doesn’t let you order online already (ours does, though we’ve never used the service).
There are other services like Good Eggs, Foxtrot or Peapod, but you always need to be in certain major cities to have access to those services, so they’re certainly not convenient for everyone.
In their August issue, San Antonio Magazine had a great comparative chart of local grocery delivery services. I can’t find it on their website, but I took the liberty of scanning it and posting it below. The services are broken down according to various criteria, so you can really make an informed decision based on your shopping habits and what you want from such a service. Some of these are available nationally as well.