Dinners should first and foremost be about feeding your family, decompressing from the day and a time to communicate and enjoy being together. I realize this is the ideal and not always the reality. Sometimes, we as parents may feel pressure to make sure dinner is nutritious as it may be the only time our kids eat a balanced meal all day. Meal kits may be a way to bridge some of the stress and time constraints around dinner time, so that you can focus on spending that quality time your kids need and crave, as well as feeling confident that they are hitting some needed nutrients in their diet.
Meal kits burst onto the scene in the US in 2012 and boy have they grown in popularity, as well as in variety. There are so many! When I set out on this adventure to try different meal kits I was overwhelmed and surprised but just how many exist. And there are definitely ones better for certain types of people vs. others. I didn’t find a clear winner as all meal kits had some pros and cons to them. Before I jump into what I found, I wanted to first make sure we all know what I am referring to when I say meal kit.
What is a Meal Kit?
It’s pretty straight forward: you typically choose from an array of meal plans and serving sizes and the company sends out a select amount of ingredients for you to make those meals at home. You can also select how many meals you want to receive per week, usually ranging from two to five. Some services will offer pre-made meals rather than the ingredients, which can be useful for people who don’t necessarily want to cook. I decided to focus on meal kits to make, but will comment on some that also have pre-made options available. I ordered meals to feed a family of 4, 2 being small kids. I found most meal kits were plenty of food and usually had enough for leftovers for 1-2 more portions.
What’s your Goal when Ordering a Meal Kit?
The best meal kit will depend on what your goals are. Are you looking for speedy meals, healthy meals, or to save money? Maybe you want a meal kit that is fresher or more customizable than the rest.
A quick note about the healthiness and nutrition regarding the meal kits. I comment some on nutrition, however, 2 services had limited nutrition information available and also did not respond when asked for more information. So because of that, it’s hard to give a fair comparison and assessment of the nutritional value of the meal kits. In general all meals I looked at had a fair balance of fat, protein, carbohydrates (unless it was advertised as a low carb meal), as well as at least a serving of vegetables. Variation in sodium, for ones that provided it, did vary a great amount. I comment on the sodium, since, for kids the recommended amount of sodium in a day ranges from 1000-1500 mg and some servings of the meals exceed that (for just one meal!).
Read on to learn more about my experience with the meal kits we tried.
The Freshest : Blue Apron
Blue Apron is one of the OG’s in the meal kit world and they definitely have it figured out. Food was fresh, the meals were creative and good. Everything is done pre-packaged for 2 servings. If you are ordering for a family of 4, you will need to select if you want multiples of 2 servings or choose meals that have a 4 serving option. This was maybe the only negative in Blue Apron’s process as it was not as straightforward as other services. “Prepared & Ready'' options at a slight price increase are also available. Meal cards were provided with easy to follow recipes. You can make protein substitutions and customizations and when you do, they send you the recipe card with instructions for those specific ingredients.
From a health standpoint meals were balanced, all non-GMO ingredients, but not necessarily organic. Sodium had a large range of meals checked, anywhere from 700 mg-2300 mg per serving.
Price: $38 per meal with 4 servings for 3 meals/week (starting, extra for premium ingredients, up to $60-$80/per meal).
Pros: Very fresh, healthy, balanced meals, with clear easy-to-follow instructions
Cons: Ordering not as straightforward as other services for a family of 4.
Most Customizable and Healthiest: Sunbasket
Sunbasket has lots of options and the ability to swap proteins, including for organic protein options and plant-based options. Sodium options are also very reasonable, ranging from 400-1200 mg per serving which is less then other meal kits. They don’t however, provide instructions on the recipe card how to cook a protein substitution, so you need to go to the website and some recipes only have generic cooking instructions for proteins available. In general, though, we liked the meals and the ingredients were fresh. There’s lots of organic ingredients. There are many speedy options available as well. From an environmental standpoint, they use sustainable packaging, with it being either recyclable or compostable.
Price: $45-$75/meal with 4 servings
Pros: Very customizable and many different diet restrictions accommodated. It is also arguably the healthiest and most environmentally friendly, with fresh, balanced options that are primarily organic and sustainable packaging.
Cons: All the benefits of Sunbasket clearly come at a cost because it is the most expensive meal kit that I reviewed on average. Cooking instructions are also not as straightforward as other services.
Best for Quick Meals: Gobble
Gobble has super easy and fast recipes, with starches pre-cooked. Everything comes together in a bag pre-portioned for 2 servings, with a recipe card, so it's easy to figure out what you need and what to do. With protein substitutions, it tells you right there on the recipe card how to cook it. Meals are balanced and meals also do not have an excessive amount of sodium, ranging from 450-1200 mg per serving. There are, however, limited protein substitutions. Our delivery did not have the freshest of ingredients and we had to sub out some ingredients which were starting to mold.
Price: $48/meal with 4 servings for 3 meals/week
Pros: Fast, easy to follow recipes
Cons: The least fresh of options we tried. There are also very little substitutions available.
Most Affordable: Dinnerly
Dinnerly is by far the cheapest. There are no protein substitutions or customizations. Recipe cards are only online to eliminate paper. Portions are slightly smaller than some other services. And they do expect more ingredients to come from your own kitchen. So you may want to double check that you have everything you need before you dive in. That said, the recipes were simple, but quite good and fresh. They have some ready-made meals at a slightly higher price.
Price: $28/meal with 4 servings for 3 meals a week
Pros: Price! Also fresh and simple, family friendly meals
Cons: No substitutions or customizations, and more staple ingredients needed from your home. Limited nutrition information available.
There are so many meal kits out there, so plenty more options to explore. We tried a couple more that didn’t have any features that made them stick out in any particular way. I’m including thoughts on them here as well.
Many family friendly recipes and customizable. They give you the recipes and a binder to keep recipe cards in. Meals were ok. Neither did they wow us, nor did we hate them. Ingredients were not the freshest when compared to other meal kits. Sodium was quite high, when compared to other services, ranging from 1500-2400 mg/serving. There were, however, many family friendly meal options, and a choice to customize proteins. Ingredients arrive pre-proportioned and there are express options available.
Price: $40/meal with 4 servings for 3 meals/week
Pros: Family-friendly, customizable, easy-to-follow recipes.
Cons: Not very fresh tasting, and sodium quite high for kids
Martha and Marley Spoon:
This meal kit was good overall. It was one of the meal kits with fresher ingredients. It had easy to follow recipes. It also used less packaging then the rest of the meal kits we tried, with produce, in general just in box, not completely pre-portioned. Online instructions and recipe cards (you choose how you want to access the recipe) adjusted to the number of servings you have ordered, which is helpful when scaling up for a family of 4. There are no substitutions, but meals are clearly marked as vegetarian or meat. They have categories for “Family Friendly Meals” and “Meals in Under 30 Minutes”. There is limited nutrition info available.
Price: $44/meal for 3 meals/week
Pros: Less packaging waste, fresh ingredients, and easy-to-follow recipes
Cons: No substitutions or customizations. Limited nutrition information provided.
Here are some of my takeaways, both pros and cons to ordering meal kits
- Save time meal planning/figuring out what to make for dinner
- Less food waste
- Many have great options for specialty diets (gluten free, vegan, paleo)
- More cost effective then eating out
- A great way to offer new foods to your kids and encourage variety
- May encourage more cooking at home
- Don’t necessarily save time prepping, cooking and cleaning up a meal (unless you buy ready-made meals)
- Less cost effective then grocery shopping for your meals
- Some not as fresh as others
- Can be a lot of packaging
→ Who do I think meal kits are great for and in what situations? Busy families who don’t really want to spend time going to the grocery store and having to figure out what to make, but still like to cook. I loved having food arrive and all I had to do was to follow a recipe to cook it, so it definitely takes some steps. It can provide inspiration and variety to families who need or want that.
Do you want to see and hear more about these meal kits? I did a short reel on each one over on my Instagram. So if you haven’t seen them, head over there and check them out!
And I said there was not a clear winner, but overall I would say that Blue Apron and Sunbasket are my favorites, however Dinnerly because of the price point was right there with them.