Cooking is good for your brain.
In fact, it’s so good for you that counselors and therapists have begun recommending cooking as a treatment for depression and anxiety (WSJ). Cooking can help build your relationship with your partner, and it’s healthier and cheaper than what you’d find at a restaurant.
So why don’t we do it more often? Because it’s a hassle. Gathering ingredients, chopping veggies, and doing dishes become a half-day chore.
That’s why meal delivery services are so awesome. Ingredients come pre-packaged with simple, efficient recipes, and some of them require no cleanup at all.
But how much do they cost? Which ones can cater to your dietary preferences? And which one, overall, is best?
Let’s investigate the best meal delivery services of 2021.
Overview of the best meal delivery options for 2021
|Meal delivery option||Best for||Price per serving||Shipping|
|Home Chef||Quick recipes||$6.99+||Starts at $6.99|
|Freshly||Pre-made meals||$9.99||Applicable shipping charges will appear upon checkout|
|Blue Apron||Learning to cook||$9.99||Free|
|Purple Carrot||Vegetarians and vegans||$11.99||Free|
|Green Chef||Keto diets||$11.99||Starts at $6.99, but first box ships for free|
Cooking can be a fun, two-hour activity, but sometimes you just want a simple, delicious meal fast.
Perhaps no other meal delivery service understands this better than Home Chef. In addition to your typical ~45-minute meal recipes each week, Home Chef also offers what they call Fresh and Easy meals. Simply pile the ingredients into the included pan or grill bag, heat it up, and voila – a delicious home-cooked meal, quick and with no mess!
Home Chef also deserves major kudos for offering the ability to customize the protein in each meal at a nominal cost ($2 per serving for organic chicken or $4 for filet mignon, for example). Plus, the service offers unprecedented flexibility to cancel/add meals every week, so you’re not restricted to an arbitrary “plan.” Lastly, their UI is perhaps the most intuitive of any meal service.
Their meals aren’t the cheapest, ranging from $6.99 per serving for a salad to $19.99 per serving for a fancy “Culinary Collection” meal with custom protein. But with such quality, flexibility, and usability, Home Chef is still a superb choice worth the money.
EveryPlate, “the affordable meal kit for everyone,” aims to compete on price. Even without a discount code, prices start at just $4.99 per serving. That’s pretty impressive, given most competitors charge ~$7 with a promotion, and $10 normally per serving.
How can EveryPlate get away with charging half the competition? Well, they do charge $8.99 per shipping for each box regardless of contents. Plus, the selection is slimmer – they offer around 13 meals per week, versus the 20-30 offered by other services.
But mostly, EveryPlate is just simpler, with easier recipes made from less expensive ingredients. A lot of EveryPlate recipes lean on pasta, potatoes, or chicken to keep costs down. The food is still tasty, however, and if you’re feeling fancy, the option to upgrade to steak, etc. exists for ~$3 per serving.
If you like the idea of subscribing to a meal delivery service but the cost has been an issue thus far, you might strongly consider ordering a box through EveryPlate.
Meal delivery services have responded to consumer feedback and begun offering recipes that can be completed in as little as 15 minutes. But what if you’re not interested in cooking, and would rather just have your meals premade and ready for heating?
Freshly lets you skip the step of cooking and delivers boxes of pre-made meals, all ready for a jaunt in the microwave. Most meals are ready in under three minutes, and while I’m no food critic, I was pleasantly surprised at how fresh everything tasted. Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that Freshly is one of the only services that’ll let you order meals for just one person.
Three of my busiest friends (doctor, lawyer, consultant) love Freshly because the service offers someone working 60-hour weeks an even faster (and healthier) alternative to frozen food or buttery restaurant takeout.
If you don’t mind paying a small premium for speed and convenience, Freshly might be the service for you.
America’s most popular meal delivery service, HelloFresh is like the average of all other meal delivery services. They offer plans starting at a reasonable $9 per serving, a massive variety of rotating recipes, and flexible options for vegetarians and other dietary preferences.
My personal experience with HelloFresh taught me two things:
First, HelloFresh isn’t afraid to offer decadent, high-calorie recipes. There’s a fallacy among meal delivery services that everyone who can afford meal kits must want to eat healthier than a restaurant. That simply isn’t true, and HelloFresh gets it; they offer healthy meals and salads, but they’re also brave enough to post a blog celebrating their own top 10 burgers.
Second, HelloFresh taught me that for couples, meal delivery services really are a superior date night alternative to eating out. Recipes are delicious and creative, but also affordable; my girlfriend and I enjoyed some Gouda Vibes Burgers with Tomato Onion Jam & Potato Wedges for 40% of what we would’ve paid at a restaurant.
Plus, while most meal delivery services only charge $9 per serving or so if you buy giant boxes, HelloFresh is one of the only services to keep things cheap for couples; a box of three meals for two can arrive at your door for under $50.
If you come away from this piece unsure of which service to start out with, consider HelloFresh as a great launching point. While not the healthiest, it’s arguably still healthier than restaurant food since you’re in control of the added butter!
Launched by successful Bay Area chef Justine Kelly in 2014, Sun Basket strives to bring certified organic restaurant-quality meal kits to your door.
If that sounds expensive, it is, but not by that much. Meals start at $10.99 per serving, which is actually pretty reasonable considering the cost of ingredients at Whole Foods ($3.49 for an avocado? Really?). Plus, they can be quick – Sun Basket offers a subcategory of “Fresh & Ready” meals that take as little as six minutes to prep.
Sun Basket also offers an impressive array of optional extras to toss into your box with your meal kits. Want a Roasted Mushroom Pizzetta for lunch on Wednesday, and maybe some Broccoli & Parmesan Egg Bites for breakfast Thursday? Toss ‘em in. Or perhaps you’d like to dazzle dinner guests with a plate of sliced prosciutto? Sun Basket has you covered.
If you’re the type who doesn’t mind paying extra for top-quality, organically-sourced ingredients, Sun Basket is the meal delivery service for you.
HelloFresh and Blue Apron compete like Honda and Toyota. I’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint a clear winner, but I will point out some differences to help you make an informed decision!
Both meal delivery juggernauts offer plenty of rotating meal options ranging from 15-minute burgers to fancy holiday tenderloins. Both services offer flexible plans, wine pairings, and substitutions. HelloFresh and Blue Apron even cost the same: HelloFresh is $1 cheaper per serving, but Blue Apron charges less for shipping so it evens out.
Blue Apron offers recipes that are a pinch more advanced and challenging than other services. For example, a HelloFresh recipe may say “place in a 12-inch skillet on medium heat for 7-9 minutes,” whereas Blue Apron may simply say “sauté until warm.” Blue Apron’s recipes will also occasionally call for uncommon kitchen utensils like potato mashers or cheese graters.
I like how these gentle nudges encourage meal kit customers to become better cooks in their own right, and if that appeals to you, Blue Apron may be a good fit.
- Best for – Vegans and vegetarians.
- Price – ~$11.99 per serving.
- Best feature – Surprisingly large portions.
- Promotion – Get $25 off your first box.
If you’re looking to stick to a veggie-based diet without missing out on protein, Purple Carrot is the meal delivery service for you. Every meal kit is packed with fresh vegetables and vegan-friendly protein substitutes.
Although an omnivore by nature, I ate vegan meals for eight days while living with Buddhist monks and I didn’t miss meat one bit. I was surprised to learn that when prepared well with fresh ingredients, vegan food is awesome. So Purple Carrot’s recipes should honestly appeal to anyone looking to eat healthier. I mean, who won’t enjoy Buffalo Quinoa Bowls, Cajun Baked Tofu, or Southwest Cheesy Mac?
Vegan food isn’t always the cheapest, however, and Purple Carrot’s prices reflect that. Prices start at $11.99 per serving for meals for two. That said, the portions are so large, you’ll inevitably end up with enough for an extra meal.
Green Chef and Sun Basket are neck-in-neck competitors for the “healthy meal delivery service” crown. Both companies offer organic, ethically-sourced meals for around $12 a pop, subdivided into specific dietary needs.
Although neither service is objectively better, Green Chef offers two advantages that may break the tie for you.
First, Green Chef offers a dedicated keto option. This may sound like a footnote, but roughly one percent of Americans follow a ketogenic diet these days, according to a survey by Food Insight.
Second, Green Chef offers a few more meal options per week. Sun Basket tends to offer around 22 or so meals in a given week, while Green Chef offers nearly 30. This could be a major plus if you’re a picky eater, on a specific diet, or simply plan to be with your meal delivery service for months, and don’t like to repeat recycled recipes (which many services tend to do).
Summary of the best meal delivery options for 2021
|Meal delivery option||Price per serving||Dedicated dietary options|
|Home Chef||$9.99||Omnivore, vegetarian|
|Sun Basket||$10.99||Omnivore, gluten-free, paleo, pescetarian, vegetarian, vegan|
|Blue Apron||$9.99||Omnivore, vegetarian|
|Purple Carrot||$11.99||Vegetarian, vegan|
|Green Chef||$11.99||Omnivore, keto, paleo, vegetarian, vegan|
How I came up with this list
To come up with this list I carefully examined over a dozen of America’s most popular meal kit delivery services. Where possible I tried the meals myself and collected five or more anecdotes from consumers under 30, from couples to working professionals.
To make this list, the meal kit delivery service must have scored above average in most of the following categories:
- Price and value. Is the service truly a cost-effective replacement for restaurant or fast-casual takeout? Better yet, is it even cheaper than picking out individual ingredients at the supermarket?
- Taste of meals. Put simply, was the food good? Would it actually impress amateur cooks and restaurant foodies? Would you ever get tired of it, and does the service recycle too many ingredients?
- Portion sizes. Are the portions filling? This judging category deserved its own category away from price because too many kit delivery services skirt by with substandard portion sizes. Purple Carrot, therefore, earned its shoutout for large portions and Freshly made up for its smaller portions in flexibility, convenience, and quality.
- Flexibility. How customizable is your box from week to week? Does the meal kit delivery service offer the ability to change up serving amounts, meal count, and even swap out individual ingredients to upgrade proteins or remove allergens?
- Variety. How many meals does the service offer per week? Is there a wide variety of protein sources? How about ethnic foods? And most importantly, how many diets are accounted for?
What is a meal delivery service?
A meal delivery service is a website that will let you choose online from a rotation of home-cooked meals every week, then delivers boxes full of ingredients or meals right to your door.
These boxes are refrigerated to keep ingredients safe and fresh for hours until you get home from work, and most of the contents are recyclable, so you don’t have to worry about excess waste.
Depending on the service you choose, the box will contain refrigerated premade meals with heating instructions, or a pile of ingredients with recipe cards to make your own!
Meal delivery services, whether in the form of premade meals or “kits,” cost on average $10 per serving with shipping. This makes it less expensive than restaurant takeout, and some argue even the grocery store since you won’t waste a single ingredient.
Why you should (or shouldn’t) use a meal delivery service
Still on the fence? Here’s some additional detail that might help you decide.
Why you should use a meal delivery service
- You want a healthier alternative to frozen food and takeout. You know deep down that restaurant food is overly buttered, and frozen food is full of preservatives. You’d like a steady rotation of fresh, home-cooked meals without the lengthy prep or wasted ingredients. If so, meal delivery might be just the ticket.
- You’d like to become better at cooking. Carefully following a recipe isn’t unlike taking a silent cooking class – you’ll learn how not to burn butter, how to properly saute shrimp, and more by making these recipes.
- You’re looking for a fun date night. Experiences may vary, but I found cooking with my partner to be more intimate, fun, and rewarding than simply ordering at a restaurant.
Why you shouldn’t use a meal delivery service
All that said, meal delivery services aren’t for everyone. Here are some reasons why you might want to give them a pass.
- You don’t like cooking. If the idea of cooking your own food doesn’t excite you, you might want to give these services a pass, or at the very least, limit your selection to a vendor of premade meals like Freshly.
- You’re cooking for one. Each time I see a meal delivery service market “Recipes for two,” I picture John Mulaney suggestively shaking his shoulders because they’re clearly suggesting date night. For objectivity, I tried a few of these back when I was single, and it certainly felt less magical to cook for one and toss the rest in the fridge.
- You’re on a strict diet. Foodies on a strict diet like keto, paleo, or vegan should know that options exist (like Green Chef, Sun Basket, Purple Carrot) but they’re all pretty pricey. For $12 a serving, you might prefer to find fresher ingredients at the supermarket or in your garden.
- You’re on a strict budget. If you’re trying to eat healthy while spending less than $5 per meal, you’re better off making more strategic runs to the supermarket for fresh, affordable bases (pasta, rice) and proteins (tofu, chicken) than subscribing to a meal delivery service, which typically costs double.