The Quest to Find the Best Meal Kit Delivery Service for Our Family –
If you’re a busy family looking for the best meal kit delivery service, this post is one you need to read. Boxed meal delivery services like Blue Apron, Dinnerly, EveryPlate, Home Chef, Hello Fresh, and others have been a curiosity for me for quite some time.
The ads pop up on social media often, and I’ve always considered them an extravagance and completely inconsistent with my frugal mindset.
Over the past few months, we decided hands-on research on these boxed dinner kits would be our summer project.
*This post contains affiliate links.
The boxed meal kits we tried were:
Are boxed meal kits for everyone?
For most of the years I’ve been an adult, a boxed meal kit would never have made sense for us financially. None of the meal services we tried offered a meal kit with more than 4 servings, and I doubt this option would have been affordable for us even if there were large family options. Yes. I know you could order two of the four-serving kits for each meal, but it would cost a small fortune.
Besides having four children of my own, we had their friends joining us several nights a week. My daughter would often bring teammates home between school and her games. There were a few years when our son-in-law was living in our basement during college bringing us to a household of 7.
My parents live next door, and we often trade off suppers with them, and before my nephew left for college, he would also come in most evenings to see if Nana or I had fixed something he liked better than whatever my sister had for him. So, for a couple of decades, I was always preparing meals for at least 8-10 people.
We also have a freezer full of meat at all times because we hunt, and our family raises livestock and poultry which we butcher with our own hands (most of the time). I normally don’t buy meat unless it’s frozen chicken tenders or nuggets.
If you would rather learn about deer processing, check out our video: DIY Deer Butchering
These meal box services do not make sense for someone cooking for a huge family unless you’re operating on an unlimited budget.
Why did we finally decide to try meal kits delivered to our home?
My kids have athletic practices all summer. They often have multiple athletic events in the same day. Sometimes that means basketball workouts in the morning, strength training in the afternoon, and summer basketball/volleyball league or volleyball open gym in the evenings. For the past decade, the school has offered a summer lunch program for any children in the area.
The kids were always able to grab the free summer lunch each day between practices, so I never had to worry about what they would have for lunch. They definitely can’t go without eating all day with so much physical activity.
I only have the two girls left in high school now. I didn’t want them eating turkey sandwiches or peanut butter and jelly each day for lunch. My girls are very capable of preparing their own meals, but like all of us, they struggle to think of ideas, and every cool recipe on Pinterest seems to need fancy spices or something that we would need to buy possibly for just that one recipe.
Since many of the boxed meal kits offer really good introductory offers, it seemed like a fun way to solve our summer lunch woes.
After some quick searches online, I determined we would budget about $30 a week to give these meal kit delivery services a try. One trip to a drive-thru can easily cost us $30 these days. Thankfully, there were several times this summer when we were out and about for appointments, and I would ask if the girls wanted food, but they would reply, “No. We have a meal to make at home.”
I doubt we saved any money by buying meal kits instead of groceries or fast food, but I’m positive we at least broke even on what we would have paid for alternatives.
What do I need to do to prepare for meal kit delivery?
You might be wondering why anyone would need to prepare for a meal kit delivery service. Everything comes in the box. The instructions are right there. If you are thinking this, your refrigerator probably doesn’t stay in a state of chaos like mine!
You will need space for the items delivered in your meal kit box. I emptied one entire drawer of my upstairs refrigerator to devote to this mission. Goodbye, tortilla shells that outdated in 2021! For most of the meal kits, this one drawer was enough space for all the ingredients that needed refrigeration. This kept all the ingredients together where they were easy to find for each recipe.
The meal delivery services also assume you have basic cooking utensils and supplies on hand. Besides the normal pots and pans, you will need a cutting board, knives, a strainer, and so on for most meals. You will need some type of oil for nearly every recipe.
We use avocado oil and butter in our home. Having those on hand was sufficient. You also need salt and pepper and sometimes a bit of flour or sugar. Any meal that requires breading something will expect you to have eggs on hand.
Can these meal services accommodate special dietary concerns?
If you need to accommodate special dietary concerns, you will probably be very limited in your choices. Most of the services had about 15 different recipes to choose from each week, so only being able to eat the ones that have no dairy or no gluten would severely limit your options.
My husband and I try to stay Keto/low carb most of the time, and we could have had very decent options for a low carb main course, but potatoes or carrots were a side for the vast majority of the meals with every delivery service. Some of the companies will let you swap the side for broccoli or green beans (some assess a 50-cent per serving upcharge). I figure I can just add a $1 bag of frozen broccoli if I want a Keto side.
There are some similar meal services that cater more to specific dietary needs. We didn’t try any of those because the price would have been higher.
Are the portions a large amount of food?
We found the portion size to vary greatly between meals. We were using these meals for lunch most days, and it would be the two teenage daughters at home with me. Many days we would split the two servings between the three of us and have enough for lunch.
In general, the pastas serve way more than the recommended serving. When my oldest daughter would be over with her babies, we would try to make a pasta instead and share that. If there were any leftovers, I would pack that up for my son’s lunch.
If the meal is a chicken breast or pork chop, it’s fairly true to serving size without extra. If the meal is a burger, you can make 6 thinner burgers instead of 4. We did this with the Carmalized Onion Burgers. I ate the burger with no bun and just the toppings, and my husband put his on Keto bread.
Can anyone make these meal kits, or does it require special skills?
My daughters were making all the meals during the summer. The instructions were easy to follow. Most had great pictures as well. My kids could have made these alone by around age 12, maybe even earlier.
My sister just had a kit sent to my nephew at college. He’s at Eastern Michigan on a pitching scholarship. Last year he lived in campus housing and had a meal plan. This year, he’s in an apartment, so she’s trying to help him have better meal options. I’ve included his reactions below with the reactions of my kids.
Do these meal kit delivery services save time and work?
These meal kits do not save time or work, in my opinion. There are some Quick & Easy options on most of the plans, but those choices are very limited, and the ones we tried were not impressive. We found a big compromise in taste to get the quicker meals.
There’s a lot of preparation involved with most of these meals. There’s lots of chopping of potatoes, sweet potatoes, or carrots. In reality, it’s way more preparation than I do for most of the meals I cook on a regular basis because I normally opt for a lot of frozen vegetable because they don’t rot in my fridge.
You can check out one of our favorite dinner options Quick & Easy Suppers for Busy Moms – Simple Chicken Quesadillas!
One reason we tried these meal kits was because we were hoping to find something that would work for us during the regular school year when we have games most nights of the week. These were not the answer to that problem.
I even tried chopping all the vegetables earlier in the day to put the meals together after volleyball matches or golf meets. Even with the vegetables pre-chopped, it still took around 40 minutes to get supper on the table after walking in the door. That’s too long when we aren’t even getting home until after 8 pm.
I originally thought these meals might be a good option for families with little kids, but I tried to pre-chop the vegetables one day while watching my one-year-old granddaughter, and I couldn’t. She was going through the cabinets (despite most of them being latched shut) and holding onto my leg and crying because she wanted to be picked up, so I ended up waiting until Pop got home to hold her.
These meal kits also create way more dirty dishes than any of the meals I normally cook. I didn’t mind this at all during the summer when the girls were cooking every meal. We had an arrangement where they would do all the cooking, and I would do all the dishes. This is partly because I don’t let anyone else load the dishwasher. None of these other people in my house load the dishwater in an efficient manner! I can fit way more stuff in there.
Anyway, it was fine while I was just doing the clean-up. Once school started again, and I was both cooking the meals and cleaning up while they finished practices or homework, it was too much. I know some people enjoy the process of cooking. I am not that person. Cooking is just a means to an end for me. If you enjoy the process of cooking, you will probably love these meal boxes.
So, if they don’t save time or work, what problems do these meal delivery services solve?
These meal kit delivery services do save you the trouble of grocery shopping for those meals if shopping is something you dread. I personally don’t mind shopping. I like to compare prices. I like to pick my own produce. I like to use my coupons.
I know many people now do grocery pick-up, and that would have been a nice service when I was toting around four little kids with me. But at this point in my life, grocery shopping is not a hassle for me.
The single most important problem these meal kits solved for us was the What’s for Lunch/Dinner? dilemma. I am forever trying to figure out what to serve for dinner. We have the same handful of meals over and over. Have we really been having tacos every Tuesday for the last 20 years? It’s great to have a couple of interesting meals on hand each week as an answer to that neverending question.
If you are in a habit of serving highly processed chicken nuggets and boxed macaroni and cheese every meal (no judgment, I’ve been there too), these home delivery meal kits would definitely provide healthier, fresher options. That isn’t one of my particular problem areas most of the time because we grow or hunt for our own meat, so I need to cook mostly from scratch to use what we have on hand.
I think these meals delivered right to your door would also be a great option for empty nesters. These are not financially efficient when cooking for a large family, but you might break even when cooking for just two people because you aren’t buying a whole jar/can/bag of something to make a meal for two. If you need ¼ cup of jalapenos for one of these meals, they send you a small container of jalapenos. You don’t have to find a mostly full jar of jalapenos pushed to the very back of your fridge three years later.
If my parents didn’t live next door to us and either cook for all of us or eat what we’ve cooked most nights, getting 2-serving meal kits delivered right to their door would be perfect for them. Except my dad hates any food that is in any way different from what he normally eats.
Even when my dad goes on vacation, he eats in the same chain restaurants we have at home and orders exactly what he orders at home, so he would absolutely hate these boxed meal kits. These would be perfect for normal people who like to not eat the same five meals on repeat.
These meals are also amazing for helping people learn how to cook. Remember we were homeschoolers for over a decade. My girls learned a lot of skills from these kits.
Much as I hated the mess of the meals that required hand-breading pork or chicken, it’s a useful life skill that will serve them well later. My nephew using these meals at college will give him a crash course in cooking and help him know his way around the kitchen.
Enough for my general thoughts about boxed meal delivery services though. This is what we thought of particular services.
An Overview of Each Major Meal Kit Delivery Service
Blue Apron Meals We Tried:
- Bucatini & Shrimp with Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Parmesan
- Intergalactic Honey Mustard Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and Garlic-Parmesan Broccoli
- Frozen Meals (basically a TV dinner) – Romesco Chicken Bowl with Quinoa & Kale
Cost – 2 servings/2 meals + 2 frozen – $47.96 ($11.99/serving) + $9.99 shipping – discounts = $26.94 (Rakuten $10 reward)
- Pork & Ramen Noodles with Carrots and Peppers
- Chipotle Chicken & Pinto Bean Tostados with Tomato Salsa
Cost – 2 servings/2 meals – $47.96 + $9.99 shipping – $34.99 = $22.96 ($5.74 per serving)
Blue Apron Positives:
Blue Apron seems to have the greatest selection of meals.
This company sends an email when it ships letting you know items you need to have on hand like a cutting board, salt/pepper, and olive oil.
Blue Apron Negatives:
The full price of Blue Apron is the most expensive of all the kits we tried. We liked Blue Apron, but the meals were not significantly better than the meals of the other services. The higher price per serving is definitely not justified.
Hello Fresh Meals We Tried:
- Chicken Over Garlic Parmesan Spaghetti with Tuscan Roasted Tomatoes (probably our favorite pasta)
- Garlic Butter Shrimp Scampi over Spaghetti with Roasted Broccoli
- Garlicky Fried Chicken Sandwiches with Honey Mustard Mayo & Roasted Carrots (a favorite for everyone here)
- One-Pan Chicken & Green Pepper Tacos with Kiwi Salsa and Lime Crema
- Sausage & Shrimp Gumbo (nothing impressive)
Cost – 2 servings/4 meals – $75.92 + $9.99 – $40.00 – $9.99 = $35.92
Hello Fresh Positives:
Hello Fresh has the best packaging. The sealed packages of meat/poultry are out in the box, but the rest of the ingredients for each meal are organized in their own paper bag, so you don’t have to sort everything or go digging through the refrigerator to find everything when it’s time to cook the food.
The Hello Fresh ice packs are also compostable and have instructions written on the side about how to compost the gel. I was excited to add this gel to the soil in my garden. But you should be aware that some of the ice packs from other companies will burn your plants. I tried pouring all the gel packs in my plants, and I killed part of a rhubarb by emptying the gel pack from another company on it.
Hello Fresh Negatives:
The gumbo that we ordered as an add-on came looking like it had been run over by a truck. It was in a cardboard cuplike container which was completely destroyed. Thankfully, the soup was inside of that cardboard vacuum sealed in plastic, so nothing spilled.
Try Hello Fresh with my referral discount here!
Home Chef Meals We Tried:
- Smoked Gouda Chicken with garlic butter green beans
- Greek Style Chicken Wrap with tzatziki
- Acapulco-Style Steak Quesadillas with cheddar-jack cheese & green onions (really good)
- Add on – Avocado Ranch Style Salad & Three-Cheese Asiago Demi Loaf (bread was amazing, but overpriced)
Cost – 2 servings/3 meals plus Salad/Bread Add-On – $67.92 + $9.99 – $40.75 = $37.16 (Rakuten – $7.50 rebate)
- Mojito Lime Shrimp Tacos with mango slaw and guacamole (the best of the tacos)
- Cowboy Steak Sandwich with chili-cumin oven fries
- Chipotle Chicken Loaded Nacho Tacos with guacamole (not bad)
Cost – 2 servings/3 meals – $59.94 – $35.96 + $9.99 shipping = $33.97
- Barbacoa Steak Tacos with queso fresco
- Orange Ginger Chicken Noodle Bowl with peanuts and bok choy
- Shrimp Tostadas with salsa verde guacamole
Cost – 2 servings/3 meals – $59.94 – $35.96 + $9.99 shipping = $33.97
Home Chef Positives:
We considered this company fresh and easy. Home Chef gives you a nifty binder in your first box, and the recipe sheets are all hole punched, so you can add them to the binder. I wish this had been a feature of all the services.
To stop receiving this one, you pause instead of canceling. I greatly prefer this because you don’t lose access to seeing the menus in case you want to resume the service. Most of the companies make you either cancel altogether or skip. If you only skip, you have to remember to come back and skip or cancel later, so I liked the ability to pause indefinitely without canceling.
While most of these companies give you a big discount (about 50% off) the first week, the discount for those other services drops drastically for the 2nd week. Home Chef gave me the same discount of approximately 50% off for the first three weeks. This gave us the chance to get a good feel for this particular company, so I appreciate the longer discount. I don’t consider one week long enough to really know a product or service, so that was disappointing about other companies.
Home Chef Negatives:
I really can’t think of any negatives with Home Chef. Many of our favorite meals were from Home Chef. The price is higher than EveryPlate and close to Dinnerly, but it’s much lower than Blue Apron.
Try Home Chef with my referral discount here!
Dinnerly Meals We Tried:
- Low-Carb Honey Honey-Dijon Glazed Steak with brown butter green beans & carrots
- Pulled Pork Hoisen Noodles with cucumbers & scallions
- Souvlaki Pork Cutlets & Garlic Cream with Mediterranean green beans
Cost – 2 servings/3 meals – $68.28 – $42.16 = $26.12 + $9.99 shipping = $36.11
Welcome Back Offer
- Shrimp Pesto Pasta with Peas (would have been better without the peas, no chopping, slicing, or knife required)
- Low-Cal Chicken Enchiladas (no chopping, slicing, or knife required)
- Miso-Honey Glazed Tilapia and Sesame Carrots (none of the kids would eat this, but I liked it)
Cost – 4 servings/3 meals – $68.28 – $51.21 = $17.07 + $9.99 shipping = $27.06
The selection of meals with Dinnerly might be the best of all of the services. I don’t remember for sure if Dinnerly actually had the largest number of meal options, but it had the most meals that looked good to me. Dinnerly also had the tastiest options which were Quick & Easy preparation.
Before I had even had a chance to try all the other services, Dinnerly was already sending me Welcome Back offers to get a deal that was even better than the introductory offer.
The Dinnerly recipes and instructions are only online. They don’t send the nice sheet with pictures and instructions. This really annoyed the girls because I would have to log into my account on one of their phones for them or send them screenshots of the instructions. It’s a major inconvenience.
EveryPlate Meals We Tried:
- Jammin’ Fig Pork Chops with Green Beans & Crispy Potatoes
- Bacon Carbonara Flatbread with Mozzarella & Caramelized Onions (one of our favorites)
- Honey Sriracha Fried Chicken with Mashed Sweet Potatoes & Zucchini
- Add-On – Southwest Sweet Potatoes with Guacamole $3.49
Cost – 4 servings/3 meals + Add-On Side – $59.88 – $23.12 = $36.76
- Chicken Scallopini in a Lemon Garlic Cream Sauce with Roasted Zucchini with Potatoes
- Tomato Cream Chicken Linguine
- Caramelized Onion Burgers (the favorite for my girls)
- Dijon Mushroom Pork Chops
- Herby Parmesan-Crusted Chicken
Cost – 4 servings/5 meals – $109.79 – $70 = $39.79 ($7.50 Rakuten bonus)
- Sheet Pan Monterey Jack Un-Fried Chicken
- Onion Crunch Chicken
- Lemony Spaghetti with Brussels Sprouts
- Cherry Balsamic Pork Chops
Cost – 4 servings/4 meals – I don’t know how much I paid this week, but it was something similar to the other weeks with EveryPlate.
This is, by far, the most affordable meal kit delivery service we tried. We were able to get 4 serving meals instead of 2 serving, and we could get 4-5 meals for around the same price we were paying for 2 servings/3 meals with the other companies.
I also started getting Come Back offers popping up in my Facebook feed (creepy, I know) shortly after canceling EveryPlate, so I was able to order a couple of different times through the summer.
The week we had 5 meals, we found it hard to use them all because we ended up grabbing food after a golf meet or eating with my parents sometimes. I made the last meal on a night we had already eaten and packed it up for lunches for my husband and son.
EveryPlate has the least organized packaging. Everything is thrown in the box randomly. Potatoes are just loose and mixed in with carrots and so on. You had to really pay attention to the recipe sheet to know how many potatoes you should chop for each meal.
After the first week, my daughter ended up sorting everything for each meal into its own gallon zipper bag. Most of the other companies at least package the small ingredient items for a meal in a plastic bag together.
The chaos of EveryPlate was annoying, but it wasn’t annoying enough for me to avoid this company because of it. The price is drastically lower. EveryPlate is like the Aldi of meal kit delivery services. You might have to sort your own groceries, but at least they reflect that in the lower price.
EveryPlate has horrible customer service. If you contact them, they either can’t help or won’t. I used the online chat help to contact them to try to find out what sides came with one week of our recipes because I wanted to include that information in this post.
All the information about the main course, sides, and costs were included in the order confirmation emails from all the other companies. EveryPlate just sent a generic “Thanks for your order!”
After getting disconnected from customer service a couple of times, the agent I finally had on the line was not able to tell me what sides were included with my meals from the week in question. I even disclosed that I needed the information for a blog post.
This usually makes customer service fairly helpful because they want positive words to be posted. After dealing with three different customer service agents, I concluded they either could not help or refused to help.
Try EveryPlate with my referral discount here!
Which meal kit delivery services is the best?
There was not a clear favorite for our family. The meals were similar across all the meal services. Because the meals are so similar, price becomes the major factor to me. If we are going only by price, EveryPlate is the standout. With all the various discounts offered, any of these kits could be your cheapest option on any given week.
What are your final thoughts on meals delivered to your home?
If you want to give these meal services a try with a discount, make sure you put a reminder in your phone to cancel/skip/pause before the next shipment because it will automatically send you the next box at the higher cost. You have to be organized about canceling.
I schedule a reminder in my phone to cancel for the day the box will be delivered. If you cancel too early, it cancels that shipment before it can ship. If you cancel too late, the next box is already processed. Canceling on the day you receive the box is the right time to cancel.
You also need to watch carefully that you aren’t choosing meals that are labeled Premium unless that’s what you really want. The Premium meals add a huge amount to the cost.
Paying full price for any of these services wouldn’t be an amount I’m willing to pay, but it appears you could continue to use the various services without ever paying full price if you carefully coordinate which kit you’re getting each week and keep skipping around to the one offering a good discount at the time.
Most of these meals are a lot more work and more mess than the meals I usually make on my own. If you get the Quick & Easy recipes, you can save some of the work, but you also compromise severely on the tastiness of the meal, so the tradeoff isn’t great.
The meals are very similar between all the companies, and I almost wonder if all the menus are created by the same place, but the individual companies just package their own ingredients.
Potato wedges are a side dish way too often for these meals. The recipe card often has you seasoning them with only salt and pepper. They’re better if you use other seasonings. My daughters ended up dumping ranch powder and garlic salt on them.
We found that some of the produce would start to go bad before we could use all the meals. This was especially true the week we ordered 5 different meals. Even though we used the first meal the day the box was delivered, by the 5th day, the zucchini was too soft and tasted sour.
I have often used homegrown zucchini that’s been on my patio table for a week, so I didn’t think we would need to use the zucchini early. The green beans would get slimy and mushy after only a day, so you really need to use those first. The potatoes can wait, but if you save them all for the end, you’ll probably eat potato wedges 2-3 meals in a row.
What did the kids have to say about getting boxed meal kits delivered to our home?
- Honour’s Opinion (Senior) – They were good to try, but they get tiring after a while. Don’t underestimate the sandwiches.
- Glory’s Opinion (Sophomore) – Honour didn’t let me do most of the cooking. Sometimes she would let me start chopping the vegetables. Then she would tell me to get out of the way and finish it. The sandwiches were the best meals.
- Champ’s Opinion (College) – Pretty good instructions. Decent food. (He did cook one of the meals for all of us while we were helping out at a cross country meet.)
- My Nephew Dom’s Opinion (College) – I like ’em. Every meal was good. When the meal is new to you, and you’ve never cooked it, then it could be a little too much work, but once you get the hang of them, it goes pretty quick.
- An Opinion of Both Girls – Sheet pan recipes were easy to make but underwhelming. Green beans would never fully cook on the pan. Some of the beans would be cooked perfectly, but some would be completely raw.
Do meal kit delivery services live up to all the hype?
In the right set of circumstances, there’s no doubt these boxed meal kits delivered right to your door can be 100% worth it! I’ve seen YouTubers who have these delivered to their condo or cabin when they travel to save the hassle of packing food or shopping after a long drive or flight.
In most touristy areas, this would definitely save money over dining in a restaurant. This could be especially useful for people who don’t have transportation to and from a grocery store.
While they may not be a good fit for every family at every point, there are plenty of situations where these boxed meal kits can solve a problem and fill a need. These meal delivery services are (with discounts) an affordable way to try new recipes and learn new cooking techniques!
Even though I keep telling myself this will be “our last box,” I’m still scheduled out for the next two weeks because they keep emailing me good offers!
Are these home delivery meal kits a good fit for your household? Let us know your tips and tricks to make them work!
P.S. If you are someone who sees me often in real life and wants to try these, ask me if I have any Free Box cards. These companies sometimes include Give-a-Friend-a-Free-Box coupons in the shipment. I throw them in a drawer in my kitchen because I’m a hoarder, so I would love to give them away to anyone who really wants to use them.
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