You may be kicking around the idea of a meal delivery service but aren’t sure which one to order. To help you decide, we asked two MetroHealth registered dietitians — Jennifer Bier, manager of ambulatory nutrition, and Denise Lemin, manager of clinical nutrition — to test and compare two services each. Bier cooked up Home Chef and Blue Apron, while Lemin prepared HelloFresh and Dinnerly. According to these experts, here are the most important things you should consider when choosing a meal delivery service for you and your family.
Watch your sodium intake
Both Bier and Lemin said that most of the meals offered in their food delivery services were higher in sodium than what they would recommend. Some meals had up to 1,600 mg of sodium (the CDC recommends that both children and adults consume no more than 2,300 mg per day). They advise not to add the “pinch of salt” the recipes suggest during meal prep.
Most of the time, these meal kits will be a healthier alternative to the fat- and salt-loaded food you’d pick up at the drive-through. They also tend to be better for portion control. “You’re more likely to eat less with a meal kit than if you went to a sit-down meal at a restaurant,” said Bier.
Tailor a healthy menu
Many of the meal plans allow you to choose from a variety of meals. Choose one that offers chicken, fish or lean red meat options to keep fat content down. Also look for meals with a lot of fruits and vegetables. Some services regularly offer whole grain options instead of refined carbohydrates. Those that rank higher in variety have more of these options. You can also check out nutrition information online before ordering.
Consider your food budget
Many services claim their offerings end up being cheaper than going to the grocery store. At the very least, they do tend to reduce food waste.
The food services tested ranged in cost from $4.99 to $9.99 per serving. “We found that you tend to get what you pay for,” said Lemin. That’s why a less expensive service like Dinnerly earned a lower value ranking than a more expensive service like HelloFresh. Dinnerly tends to stick to basic ingredients for its meals and relies on ingredients you usually have in your kitchen such as vinegar. Portions were also smaller.
Weigh your time budget
Regardless of cost, what you’re paying for is convenience and not having to plan out meals or go grocery shopping. With that said, “Be sure that you have time to cook the meals you do order so you’re not wasting your money,” said Lemin. You may want to start with a service that lets your order just two meals a week or meals that need only 20 to 30 minutes of prep time.
If you’re new to cooking and don’t want to spend a lot of time learning, Dinnerly may be a good option, because the kits consist of simple recipes using six main ingredients.
Expand your cooking horizons
One of the biggest benefits of using a home delivery service is it introduces you to new ingredients and recipes in a low-risk way. “You don’t have to buy a 2-pound bag of spelt to only use it once,” said Bier. Most home delivery services have online tools to help you improve your food prep skills, “and the good ones will teach you some new techniques that ultimately encourage you to cook more often.”
SimplyWell’s editors took a few of the most popular services for a spin, here’s how we think they stack up:
Let’s Rethink “Perfect”
You can also get your hands on fresh, delicious, unique-looking produce from local Cleveland farms while helping to minimize food waste in the community. Visit PerfectlyImperfectProduce.com to learn more.