Non-DIY meal-prep is has officially blown up—but which is the healthiest (and most cost-effective) pick? Consumer Reports digs deep to find out
Remember when you heard of the first meal-delivery service and thought, "hey, that's a cool idea!" Well, that was 2012—when the trend first started—and now, just four short years later, there are over 100 meal delivery services in the U.S. and a $400 million market that's projected to increase tenfold in the next five years, according to a special report by Consumer Reports. (There are even snack-specific delivery services now too.)
Getting meals that are pre-prepped can do wonders for anyone who feels clueless in the kitchen, or loathes battling lines at the grocery store or planning their meals. As far as convenience goes, the services are a win-win. But when it comes to being healthy and cost-effective? Hmm.
To break them down, Consumer Reports had food and nutrition experts test five of the major services—Blue Apron, Purple Carrot, HelloFresh, Green Chef, and Plated—and surveyed 57 meal-service devotees about their experience.
Are they healthy?
While most services have über fresh-sounding names and feature fresh produce and ingredients, that doesn't automatically make them healthy. Plus, there's the downside of not knowing the exact nutrition. Consumer Reports found that HelloFresh listed the most nutritional info—calories, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, sodium, and sugars—on their recipe cards, while other services only provided a calorie count. HelloFresh also proved to be (on average) lowest in calories and sodium and tied with Green Chef for lowest fat. They noticed that while some services—Green Chef specifically—had a hefty serving of veggies, others were lacking. Purple Carrot recipes are vegan and super high in fiber but tied for highest fat content with Plated.
However, the biggest worry was actually sodium content. Of the dishes they tested, Consumer Reports found that half had 770 mg of sodium (more than a third of the maximum recommended daily intake of 2,300 mg) and that ten of the dishes had more than 1,000 mg per serving. (To be fair, new studies are debating the new recommended sodium max, so it might not be a deal breaker.)
Are they actually a good value?
It depends on what you consider valuable—Consumer Reports found that for most of the dishes, the meal kit price was about twice as expensive as the per-portion cost of buying the ingredients yourself. For example, making Blue Apron's Spring Chicken Fettuccini it would cost you $4.88 to buy for yourself vs. $9.99 for the pre-prepared meal. You could make HelloFresh's Blackened Tilapia for$5.37 per-portion vs. $11.50 for the meal from the service. Of course, the prices range depending on which service and option you select. Consumer Reports found Blue Apron to be the least expensive, and Plated to be the most.
If you value your time and energy more than those five or so dollars, meal delivery services could be totally worth it. But if you're penny pinching? It's better to put in the legwork and DIY. (Because, actually, it's possible to eat healthy on just $5 a day.)
It's worth noting that there are TONS of meal-delivery services out there and that the Consumer Reports sample didn't cover them all. (Proof: here are six more you may have heard of.)
Arguably, the best part about these meal services is that you don't need to go through all the planning and decision-making needed to whip up fresh, delicious meals on the reg—but having someone else do that for you is exactly what can keep them from being healthy. Take advantage of meals with large servings of veggies and limit yourself on sauces, sodium, and condiments the same way you would if you were DIY-ing your healthy diet. Then sit-back, relax, and enjoy the fact that you don't have to fight the Trader Joe's line this week.