Convenience, easy preparation and taste are all reasons why the trend of meal subscription services continues to grow. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it works like this: You sign up and a box of ingredients for one or more dinners is delivered to your door. All you have to do is follow the enclosed recipe and cook the meal.
Those who use the services say not having to try and pull together dinner at the last minute can be a lifesaver.
"I am a working mom with two kids in different schools and the meals I get take about 10 minutes to cook," says Laura Campbell of Clovis, Calif. "And the quality has been really good."
As the number of meal-in-a-box companies grows, so do the offerings, pricing structures and types of food.
A quick Internet search yields several companies, including Blue Apron, Plated, Gobble, Hello Fresh, Green Chef, Sun Basket, Din.Co and Handpick. And that's just a partial list.
To help wade through the different options, here are eight things you should know about meal-delivery companies.
1. How much do the services cost?
It varies from about $5 to $14 a meal, depending on how many meals you order. Users say the cost is generally less or comparable to what you might pay at the grocery store, if you bought the same ingredients. At Hello Fresh, three meals a week for a family of four will cost $129 a week, shipping included. As a comparison, Blue Apron's family of four plan of four meals a week is $139, shipping included. Gobble charges you $71.70, if you order six or more meals. And the shipping is also free.
2. Is everything for the meal included in the box?
Generally, yes. The only items you may have to add are staple products like salt, olive oil or eggs. Otherwise, everything comes in the box in pre-measured portions. Recipes cards are also included and some companies, like Blue Apron, offer how-to videos on cooking techniques.
3. How do they keep it fresh?
The boxes are insulated and kept cold using ice packs. Many of the ice packs are reusable. The boxes are delivered on a specified day and are designed to keep the ingredients fresh until you come home and open your box.
4. Where do they source their ingredients?
The ingredients are sourced from throughout the United States and in some cases are organic, or non-GMO. Some companies like Hello Fresh and Green Chef provide small biographies about some of their suppliers.
5. Do they have gluten-free, vegetarian or organic options?
Yes, many of the companies offer different menu plans depending on your dietary needs. As an example, Green Chef, an all-organic provider, provides customizable choices, including vegetarian, omnivore, carnivore, gluten-free and paleo.
6. What types of dinners are offered?
The dinner recipes are developed by chefs and are designed to be well-balanced, healthy and delicious tasting. The menus change weekly and you can select which meals appeal to you. Recently, Plated offered these menu selections: kimchi fried rice with crispy tofu, marbella chicken with olives and capers and rice, and beef moussaka with delicata squash and creamy yogurt sauce. Cooking times vary from 10-15 minutes for Gobble recipes to up to 20-30 minutes for Green Chef. Gobble also boasts its recipes require just one pan.
7. Can I stop or amend my subscription at any time?
Most services allow flexibility to stop or make changes to your subscription, providing you do it by the required deadline for the next week's shipments. Their websites are also user-friendly.
8. How many calories are there in a typical meal?
Most meals are within 500 to 800 calories. And nutritional information is provided.