Box It Up! Is Subscription Food Delivery Worth the Money?

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Blue ApronOnce upon a time, anyone who wanted to prepare a special meal had to first track down a recipe and then trek to the grocery store for the necessary components.

But these days, you can skip right ahead to the mixing and marinating, thanks to such services as Plated and Blue Apron, which bring ready-to-cook dinners—complete with detailed instructions and just the perfect amount of ingredients—to your doorstep.

But are they worth the cost? And are the results both tasty and healthy?

A growing number of people seem to think so, given that several of these companies have taken off in just the past few years. HelloFresh, for example, claims to have delivered more than 10 million meals internationally since 2012—in the U.S. alone, their business more than quadrupled in 2013.

“Many people say they want to cook more, eat healthy and waste less,” says Seth Goldman, C.E.O. of the U.S. division of HelloFresh. “And we provide a convenient way to do it.”

The Skinny on Subscription Food Services

While signing up for a subscription food service hardly means never setting foot in a supermarket again—you only receive meal kits for a few dinners per week—it can provide the tools and encouragement to experiment with new fare at a reasonable cost. Prices for subscription food services range from about $10 to $15 per serving.

“They allow you to have a ‘restaurant’ quality meal at home for much less money, and you won’t have to stock your pantry with unfamiliar spices that you might never use again,” says Keri Gans, R.D., author of “The Small Change Diet.”

Jackie Newgent, R.D., a culinary nutritionist and author of “The With or Without Meat Cookbook,” believes that these services are also well worth the price because they foster kitchen confidence. “Cooking can be a relaxing and enjoyable activity,” she says. “It’s a lovely learning experience to share with family too.”

The downside, however, is that most of these plans aren’t great for picky eaters. Although some allow you to customize your choices a little, flexibility is limited. PeachDish, in fact, sends all subscribers the same meals, emphasizing the “adventure” aspect, and urging people to think of it as a yearlong cooking course.

RELATED: 8 Ritzy Restaurant Dishes You Can Make at Home

  • Allison

    $10-$15 a serving? I guess if you’re buying one of these meals instead of going out for dinner, it might save you money (then again, we spent $25 for the two of us to eat out last night — so even saving money compared to dinner out isn’t a given). But otherwise, that’s way more expensive than a typical meal, and it sounds these are often less healthy, too. No thanks.

  • Gars

    Gee, why can’t people retire?

  • Marisa

    We’ve been using Blue Apron since the beginning of the year — for three meals serving two adults at $60 a week, we’ve been really pleased. The meals are diverse, well-proportioned, and have expanded our tastes — who knew my husband and I would both list the Salmon Reuben as one of our favorite dishes, when we both confessed to being prepared to order a pizza before the first bite? I’d argue that the meals aren’t necessarily “less healthy” — fortunately, we’re not on diet-restrictions so I’m not really a calorie-counter. I would say that from a portion viewpoint, I feel like it’s healthier — with meat packages often containing more than what we need (I HATE that most meat recipes call for 1 lb and most packages contain at least 1.25 lb!), it’s great to have just the right amount of both the ingredients as well as the servings.

    • disqus_VcVHWpHOEt

      I too have been VERY happy with Blue Apron. I’d say the cost is a very good value considering the quality of ingredients, including small amounts of pricey spices. You can certainly eat for far less, but I think it would be tough to eat that well for $10/meal if you shopped on your own. The food is whole and nutritious and there are always a lot of veggies and fresh herbs. I’ve found that we have eaten a far greater variety than we would if we were shopping for meal ingredients on our own — artichokes, kohlrabi, pork belly, yucca — all foods I have never shopped for before but have really enjoyed. We really enjoying cooking and have found this a great way to have a special meal without going out to eat. While I select the omnivore option, I’ve found that it is possible to change your preferences after the meal announcements are made before delivery – for example, I wasn’t too excited about next week’s spaghetti and meatballs, so I changed my preferences to exclude red meat and a tasty veggie dish was substituted. I’ll switch back to omnivore next week.
      One more thing – current subscribers get regular free-week trail offers that they can send to friends. If you know anyone that uses Blue Apron drop a hint that you’d like to try it. Three free meals are three free meals! Although the free week is how I got hooked…

      • frenchbelle

        I agree! We’ve loved Blue Apron. I feel that I have become a better cook as well, and have learned the basics of how to use ingredients that I previously only enjoyed in restaurants (i.e. lemongrass, coconut milk, etc.). I decided to order the ingredients for one recipe that we particularly loved (from Fresh Direct, since we live in NYC and don’t have a grocery store in our neighborhood), and ended up with enough ginger and lemongrass to open a chinese restaurant, and more expensive! I love that there is no food waste with blue apron. i’ve also been told by the company that they are working on compostable/recyclable packaging, since that would be my number one (and only) complaint–too much packaging. Yes, I could cook cheaper, but not these recipes. If I made pasta and soup and chili and meatloaf all the time, it would be cheaper, but this is restaurant-quality food, that is healthier than most, fresh, using high-quality ingredients. For two people in NY, it doesn’t get much better!

    • Bclay8

      Great for lazy people with expendable income…get real people, meals in the mail? No way, no how…google the recipe, walk to your LOCAL grocer or farmers market and put some time into your own health. This is one of the dumbest ideas I have ever seen…

      • Sarah Yarbrough Roark

        Lazy people? I work 50-60 hour weeks and we have a farmers market open on Saturday only, about 30 miles away. I guess the “dumbest idea” is not for “Judgey People”.

        • Bclay8

          Anybody who takes short cuts on their eating habits deserves the health problems that those short cuts will cause.

          • kml744

            Busy and lazy are not one in the same. And apparently you’ve not looked at what is available through Blue Apron otherwise you’d know that this is not a shortcut, but a way for busy people to have fresh ingredients for home cooked meals with far less waste of time and food. The alternative for me was spending a couple of hours on the weekends to plan and shop for meals for a week. I often had more of any ingredient than I would need for a meal and more often than not there was LOTS of food cost and waste. If I only needed a tbl of basil, I’d have to buy an entire bunch for $4 (don’t start with me growing my own Mr. Judgy) and end up throwing out most because it would go bad before I could use it up. The lazy eat out. Some of would prefer to cook and be able to control the ingredients which business like Blue Apron allow us to do. Fine, you have lots of free time and money to spend on doing your meals differently. Don’t judge those of us that find these types of services to be healthy, cost saving, and less wasteful then other options.

  • SunnyG

    It would helpful in articles of this nature if you assigned a grade or rating so we could scan for the best value or best taste/recipe.

    To help future readers, as I can suss out from websites, without actually subscribing, the best values of price/qty:

    Blue Apron: A, 3 meals for 2 people, $60, or $10/serving
    Hello Fresh: B, 3 meals for 2 people, $69, or $11.50/serving
    PeachDish: C, 2 meals for 2 people, $50, or $12.50/serving
    Plated: F, I think we all understand this is wicked expensive.

    Unfortunately only PeachDish and Plated deliver to my area. I live in Eastern Iowa, in a “major city” for Iowa, but still a blip on the map (as I told the fiance when I moved here :P ). Blue Apron and Hello Fresh currently service large markets (My zip code vs Memphis, TN, Chicago, Indianapolis, Denver, etc.)

    I previously considered jumping on board with one of these meal programs as the fiance and I have pretty full schedules, but in the end, I decided it would be more cost effective to grocery shop and cook at home 4-5 nights/week. Paying $200/month to eliminate the need for grocery shopping and cooking a total of 8 meals, just didn’t seem like a good investment. If I’m thinking about this backwards, I would appreciate any feedback to make my money life and kitchen life easier! :)

  • krysh

    Well, I personally wouldn’t pay for this for MYSELF, BUT… what an awesome idea for a gift!!! Especially since Plated.com does NOT make you sign up for a service! I just ordered two, 2-serving meals and sent them to my mom for Saturday, May 10th, delivery (Mother’s Day gift). Tip: use code 36c6f0 to get $30 off, so the two 2-serving meals that would normally be $60 was only $30, plus free shipping :) I feel like a sucker for reading this article and then paying for one of these services, but I’m always looking for new gift ideas.

  • Logan Thomas

    That’s just too expensive for me. I’d rather go out to eat. Last night my wife and I ate at a restaurant off of the happy hour menu and our bill was less than $8. Usually when we go out we’ll just share a $10-12 meal. Even with a couple of drinks, our total is less than $20. $20 for a meal we cook at home is just too much for me.

  • Kyla

    After a foodie friend recommended Blue Apron, my boyfriend and I signed up in March with the first week free, which was a nice bonus. We found that the portion sizes for each meal were great for the two of us, plus we usually had leftovers for the next day, $60 for seemed like a pretty good deal. However, we ended up canceling the service after three weeks mainly because the packaging seemed really wasteful. Each individual vegetable and item comes wrapped separately in plastic (I totally understand the need to wrap the meat, fish and poultry separately, but it seems like veggies could be all in one bag or container). Also, inside the cardboard shipping box had a bunch of freezer packs along with some type of plastic insulating liner, which Blue Apron says you can recycle, but I haven’t been able to find anywhere in my city to recycle these items yet. Another reason we decided to cancel was because a lot of the sauces, glazes and condiments used in some of the meals were either really high in sodium or sugar. We chose to use only a portion of these ingredients when cooking and ended up just throwing away the rest. Delivery food subscription is a great idea, but personally I’d rather exchange the convenience for less waste and healthier ingredients.

    • Sarah Yarbrough Roark

      the packaging bothered me a lot as well (Plated). So I have been re-using the boxes – they are really good quality, and reusing the ice packs – picnics, taking prepared food to family, etc. and give them away. I haven’t thrown a single box or ice pack out in four months. I have saved the insulation for packing material. I also reuse the green vegetable bags (for produce) and plastic containers for leftovers. I rinse the little bottles and use for leftover wine (for cooking) – not sure what to do with these but can’t just throw them out. I realize I sound like a nutcase now.

  • http://jeffbridges.net Jeff Bridges

    My wife and I use Plated, and it’s changed our lives. No more picking recipes, no fighting through over-crowded grocery stores, no leftover half-bunch of cilantro. Instead, we get to go online and read about dishes that make our mouths water. Then ingredients show up at our door, pre-measured and of the absolute highest quality, with a recipe card so easy a cave man could follow it. The meals are without fail delicious—not one dud yet! We’ve even re-made a few for guests they’re that good.

    We tried Blue Apron once—never again. Try Plated, you’ll love it!

  • Jenna

    If you like the idea of this kind of service, but don’t like the cost or the options above, do a little research in your local area. We have been using a meal kit delivery service in the Nashville area which provides 5 vegan meal kits per delivery for $80, which works out to about $4 per serving. This has been well worth the cost for us!

  • http://www.findsubscriptionboxes.com/ Find Boxes

    Subscription boxes like Plated and HelloFresh are a great way for budding or home chefs to start preparing meals in their own home. These boxes deliver quality, fresh ingredients for their meals and the instructions are easy to follow. We’ve prepared a few of these box meals and enjoyed both the variety of foods and the process of cooking up meals that we might otherwise not have tried.

    There are often promotions for the first box to help alleviate the cost if you want to just “give it a try.” Here’s a coupon to save $25 off your first HelloFresh box: http://www.findsubscriptionboxes.com/coupons/exclusive-coupon-use-code-hellofind25-save-25-1st-hellofresh-box/

    If you want to read real subscriber reviews for some of the boxes listed here, or if you want to find a coupon so you can save on your first box, check out the Find Subscription Boxes subscription box directory at http://www.findsubscriptionboxes.com.

  • Bclay8

    This is a wasteful, expensive, and ridiculous idea. Sorry, it doesn’t make any kind of sense to get individual meals in the mail. You guys need to cater to the 1% and go away

  • Josh

    I am a foodie home cook, I dabble in molecular gastronomy, have a well stocked kitchen, and tons of gadgets. I also periodically have a subscription to blue apron. Their recipes are good tasting, diverse, and just plain convenient.

    That said, the marketing team cleverly compares it as an alternative to eating out, rather than cooking yourself at home (which is literally what you are doing anyway). In that regard you are paying about double what you normally would, not including sale prices at stores. If you are not a cook already and lack a lot of key ingredients and spices, its a better value, but if money is your concern you can just look at the recipes online and go buy the stuff yourself.

  • Sarah Yarbrough Roark

    I have been using “Plated” for about 4 months now, 2-3 meals every week. My husband and I both enjoy variety and like to cook at home (we have a four year old). We both work and try to eat healthy, whole foods rather than processed, canned, frozen, etc. This has been real boost to our quality of life. I save time not having to plan menus and go to the grocery store, and I don’t have lots of leftovers or rotting produce. I have cooked things I never would have tried before and have some new favorites in my repertoire. Not as cheap as McDonalds or Olive Garden – but we don’t eat that kind of food, so for us it is great! Blue Apron doesn’t deliver to our area, or I’d give them a try too!

  • Noreen

    Plated has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me and my kitchen. I don’t enjoy grocery shopping and often times, the ingredients I need are not available. Plated ingredients are so healthy and all the meat is antibiotic free. The recipes are 5 star restaurant quality and I can proudly say that I made them. I can’t say enough good things about it. I get my food delivered, everything comes out fabulous, I’m learning how to cook better and my family and I can enjoy awesome meals. And I save money as well. It has really improved my quality of life. I wasn’t paid to say this. I just think it’s a great thing and everyone should experience this kind of joy in the kitchen. I love to cook now. Click this https://www.plated.com/invites/a1992f for 2 free plates! Yummy!!