Of all the unpleasant errands I run on a weekly basis, I put grocery shopping near the top of the list. It’s not even the actual shopping that bothers me (I mean, I really love food); it’s the process — dealing with a crazy parking lot, dodging small children as they struggle to steer massive shopping carts, standing in long checkout lines, then schlepping heavy bags up the stairs to the kitchen.
So the minute that all these meal delivery services came onto the scene, I was intrigued. Food, ready to be thrown together into a dish, just appearing every week at my doorstep … yes, please. It’s like magic.
But even beyond just saving me a little time and anxiety, there’s nothing worse than having to buy an entire bottle of some exotic vinegar you’ll never use again or a jug of chicken stock when you only need ½ cup for the recipe. If I’m honest, when left to my own devices, I end up throwing out a fair amount of food and it seems really wasteful. The idea of getting only the amount of each ingredient that I actually need to prepare the meal sounds super smart.
It almost sounds too good to be true though, doesn’t it? And while there are some serious pros, there are some cons to these services. You really need to do some research and find the one that’s best suited for you if you want to have a favorable experience. From my own personal experience, here’s a few things you should consider when selecting which way to go.
What to Consider When Choosing a Meal Delivery Service
1. How picky are you? If you prefer all-organic, like to know a bit about how your food is sourced (wild caught vs. farm raised, etc.) or avoid certain types of cuisines, know that some companies cannot accommodate you. Depending on the company and the plan you pick, signing up means that you’ll have less control over your meal choices, so you’ve gotta be willing to roll with what they’ve got. On the other hand, you could be surprised by loving a recipe that you might not have otherwise given a second look. Pro tip: Do check on whether your selected company allows you to skip a week if the recipes of the week don’t appeal to you and be very clear on the opt out deadline.
2. Do you have dietary restrictions? Whether your restrictions are mandatory from allergies or self-imposed due to preferences, it’s important to keep in mind that not all services cater to you. Over the past year or so, that’s begun to change though. More and more companies are offering all vegan, Paleo, gluten-free and vegetarian food plans. And some specialize in those types of plans, so don’t be discouraged if the first couple you check out aren’t a fit.
3. How much mental bandwidth do you have in the evenings? Be honest about how much you typically have left in the tank by the time you’re home and ready to cook in the evenings. If you’re generally prepping meals while assisting with homework or if your job has you totally wiped in the evenings, complicated instructions and time-consuming prep work could present a very real problem for you. Take a look at the sample menus for each company to see what you’ll be working with in terms of prep times (which, if you’re not speedy in the kitchen, could be a bit longer for you), cooking techniques and number and complexity of steps. Also, some companies send you pre-chopped veggies and pre-made sauces — an added bonus for the time-crunched home chef.
4. How predictable is your schedule? There’s nothing worse than having three or four boxes of perishable meal prep portions sitting in your fridge with no time to prepare them. Consider one of the service options where no perishables are shipped. It doesn’t get you out of grocery shopping, but you certainly don’t want to be throwing away entire boxes of otherwise perfectly good food just because you didn’t get around to cooking it.
5. Do you like having seconds or leftovers? Keep in mind that the service providers’ idea of a portion may not be your idea of a portion. In some cases, portions may be significantly smaller than you and your family are used to. You might be buying a plan for a family of four but only actually get enough for three portions in your house. This also means you might not have leftovers, which can be a problem for people who like to use leftovers as lunch for the next day.
Have you tried a meal delivery service? What was your experience? —Alison