There are few things that spark more joy for me than a good meal. Cooking meals from scratch is my creative outlet, while sharing these meals is my way of connecting with people I care about. I’m extremely fortunate to be in a position where I don’t have to worry about food. But like many others, my relationship with food has been forced to evolve with the current pandemic.
What used to be something I looked forward to became a stressful task of haphazard meal planning using whatever I had in the pantry. As many Americans remain under stay-at-home orders, the demand for groceries continues to increase while processing capacity decreases. Grocery stores are crowded and sold out of kitchen staples like eggs, flour, milk and meat. Finding certain ingredients to cook specific recipes has been a challenge for me. Bacon? Forget about it. Spinach? Not a chance. According to CNN, America’s food supply is becoming more vulnerable as meat processing plants shutter due to infected employees. Experts insist we don’t have to be worried about a food shortage, but we may soon encounter even fewer choices than we’ve already been experiencing.
Then I remembered all of the dormant meal kit accounts I started and abandoned over the years: Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Every Plate, Sun Basket, Green Chef, Home Chef, Plated…the list goes on. Meal kit delivery services made a huge splash and generated tons of interest as food industry disruptors offering convenient, healthy meals to busy professionals when they first debuted in the early 2010s. They typically come as a box full of fresh, individually packaged and labeled ingredients, along with visual recipe cards that equip even the most novice chef to whip up a meal expertly (my partner who has cooked a total of 2 times in his life, but managed to serve up a beautiful dinner using one of these meal kits, can attest to this).
Meal kit delivery services have continued to chug along over the past decade, with customers like myself signing up for a trial, and then subsequently pausing or canceling the subscription to try the next new and shiny meal kit competitor. However, a key audience for meal kits has grown substantially now that we’re all stuck in self-quarantine: people like me who are struggling to manage the logistics of planning, buying, and cooking groceries.
For someone who loves high-investment recipes like lasagnas and panko fried chicken, I felt strange when my meals started exclusively consisting of cereal for breakfast (sometimes with no milk since I ran out), eggs over toast for lunch, and spaghetti with jarred bolognese sauce for dinner. Just like the many other quarantine chefs who were eager to scratch that cooking itch, I found joy in being inventive with the things I was able to cook, but was scrambling to substitute the ingredients in recipes with whatever I could find in my pantry.
The coronavirus has made it a real quest to find fresh produce to cook with, but reactivating my meal kits rescued me from the monotony of shelf-stable meals. It’s also allowed me to experiment with new recipes without worrying about food waste due to half-used ingredients (anyone else have a full, untouched bottle of coriander after using two teaspoons that one time for that one recipe five months ago?) With all of the perfectly portioned ingredients needed for healthy and delicious recipes delivered straight to my doorstep every week, I’m able to enjoy cooking as a creative outlet once again.
No matter what your cooking skills and dietary preferences are, there’s likely a meal kit that’s right for you. Here’s my list of the best meal kit delivery services that I have on rotation.
6 recipes for 4 people at $7.49 per meal (I chose larger quantities to have leftovers)
- Calorie Smart
- 20-minute Meals
- Hall of Fame
- Amazing Apricot Chicken
- Sizzling Saigon Steak Bowls
- Seared Barramundi and Horseradish
- Salsa Verde Enchiladas
- Pork and Veggie Bibimbop
- Great variety in recipes including a diverse lineup of world cuisines
- Robust filters for the most popular and the quickest recipes
- Nutritional info is front and center with the recipe lists
- Inconsistent packaging – varies between plastic and paper packaging
- Overestimated portions – ingredients sometimes come in larger quantities than needed
4 recipes for 2 people at $10.99 per meal
- Carb Conscious
- Lean & Clean
- Orzo bowls with broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, and pistou
- Madras coconut curry with tofu, tomatoes, and black rice
- Turkey larb salad with mushrooms, tomatoes, and fresh mint
- Tons of meal options that address a wide range of dietary restrictions and preferences
- Ready to eat options for days when you don’t feel like cooking
- Premium meals that use the highest level of quality ingredients
- Impressive recipes that make anyone feel like a skilled chef
- Pricing is a bit higher than competitors
- Ingredients may be swapped if their warehouses are out
3 recipes for 2 people at $10.99-$12.99, depending on meal option
- Balanced Living
- Family Plan
- Additional meal varieties catering to those following a keto diet
- Color-coded recipe cards make instructions very easy to follow
- Pricing plans could be confusing since each meal option has a different price
- Higher price point similar to Sun Basket, but don’t feel as “gourmet”
5 recipes for 2 people at $4.99 per meal
- The most affordable option among the meal kit delivery options
- Comforting and classic recipes that are ultra-simple to put together
- Limited meal options for people with special dietary needs
- Recipes are not as healthy as other meal kit offerings
Have you tried meal kit delivery services? Which one is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below! You can also find our favorite Insta Pot recipes here, or our latest Asian-inspired noodle dishes to try at home!