Meal delivery services: that new age TV dinner

If you’re anything like me, you probably have a million obligations you are trying to keep up with, and cooking healthy, wholesome meals is probably only one of them. When your schedule gets you down, what kinds of foods do you eat? Do you grab the closest thing based off of convenience? Do you snack on candy to get you through that mid-day slump? Do you spend exorbitant amounts on UberEats each night? I can tell you I’ve fallen victim to these habits and worse, and I’ve been on the search for a sustainable solution that can bring ease to my schedule and keep me on the food bandwagon when it feels like I am literally being pulled off.

Meal delivery services

People have many thoughts about meal delivery services. Nowadays there are many many options out there, especially if you live in a big city like San Francisco. Essentially, you customize your box and it gets delivered to you on a weekly basis. There are a few main benefits that most of these services share:

  • Convenient scheduling with the option to skip or cancel at any time.
  • High-quality ingredients that include all the buzzwords (organic, free-range, preservative-free, non-GMO, etc.).
  • Varied menus that change weekly and a gamut of customization options (e.g.- “I don’t like parsley.”, “I’m allergic to eggs.”, “I am vegan.”)
  • Single and family sizes as well as small and large portions.
  • Relatively reasonable pricing.

While all of these options seek to save you time and keep you healthier in the long run, there are three main categories of effort these fall into that you should know when choosing a service.

  1. Maximum effort: all ingredients are delivered to you and pre-portioned for a certain number of servings. You do all the slicing, dicing and cooking.
  2. Minimal effort: meals are delivered to you already prepared. All you need to do is heat them up, sometimes on a stove but usually in a microwave.
  3. The middle path: a grey area in between the first two. The prep work is generally already done for you, but you do the final “cooking” to make you feel like you’ve accomplished something.

The Comparison

Over time I’ve tried a number of these different services and they all have some pros and cons. If you’re thinking of trying one of these services, read on to see which one is right for you! Note that all of these companies have intro deals to try them out at a discounted rate, so definitely seek those out whenever you decide to take the plunge.

Maximum effort

Blue Apron

Blue Apron was one of my first forays into these services… Because, you know, I wanted to “learn to cook”.  While the meals were certainly tasty, it will probably come as no surprise that I still cannot cook.

Pros:
  • You will receive a very detailed recipe/how-to card for each of the meals in your box.  Blue Apron even has these awesome videos to teach you how to do fancy stuff like julienne vegetables.
  • There is a wide variety of foods, so each week is new and exciting.
  • You can choose a two-person or a family plan and enter your dietary restrictions in your profile.
  • Delivery seven days of the week in most locations.
Cons:
  • Even though the recipe cards claim that most meals can be made in 30 minutes, many of them took me at least an hour, sometimes more.
  • Many of the meals were very carb-heavy.  The proportion of carb to everything else on the plate just didn’t always make sense.
  • If you are a single person who does not eat alot, some of the food may go to waste…  Or you will be eating cod and potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Minimum effort

Freshly

Freshly sends a set number of already prepared, never frozen meals to your door each week and all you need to do them up in the microwave.

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Pros:
  • The meals are amazingly delicious.  End of story.
  • Ingredients are high-quality and fresh and the meals are ready in less than five minutes.
  • Heating instructions are tailored to each specific meal, ensuring that the meals are as tasty as possible.  Trust me.  This one is a big deal.
Cons:
  • While the menu is expansive, it does not seem to turn over as fast as some other services.

Territory Foods

Ooookay. I’m going to be brutally honest here. I really did not enjoy Territory Foods AT ALL. In a nutshell, the meals were flavorless and heated up very poorly – AKA rubbery meat textures and such. The portions also didn’t make sense to me.

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Pros:
  • They did have a lot of options for various dietary restrictions, but the bulk of the plans were definitely Paleo.
  • You can save the containers for your own future meal prep.
Cons:
  • Meals were not tasty and did not heat up well.
  • High price point for not a lot of food.
  • They charge a delivery fee if you’re not picking it up yourself.

Thistle

The week I ate Thistle I felt really fancy. The meals were MUCH healthier than others I had tried and I was able to pick everything I wanted individually in addition to specifying dietary restrictions. This is a great program if you have the means and you are looking for a full reset.

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Pros:
  • You can add juices and healthy snacks in addition to meals! As someone who snacks a lot during the day, this was a game changer.
  • They have an app! Call me cray, but anyone who doesn’t have an app these days is stuck in the past.
  • They’ve got great articles on how to use their program as a reset and what to expect upon switching to a plant-based diet.
  • …Oh yea, they are plant-based. There is a meat protein add-on though.
  • Delivery is free.
Cons:
  • Price point is pretty high. This has probably never been said before, but you’d probably save yourself some money by getting similar meals at Whole Foods.
  • Even though I specified my restrictions, I did have an allergic reaction to one of the meals. That’s a me problem though, not a you problem (though if you are hyper-sensitive you may want to consider this).

Methodology

This was definitely the fanciest of them all.  They deliver high-quality meals that can either be requested as “complete” or “mix-and-match” to give you the flexibility you need in your life.  Methodology is not for the faint of heart – its high price point means you should probably only give it a shot if you are willing to spend a lot on nutrition and you know that meal delivery services are right for you.

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Pros:
  • High-quality ingredients that are quite flavorful.
  • A “complete meal” and a “mix-and-match” option are both available, giving you the flexibility to plan your week the way you want to.  Methodology also offers snacks.
  • Option for twice a week delivery, ensuring that each meal you eat is fresh.
  • Sustainable and reusable packaging (all items come in meal prep containers or glass jars).
Cons:
  • You need to be ballin’ to really keep up this meal program.
  • It seems that they try to maintain their “exclusive” status by claiming a two-week waiting list to even try out the service.  Whether or not this was really true, it turned me off to the company in general.
  • They are only available in California right now.

The middle path

Hungry root

Hungry root was quite a different concept from that of the other services.  It is not quite as much work as Blue Apron but it is not quite as fast as some of the other ones.  This particular company serves vegan meals exclusively, so definitely factor that into your own assessment here.  While I have no problem giving up meat from time to time, I had a hard time getting on board with things like Cashew Cheddar as cheese substitutes.

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Pros:
  • All the prep work is already complete!  Ingredients are sent to you already sliced and diced, so most meals take just about ten minutes from start to finish.
  • Lots of veggies to help you stay regular. 😛
  • They let you pick which meals you want specifically, which is great if you are a picky eater like me.  Hungryroot also has an assortment of vegan cookie doughs that you can bake at home!
Cons:
  • If you are not used to a vegan lifestyle, this could be an adjustment for you.  I wasn’t a fan of the foods that are trying to be other foods (like cashew cheddar).
  • The meals were tasty when you first heated them up, but because the portions they send are so huge you are pretty much destined for a ton of leftovers.  The leftovers were yuck (just being real).
  • They sent a wrong ingredient which meant I was not able to make one of the main entrees I had chosen, even though the packaging list I received had allegedly been hand-checked and signed by a human.

The winner is…

After trying a week of each of these different services, it was evident early on that Freshly was the clear winner.  Freshly’s meals were extremely flavorful and filling.  The customized heating instructions made each meal taste fresh out of the oven rather than fresh out of the microwave.  It made me excited to see what the next meal would be each time, which was probably the truest test of all.  The price per meal made this option a no-brainer for what you get.

While this was my personal assessment, remember that food is VERY SUPAH SUBJECTIVE and you may reach some different conclusions than I did.  If you want more details on any of the companies I tried (I have also tried Splendid Spoon and Good Eggs) or have suggestions for other companies you loved, feel free to drop me a line!

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