How To Choose A Meal Delivery Service, Per A Holistic Nutrition Consultant
Due to an increasing interest in healthy-yet-convenient food, there are way more meal delivery services and meal prep companies than there used to be. This abundance of choice allows you to easily find an option that suits your optimal diet—whether that's low-carb, paleo, or plant-based—but it can also make it much harder to decide which meal delivery service is right for you.
Luckily our extensive research on meal delivery brands at mindbodygreen has given us solid intel on how to choose the right company for you. We vet every service featured on our site for food quality, recipe variety, sustainability, and accessibility, but these are just a few of the factors that shoppers should keep in mind.
Below we'll highlight all eight of the most important things to consider before signing up for a new meal delivery service.
What to consider when choosing a meal delivery service.
There's not a single answer to the question, "What is the best meal delivery service?" Similar to most things in the well-being industry, the best selection for you will differ based on your personal needs, including any dietary restrictions, budget constraints, or even meal types.
As a result, we can't recommend one choice that's best for everyone, but we can help you narrow down your choices based on what's important to you. Here's what we suggest taking into account:
There are two main types of meal delivery services: kits and pre-made meals. Kits come with premeasured ingredients and recipe cards that you use to make your meals from scratch—think HelloFresh or Green Chef. While they still require effort, meal kits will save a considerable amount of time since you don't have to grocery shop, measure ingredients, and put everything away. They also limit food waste by only sending you what you truly need to make a recipe. Plus, you still get the joy of cooking with recipes that take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes to prepare.
Meal prep companies, like Factor and Fresh n' Lean, offer precooked meals that come portioned out in single-serve containers. You simply heat and eat—no cooking or cleaning required. Most pre-made meals come with multiple heating suggestions, so you can have them in as little as three minutes if you use the microwave, or closer to 30 if you prefer the oven.
2. Meal offerings
Balancing a busy schedule means something different for everyone. Some people need a little help in the morning to get out the door faster, while others require meals at night after a busy day on their feet. It's important to evaluate the kinds of meals a service offers.
Most meal delivery brands are built around dinners, but many sell additional selections for lunch, breakfast, or a snack. A few companies, such as Fresh n' Lean, offer à la carte meal prep items. Others let you add on grocery items to stock up your pantry with essentials. Before selecting a service, it's key to decide which meals you need for your schedule—and it's fair if the answer is all of them!
Convenience often comes at a cost, but the best meal delivery services have found a way to balance this. There's still a pretty wide price range; some of the cheaper delivery services start at just $4.99 per serving, whereas the more specialized services can go as high as $15 per serving.
When determining which one is right for you, factor in the price per serving, as well as any shipping costs. Some boxes ship free with a minimum spend, but others have flat-rate shipping costs that typically fall somewhere between $7.99 and $9.99 per box.
4. Dietary considerations
Many meal delivery companies have caught on to the fact that consumers have widely varying dietary needs. Whether you're following a certain diet due to preference or you need to avoid specific foods for allergy or health reasons, you want to make sure you're utilizing a service that can accommodate.
On the other hand, some services are still pretty limited in what they offer. While they might make some basic dietary accommodations, like plant-based, there isn't much control beyond that. You may be able to find meals that work for you, but this can limit variety pretty significantly. Dig into the menus to see what the service offers before committing to one.
Make sure to also check whether or not meals are made in allergen-free kitchens, if necessary. Some companies may have gluten-free or nut-free meals, but there might be a potential for cross-contamination. Others utilize allergen-free kitchens.
5. Nutrition and quality of ingredients
Quality of ingredients varies between meal delivery services, too. The companies we recommend prioritize the highest quality ingredients possible—that means choosing organic and/or local produce and animal proteins from humanely raised animals that are allowed to roam freely. (And we always call it out if they don't!)
Of course, higher-quality ingredients often come with a higher price tag. While this isn't always the case, you'll have to balance your budget with nutrition and quality of ingredients to find a sweet spot that works for you.
6. Variety of recipes
The best way to prevent food boredom is to make sure the meal delivery service you choose offers plenty of variety. Look for two things: regularly rotating menus and plenty of choices each week.
You also want to consider how much control you want over your boxes. Some companies choose your menu for you, allowing one or two substitutions, while others give you more control over your meals (so you can choose anything you want from that week's menu).
Meal delivery services use a lot of packaging; that's why sustainability is also an important factor when choosing one. Look for companies that use recyclable and/or biodegradable packaging in their boxes. It's even better if the packaging materials are made from recycled materials to begin with (just be sure they can go through another round of recycling).
Many list out exactly what packaging components are recyclable and provide instructions on how to recycle them (whether you can leave them by the curb or have to bring them to your local recycling plant). These brands also call out anything that's not recyclable, like the gel ice packs. Read this fine print to see if the company prioritizes sustainability rather than just looking for buzzwords in marketing materials.
A commitment to sustainable farming practices is also a huge plus. Many companies support local farmers and suppliers to invest back into the community while also providing fresh ingredients.
8. Delivery area
Most meal delivery companies ship nationwide, but some still have limited service areas. Before getting too deep into the process, type in your ZIP code to make sure your top pick delivers to your home. Be sure to also check other specifics, like whether or not you have to be home to sign for any packages or how long they can sit outside—most are shipped with ice packs in temperature-controlled containers but can only be out of the refrigerator for so long.
Some of our favorite meal delivery services.
You can use the points above to narrow down your options from the ever-growing list of meal delivery services, or you can check out a few of our favorites below:
- Best paleo meal kit: Sunbasket
- Best budget Mediterranean meal kit: Hello Fresh
- Best plant-based variety: Purple Carrot
- Best keto meal kit: Green Chef
- Best prepared meals for seniors: Magic Kitchen
- Best low-carb prepared meals: Trifecta Nutrition
- Best prepared meals for Whole30: Fresh n' Lean
- Best cheap meal delivery for frozen foods: Mosaic Foods
Although the variety of meal delivery services gives you plenty of options, it can also make it difficult to pick just one. Decide what's important to you—such as meal type, pricing, food quality, and variety—to narrow down your choices. The good news is that most companies don't require a long-term commitment, so you can shop around until you find one you really like.
Lindsay Boyers is a holistic nutritionist specializing in gut health, mood disorders, and functional nutrition. Lindsay earned a degree in food & nutrition from Framingham State University, and she holds a Certificate in Holistic Nutrition Consulting from the American College of Healthcare Sciences.
She has written twelve books and has had more than 2,000 articles published across various websites. Lindsay currently works full time as a freelance health writer. She truly believes that you can transform your life through food, proper mindset and shared experiences. That's why it's her goal to educate others, while also being open and vulnerable to create real connections with her clients and readers.