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How do meal kits work?

Wondering what the deal is with meal kit delivery services? You might have seen an ad recently or heard a neighbor rave about their new favorite weeknight dinner routine, but if you're unfamiliar with the trendy world of meal delivery, you probably have some questions.

One question likely to be at the top of your list is a simple one: "Are meal kits really worth it?" Before we answer that (hint: they are), it might help to dig into what meal kits are, what they offer, and how meal delivery tends to work.

How do meal kits work?

Put simply, a meal kit is a subscription food delivery service that's all about convenience. Subscribers typically pay a weekly charge based on number of chosen meals and servings (more on costs below). In return, they build a meal plan based around their dietary preferences or restrictions, choosing from a selection of interesting and healthy weekly recipes.

Meal kits are shipped right to your door, with ingredients prepped and pre-portioned to save you as much time as possible in the kitchen. Most meal kits leave the cooking steps up to you: Simply follow the included instructions (typically printed on recipe cards that you can save) to whip up dinner for you or the whole family with ease.

Weekly recipes change weekly so there's always something new to look forward to. And if you ever want a break from meal kits, most meal kit delivery services make it easy to pause or cancel your subscription.

With so many meal kits out there to choose from, it can be rewarding to explore your options before signing up. Looking for certain diet-friendly foods? Look for plant-based and organic meal kits. Interested in pairing your dinners with delicious breakfast foods? Don't miss out on HelloFresh, which is currently offering new subscribers free breakfast items for life for a limited time.

How much do meal kits cost?

One of the biggest benefits to meal kits is the cost. Let's face it: grocery prices can easily get out of hand, no matter how thrifty you are. The average two-person household typically spends between $450 and $800 per month at the grocery store.

Meal kit prices essentially boil down to the price per serving for each delivered meal kit. Most meal kits cost between $8 and $12 per serving, with prices going up if you choose fewer meals or servings each week (and vice versa). These prices are laid out for subscribers building their meal plan. 

The good news is that first-time subscribers can usually find impressive sign-up bonuses and discounts -- from freebies like Factor's free wellness shot energy drinks to mark-downs that apply to multiple orders.

Green Chef, for example, offers new customers 60% off their first box and an additional 20% off the next 8 deliveries. That translates to prices as low as $4.80 per serving.

Meal kit ingredients

The best meal kits fill their boxes with pre-portioned ingredients sourced directly from farms and other suppliers that follow strict food safety and animal welfare practices. Many meal kit delivery services outline their commitment to sustainability and responsibly sourced ingredients on their website. 

There are a number of benefits to eating locally sourced food:

  • Prioritizing seasonal foods can reduce the risk of artificial chemicals, since these ingredients have grown and ripened naturally.
  • Local produce tends to stay fresh longer than fruits and vegetables that were picked elsewhere and shipped long distances to reach the customer.
  • You can help to support the local community. You get fresh foods, meal delivery companies get your money, and local businesses win against big-box stories. (It's a win-win-win.)

Meal kit delivery services like Blue Apron make it easy to read up on their sustainability practices and supplier partnerships. One of Blue Apron's recent partnerships includes a 50-year old family-run business, for example.

Don't forget about grocery add-ons

For shoppers looking to fill their pantry, there are meal kits like Hungryroot that offer a bevy of add-ons and individual grocery items.

In addition to traditional meal kits like grain bowls and pasta dishes, Hungryroot aims to cut out trips to the store completely by offering grocery items such as fresh produce, individually packaged proteins (including plant-based options), snacks, beverages and more. Hungryroot prices start at $9 per serving, with grocery add-ons ranging from $7 to $10 apiece.

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