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Meal kits vs. grocery shopping: Which is better for your budget?

After a long day, sitting down to a home-cooked meal can be a reward of its own. Of course, meals don't just appear on the table, hot and hassle-free. Whoever figures a way around that -- good for them. But in the meantime, grocery shopping takes two things you might not have a lot of: time and money. 

If you're living paycheck to paycheck, the song and dance of planning out dinner each week can be a challenge for your budget. Groceries are firmly in the 'essentials' category, however, so you might be eager for a way to save time and money when it comes to your meals. Enter: meal delivery services. These convenient meal kits may be the closest we'll get to a future of instant meals zapped into existence whenever we need one, à la the Jetsons.

Pre-portioned, prepped, and dropped off on your front step like the best housewarming gift (that you get to finish making), these deliveries can take the stress out of planning dinner for the week, help you stick to a particular diet -- and maybe even help you save some money.

"A major part of the appeal of meal kits is the ability to save some money on your grocery budget," master of science and registered dietitian Tori Martinet says. Martinet promotes healthy relationships with food through her website,

"Meal kits provide conveniently portioned (and often prepped) ingredients that give you only what you need for [a] certain recipe, meaning you only pay for what you use instead of buying a whole bag of pumpkin seeds just to use a tablespoon."

How many times have you had to buy something in bulk when you only need a small amount? It's a frustrating part of grocery shopping. Your budget might appreciate the premeasured ingredients from meal kits, which can help you to avoid spending too much on something that will just sit in your pantry forever.

If you're still on the fence about meal kits as the better choice for your budget over grocery shopping, read on for an example that breaks it all down.

Meal kits, grocery shopping, and your budget

Online research is one thing, but we wanted a more hands-on approach to this comparison. There's money on the line! So we tried our hand at a home-made rendition of a meal kit fave.

One of Green Chef's recent recipes was a creamy yet spicy delight: the umami-packed Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Aioli. We had to try it out, and this piece was the perfect excuse -- er, reason -- to do so twice. 

First, we sampled Green Chef's version. At $12 per serving, this dinner-for-two cost us around $24 in total for our subscription (we opted into the cheapest tier: four weekly meals for two people). More than half a dozen ingredients came packaged and ready to go, and the whole thing took less than an hour to cook.

The following week, the real challenge began: recreating this dish on our own. Thankfully, most of the ingredients listed were available at a nearby Walmart, so we could avoid bouncing around between stores. 

So we wrote out our list and ventured out into the world (with mixed results). The following prices were rounded up to the nearest dollar.

Some things were easy to find: a head of cabbage, fresh carrots, a carton of eggs, and a 16-ounce bag of tapioca flour. That's $20 right there. 

There were also scallions, cauliflower rice, roasted cashews ($6 for a 10-ounce container), and of course pork tenderloins. This next round added another $19 to our shopping excursion. Considering we needed small amounts of most of these, the expenses are already piling on. 

We found a bottle of coconut aminos for $7, but had no luck with the final ingredient: spicy ginger-lime aioli. We subbed in a bottle of sriracha mayo ($6). 

Back at home, our cooking time wasn't so glamorous as the first go around. It took us more than two hours to sit down with a finished plate. The final result was arguably more delicious than the last, but what about prices? 

No need to break out your calculator because here's our final tally: $52 for a grocery run (and that's not including gas). With some planning, we can stretch some ingredients into future meals, but there's always something to run and pick up from the store. 

Green Chef, in all its pre-portioned glory, is the winner in this particular case. Of course, savings and experiences may vary from region to region, recipe to recipe and service to service, but our point is this: Money can be saved via meal kits. 

Top 5 budget-friendly meal kits that can beat grocery shopping

It's no secret that groceries can add up. The average two-person household can, on average, spend between $500 and $800 per month at the grocery store. That's a lot, even if you're thrifty. 

And there are other kinds of budgets to consider -- budgets that don't involve money. There's your mental energy, for example.

"Consider how meal planning and grocery shopping may be more complicated than it needs to be. Simplify the process," says Dr. Emily Masters, who consults on organization and leaders via her own shingle, Master of the Day, Inc.

"If you have a small kitchen, want to reduce clutter, or cut down on your waste, then meal kits may be a great option for you," Master says. "[They] allow you to stick to basic ingredients without having a pantry stocked with staples, [which lets] you free up space, excess, and also ensure that you do not have expired ingredients."

Increase your chances to save time, money, and pantry space with the best budget-friendly meal kits:

If you're looking for more cost-effective dinner ideas, here is a closer look at five of the most budget-friendly meal kit delivery services available to US shoppers nationwide, and how they stack up against a trip to the grocery store.

Best for organic meals: Green Chef

Miso-Glazed Salmon with Stir-Fried Vegetables
Green Chef

Organic ingredients are a big draw, but nobody's doing it quite like Green Chef. With ethically sourced ingredients and recyclable packaging, this USDA-certified company offers service across the US while boasting a lower carbon footprint than traditional grocery shopping.

Shopping for organic foods can weigh down your grocery budget. With Green Chef's commitment to working exclusively with farmers approved via annual compliance inspections, shoppers can forego the painfully high prices of organic groceries (which sometimes cost up to 20% more than inorganic products). 

Picky eaters can rest easy knowing they have more than 30 unique recipes to choose from each week. Vegan cooks and kitchen connoisseurs – who may be used to turning their noses up at anything that isn't home-cooked – can try their hand at popular dishes like the spicy Peanut Udon Noodle Bowl or the filling Baja Cauliflower Bowl, which is brought to vibrant life by a creamy chipotle aioli sauce. 

Like most meal kit delivery services, there are three things you should always look for: discounts, discounts, and discounts. Prices listed reflect the per-serving costs of signing up for meal kits of your own, but you can usually find small savings with larger orders or more frequent deliveries (Green Chef lets subscribers select two, three or four weekly meals).

At the time of this writing, Green Chef had an ongoing promotion that rewards certain customers with discounts. Medical providers, nurses, hospital employees, and military veterans can save 65% with the Hero Discount Program on their first box (with free shipping) and 15% off all other boxes in a year by verifying their eligibility with

Best for a bit of variety: HelloFresh

One-Pan Turkey Enchiladas Verdes with Mexican Cheese & Hot Sauce Crema

Indecisive shoppers rejoice! In the 10 years since HelloFresh came to the US, the company has grown into one of the biggest names associated with budget-friendly meal delivery services. HelloFresh sent meals to more than 1 billion households worldwide in 2022 alone, but this success isn't simply due to longevity.

HelloFresh became a household name through a varied menu that offers more than 30 unique recipes each week. Customers can mix and match their preferences each week, or choose from curated plans like Meat & Veggies or Pescatarian, to create a personalized plan. If you want a more in-depth look at HelloFresh, from first impressions to a rundown on the type of variety you can expect, check out our HelloFresh review.

HelloFresh takes the cake when it comes to variety. No, literally – their Decadent Dessert Bundle is the perfect cherry on top for any weekly order, with an assortment of mini lava cakes and cheesecakes for the whole family. 

With dessert prices hovering at $8 per item at places like the Cheesecake Factory (double it if you're supporting your local shop or bakery), your dessert budget will thank you for making the switch to HelloFresh deliveries. No use denying it either: We all have (or need) a dessert budget.

Best for a lean diet: Blue Apron

Chicken and Brown Rice Lettuce Cups with Soy Sauce
Blue Apron

Blue Apron is another recognizable name in the meal-kit-delivery game. Known for high-quality ingredients and easy, yet rewarding, recipes, Blue Apron garners high ratings. (It currently maintains an average rating of more than four out of five stars on Trustpilot.) From Asian and Mediterranean to Latin and American cuisines, there is no shortage of unique and flavorful dishes to try each week.

Many Blue Apron offerings look (and taste!) like they belong in a restaurant. While recipes like the Lemon-Caper Salmon and Scallops with Creamy Lemon Fettuccine may sound complicated, the included instructions are straightforward and easy to follow. 

Sitting down to a delicious meal that took under an hour to make and feeling like a five-star chef in your own home? Now that's a win.

The added bonus to signing up for Blue Apron is their dedication to health and wellness. Among the more than 70 recipes available each week, there are plenty of low-calorie and carb-conscious options to choose from. We all know how exhausting it can be to stick to a lean diet, so knowing Blue Apron has delicious and healthy options at the ready (look for the "Wellness" tag on certain recipes) can be a game changer. 

Best for singles and couples: Home Chef

Sweet Chili Tofu Rice Bowl plated for two
Sweet Chili Tofu Rice Bowl Home Chef

A trip to the grocery store can be a challenge, whether you live alone or roleplay as a cook for a family of four or more. You may spend less on ingredients if you're cooking for one, but the other challenge is food waste. May says that food waste is an important, if often overlooked, problem when it comes to saving on shopping expenses. 

While other meal delivery subscriptions cater to family plans and custom-built orders, Home Chef has the solution for smaller households looking for a change. Many of the home-cooked meals are shareable dishes that are perfect for couples (or single chefs who don't mind leftovers!) eager to put an end to food waste.

No more expired food items getting the boot on garbage night each week. Say goodbye to leftovers that hide in the back of the fridge for days on end. With Home Chef, you can rely on tasty meals like Creamed Spinach Chicken or the Instagram-worthy Picadillo-Style Pork Stuffed Peppers that are ideally portioned so that nothing goes to waste. 

Which -- again -- is important if you're watching your budget.

Even better: "Could you split a single portion between two people and bulk the meal out with a side salad?" May points out. 

Home Chef recipes are great on their own, but there's nothing stopping you from adding an extra side to transform a single meal into food for two.

Best for large custom orders: Daily Harvest

Four plated dishes from Daily Harvest's Harvest Bakes collection
Daily Harvest

Daily Harvest is one of those companies that looks ahead. They have something for everyone, with recipes packed full of organic fruits and veggies, frozen dinners alongside meal kits, and smoothies that blur the line between tasty and healthy. 

Strawberry Banana, Peach, Raspberry, Oats, and Goji Berry smoothies? Unique dishes listed under categories like Lunch, Snacks, and Dessert? These recipes go beyond the dinner table, so it's not hard to see why Daily Harvest made this list. Customers that have found balance between their sweet tooth and healthy eating can find plenty of reasons to skip the grocery store with Daily Harvest. 

With Daily Harvest's frozen prepared meal options, it's easier than ever to meal prep for the weeks to come. Their fresh ingredients won't expire quickly and quick preparation times mean it's super easy to avoid those alluring impulse meals throughout the week. 

Instead of a base subscription model, customers pay for up to nine selected items for each delivery. Individual items start at $6, with bowls, flatbreads, and harvest bakes costing several dollars more apiece. With so many drinks and meals that can be frozen to last, it's easy to save money throughout the week with Daily Harvest.

Plus, there are additional discounts for larger orders. Reaching your nine-item limit will knock $25 off your order, while a plan with 24 or more items can save you a whopping $70 off your order – so it might be time to make room in your freezer and start exploring Daily Harvest's menu.

How to choose the best meal delivery kit for your budget

The best meal delivery service is one that goes hand in hand with your own habits in the kitchen. Do you live alone? Do you look for varied meal kit options that offer up a bunch of new recipes to choose from each week? 

The best way to decide if a particular meal kit service is right for you is to think about what you usually buy from the grocery store; if a meal prep company has everything listed, chances are a subscription will save you money. 

A few more things to consider: 

  • Special diets: When you have to stick to a particular diet (such as vegetarian, keto, or paleo), buying your own ingredients can be expensive. Finding the right meal delivery service that fits your needs can help you avoid higher in-store prices for food that is organic, gluten-free, etc.
  • Number of meals: Most subscriptions let you choose between two, three or four deliveries per week. Some, like Daily Harvest, offer discounts for larger purchases. Whether you're great at staying five steps ahead of planning meals or the idea of meal prepping on a Sunday night is far from ideal, you can save a lot by picking a long-term plan that works for you.
  • Food waste: It's worth reiterating that meal kit deliveries are great for eliminating wasteful food habits. Instead of spending money on perishable items that risk going bad before you get the chance to cook with them, a good meal-prep kit will provide pre-portioned ingredients: exactly what you need and nothing more.
  • Timing: For a fun little experiment, try using a stopwatch the next time you head to the grocery store for a home-cooked meal. Keep tabs of how long it took to drive to the store, park, shop, and get back home safe and sound. Then, keep the clock going – you still have to cook! Write down how long everything took. Next, sign up for a meal-kit-delivery service and see how long it takes for a recipe to go from the box on your step to the dining room table. Compare those numbers to see just how much time and money you can save with meal kits.

Benefits of meal kit services over a trip to the grocery store

Meal delivery services are convenient and efficient, two things that go a long way when considering the cost of a home-cooked meal. Taken at face value, individual prices for meal kits can be higher than what you'd spend at the grocery store. 

But factor in everything else (the price of gas, time spent shopping, food waste), and the answer ultimately boils down to personal preference. 

If you enjoy eating healthy and trying new recipes, sticking with a delivery service can help reduce the strain on your grocery budget. Frozen meal kits can be stocked up on to save you the trouble of meal prepping each week. Conversely, pre-portioned ingredients and carefully curated recipes mean you'll use every bit of what's ordered. 

With dozens of meal delivery services to choose from in addition to the 5 tried and true companies listed above, you're bound to find a food delivery program that matches your dietary preferences. Lastly, don't forget to look for sign-up bonuses and discounts on your first few deliveries when shopping around. Most services offer promotional discounts to sweeten the deal for customers, so don't miss out!

How we compared the costs of meal kits vs. grocery shopping

Meals that come pre-portioned make it easier to ensure nothing goes to waste, which is still an issue for many who do their own grocery shopping. A survey of US shoppers from December 2022 shows that about one-third of all purchased food goes to waste.

For a better idea of how we review products and service, here are the factors we considered when comparing different meal delivery services: 

  • Price per serving: Prices vary widely from one meal delivery company to the next, but the main thing to look at is how a subscription's cost breaks down per meal to see how it stacks up against those same ingredient's in-store prices.
  • Number of servings: A family of four is sure to have a grocery bill that looks much different than a single shopper who lives (and cooks) alone. Some meal kits may be more expensive than others, but turn out to be cost effective when you shop in larger amounts.
  • Convenience factor: As mentioned above, there are a number of ways the convenience of meal delivery can save you money. We will look at each of these as we compare meal kits.
  • Dietary restrictions: Shopping for a certain diet can really wear down your budget, so we kept an eye on certain meal kits that cater to special diets and what that can mean for your budget.

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