Are meal delivery kits really worth the money?

Food is complicated. We need it to survive, but demanding jobs and busy schedules often give us no other choice than to hit up the vending machine in between breaks. That explains why nine percent or 10.5 million American households have tried a meal delivery service, according to The Nielsen Company. For a monthly or yearly fee, you get each ingredient sent to your door for a meal of your choosing. They’re a popular option since cooking the dish inspires a sense of productivity, and pre-portioned ingredients prevent food waste. But are meal delivery services a financial waste?

That depends on the size of your family, how much food you waste at home and a range of other factors.

Americans spend an average of $644 on food each month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which amounts to 13 percent of the median household income of $61,372, as per the most recent 2017 U.S. Census statistics.

New research found that each American wastes up to a pound of food a day, amounting to a national total of 150,000 tons. Meal delivery services are perhaps a small yet powerful way to limit the growing number of toxic landfills. In the box, you only receive what’s required of the recipe — no more, no less.

Limited data exists on the average cost of meal kits since there are several types of options and plans to choose from. A kit for a large family every night of the week will cost a lot more than that for a family of two, one night a week. The same rings true for lobster- or beef-based options as opposed to vegetarian, since seafood and meat tend to cost more than produce, nuts and grains. But for the sake of determining whether meal delivery kits are actually worth it, let’s take a look at how groceries stack up against a popular service. For Blue Apron, two servings for two nights a week cost $47.95. Each serving costs $9.99. Let’s do the math and see if that number sounds fair:

One of their recent menu options includes Broccoli and Sweet Pepper Fried Rice. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found the average retail price for the equivalent of a cup of broccoli goes for $0.84; sweet pepper for $0.75; onion for $0.41, a pound of white rice for $0.71, and a carton of grade A large eggs for $1.60 (keep in mind that you only need a couple of those eggs for this recipe, making each egg $0.13). Add up the ingredients, and the whole meal is valued at approximately $2.84. The cost is even less if you only use a fraction of the rice. In this case, Blue Apron overcharges by $7.15 or approximately 250 percent to cover the costs of overhead like staff wages, packaging, manual labor and more.

But for some, that extra $7.15 buys peace of mind, like not having to decide what to eat for dinner, drive to the grocery store, wait in line, carry heavy bags and portion out ingredients.

“I do understand the lure of online food subscriptions,” said Matt Schultz, chief industry analyst at CompareCards. “More and more people are beginning to realize that their time is as valuable as any resource they have, and they’re willing to pay a little more for services that help them better use their time. An online food subscription is the perfect example of such a service, especially for a large, busy family.”

Since you can’t put a price on convenience, here are three meal delivery kits for every preference.

1. Purple Carrot

For vegans and #MeatlessMonday team members alike, this plant-based meal service gives an easy way to get your recommended five to 10 servings of produce per day. You can whip up meals like roasted tandoori tofu with apricot quinoa pilaf and chutney, and tropical grain bowls with pan-seared avocado and mango vinaigrette. Two servings for three nights a week costs $72.

2. ButcherBox

What’s interesting about this service is that it offers you a range of high-quality meats that set the foundation of a healthy meal. Sides and apps are completely up to you, allowing for flexibility and the feeling that you’ve put some real thought and effort into your cooking. You’re given the option to choose from a variety of organic free-range chicken and grass-fed beef cuts. It costs $129 a month for 24 choices of beef and chicken, valuing $5.38 per piece.

3. Plated

Fine-dining no longer means leaving your house, if Plated is to be believed. They offer dishes like seared gnocchi in Parmesan broth and desserts like Thai lime cheesecake bars that are easy to recreate in a handful of steps. Last year, the service launched meal kits available for purchase in select grocery stores nationwide. Two servings for two nights a week costs $47.80.