March 13, 2018 Healthy Living

Plan, Shop, Prep, Eat, Repeat

After repeating this endless cycle for most of my adult life, I found myself in a food rut. I was bored of making and eating the same meals week after week. I was approaching Sunday meal preparation with little excitement, and was making the same grocery purchases so frequently that I could tally my bill before I even approached the register.

The problem? Between living alone and having a crazy schedule, I stopped dedicating time to plan fun and exciting meals. I reverted back to the same old, standard options. The solution for me? Meal kits.

Meal kits are growing trend that have been promoted on TV, in magazines, and across social media. The concept is pretty straightforward, and each company follows a similar recipe – no pun intended. Customers select meals on the company’s website or app, then the company sends the pre-portioned, individually wrapped ingredients and a set of cooking directions to the customer.

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With choices ranging from small, local companies to large, national brands, it can be overwhelming to decide on a meal kit that works best for you.

After considering my options, I chose four kits to try: Martha & Marley Spoon, Plated., Sun Basket, and Hello Fresh. I wanted to see if there was any difference between them and which offered the features and benefits that were important to me.

After trying them, I have ranked them here from least-liked to favorite.

#4 Martha & Marley Spoon
This company bears Martha Stewart’s name and offers recipes that focus on seasonal ingredients. It was the first kit I sampled and became my baseline for all others.

Pros: Fresh ingredients, easy-to-follow instructions

Cons: Limited personalization, small serving sizes, had the highest per-serving calorie count of all the meal kits

Meals included: Mushroom and bok choy rice bowl; veggie taco pizza, chicken stir fry wraps

#3 Plated.
I was excited to try Plated., as the simple name with punctuation appealed to me. However, my two weeks with the company resulted in two separate customer service incidents.

Mushroom Risotto Ingredients - Plated

The first week, I was excitedly unpacking the ingredients (one of my favorite things to do each week), only to find that some black beans had spilled open and covered everything. I reached out to Plated. via Twitter, and received a prompt response and a credit to my account, but I wish the packaging had been different and the beans wouldn’t have spilled in the first place.

In week two I found I was missing two essential ingredients for one of the meals. Again, I received a prompt response and a credit to my account, but I couldn’t make the meal like I’d hoped.

Pros: Responsive customer service, variety of recipes

Cons: Poor packaging, lower-quality ingredients

Meals included: Mushroom risotto with truffled parmesan frico, spicy chicken arrabitata, pan-roasted chicken and Southwestern sweet potato bowls.

#2 Hello Fresh
Hello Fresh has been around since 2011 and did not disappoint. The company has meal kit delivery down to a science, but for me the recipes were too easy and predictable. I was using ingredients and cooking styles that I was already quite familiar with.

Pros: meals cooked in the state amount of time, high-quality, fresh ingredients

Cons: basic, conventional recipes

Meals included: Balsamic fig chicken, adobo loco steak

#1 Sun Basket
Sun Basket easily takes the cake as my favorite meal kit due to the variety of recipes and options available, along with the high-quality, sustainable and organic ingredients.

Meal kits have faced criticism for the excessive packaging required to portion out the ingredients. Sun Basket takes an eco-friendly approach by packaging everything in environmentally responsible packaging, and providing instructions on how to recycle each package on its website.

I was forced to step outside of my comfort zone with Sun Basket, making recipes with ingredients that I was familiar with but unable to incorporate into my daily diet.

Pros: highly-customizable to different dietary needs including paleo, gluten free, and vegan; responsibly sourced ingredients and organic produce; unique ingredients

Cons: the cooking instructions could have been clearer

Meals included: shrimp skewers with mandarin-jicama salad, white bean and mushroom cassoulet, chiles rellenos, sesame-crusted salmon.

To navigate the abundance of meal kit companies on the market today, it’s important to understand your specific needs and what features and benefits mean the most to you. Here is how the four companies compared:

Company Mobile App Ease of Use Clear Instructions Fresh Ingredients Customer Service Responsiveness Variety of Recipes Healthfulness of Recipes Completed in stated timeframe
Martha & Marley Spoon X X X X
Plated. X X X X X X
Hello Fresh X X X X X
Sun Basket X X X X X X

I encourage all who are finding themselves in food ruts or with limited cooking skills to try out a meal kit delivery company. Many offer discounts for your first week!

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If you’re on the fence about signing up with a meal kit company, consider:

Your budget: meals can cost more $10 per serving, bringing the cost for a family of four to nearly $50. Many offer discounts for the first week, but after that there are rarely discounts or coupons.

Your tolerance for adventure: If you’re willing to try new foods and flavors, meal kits are definitely for you.

Your schedule: a lot of the meals take at least 20 to 30 minutes to prepare.

Your dietary restrictions: while many companies offer meal for a range of diets, if you have specific dietary restrictions, it may be best to stick to planning your own meals.

Stephanie Hadcock
About the Author

Stephanie is a product manager at CDPHP. In this role, she works to excite members about their health care through the development of innovative products and services, including Life Points (gift cards, anyone?) and CDPHP Insights (join today!). She has been with the organization since 2012 and has held multiple roles including Medicare innovation coordinator and market analyst. Stephanie has an MBA in Healthcare Management and MS in Healthcare Data Analytics from Clarkson University. She volunteers with Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless, the Ronald McDonald House, and the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys playing golf, overbooking her social calendar, and collecting stationery.

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