The Best Prepared Meal Delivery Service: Who Takes Home the Trophy?

Best prepared meal delivery service: A man delivers takeout on his bike
Image: Kai Pilger

Something we do three times a day shouldn’t be so complicated.

Cooking, grocery shopping, and meal prep are three of the biggest drains on our time. Time that’s already divided up between our nine-to-fives, gym membership, and impromptu appearances with our friends at happy hour. To spare a few precious hours (and significantly cut down on the monthly Seamless bill), many working professionals turn to meal delivery subscription services.

On the surface, meal delivery sounds like the busy person’s dream: Healthy meals are delivered on repeat right to your doorstep. Many of the industry’s leading competitors allow individuals to customize their plan to suit their lifestyle, including plant-based, paleo, low-carb, and low-calorie options. It’s much faster than home cooking and presumably healthier and more affordable than takeout, so why not?

Since 2011, the food delivery service industry grew exponentially. Subscription services of every kind—meal kits, smoothie kits, frozen prepared foods, reheatable meals—sprouted up in some of the largest cities in the continental United States. It seemed as though food delivery companies were about to solve everyone’s cooking and time-crunching woes.

Until they didn’t.

Where Most Prepared Meal Delivery Services Fall Flat

Around 2016, many meal services started to hit tough times. Meal delivery service Spoonrocket closed up shop in March of 2016, and competitor Spig followed suit the next year. At the beginning of this year, Munchery, which received $125 million in funding, halted service overnight, canceling and refunding all outstanding orders.

So, what happened?

There are many reasons people end up cancelling their meal subscription service. And to be completely honest, many people halt service for the very reason they signed-up in the first place, looking for a more convenient solution.

Busy professionals hoping to save time found the services too cumbersome. Working moms, who tried meal kits as a convenient solution, found the recipes too much of a hassle to make. And individuals who simply don’t like to cook (but didn’t want to resort to takeout) discovered that meals from many of the supposed best prepared meal delivery services weren’t all that tasty.

Below, we’ll dive into some of the leading meal delivery services to look at where they excel and where they fall short.

Meal Kits for Those Who Want a “Home Cooked” Meal

Meal kits, unlike prepared foods, come with disassembled recipes. Meal kits hope to take care of the grocery shopping and meal planning for you, delivering ingredients and recipe cards in an insulated box straight to your front door.

The downside? With meal kits, you’re still going to have to meal plan in some capacity (selecting your meals each week), spend 30-50 minutes cooking over the stovetop, follow somewhat complicated instructions, and handle the clean-up (including all the dishes that come with it).

Here’s a look at the different recipe-based meal kit services.

Green Chef

Green Chef is a USDA-certified organic company, one of the few in the on demand meal industry. Green Chef delivers non-GMO, organic meals to your front door, made with organic produce and grass-fed meats. Each eco-friendly box contains three dinners, portioned for two people. Most plans start at $11.99 or $12.99 per meal.

Purple Carrot

Purple Carrot is an entirely plant-based company, meaning every single meal is meat-free, dairy-free, and egg-free. You can choose from a two-person plan or six-serving plan, making this service suitable for couples or families. The two plans cost $11.99 and $7.99 per serving, respectively, and shipping is included.

Home Chef

Home Chef makes it easy for families to cook at home. Plans are portioned for two, four, or six people, and make anywhere from 2-6 meals per week. If you choose more than three meals a week, the plans come with free shipping. You can select from low-calorie and low-carb meals. If you're concerned about dietary restrictions, you can opt to avoid ingredients like pork, soy, red meat, nuts, or milk from your box.

Blue Apron

Arguably the leading company in the industry, Blue Apron is the meal delivery “success story,” although it has never turned a profit. With Blue Apron, you can choose from two or four serving plans, with delivery options ranging from 2-4 days per week. You can also choose from vegetarian options or low-calorie meals—part of a new venture with Weight Watchers.

Sun Basket

Sun Basket offers many customizable meal packages, suitable for those following paleo, vegetarian, pescetarian, gluten-free, or Mediterranean diets. Fresh ingredients come portioned for two or four people, priced at either $10.99 or $11.99 per serving.

Prepared Meals for Those Who Want No Part in the Kitchen

Unlike meal kits, prepared meal companies send your meals fully assembled. Some companies are subscription-based, delivering the same number of meals per week, while others allow you to order meals Ă  la carte.

There’s a couple downsides to prepared meal services. First, most meals need to be reheated in a microwave, which can sacrifice the taste and texture of your food. Second, some worry the ingredients aren’t as fresh as they are with meal kits since they are prepared in commercial kitchens then shipped across state lines. And finally, many prepared food companies only service specific geographic regions (most notably New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and other large cities in the United States).

Sakara

Sakara is the prepared version of Purple Carrot, delivering plant-based, fully-assembled meals directly to your door. You can choose from a one-week trial or a weekly subscription service. They offer meal service for three or five days per week. This healthy meal delivery service includes plans for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Freshly

Freshly delivers chef-cooked, healthy meals straight to your front door or office. Meals range in price from $8.99 per portion to $12.50 per meal, with all plans including free shipping. You can have anywhere from 4-12 meals delivered to your home per week. Rather than customizing your plan for a special diet, you simply select your own menu items prior to checkout.

Galley

Galley’s menu changes daily, so you never have to worry about getting bored with its offering. Galley offers same-day or next day delivery, which can work well when you suddenly find yourself tied-up at the office. Unfortunately, it does not offer any sort of subscription service, which makes it difficult to plan ahead for the upcoming weeks.

For Those Who Want Convenience, Taste, and Quality: Tovala

Best prepared meal delivery service: A man eats a Tovala meal

Tovala doesn’t really “fit” within the prepared meal delivery service or the recipe-based meal kit categories. With Tovala, your meals are cooked at home for you (like a meal kit), but you don’t have to do the cooking or prep work (like a prepared meal service). And yet, each meal comes priced at just $12.99 a portion—the same as many of our competitors.

And if you’re wondering how that’s even possible, allow us to explain:

There are two main components to Tovala’s service: the Tovala Oven and the meal options. With Tovala, you get delicious meals, made with high-quality ingredients, delivered directly to your doorstep. Meals come assembled but not yet cooked. To enjoy a home-cooked meal, simply unpack a Tovala meal, scan the meal’s barcode, and watch as your Tovala Oven cooks your meal on autopilot without sacrificing flavor, texture, or nutritional value.

Tovala is part kitchen appliance, part home chef, giving you the convenience you crave from a meal delivery service without all the drawbacks. But don’t take our word for it, give it a try for yourself.