Best Meal Kit Delivery Services for Families to Solve the Daily Dinner Grind (we tested 9 of the most popular ones)
Don’t have the patience, time, or money to try out nine different meal kit delivery services? I’m here for you. I did it so that you don’t have to, and you can read on for whatever level of detail you want—the handy chart allows you to do straight comparisons across (mostly) objective indices, and the write-up below is the real nitty-gritty. Bottom line: my top three recommendations are Sun Basket, Terra’s Kitchen (if you’re willing to spend the extra money) and Plated.
Let’s start out this giant round-up post with some caveats so that we’re all on the same page. The only incontrovertible fact here is that I tried 9 different meal kit delivery services, over several months, and made sure we tried at least 4 meals from each of them (a total of 38 different individual dishes cooked and prepared). That said, please take the following and several grains of salt into consideration while perusing this review:
- Yes, there are other services out there I didn’t try. This review covers just the most popular ones that parents use and ask us questions about.
- My experience may not be your experience.
- I am an experienced cook (and enjoy cooking). That may not be the case for the majority of folks who turn to meal kit delivery, so I’ve tried to address any potential issues there to the best of my ability.
- My family of four has a number of special dietary issues (I am gluten-free; my oldest teen is a vegetarian; everyone but me is picky) and sometimes I worked within those constraints and other times I did not.
- Services like these change/update all the time; always check with a given company to get the most up-to-date information.
- For the purposes of this review, I am going to stipulate that all meal kit packaging is about the same unless otherwise noted (and I do, in a couple of places). Most of these companies ship you a cardboard box with some sort of recyclable or compostable liner/padding and some reusable/recyclable ice packs.
- Prices listed are based upon the information I have at the time of this writing. You can usually get a discount/freebie on your first order, so if you decide to try something out, do your Google diligence and save yourself some money.
- Both the table (below) and the additional information following it are listed in alphabetical order (not order of preference).
Okay? Okay! Be prepared to take in a whole lot of meal service delivery kit knowledge. If you want the tl;dr, look to the grid for “Overall Rating” and “Taste of Finish Product” (which is how many meals we loved out of the number executed). While other factors matter, at the end of the day, when you’re ordering food, you want it to taste good!
|Overall Rating||Taste of Finished Product||Cost||Effort/Difficulty||Flexibility||Quality of Ingredients|
|Blue Apron||Very Good; a good option for families looking to usually please the kids but sometimes expand their palates.||3/4||$8.74-$9.99/plate; shipping is included.||Usually simple enough to prepare that kids can do it; no special tools required and active prep time (vs. cooking time) is usually only about 15-20 minutes. Uses a lot of dishes.||3 meals/week for 2 people (chosen from 5-6 options) or either 2 or 4 meals/week (4 options total) for 4 people.||Most ingredients were fresh and of good quality; some of the veggies were wilted.|
|Green Chef||Good; good choice if you're an experienced cook wanting to branch out.||3/5||$10.49-$15/plate; plus weekly $9 shipping.||Prep times of 35-45 minutes are accurate but there are frequent "fussy" directions not well-suited to novice cooks. Uses a lot of dishes.||Choose a set 2-meals-a-week plan for 4 people or from a variety of special diet menus for 2 people. (Frustrating that you cannot choose special diets for 4.)||All ingredients were fresh and of good quality but see details below about ingredient mix-up.|
|HelloFresh||Fair; generous portions, but quality inconsistent.||2/4||$8.74-$9.99/plate; shipping is included.||Predicted prep times of 30-45 minutes were accurate. Straightforward.||Feed 2 or 4 adults, or 2 adults + 2 kids, 2-5 meals/week depending (for some reason the vegetarian plan is 3 meals/week only, and the family plan is only 2 or 3). Only the Classic Plan allows you to pick your meals (8 choices/week).||This was the most disappointing service in terms of quality; we received some all-natural chicken that was chock-full of tendons (blech), and a piece of dried-out lemongrass that may as well have been cardboard.|
|Home Chef||Fair; quality inconsistent, which is a shame because the good meals are really good.||2/4||Flat $9.95/plate (doesn't include add-ons or "premium" meals); weekly $10 shipping for orders under $45 (free shipping over $45).||Predicted prep times of 35-50 minutes were accurate; instruction cards I received (mea culpa: this may have changed!) were all for 2-person meals even though I had 4-person meals, so had to remember to double values (could be confusing).||Choose from 2-8 meals/week for 2, 4, or 6 people. 10+ options each week, plus available smoothie and fruit "add-ons." Vegetarian/gluten-free options available but not plentiful; menu is meat-heavy.||All ingredients were fresh and of excellent quality but portion sizes seemed really variable.|
|Marley Spoon||Fair; good for all but very beginner cooks and/or those wanting smaller portions.||2/4||$8.90-$10.25/plate; shipping is included.||40 minute prep time, as promised. Straightforward.||Recently-expanded menu now offers 10 options from which to choose each week (for 2 or 4 people), more special diet options. (Also note that if you have Amazon Fresh you can now order Marley Spoon meals through them without a plan.)||Most ingredients were fresh and of good quality; some of the veggies were wilted and the ground turkey was a little scary.|
|Plated||Very Good; good for just-beyond-beginner chefs who don't mind doing dishes.||3/4||$10-$12/plate, plus weekly $7.95 shipping for orders under $60 (free shipping over $60).||Instructions assume some basic cooking skills (beginners might miss things); prep time is accurate (40-55 minutes, usually). Uses a lot of dishes.||Greatest flexibility in terms of servings/night (2-4 servings for 2-4 meals/week, your choice); lots of choices (7 options for the week plus 6 "encore recipes" available as choices all month); special diet choices available but definitely meat-heavy.||Most ingredients were fresh and of good quality; some of the veggies were wilted.|
|Purple Carrot||Fair; good for experienced vegetarian cooks who are not in a rush.||2/4||$9.25-$13/plate; shipping is included.||Incredibly time-consuming (much longer than stated, generally over an hour); not for beginners.||Menu is assigned (for 3 meals/week, or choose 2 from 3 options if on 2 meals/week; feed 2 or 4 people). All meals are vegan.||All ingredients were fresh and of excellent quality (we did receive one rock-hard avocado).|
|Sun Basket||Excellent; best overall.||4/4||$9.99-$12.49/plate, plus weekly shipping ($5.99).||Instructions are clear and relatively easy; meal prep time is accurate (30-45 minutes, usually) and it doesn't dirty a ton of dishes.||There are 6 options from which to choose either 2 or 3 each week for either 2 or 4 people; includes special diet options (bonus points for having one gluten-free/vegetarian meal every week).||All ingredients were fresh and of excellent quality (we did receive one rock-hard avocado).|
|Terra's Kitchen||Excellent; flexible, fast, easy, tasty. Price is the only drawback.||5/5||Variable based on selections, but from $10 - $18/plate, plus weekly shipping for orders under $63 (free shipping over $63).||Most of the prep is already done for you. Fastest/easiest option.||Most flexible: options for special diets and various add-ons are plentiful, and you are constrained only by the size of the shipping container.||All ingredients were fresh and of excellent quality.|
The following covers any additional commentary I thought should be mentioned (and wasn’t covered in the table) and what we ate from each service (meals we would happily eat again are listed in green, those we didn’t like are listed in red).
Blue Apron (3/4; Very Good)
I’m of two minds about Blue Apron; on the one hand, I think it’s an affordable service with good-quality ingredients and easy-to-follow recipes, but on the other, I think it’s not very accommodating of specific dietary needs and sometimes they miss the mark. For example: The five-spice salmon got dinged by us because the preparation uses a lot of aggressive spice that ended up tasting raw, and the bok choy we received with that box ended up yielding only enough for a couple of leaves per person. And while my kids loved the stromboli (I couldn’t eat it because of my wheat allergy), the dough cannot be worked without flouring the surface and rolling pin (not mentioned in the directions)—something any experienced chef knows, but novices may not, and likewise most people have flour available at home but some may not—and that could yield a disaster.
Final verdict on Blue Apron: Not my first choice, but definitely a good option if you don’t have any special dietary needs. If trying a few different meal kit delivery services, I would add this one to the mix.
Green Chef (3/5; Good)
I really want to love Green Chef. I do. Their artichoke barigoule was one of my favorite dishes of all the meals we tried (reminder: 38 in total), and they score huge points with me for making a delicious pasta dish that’s both vegetarian and gluten-free (and my meat-eaters loved it, too). You may notice we had five meals with them instead of the standard four, and that’s because on the family meal plan you cannot choose your dishes by dietary restriction. We did one week of 2 family meals and then one week of three 2-person meals (which, I’ll grant them, was still plenty of food for three people). They also required a variety of prep items like shaving fennel into a bowl of ice water, which didn’t bother me, but could be daunting to less experienced cooks. The lamb kebobs recipe was rather fussy and oddly flavorless given the spice profile. And the first box I got from them, I unpacked it all and took a picture and sent it to my editor, because there were so many jars and tiny containers of things it was kind of ridiculous. (I know I said all the packaging is mostly the same, and it is… but Green Chef uses an excess of containers and doesn’t bundle meals together; instead, each recipe is color-coded and before you begin you need to go hunting for your 15 purple-stickered ingredients or whatever. Not my favorite.)
*While I understand that stuff happens and this is a relatively new company, I need to point out that the Potato & Corn Chowder meal had the biscuit mix and the chowder thickener packets swapped/mislabeled. Due to the difference in flour amounts I suspected the mistake immediately, but when I looked up the recipe on their site it showed up the same way, so I figured maybe I was confused. I wasn’t, so reversing those ingredient ruined both the chowder (thick and gloppy) and the biscuits (let us not speak of the mess). When I called Green Chef they were apologetic and refunded me for that meal.
Final Verdict on Green Chef: Not a top choice just yet (they may be experiencing growing pains), both for its fussy instructions and inconvenience for full families with dietary restrictions.
HelloFresh (2/4; Fair)
I should note straight off, here, that we tried HelloFresh on a week when my vegetarian college kid wasn’t around and my chicken-loving husband was getting a little testy, and so this ended up being a very chicken-heavy selection. Whoops! The two meals we liked were both good and the portions plentiful, but 1) the “Lemongrass Steak Stir-Fry” (as was noted in the table above) came with unusable lemongrass and so was just a regular steak stir-fry (but the quality of the steak was exceptional), and 2) I couldn’t eat the orzotto (because of the wheat), but my ingredient-tasting along the way was delicious and my family loved it. The chicken/zucchini dish was kind of bland, and the chicken tenders recipe was a total failure—the tenders were full of tendons (I had to spend a long time cutting/cleaning the chicken) and somehow the entire dish ended up tasting like raw spices. Sad trombone for this one.
Final Verdict on HelloFresh: This was the most disappointing meal kit service we tried in terms of consistency with quality of ingredients. Boo.
Home Chef (2/4; Fair)
Home Chef wins the distinction of being evenly split between “amazing meals” and “sigh, this is just… not good.” Both the barramundi and pork meatball dishes were exceptional—delicious, flavorful crowd-pleasers, with hearty portions. In stark contrast, the chicken frites dish lacked flavor (odd, given the hot sauce component), and I’m sorry, but it’s pretty difficult to make good hand-cut oven-baked fries (meaning, uniform sizes so they cook evenly, and without fries all stuck to the baking sheets) even if you’re an experienced cook; and the quality of the sirloin steak was mediocre (I know how to cook steak and these came out pretty tough). It seemed like those two dishes were significantly less food than the other recipes, too. The biggest transgression here, though, is that you receive the same meal card regardless of whether you’re cooking for 2 or for 4. For directions which require measuring, I sure hope you’re paying attention if cooking for 4—you need to double whatever the directions say.
Final Verdict on Home Chef: Although a couple of the recipes were delicious, in total these meals were just inconsistent in terms of final product (taste), ease of meal prep, and portion size.
Marley Spoon (2/4; Fair)
Marley Spoon was one of the first services I tried, and I diligently made selections in the spirit of trying to cover all bases. To my surprise, although both meat dishes are listed as “customer favorites” on the site, it was the vegetarian dishes we really loved, while both meat dishes seemed lacking in flavor. (I was particularly disappointed by the bahn mi turkey burgers, as that’s a lovely flavor profile and the finished product just didn’t taste like much of anything. Also, the ground turkey was ground so fine it was like working with slime. Not appetizing.) In addition, of the four meals we tried, only the polenta dish felt like a complete meal—the kati rolls seemed like part of a meal (plus the chutney was amazing and we all wanted more of it), and portion sizes on the meat meals treated vegetables as more of a garnish than an equal serving.
Final Verdict on Marley Spoon: We weren’t fans due to inconsistencies in taste (some meals were full of flavor, others were very bland) and the fact that most plates didn’t feel like a complete/balanced meal.
Plated (3/4; Very Good)
Plated came very close to being excellent, with just a few small quibbles. For the most part, ingredients were good quality and easy to work with, the directions clear and easy, and the available options appealing. On the other hand, every Plated meal seemed to end with an entire sinkful of dishes and tiny missteps (the steak in the steak fajitas would’ve benefitted from longer marination than directed; the curry dish was coming along with great promise until the directed addition of water ruined the consistency of the sauce) sometimes felt like a sad sabotage to an otherwise great experience.
Some highlights: The salmon and beet risotto was a huge hit, and the big standout surprise of this box was the cauliflower bowls—we all agreed that we would cheerfully eat that red pepper sauce on just about anything (and it got my carnivores enjoying kale). Honestly, tighten up a few recipe details and figure out how to use fewer dishes in the process, and Plated would be in first place, here.
Final Verdict on Plated: I would recommend this service wholeheartedly to anyone. It’s almost perfect, and perhaps with feedback and time, it will be.
Purple Carrot (2/4; Fair)
Could a kit service deliver delicious and convenient vegan recipes every week? Well… sort of. The good news is that the recipes we liked were really delicious—both the lentil stew and udon dishes had a depth and complexity of flavor, and both were very hearty (even as judged by those who tend to believe it’s not a complete meal without meat). That’s the good news. The bad news is that the corn and fennel chowder was nearly flavorless (even after I extended the cooking time in an effort to thicken/concentrate it; so disappointing), and the sushi-rito recipe is a good idea that will ultimately leave you weeping over a big pile of ingredients which refuse to roll up neatly as shown in the picture. (The sushi-rito card does suggest you could go for a “deconstructed spin” and make it a bowl, which is what we ended up doing, but it made getting a balanced bite very hard to do.)
My biggest complaint, though, with Purple Carrot, is the prep time. The two meals which claimed 35 minutes of prep time took me in excess of 90 minutes apiece to prepare. I am an experienced cook, and that’s straight-up bananas. I mean, if you know a way to clean 24 ounces of filthy mushrooms while also attending to the other components of your recipe and not dying of old age in the process, I’m all ears. And to be clear: I don’t even mind prolonged prep as much as I resent being lied to about how long it takes.
Final Verdict: Purple Carrot is a pass because ultimately meals were inconsistent and just couldn’t overcome the extensive prep time that is necessary for even experienced cooks.
Sun Basket (4/4; Excellent)
Taking all factors into consideration, I’m declaring Sun Basket to be the best option overall of the nine different services I tried. Why? The price isn’t the lowest (although it’s near the bottom), but the ingredients were consistently high-quality, I felt like we had a lot of choices each week, they always have at least one recipe that’s both gluten-free and vegetarian (I acknowledge this is a very specific ask for our family, and may not matter to you in the slightest), and meal prep was always straightforward, expedient, and didn’t use every dish in the kitchen. In my opinion, Sun Basket was the best at being acceptable on all non-taste indices, as well as delivering us four perfectly-portioned meals we all loved. The pasta alla norma (again, I’m a sucker for a gluten-free pasta dish, I admit it) narrowly edged out Green Chef’s artichoke barigoule as my very favorite dish of this experience. Also, their ingredients come in good-quality plastic deli-style containers, which I like to reuse for freezing foods, so that was a nice bonus.
Final Verdict on Sun Basket: This is the service I will continue to use, and I never thought I would ever use a meal service kit before.
Terra’s Kitchen (5/5; Excellent)
Including Terra’s Kitchen in this round-up feels a little weird, because it’s quite different from the other options. First of all: remember how I said I wasn’t going to discuss the packaging the food arrives in except for specific exceptions? Rather than leaving you with a pile of recycling every week, Terra’s Kitchen not only delivers in a fancy cooler vessel with slide-out trays, you then unload your food, peel off the shipping label to reveal the return shipping label underneath, and put it right back outside for pick-up the next day. This is, to my knowledge, the only service which ships this way, and it’s brilliant. Your food is always undamaged and you don’t have to recycle or compost or try to decide if you should keep the ice packs. Second: if you want flexibility, Terra’s Kitchen is the most flexible option I tried. The only constraint is the size of the shipping vessel; much like filling an Amazon Pantry box, as you add items to your order, you’ll be told how much space you have remaining. Order as many meals (in as many servings) as you like, plus choose various add-ons to fill up the box or just because something looks good and why not. That means you can pick various recipes but you can also grab regular grocery items—meats, fruits, sides—while you’re ordering.
Also different is the fact that Terra’s Kitchen does as much of the prep as possible for you. Ingredients are already washed and, in many cases, cut (this is a huge timesaver). In addition, they feature an impressive variety of ready-to-eat salads. (I love salads, I just hate making salads.) So why isn’t Terra’s Kitchen my overall pick? Although prices vary, just about any way you cut it, this is the most expensive option of the services I tried. I loved it, but I’m cheap.
Final Verdict on Terra’s Kitchen: You’ll pay more here for the earth-friendly reusable shipping container and the additional prep-work already done for you, but the flexibility, quality of the food, and time savings are an excellent value if you can afford it. If you have more money than time (or just, you know, a bigger budget), definitely check them out.
The convenience of having complete menus delivered each week is alluring, and I can understand why services like these are gaining in popularity. I think the question you need to ask before signing up for any of them is “What am I hoping to get out of this?” If the goal is simply about making sure you have 2 or 3 sit-down meals with your family each week or being able to skip the supermarket or something else that hinges mainly on convenience, there’s probably a service out there that will work for you. If budget is a big issue, bear in mind that it’s always going to be cheaper to go to the grocery store yourself and pick out your own menu based on sales and coupons, yes. But if you’re usually doing take-out instead of cooking, services like these will likely be comparable in price (or even cheaper). Again, my top picks are Sun Basket, Terra’s Kitchen and Plated.
Alpha Mom paid for all the meals in this review. This post contains affiliate links (you won’t pay extra but we’ll get a referral fee if you decide to use some of these services).Published June 16, 2017. Last updated June 30, 2017.