Are meal kits more economical than grocery shopping? We subscribed to three meal kits — Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Purple Carrot — to find out.
I am a woman of extremes—especially when it comes to my nutrition and dinner time.
There are days when I consider myself an elite competitor on Grocery Games, running up and down the store aisles, grabbing baskets full of ingredients and racing home to whip them into a masterful dish. Then there are days when dinner is peanut butter out of the jar.
In this regard, I feel like delivery-service meal kits could be a happy medium for me. It appeals both to my inner chef and love of food, as well as my laziness.
While I’ve always found these subscriptions appealing, I can’t help but wonder whether they are actually budget friendly. Do I really save enough time and prep work to make the more financially responsible option over just grocery shopping? Well, instead of just speculating I’ve decided to take action for you. I received three meals from three, popular delivery-based meal subscription boxes: Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Purple Carrot. I made each of these recipes, taking note of the cost associated and the time it took me to prep and cook each meal. Here are my initial thoughts:
I need to cook more: It’s easy to get into a routine of making dinners that are easy rather than nourishing. However, these meal kits brought back the fun of cooking, especially with other people. All three kits had large servings for two people, but also taught me how to cook with ingredients I cook less frequently, like butternut squash, pork tenderloin, and tofu.
My time is also an investment: One of the most popular items sold at the grocery store right now is zucchini noodles. Why? Because the prep work is already done. So with meal kits I thought at least some of the prep work would be completed. I was incorrect. I needed to add at least 10 minutes of prep time to each recipe. Since each kit has three recipes, I spent 30 minutes I hadn’t originally allotted to cooking. That’s about the same amount of time I originally saved on a trip to grab the groceries.
Meal kits are not sustainable: Even if there’s no food waste, there is plenty of packaging waste. While each kit packages ingredients differently, they all come in numerous plastic containers and bags, in addition to the box it came in filled with disposable freeze packs.
OK, now to break down the budget.
Below I picked one recipe from each kit. First, I cooked the recipe using the included ingredients and instructions. I then recreated the meal by buying the items on my own at the store. The goal was to see whether it is more economical to get the ingredients sent to you via a kit or to tackle cooking the old-fashioned way. Here’s what I found:
Blue Apron: Shrimp & Spaghetti Marinara
Meal Kit Cost: 47.94 (or 15.98 per recipe)
Grocery Bill: 17.21
Suggested Time: 15-25 minutes
Actual Time: 30 minutes
Replicated Time: 25 minutes
Thoughts while cooking: Blue Apron’s recipes were great inspiration, but the final result was overall disappointing. It lacked the spices and flavor of meals I normally would cook myself, though the instructional videos did teach me new skills.
Conclusion: Budget wise, a great deal. Taste wise, not so much. Maybe invest in your own spices to boost the flavor.
Hello Fresh: Beef Rice Noodle Bowl
Meal Kit Cost: $60 ($20 per recipe)
Grocery Bill Cost: $21.23
Suggested Time: 30 minutes
Actual Time: 55 minutes
Replicated Time: 50 minutes
Thoughts while cooking: This was my favorite of the three meal kits. Not only was the packaging the most sustainable, but it also seemed to keep the ingredients the freshest for the longest. Though the estimated prep and cook times were off, the end result was a tasty meal I truly enjoyed and never would have dreamed to tackle on my own.
Conclusion: No savings officially, but it was fun to try bold flavors and new recipes.
Purple Carrot: Autumn Quinoa Bowl
Meal Kit Cost: $72 per week (or $24 per recipe)
Grocery Bill Cost: 40.75
Suggested Time: 25 minutes
Actual Time: 35 minutes
Replicated Time: 35 minutes
Thoughts while cooking: This was the meal kit I was most excited for, but most disappointed in. While I recognize it’s still a new startup, the quality of the produce was poor. The staple of vegetarian recipes are the vegetables; they should be the star of the plate. But less than two days after receiving my meal kit, three main vegetables for the recipes had already browned and spoiled. One positive experience from this kit? Learning how to make coconut taste like bacon.
Conclusion: The recipes play around with ingredients that normally can be expensive or intimidating to use, especially since they are all made up of a variety of fresh produce. However, my ingredients did not keep long enough for me to use them.
Overall what’s better for your wallet?
It really depends how often you really want to cook during the week. I discovered that three more labor intensive recipes is not something that I am up to on a weekly basis.
Also important to note is that these prices only include dinners. You still need to go to the store for pantry staples, as well as breakfast or lunch options for the week. That is at least $15-20 extra per week added to your spending.
Regardless, if you are someone who likes to change up your meals throughout the week and are looking to hone your kitchen skills, meal kits are cheaper than taking a cooking class and cheaper than going out to eat. If you are someone looking to make better dinners or just looking for inspiration, I suggest investing in some cookbooks instead for a better long-term impact.