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Cooking may not be one of the most urgent matters on your plate during the coronavirus pandemic but a prepared meal delivery service can help you to eat in a well-balanced manner. After you set some preferences with the service of your choice, all you need to do once your package arrives is warm up the dishes that require heating.

Personally, I've been a fan of having fresh ingredients and nutritious meals shipped right to my door for a while now, and prepared meal delivery services have been key to helping maintain a healthy lifestyle during lockdown. I began to research this list before COVID-19 hit, and since then I've become an even bigger convert. I'm happy to present it to you now in hopes that it brings a little relief to your daily routine, regardless of whether you're a foodie, a picky eater or somewhere in between. And, because everything is prepared, you don't have to be a professional chef to eat something delicious.

Before we dive into the list of prepared meal delivery services, let's answer some questions. First, how are these set apart from our favorite meal kit delivery service options? While the meal kit revolution -- which led to household meal kit delivery names like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh -- was all about providing you with the basic ingredients and instructions on how to pull it all together into a delicious fresh meal, we're betting you no longer have time or patience to do that. Pandemics are exhausting, and truth be told, setting up a plan, going through the process of prepping and cooking are really only fun when you've got the time to develop your recipes, go to the grocery store to shop for your own ingredients and otherwise flex your chef muscles. 

That's why these oven-ready meal kits and healthy prepared meal services have emerged as a solution when you need quick, easy and delicious meal options but your budget for takeout is running thin. Newer healthy meal delivery services such as Veestro and Freshly have taken note of modern healthful eating habits and offer prepared menus tailored for every dietary preference, including carnivores, vegetarians, vegan and others on a plant-based diet, as well as those keeping to a ketopaleo, low sodium, gluten-free, organic, low carb, low-sugar or low-calorie diet. No matter your dietary restrictions -- or if you're a picky eater or have food allergies -- there's a meal kit service for you.

While most of the meal plan services we sorted are ready-made meals -- that is, prepared, precooked and with ingredients ready to pop into the oven or a hot skillet to be heated -- meals from services such as Home Chef and Gobble are not yet cooked. These "oven-ready" meal delivery plans, which fall somewhere between a classic meal kit and meal delivery, are uncooked but preassembled to be thrown together and baked, broiled or stir-fried with no major prep required. In short: Please don't eat any raw chicken. You don't need food poisoning on top of everything else that's going on!

Most of these meal subscription companies ship their preportioned and precooked meal options frozen or partially frozen. Since they arrive in shipments of four or more, most meals are designed to be popped right into the freezer so you can defrost and eat them over the course of the week or longer. Even if you don't plan to eat the fully prepared meals every day -- or even every week -- having a prepared meal dish or two (or even snacks stashed away in the freezer for emergencies) can be helpful when you you just don't have it in you to even boil water for pasta. And let's not even get started on what having a stash of meal options does for our peace of mind.

While I wasn't able to try every meal from every one of the meal kit and delivery services listed, I did get a chance to try at least one meal option from each. As you'll read, some of these meal delivery services and meal kits are centered around a particular healthy recipe meal concept. Home Chef, for instance, has simple meal kits down to a science with fresh ingredients and recipes that are already prepped and can be finished in as little as 15 or 20 minutes. Others, such as Veestro, specialize in premade or prepared vegetarian and vegan meals for those going meatless or dairy free in 2020, but still looking for an alternative to cooking. Seriously, if you're on a special diet you need to check out the options -- there's sure to be one for you.

There's still nothing quite like a home-cooked fresh meal, but some of these simple and affordable meal services just might be the thing to lighten your load during the challenging times we're currently living through. And, perhaps most important, these meal delivery companies don't require a trip to the grocery store.

Read more: Wine, beer, alcohol delivery: How to get alcoholic beverages delivered to your door    

Note that ready to eat meal delivery kit service Freshly is currently at capacity and not taking new orders so I've moved them to the bottom of the list. I'll work to keep this list of the best prepared meal delivery service options up-to-date, but please check each service to ensure they are operating normally and with reasonable delivery times before placing an order. I'd also like to continue to encourage you to support your local restaurants when you're looking for prepared meals by ordering takeout when you can, as so many restaurants are struggling mightily.

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Here are the best prepared meal delivery services and oven-ready meal kits in 2020.

  • Best meal delivery that you still have to cook (a little): Home Chef
  • Best prepared meal delivery for quick lunches and dinners: Daily Harvest
  • Best meal delivery for vegetarians and vegans: Veestro
  • Best meal delivery for calorie counting and dieting: Freshology
  • Best for gourmet meal delivery: Home Bistro 
  • Honorable mention best meal delivery you still have to cook: Gobble
  • Best meal delivery for comfort food with a healthy edge: Freshly
Home Chef

Home Chef is a popular meal kit company and recently launched a line of oven-ready meals like cajun chicken with rice and beans, meant to take nearly all the work out of dinner but still delivering home-cooked food, technically speaking. 

If it's oven-ready meal options you're after you'll want to choose Home Chef's Fresh & Easy meals which are focused on no-fuss easy oven-ready options. Plus there are grill-ready meals for summer and 15-minute entree salads for those craving lighter fare or slow cooker meals that likewise require very minimal preparation and cleanup. This new category from Home Chef is designed to be low technical skill and is a good option if you're wanting a home-cooked meal delivery plan but not interested in enlisting at a culinary institute to make it happen. 

Pricing: No matter how you slice it, Home Chef meal service breaks down to just under $10 per serving. Most people choose six to eight meals a week, so the average cost is about $70. But you can choose as few as six servings and as many as 12 and will save slightly more with a larger order. 

Daily Harvest

Daily Harvest launched in 2015 with an army of frozen and ready-to-blend smoothies, premade soups and hearty grain bowls to keep stocked in the freezer. Some of the bowls and soups could pass as dinner but I like these best for a no-fuss lunch or breakfast. Depending on the specific offering, you either drop it into a saucepan or skillet to heat and eat. Or add nut milk and blend it up, as with the protein-packed smoothies, oat bowls or lattes.

This is a great plant based meal delivery service if you want to simplify your week and keep to a healthy eating frozen meals plan. Daily Harvest uses lots of ancient grains, oats and superfoods in their recipes, which are all mostly satisfying and well balanced in terms of flavor.

Pricing: With so many different offerings and options you can really choose whatever you want but soups, smoothies and chia bowls can be had for as low as $5.99 per serving, if you order a subscription and in bulk. 

Veestro

Veestro offers a wide-ranging menu meal delivery plan of 100% prepared plant-based meals for those keeping to a vegan or vegetarian diet. Offerings from Veestro include dishes like tofu with red curry sauce, carrot osso buco and country-fried chick'n. Veestro uses more meat alternatives than say a Purple Carrot in the meals, so if you like seitan, tempeh and other faux ingredient meats this is a good meal delivery service to check out.

The carnivore in me must admit that many of the vegetarian options and plant-based meals I tried from Veestro were as satisfying as the food I'm used to. I would suggest this meal plan for anyone trying to cut back on meat but not going full-fledged vegetarian, as much of the food is designed to replicate a carnivore's diet and makes for a soft landing.

Pricing: Veestro meal service breaks down to roughly $11.70 per meal for 10 meals, although it's more expensive for a one-time order. It gets less expensive, however, if you choose a 20-meal plan ($10.80 per meal).

Freshology

You might have guessed by the name but this healthy meal delivery service doesn't specialize in creamy mashed potatoes or mac and cheese. Depending on your nutrition goals, you can focus on specific menus like vegetarian, low-carb or keto meals or to help manage diabetes. All the meal plan nutrition and calorie information is provided to help you meet those diet goals. Freshology powered by Diet-to-Go is intent on helping customers stay on track all day, too, with a full slate of breakfast, lunch and dinner options. 

There is less of an emphasis on delivering haute cuisine but rather hearty and nutritious fully prepared meals with good protein, and you'll find lots of lean protein, whole grains and green veggies without a ton of pomp and circumstance. 

Pricing: Customizable meal plans start at $9.99 per meal. You can have as many as three meals per day delivered if you really just don't want to cook. Ever. 

Home Bistro

Home Bistro is definitely the priciest meal delivery service on the list but that's because the meals are of a higher caliber to be sure. You'll find a bit less grilled chicken breast or simple pasta dishes but rather more complicated proteins like Chianti-braised short ribs, Peri-Peri pork tenderloins and chargrilled pomegranate salmon with Home Bistro. 

Though this takeout kit is more expensive -- comparable to takeout -- if you eat a lot of meat but don't have tons of great prepared food or delivery options in your area, this is a good meal delivery service to try. And since you can order these prepared meals a la carte, you can always save it for special occasions. 

Pricing: Individual meals are between $19 and $27. You can order Home Bistro meals a la carte or packages of 7, 10 or 20 meals to be delivered weekly or bi-weekly.

Gobble

Gobble is also not technically prepared meals but with many of the takeout kit dinners taking as little as 15 minutes to cook, it might as well be. The team at Gobble does all the recipe prep work -- chopping, dicing, measuring -- so you can breeze right into a cacio e pepe with shrimp and asparagus or sirloin steak with mashed potatoes. Gobble is another great option for meal delivery if your goal is freshly prepared food with very little effort.

Pricing: Gobble meal kits start at $11.99 per serving but you can try your first six meals for just $36 as a one-time offer.

Freshly

Freshly delivers precooked meals (fresh, not frozen) to your door. While they have healthy recipe options a-plenty, Freshly is one of the better meal service options if you want the occasional cheat meal or comfort food delivered to your door (yes, please!). Penne bolognese, peppercorn steak with mashed potatoes and chicken casserole are just some of the heartier choices you can have at the ready. But there are also healthier, low-cal options to keep yourself honest. 

Pardon the word-play but Freshly did have some of the freshest tasting ingredient meals, likely because they didn't arrive pre-frozen. Not everything felt restaurant quality but overall this company delivers a lot of crowd-pleasers including chicken tikka masala and chili-topped macaroni and cheese.

Pricing: The more you order the more you save with Freshly and the difference is significant. Four meals per week breaks down to $11.50 per meal but up that to 12 and the price per meal drops to $7.99.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.