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Meal Kits vs. Grocery Shopping: Which Is Cheaper in 2023?
Meal kits have gotten cheaper -- they're not the splurge they used to be. We did the math to see if you might actually save money by signing up for one.
David WatskySenior Editor / Home and Kitchen
David lives in Brooklyn where he's spent more than a decade covering all things edible, including meal kit services, food subscriptions, kitchen tools and cooking tips. Since earning a BA in English from Northeastern in Boston, he's toiled in nearly every aspect of the food business, including as a line cook in Rhode Island where he once made a steak sandwich for Lamar Odom. Right now, he's likely somewhere stress-testing a blender or researching the best way to make bacon. Anything with sesame is his all-time favorite food this week.
ExpertiseKitchen tools, appliances, food science, subscriptions and meal kits.
When meal kits hit the scene, many people saw them as a charming -- and, frankly, expensive -- date night project. Meal kits have since become more affordable, with the top meal delivery brands like Blue Apron and HelloFresh angling to be less of a special event and more of a utilitarian service for busy families and home cooks with limited experience to make mealtime quick and easy.
By our measure, EveryPlate is the cheapest meal kit service, at around $5 or $6 per serving depending on the plan you pick. That got me wondering if EveryPlate was any more expensive than buying the same groceries.
Meal kit vs. grocery store
EveryPlate (meals for 2)
EveryPlate (meals for 4)
Groceries bought at the store
Cost per serving
To find the cost difference between EveryPlate and cooking from scratch, I priced out the expense of two meals from the service against the cost of groceries needed to make the exact same two recipes. The difference was about a buck, and probably closer to even, if you factor in the gas needed to get to the store.
Here's how I got those numbers and what I learned about meal kit cost and value in 2023.
Are meal kits more expensive than buying groceries?
If you've wondered exactly much more expensive meal kits are compared with shopping for all the groceries yourself, I've done the math. While some meal kit services are still comfortably in the splurge category -- Sunbasket and Green Chef to name two -- the cheapest meal kits clock in at around $5 or $6 a serving.
After calculating the difference in cost between shopping for groceries and ordering meal kits for two recipes offered by my favorite budget-friendly meal kit service, EveryPlate, just a measly dollar separates the two approaches to dinner. The perception of meal kits as pricey date night splurge may be more of a myth than reality.
How I did the math
To calculate the cost of meal kits versus buying the groceries, I took two EveryPlate recipes and priced out the ingredients. To keep things consistent I used the cheapest results that populated on FreshDirect, a popular online grocery delivery service here in the Northeast.
Since spices are generally sold in 1- or 2-ounce bottles, I divided the cost by 20 since each bottle of spices contains roughly 20 servings. The same goes for ingredients like sour cream and soy sauce which are also sold in larger quantities. I divided the total cost by roughly how much you'd need to execute each recipe.
How much does a meal kit service like EveryPlate cost?
EveryPlate is one of the cheapest meal kit services, with most plans at about $5 a serving. For a meal plan for two people and three meals per week, it's slightly more at $5.99 a serving. I used the costlier two-person plan to compare with the cost of buying your own groceries. There's also a $9 flat shipping cost which I divided by the three meals. When it's all said and done, EveryPlate will cost you $7.48 a serving for a two-person plan. Choose meals for four and it will cost just $6.50 per serving.
How much meal kits would cost if you bought the individual groceries
Below is a breakdown of what two EveryPlate recipes would cost if you bought the groceries yourself. These prices were calculated from FreshDirect in April 2022. I didn't include the delivery fees for a grocery service or the cost of gas required to get yourself to and from the store. It's also worth noting that the grocery prices listed below are significantly lower than what I find at my local markets in Brooklyn.
Smothered pork chops with home fries and carrots (2 servings)
Carrots (12 ounces): $1.50
Five Yukon gold potatoes: $1.50
One yellow onion: $0.90
Two scallions: $0.50
Two 5-ounce pork chops: $4.93
One packet of chicken stock concentrate: $0.60
Cayenne pepper: $0.20
Sour cream (4 ounces): $1.50
Cost per serving: $5.56
Cherry meatballs with zucchini and garlic mashed potatoes (2 servings)
Five Yukon gold potatoes: $1.60
White bread (two slices): $0.50
One zucchini: $1.50
Ground beef (8 ounces): $4.30
Cherry jam (1 ounce): $0.85
Garlic powder: $0.10
Sour cream (4 ounces): $1.50
Soy sauce (1 ounce): $0.50
Cost per serving: $5.42
How much more is a meal kit than buying groceries?
When compared to the cost of buying all the necessary groceries at the store, EveryPlate clocks in at around $2 more per serving. If you were to pick one of the plans with servings for four, it would be more like $1 more. So, it's pretty much a wash.
At the end of the day, it's the convenience you're paying a little extra for. But if you choose a budget-friendly service such as EveryPlate or Dinnerly, that little extra turns out to be barely anything at all.
What about the environmental cost, packaging and waste?
There's no doubt that meal kit services use more plastic than if you buy your own groceries. That said, the cheaper services have found ways to cut costs. In many cases, that means using less packaging.
EveryPlate, for instance, is one of the most eco-friendly services I've tried. The company puts all its produce and other ingredients in a single cardboard box, whereas others individually package each ingredient, creating more waste. Most of the packaging, including the cooler box and ice packs are curbside recyclable.
On the flip side, since meal kits generally give you exactly what you need for each meal and no more, you're less likely to have food waste. Who hasn't thrown out those last few ounces from a tub of sour cream or a couple of scallions you couldn't find a use for before they wilted away?
What about other meal kit services?
EveryPlate is the cheapest meal kit service, along with Dinnerly. The most expensive outfits -- Sunbasket, Green Chef and Martha Stewart and Marley Spoon -- cost closer to $10 or $13 a serving. The added cost is generally due to premium ingredients like grass-fed beef and organic produce. With those, you're going to find a bigger delta between the meal kit cost and what it would cost to make the meal at home. Services like HelloFresh, Blue Apron and Home Chef fall somewhere in the middle with meal kits ranging around $9 and $10 a serving.
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.