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I've tested all the top meal delivery services. Here's everything you need to know before (and after) you sign up to get the most out of your meal kits.
David WatskySenior Editor / Home and Kitchen
David lives in Brooklyn where he's logged more than a decade writing about all things edible, including meal kits and meal delivery subscriptions, cooking, kitchen gear and commerce. Since earning a BA in English from Northeastern in Boston, he's toiled in nearly every aspect of the eats business from slicing and dicing as a sous-chef in Rhode Island to leading complex marketing campaigns for major food brands in Manhattan. These days, he's likely somewhere trying the latest this or tasting the latest that - and reporting back, of course. Anything with sesame is his all-time favorite food this week.
ExpertiseKitchen tech, cookware, small appliances, food innovation, meal delivery and meal kits.
I've personally tested several dozen meal kit and meal delivery services. In doing so, I've learned a thing or two about how to maximize a meal subscription and get the best bang for your buck. Whether it's stretching your meal kit plan so your money goes further or fine-tuning recipes for optimal results, these are the best meal kit tips and hacks for getting the most out of your next (or first!) delivery.
1. Take advantage of a meal kit signup deal
First and foremost, you'll want to take advantage of new customer signup offers. Most meal kit services allow you to try their goods for deep discounts, up to 70% off and often for several weeks' worth of meals. I've rounded up the best meal delivery deals right now to help you pick. And if you're already a meal kit subscriber, there's no rule against pausing it or canceling so you can try another service at one of those dirt-cheap new customer rates.
Meal kit costs vary greatly depending on the number of meals and servings you order per week, and the delta between them can be enormous. Blue Apron, for instance, breaks down to just $8 a serving if you order the most amount of meals -- four recipes with four servings each -- but jumps to over $12 per serving if you only get the least -- two recipes with two servings per week.
My suggestion is to order a bigger meal plan than you think you'll need and choose recipes that keep in the fridge or freeze well. Do this and you'll have lunch and dinner all figured out for the next day or two. You're already going through the effort to cook, you might as well get more miles out of it and save some dough while you're at it.
"Meal kit meal planning," you heard it here first. So what recipes are good for cooking in large batches and eating later on? Pretty much anything other than seafood and salad recipes, both of which aren't great to freeze after preparing. And raw seafood famously doesn't keep in the fridge for very long.
Speaking of which…
3. Cook recipes with seafood or leafy greens first
Seafood recipes are always best to cook first since they'll also spoil first. The same goes for other recipes with ingredients that may turn when left uneaten or uncooked, including vegetables, leafy greens, cheese and fresh dairy.
Potatoes and other dense vegetables are typically good between four or five days to a full week. Steak and chicken are also pretty hearty and can last several days in the fridge without having their quality compromised.
4. Order steak and seafood to get more bang for the buck
When you peruse a weekly meal kit menu, you'll typically have a dozen or so recipes to choose from, sometimes as many as 50 or more. While you should certainly choose recipes that sound good to you and fit your nutrition goals, some recipes will give you more for your money. Steak and seafood recipes are at the top of that list, but anything with a protein (chicken, pork, fish) is typically a better deal.
I priced out a few recipes from Blue Apron and EveryPlate to see how much they cost versus buying all the ingredients yourself. Unsurprisingly, the most expensive recipes to make from scratch (i.e. the best deals for a meal kit subscriber) were those featuring steak and seafood. Some meal kit services charge a premium for certain recipes, but many include steak, shrimp, salmon and other seafood as part of the standard plan.
On the flip side, avoid recipes with ingredients that are cheap and easy to find at the store, such as simple pasta dishes with no protein or basic soups. If you eat mostly vegetarian, I recommend Purple Carrot, since this 100% plant-based meal kit service has the most interesting meat-free recipes made with high-quality ingredients.
5. Don't always trust the recipe, especially for salt and spice
Recipes are not one-size-fits-all, so trust your instincts. If it seems the recipe calls for what seems like too much salt going into the sauce, it probably is. You can always add more but you can't take any out, so err on the side of caution. The same goes for heat and spice: If you can't handle big hits of habanero or spicy curries, pull back on those elements until you've tasted the finished dish.
6. Trust the fan favorites labels
Most meal kit companies will hit certain recipes with a "fan favorite" label. More often than not, I've enjoyed those dishes and appreciate the recommendation. Services such as HelloFresh and Home Chef use loads of aggregated user reviews and subscriber feedback, so you can trust there is some validity to those markers. Hey, they want you to enjoy the meals just as much as you do.
7. Challenge yourself and have fun
It's true, meal kits are a good way to get you and the family fed for a fair price, but they can also be a lot of fun and a good way to sharpen your cooking skills. Never made risotto before? Pounce on those recipes when it comes along on the menu. You might be surprised at how easy it is.
And when you crack open a meal kit, crack open a bottle of wine, too, or pour yourself a beer, cocktail or mocktail and put on some music or a favorite podcast. Cooking can be calming if you're in the right headspace. If you're not in the right headspace, make the kids cook.
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.