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Just like anything else, the prepared meal industry has services that tic all sorts of boxes and with varying levels of success. There are some really great prepared meal subscriptions, some mediocre or passable options, and some that just aren't worth a sniff. To find the best prepared meal delivery in 2021, we decided it would be best to try them -- unless you can think of a better way. 

Testing meal subscriptions these days is a hefty task since there are more premade meal companies than ever. You've got vegan meal subscriptions, ones that sell only keto food and an ocean's worth of other options. You can get freshly made meals sent in just about any size, shape and flavor so the first step is asking what you're really looking for. No matter the case, a meal delivery service will give you time back each week and can very well help you keep to your diet or healthy eating goals.

What we love about meal delivery in 2021

Making dinner can be enjoyable, of course, but dinner burnout can catch up to you quickly. Since most restaurants charge a pretty premium for delivery, an easy meal plan from one of these services can help lighten your daily load without busting your budget. And if meal delivery elicits thoughts of overly salted instant mashed potatoes and mystery meat, know that prepared food -- both fresh and frozen -- has come a long way in the past few years. I've tested more than 20 of the top meal delivery services and many of them churn out healthy meals that take minutes to heat and will even help keep your nutrition goals on track.

For those who still want to cook but need a little helping hand, oven-ready meal kits will cut out the prep, shopping and planning. But if it's a fully prepared meal you're after, there are services for that and we've tested some of the best-known meal delivery operations -- along with a few newbies -- to see which ones cut the mustard and which ones need a lot of ketchup just to be eaten.

How expensive is meal delivery?

Meal delivery doesn't have to cost a ton either. We've uncovered cheap meal services with portions as low as $5 per serving but most are somewhere in the range of $9 to $11 per meal. Excluding unhealthy fast food, it's tough to find restaurants or takeout services that'll feed you nutritious and tasty food for so little dough. And some of these budget-friendly meal subscriptions delivered some pretty tasty fare, on par with the pricier operations. 

Is meal delivery healthy?

The prepared meal subscription category has exploded with new chef-led brands offering ready-to-eat meals to fit every taste preference, diet plan, lifestyle and budget. You can find healthy prepared meals for vegetarians, vegans, folks keeping to a keto diet, paleo plan or just about anything else. Finding the best healthy prepared meal service depends mostly on your own nutrition goals, but to help you narrow it down, we've been testing and tasting up a storm to bring you our top picks in a few popular prepared meal delivery categories and outlining which are healthiest. Another bonus is you can easily see all the nutritional information for every meal, which is not always the case when cooking from scratch or eating out.

Before we get to the which, let's go back to the why. Even if you're not trying to overhaul your entire diet, committing to eating healthier even a few times a week can have a huge impact on overall nutrition intake and help create good eating habits. It helps when that healthy food actually tastes good, too. But if you don't have the time to start meal-prepping and macro-counting, or learn a whole new set of healthy cooking skills, eating healthier probably feels daunting. Finding a convenient and healthy prepared meal delivery service for your healthy eating goals could be an easy way to make some strides in the right direction.

Read more: Best keto meal delivery for 2021

Prepared meal delivery

What exactly is a prepared meal delivery service? This breed of meal delivery will send fully cooked, often nutritious meals made with organic ingredients straight to your home. From there, it's as simple as simple gets: Just pull a delicious meal out of your fridge or freezer and warm it up -- no cooking required -- and you've got a satisfying lunch or dinner ready to go.

Menu options are endless and certain prepared meal delivery services such as Freshly and Veestro have taken note of modern healthful eating habits, offering prepared menus and healthy meals tailored for almost any dietary preference, including carnivores, vegetarians, flexitarians, vegan and other plant-based diets. They can also cater to those with dietary restrictions who are keeping to a keto, low-sodium, gluten-free, organic, low carb, low-sugar or paleo diet. Even picky eaters will find something they like with all these prepared meal options.

Now, you might be wondering how meal delivery recipes differ from the frozen meals or classic TV dinners you find in the grocery store -- and it's a fair question. For one: Most are made just before shipping to you, so each individual meal is significantly fresher -- which you can often taste. Because they don't sit on grocery store freezer shelves, most are free from unhealthy preservatives or mounds of salt, too. Lastly, these prepared meal delivery services use higher quality ingredients, in general, and get a bit more creative with their rotating recipes, although it does vary from brand to brand. Prepared meals range anywhere from $8-$15 per meal, depending on the service you go with and the specific meal plan you choose. (Watch this: Best prepared meal delivery services for fresh eating...).

Oven-ready meal kits

Another option to consider is deliveries of oven-ready meal kits that still have to be cooked but require very minimal prep, effort or technical skill to make a fresh meal. You may be wondering how these differ from the standard meal kit delivery services. While the meal-kit revolution, which led to household names like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, was all about providing you with the basic ingredients and instructions on how to pull together a delicious meal, you may not have the time or patience to do all that cooking. Oven-ready meal kits are just that: A fresh meal ready to be assembled and cooked without any complicated recipes or tiresome prep. 

Read more: Best cheap meal delivery services in 2021

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 to be baked, roaster, stir-fried or dropped into the slow cooker with no major prep required for a healthy, fresh-cooked meal. Think simple dishes like roasted chicken breast with precut vegetables and a flavorful sauce. Home Chef even provides the cooking tray in many of its meal kits so there is exactly zero cleaning to do after.

Just a reminder: While many of the meal plan services we sorted through are fully prepared, the meal-kit services like Home Chef and Gobble are not yet cooked, so know you'll still be turning on the oven. Please don't eat any raw chicken. 

veestro
Veestro

Having tried offerings from every company on this list (and many more), I've determined the best prepared meal service for each type of diner from vegans to those seeking a more restaurant-quality experience. Luckily there's a meal delivery service geared to almost every person, with budgets ranging from the affordable to the total splurge. 

As you'll read, some of these meal delivery services and meal kits are centered on a particular concept. Home Chef, for instance, has simple meal kits down to a science with fresh ingredients and recipes that are already prepped and ready to be cooked in as little as 15 minutes. Other operations such as Veestro specialize in premade or prepared vegetarian and vegan meals for those going meatless or dairy-free but still looking for an alternative to cooking.

I'll concede, there's still nothing quite like a home-cooked meal, but some of these simple and affordable services just might be the thing to lighten your cooking load and cut down on trips to the market this fall and winter.

Read more: Best seafood delivery services in 2021

After bravely testing the most popular services available in 2021, we settled on this list of the absolute best prepared meal delivery services your money can buy.

  • Best overall prepared meal delivery service: Fresh n' Lean
  • Best meal delivery that you still have to cook (a little): Home Chef
  • Best meal delivery for Paleo and clean eating: Pete's Paleo
  • Best meal delivery for vegetarians: Mosaic Foods
  • Best meal delivery for vegans: Veestro
  • Best meal delivery service for quick breakfasts and lunches: Daily Harvest
  • Best meal delivery for eating organic: Trifecta Nutrition
  • Best prepared meal delivery for gourmet food: Home Bistro
  • Best meal delivery for comfort food with a healthy edge: Freshly
Fresh n' Lean

Having tested all of the leading prepared meal delivery service options, Fresh n' Lean ran away from the competition, ticking more boxes than any other. The food is healthy, thoughtfully prepared, tastes fantastic, looks appetizing and is fairly affordable depending on the plan you select.

Fresh n' Lean has five meal plans to help keep folks on track with their specific nutrition goals including low-carb, vegan, paleo and protein plus options. The food I tried was all made exceptionally well, made from simple, whole ingredients. Save for one dry chicken breast, everything I had was at least good, and most better than good, with some meals even bordering on restaurant-quality. My favorite was a tender braised beef with vegetables and coconut-cilantro sauce.

Pricing: Price per meal varies greatly depending on the plan you select as well as the number of meals per week. It's roughly $10-$12 if you order 10 or more meals per week. If you select lunch or dinners only, it'll be more like $15 per meal. It's not the cheapest, but not the most expensive either and totally worth the extra few bucks, in my opinion.

Home Chef

Home Chef is a popular meal delivery 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 easy oven-ready options. Plus this meal delivery service offers grill-ready meals for summer, 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 a delicious meal happen. 

Pricing: No matter how you slice it, a Home Chef meal delivery kit 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.

Read our Home Chef review.

 

David Watsky/CNET

Pete's won me over in a week-long taste test, notching its place as one of the best healthy, organic meal delivery services I've yet to try. While it's not the cheapest service we've tried, it is actually cheaper than other meal services that use organic ingredients and quality meats and was better than most of them. You can nab a 10-pack of healthy meals for just $110.

The Pete's Paleo meals I had were all well-prepared: meats were tender, vegetables (mostly) cooked to proper doneness and all the flavors worked. The food wasn't overly seasoned and the recipes were mild and maybe even on the safe side -- but that's nothing a few shakes of hot sauce can't fix.

If you're in training or keeping to a paleo plan and looking for lots of protein, healthy fats and nutrient-filled carbs such as sweet potatoes and beets, Pete's Paleo should hit the spot. Pete's has lots of ordering options and the meals are made to freeze so if you don't want to subscribe, you can keep an inventory on hand for those moments you need a quick fix.

Read my full review of Pete's Paleo here.

David Watsky/CNET

I sampled about nine of Mosaic Food's plant-based prepared meal offerings and the vegetarian prepared meal delivery service had an astoundingly high hit rate. Mosaic uses big and interesting global flavors and employs creative use of meat substitutes such as tofu, jackfruit, cauliflower and vegan sausages to create tasty and satisfying vegetarian meals -- even for this omnivore. There are some vegan meals, but many of them use dairy products, so vegans must choose their Mosaic meals more carefully.

While everything I had from Mosaic was at least good, some standouts included the bean and jackfruit chili, tomato olive and feta ragout and a tangy Thai noodle dish. All the food arrives frozen but still tastes surprisingly fresh upon defrosting and eating. 

Mosaic meals are also simple to order from with a clear, concise website and no overly complicated plans. You simply choose the meals you want with a minimum order of $70 (about eight meals) and then decide how often you want them delivered -- weekly, biweekly or monthly. You can change the meals, pause or cancel your subscription at any time. 

Mosaic recently added family meals too meant for three or four people. Each one will cost you $20. You can read my full review of the plant-based meal delivery service here.

Veestro

If you are looking for a strictly vegan option, Veestro offers a wide-ranging menu meal delivery plan of 100% prepared plant-based meals for those keeping to a non-meat diet. Vegan meal 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 Mosaic or Purple Carrot in the meals, so if you like seitan, tempeh, Impossible Beef and other faux meats this is a good meal delivery service to check out.

The carnivore in me has to 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: The Veestro prepared meal delivery service breaks down to roughly $11.70 per meal for 10 meals, although it's more expensive for a one-time order. This vegan meal delivery service gets less expensive, however, if you choose a 20-meal plan ($10.80 per meal).

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 quick lunch or breakfast. Depending on the specific meal, you either drop it into a saucepan or skillet to heat and eat. Or add nut milk and blend it up, for Daily Harvest's protein-packed smoothies, oat bowls and lattes.

This is a completely plant-based meal delivery service and is great if you want to simplify your week and keep meals healthy. Daily Harvest uses lots of ancient grains, oats and trendy superfoods like chia, avocado and kabocha squash in its recipes, which are satisfying and mostly well-balanced in flavor. The brand recently expanded offerings to include flatbreads, which I wasn't crazy about, and snacks and desserts such as low-calorie ice cream and protein bites.

Pricing: With so many different offerings and options you can build a box with whatever you'd like. Smoothies and chia bowls can be had for as little as $6 per serving with bigger meals like grain bowls, soups and flatbreads in the $8-$9 range. Daily Harvest generally has a nice new-customer deal good for $30 or $40 off your first order, so look out for that.

Read our Daily Harvest review.

 

David Watsky/CNET

Like other services, Trifecta has healthy prepared meals that cater to any number of nutrition plans or diets -- keto, paleo, low-calorie -- but its selling point is the high quality of its ingredients. Trifecta uses mostly organic ingredients as well as humanely raised chicken and grass-fed beef. 

You'll find lots of clean, lean meats and vegetables in Trifecta meals. While I didn't love everything I tried, there were some real standouts and everything tasted very fresh. My personal favorite was Trifecta's pesto salmon with quinoa and sautéed vegetables.

Pricing: All these high-quality ingredients come at a price, however, and Trifecta will run you around $15 for most of the meal plans, with a few exceptions. That said, if organic is important to you, this is the meal delivery service to try.

Read our Trifecta review.

 

Home Bistro

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

Though these meals are, on the whole, more expensive than any others we tried -- 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 very good meal kit service to try. And since you can order these prepared meals a la carte, you can always save them for special occasions. 

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

Freshly

Freshly delivers precooked meals (fresh, not frozen) to your door. While this meal delivery service has healthy recipe options aplenty, Freshly is one of the better options if you want the occasional cheat meal or comfort food delivered to your door. Sample meal options include penne bolognese, peppercorn steak with mashed potatoes and chicken casserole are just some of the heartier choices you can have delivered and at the ready, but there are also healthier, low-cal Freshly meals to keep yourself honest. 

Pardon the word-play but Freshly did have some of the freshest tasting meals. Not everything felt restaurant quality but this company delivers a lot of crowd-pleasers, including chicken tikka masala and chili-topped macaroni and cheese. I wouldn't call the Freshly meal choices diet food, but they aren't terribly unhealthy either and a lot of them are just what you want after a long day.

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 $8, making it one of the most affordable meal delivery services on the list.

Read our Freshly review.

 

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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.