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Meal Delivery Subscriptions Are Cheaper Than Takeout. Here's How Much

If you prefer not to cook for a few nights each week (or at all), a meal-by-mail service can slice big bucks off of your bloated monthly takeout bill.

David Watsky Senior 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.
Expertise Kitchen tech, cookware, small appliances, food innovation, meal delivery and meal kits.
David Watsky
5 min read
home bistro steak dinner

A meal kit or meal delivery service might be the easy answer to your sizable restaurant takeout expenses.

Home Bistro

Meal delivery services are plentiful in 2023, with more popping into the category -- and our social media feeds -- all the time. At last count, there were well over two dozen meal subscriptions that make and send just about any type of food you could want to nearly any address in the continental US. Many of these services, including Fresh N Lean, Blue Apron and Daily Harvest, are quite tasty, healthy and super simple to prepare. But is meal delivery worth the cost? 

I'm no stranger to calling in my favorite order to a local restaurant, but I don't always make the healthiest food or financial decisions in those hungry moments with a menu splayed out in front of me. With my monthly eats bill soaring from some hard-to-break lockdown habits, I started wondering if meal delivery might pose a viable, more budget-friendly alternative to all that takeout and delivery. Perhaps, a healthier one, too. 

With dozens of great meal kits and prepared meal delivery services to pick from, all of which send ready-to-eat meals or preportioned ingredients to cook up into dinner, I set out to see how much cheaper meal delivery services are than a typical takeout order. In some cases, meal kits and prepared meal services proved to be more than 50% cheaper than takeout, and up to 75% cheaper than delivery via fee-happy apps such as DoorDash or Uber Eats.

Here's how I did the math and a snapshot of how much meal delivery costs in 2023. 

A delivery person on a bicycle holding a brown takeout bag

Takeout adds up over the course of the year. We figured out how much you can save with meal delivery.

Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty

How much does the average takeout meal cost?

This isn't the most straightforward answer since there is no universal pricing for takeout. Instead, we'll have to use some ballpark figures and averages to find a number to compare to meal kits and prepared meal services.

Restaurant takeout costs vary by region, but this report shows the average restaurant takeout meal costs around $13. To verify, I priced out the cost of takeout in my New York City borough of Brooklyn for a variety of popular dishes at midrange restaurants. 

Cost of takeout

Chicken tenders w/ friesCheeseburger comboPepperoni pizzaChicken burritoChicken fried riceChicken pad thaiMacaroni and cheese
Serving size 1 order1 order1 small pizza1 burrito1 quart1 order2 cups
Takeout cost $10.99$13.69$15.09$14.25$11.75$11.50$13.29
Delivery cost $18.86$23.79$24.25$24.40$16.88$19.45$24.98

From there, I've taken the average of those meals to find an approximate cost per serving for restaurant takeout. Average all those meals out and you get $12.90 for the average takeout meal. Pretty spot on with the other data I found for average meal costs. If you wanted to include a couple of bucks toward a tip for the counter person, it would be more like $15. 

Delivery is markedly more expensive since it typically includes app service fees, delivery charges and a bigger tip. For delivery, the average cost per meal with fees and charges is a whopping $21.80.

Casey's pepperoni pizza with a box, beverages, various condiments and the hands of people eating.

Takeout is tempting, but it can throw off both your budget and your diet in a hurry.

Casey's Pizza

While these are technically "one-serving" meals, you could certainly argue that the typical order of pad Thai, lamb curry or chicken fried rice is good for more than one serving. That said, most of the meal kits I've made are also good for more servings than advertised. A meal kit "for two" is often more like three meals in my house, and I'm a pretty good eater (just ask my mom). So let's just call that a wash.

Are meal kits cheaper than takeout?

In a previous breakdown, we outlined how much cheaper takeout classics are to make at home. In another, we priced meal kits against buying all the groceries to make yourself. Here, we price out how much cheaper it is per serving to use a meal kit versus ordering out. Because meal kit plans vary depending on how many meals and servings you order, I used both the price for an average, middle-of-the-pack plan and the cheapest plan for each meal service to see how they compare.

Cost of takeout vs. meal kits (average plan)

ServiceCost per serving
EveryPlate $7
Dinnerly $7
Blue Apron $8.49
HelloFresh $10
Home Chef $10
Sunbasket $14
Gobble $14
Green Chef $13.49

As shown below, budget-friendly meal kits such as EveryPlate and Dinnerly cost roughly half as much as a typical takeout meal. If you order delivery with all those added fees, your typical meal will cost about three times as much as the cheapest meal kit service. Even the most expensive meal kits cost less than the average takeout meal. 

Cost of takeout vs. meal kits (cheapest plan)

ServiceCost per serving
EveryPlate $5
Dinnerly $6
Blue Apron $8
HelloFresh $9
Home Chef $9
Sunbasket $10
Purple Carrot $12
Gobble $12
Green Chef $12

If you choose the cheapest plans -- usually available when you purchase more meals per week -- from the various services, the savings are greater. The cheapest meal kits are about one-third the cost of takeout on average and more than 75% less expensive than delivery."

How much cheaper is prepared meal delivery than takeout?

mosaic foods meals

Mosaic Foods' family-size meals cost just $6 per portion.

Mosaic Foods

Prepared meal services such as Fresh N Lean, CookUnity and Factor are a closer match to takeout and delivery since there is no prep or cooking required, just heating and eating. While the delta between prepared meal delivery and takeout is smaller than with meal kits, most services are still cheaper than most orders of takeout and absolutely cheaper than delivery, which sits at nearly $22 per meal. 

If you choose a service such as Mosaic Foods (one of my favorites) which has larger family-size meals, you'll save big over takeout with portions clocking in at $6, far less than the cost of the average takeout meal. 

Cost of takeout vs. prepared meal delivery

ServiceCost per serving (cheapest plan)
Mosaic Foods $6
Fresh N Lean $9
Daily Harvest $9
CookUnity $11
Factor $11
Pete's Real Food $14

Is meal delivery healthier than takeout?

fresh n lean meals

You're probably more likely to make bad eating decisions in the moment ordering takeout than if you preplan your meals with a meal delivery service.

Fresh n' Lean

There's no easy way to measure the overall healthiness of meal delivery versus meal kits or prepared meal delivery. But I will say this from my own experience: If you're choosing meals in bulk for the week or weeks ahead on an information-packed website, you're probably more likely to select some healthy, protein-packed dishes than you would be if you're hungry in the moment, perusing a takeout menu with all its tantalizing options. 

meal kit info

Meal kit services show you all the ingredients and nutritional information so you can make measured decisions about your upcoming diet.

Screenshot by David Watsky/CNET

Meal kits and meal delivery services show you all the ingredients and nutritional information as you're selecting them, including calories, carbs, sugar and salt so you can make a sober and measured decision as to what you want on your dining table in the coming days and weeks. 

What's the catch? With meal kits, you'll have to do some cooking but most of them do all the measuring for you in advance and some even do the prep, so dinner can take as little as 20 minutes from start to finish. Services such as Blue Apron and Home Chef also have ready-to-cook meals which take as little as five minutes to prepare, plus time to cook. Prepared meal delivery more closely resembles the convenience of takeout. 

The bottom line: Meal kits or prepared meal delivery could be the answer to your restaurant takeout budget woes. Choose the right one, like any from this CNET-tested list of the best healthy meal delivery services, and it might just kick your healthy eating habits into gear, too. 

Food and drink delivery recommendations

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.