If you live anywhere where it's even a little bit possible to glimpse the stoops of your neighbors, you've probably noticed cheerful boxes from the likes of Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Plated making ever more frequent appearances on said stoops over the last five years. The age of the meal kit delivery service is upon us. It's a type of convenience service that combines the efforts of chefs, nutritionists and personal shoppers, and delivers them into the hands of willing home cooks or enthusiastic eaters, with weekly menus and preportioned ingredients.
I once met one of the founders of Blue Apron, whose box I'd become familiar with, thanks to the denizens of my apartment building. I mentioned that I thought the service sounded like a cool idea, but inundated him with a litany of reasons why such a thing didn't apply to me: I work in an industry where meals are often provided; I'm rarely home; I'm culinary school trained; and so on. His counter-argument was flawless: "Can I send you a free box?" I mean, duh.
Despite my protestations, the reasons I enjoyed the service were plenty, and inspired me to continue my subscription with an occasional box. Even with culinary school credibility, I liked having ingredients I didn't know of or would rarely seek out put directly into my hands. I was especially moved by a concept that provided me the single rib of celery that a recipe demanded, sparing me the heartache of watching an entire head of celery languish in my produce drawer when left to my own devices.
There are now dozens of these meal kit delivery programs to choose from like Sunbasket and others, many of which provide promotional offers for new customers. Nearly all include the ability to customize menus, skip weeks and cancel anytime. With no-to-limited commitment, if you're a calendar master and an account-management ninja, you can dabble in any or all of these services and choose, week-by-week, which best suits your circumstances.
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Best intro to meal kit delivery: Blue Apron
Blue Apron is largely accepted to be the granddad of meal kit delivery programs in the US. The eight menus available weekly range from simple pastas to international options, with seafood and vegetarian menus always available. Even the simplest recipes might include an unfamiliar component or two, and the website often highlights these ingredients as an educational opportunity. Recipes are tagged with helpful keywords such as "customer favorite," "quick and easy," "great for grilling" and so on. Occasional promotions include menus from guest celebrity chefs, or recipes that highlight popular travel destinations. An optional wine pairing service is
Subscription: Options range from $7.49 to $9.99 per serving, with options for two to four recipes per week and two or four servings per recipe.Visit Blue Apron for more offers
Best for those who really care about where their food comes from : Sun Basket
Healthy and fresh are common meal kit descriptors, but Sun Basket goes a step further. They're committed to organic, non-GMO, sustainably and responsibly raised products, which they package in 100-percent recyclable materials to boot. Sun Basket's recipes are developed by Justine Kelly, a San Francisco chef known for her work at the James Beard Award-winning Slanted Door restaurant, and for her appearance on "Top Chef." All of her easy and delicious meals are nutritionist-approved (500 to 800 calories per serving), and most take only about 30 minutes to put together, with online tutorials available if you need a little extra guidance. You've got options too—you'll be able to choose from a selection of 6 to 18 different recipes each week, including paleo, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free meals, so you'll always get what you want. Sun Basket delivery is available in 36 states, and shipments arrive on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. For three meals each week, you'll pay $74.93 for the two-person plan (or $11.99 per serving) and $143.87 for the four-person plan ($10.99 per serving), with a $5.99 shipping fee either way.
Subscription:For three meals each week, you'll pay $74.93 for the two-person plan (or $11.99 per serving) and $143.87 for the four-person plan ($10.99 per serving), with a $5.99 shipping fee either way.Visit Sun Basket for more offers
Best for top chef aficionados: Plated
With a whopping 20 weekly recipes to choose from, including a couple of dessert options, the very name Plated inspires fantasies of Padma Lakshmi standing over your kitchen table sampling forkfuls of chef-designed recipes whose components you might have had to practice pronouncing. That being said, relative ease is still largely the point, and sustainable and thoughtfully sourced ingredients are emphasized.
Subscription: Options range from $9.95 to $11.95 per serving, with options for two to four recipes per week and two to four servings per recipe.Visit Plated for more offers
Best for those with designer food allergies: HelloFresh
HelloFresh helpfully tags each recipe accordingly, whether you are allergic to (or avoiding) dairy, gluten, soy, nuts and so on. Familiarity of components is key, even when applied to dishes from various world cuisines. A "dinner to lunch" element is a unique twist that provides the home cook a variation on tonight's dinner to serve as a portable lunch tomorrow.
Subscription: Options range from $8.74 to $9.99 per serving, with options for two to four recipes per week and two or four servings per recipe, customizable along Classic, Veggie and Family plans.Visit Hello Fresh for more offers
Best for those who crave home cooking but don't actually cook: Freshly
A few of these services provide fully cooked meals to your doorstep, and Freshly is a good one if you desire wholesome, familiar comfort foods such as peppercorn steak, penne bolognese or chicken and rice pilaf. Meals are prepared right before delivery and are never frozen. With minimal reheating required by you, it's like having Mom cook for you, without having Mom live with you. (Sorry, Mom.)
Subscription: $8.99 to $12.50 per serving, with up to 12 servings per week. Shipping is free.Visit Freshly for more offers
Best for those who crave simplicity: Dinnerly
Dinnerly rolls out some pretty exciting-sounding meals such as summery chicken panzanella and risotto with asparagus and cannellini beans, but with no more than six ingredients per recipe, the damage done to your time and kitchen is minimized. Along with not overwhelming you with myriad components and multiple steps, the price tag for Dinnerly puts it squarely in the budget-friendly category, clocking in around $5 per serving.
Subscription: The options include a Two-Person Box for $30, or a Family Box for $60, each with three recipes for the week.Visit Dinnerly for more offers
Best for vegans with a takeout addiction: Hungryroot
Hungryroot, in addition to being vegan, provides a more round-the-clock approach to meal kit delivery, with options that include breakfast, snacks and sweets. Craveable, vegan-comfort entrees such as sweet potato pad thai and green chile Mexican rice are served more or less ready to eat, with just a little stove-top or oven-lovin' reheating required.
Subscription: Two options include a Starter Set with four meals (two servings each) plus two sides, snacks or sweets for $69; or The Good Life box with five meals (two servings each) plus five sides, snacks, or sweets for $99. Shipping is free.Visit Hungryroot for more offers
Best for those committed to actually cooking but who have no time: Gobble
Gobble takes the template from the old guard of meal delivery kits but speeds it up by prechopping and part-cooking many of the components so that all recipes can be prepared in 15 minutes. Despite the "fast food" angle, menus have a sophisticated and worldly vibe. Weekly recipe choices are cleverly categorized into From the Range, From the Ranch, From the Sea and From the Earth options.
Subscription: Options range from $11.99 to $13.99 per serving, with options for two to four servings of two or three (or more!) recipes.Visit Gobble for more offers
Best for those on a budget: EveryPlate
At just $4.99 per serving and an emphasis on hearty meals with generous portions, EveryPlate is the best plan for those whose journey into meal kit delivery is based on affordability. They keep overhead low by only offering five recipes to choose from weekly, which does mostly exclude vegetarians and those on special diets, but the five available meals are full of variety and flavor otherwise.
Subscription: Each serving is only $4.99. Each weekly box includes three recipes with either two or four servings apiece.Visit EveryPlate for more offers
Best for those who cook with or eat like children: One Potato
Developed by a children's cookbook author, One Potato serves up weekly options that are seasonal and interesting for parents and kids to cook together. Familiar but fun flavors such as sweet corn arancini with marinara dipping sauce coexist with more adventurous options such as seared ahi tuna with soba noodle salad. Certain recipes that are "picky eater approved" are also offered every week.
Subscription: Options range from $8.72 to $12.95 per serving, with options for two or three recipes per week and two to four servings per recipe. Shipping is free to most states.Visit One Potato for more offers
Best for commitment-phobes: Amazon Meal Kits
Since acquiring Whole Foods, Amazon has also arrived on the meal kit delivery scene. For those who are members of both Amazon Prime and Amazon Fresh, it's possible to opt into their meal kit delivery mechanism without making any further commitment. You can order single recipes a la carte and they arrive two days after ordering. Meals consist of multicomponent dishes similar to many of the meal kit delivery companies above.Visit Amazon for more Meal Kit offers
Best for travel lovers who also procrastinate: Takeout Kit
Takeout Kit has perhaps found the most specific niche in the meal kit delivery market, in that it promotes around-the-world flavors with shelf-stable pantry ingredients. So if you're an adventurous, worldly eater who loves to cook but who worries about the perishables you leave behind when that last-minute flight deal becomes available, here's your angle. Because of its shelf-stable nature, spices, sauces, coconut milk, grains and legumes are highly emphasized.
Subscription: Prices start at $6.25 per serving. Because of the nonperishable nature, kits are shipped once a month and the best value comes from subscribing for multiple months. Single meal kits are also available.Visit Take Out Kits for more offers
: CNET's guide to this vital service.