Cheapest meal kit around
Prep work is fast and easy
Recipes are basic and not very flavorful
No recipe cards included
No options for restricted diets such as vegan, keto and paleo
Shipping isn’t free
We're continuing to monitor the COVID-19 situation with regards to whether or not some meal delivery services will be altering their operation schedules, geographic restrictions, and/or frequency of shipments. As of now, most meal delivery services seem to be operating under a normal schedule, expanding inventory to continue to provide meals, are complying with FDA regulations, and are monitoring CDC recommendations closely. However, there are a handful of companies (and we have noted them below) who have had to scale back deliveries and are having delays of one to two weeks.
A Note From a Medical Professional:
"I think it’s fairly safe to eat a delivered meal, but it would be reasonable to wash your hands before and after handling the packaging and after throwing it away. Remember to avoid touching your hands to your face while cooking. Finally, try to enjoy your meal! You’ve got to eat something, and these meals are probably as safe and as healthy as most of the other options."
– Andy Miller, MD, Verywell Health Medical Review Board Member
Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Dinnerly is experiencing an overload of orders, and are therefore unable to keep up with demand, due to strain on product availability and fulfillment. This may mean that any orders or subscriptions placed through Dinnerly will be shipped later than expected.
Dinnerly is a spin-off of the more foodie-focused Marley Spoon meal kit service that aims to provide customers with the time-saving convenience of a meal kit but at an affordable price. It cuts a few corners — no recipe cards, no marketing campaigns, limited ingredients — in order to keep costs at about half of what other meal kit companies typically charge. For those who don’t have the time and energy for meal planning, shopping and spending an hour at the stove, and who don’t have the budget to spend the typical $10 per serving. At only $4.49 per serving, it’s Dinnerly to the rescue. But are the meals as delicious as they are budget-friendly? Keep reading to find out.
How It Works: A Snap to Sign Up
The Dinnerly meal kit subscription service offers two plans: a two-person or four-person plan with three, four or five meals per week. Unlike most services, ordering just two meals per week is not an option. Customers can let the company send the meals automatically or choose from the 14 offerings that week. The kits contain most of the ingredients to prepare a meal.
Dinnerly has a more narrow delivery window than other services we’ve tried. We had just two choices, Tuesday or Wednesday, and the kit can arrive anytime from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Ours arrived in the evening, just after 5 p.m. (though our tracking number stated it has been shipped the day before). We didn’t have to sign for it. We waited until 6 p.m. to open the box and thankfully the ingredients were still cold.
Changing plans, picking a recipe, skipping a delivery, and pausing or canceling the service are all easy to do online and in the app. Although switching to a once or twice a month subscription isn’t an option, you can skip deliveries up to two months in advance.
Choosing Meals: Variations on a Theme
Every week brings a new lineup of 14 different dinners. There are usually five vegetarian and one fish option. Labels on each recipe offer insights like “picky eater proof,” “fast,” and “low-calorie.” Some have a tag specifying if there’s no added gluten or dairy. Click on a dish’s photo and get the full recipe and all the details, including allergens, so you can decide if it’s fast enough or has the ingredients you want to eat.
The recipes don’t offer any surprises. We found they mostly stayed middle of the road and familiar — think burgers, pasta, lettuce cups, and the usual meat-and-a-side situation. There weren’t any global influences or unusual ingredients. Ground meat seemed to be a common theme, popping up in at least three of the options each week. And most dishes can be made in under 30 minutes, or at least under 40 minutes.
You can’t set your food preferences when you sign up so it’s possible you’ll end up with something you don’t want if you’re not vigilant.
Personally, we like being able to pick our recipes each week, and it’s possible to pick meals up to two months in advance. But if you like surprises, let the service pick your meals for you. However, you can’t set your food preferences when you sign up so it’s possible you’ll end up with something you don’t want if you’re not vigilant.
As part of its cost-saving measures, Dinnerly doesn’t include recipe cards in the kits.
Support Materials: Pretty Minimal
As part of its cost-saving measures, Dinnerly doesn’t include recipe cards in the kits. In fact, there’s no ephemera of any sort, not even bags to organize the ingredients per meal. We had forgotten what we ordered so we had to go online to see which meals the ingredients were for.
Customers can download and print the recipes themselves, or just follow them online or in the app. We took the app route and found the recipes were simple enough to follow even on our small phone screen. However, the app doesn’t keep the phone screen on while you’re using it, so it kept going to sleep until we changed our phone settings.
The app is very simple and easy to use. We could view and select recipes, change any of our subscription information, and search the FAQ and database of recipes. However, this recipe database isn’t online. You can only see what you’ve ordered in the past, and the upcoming recipes for the next two months but that’s it. And the blog is extremely limited. As of this writing, there were just five posts, none of which offered how-tos or techniques.
One big benefit of Dinnerly’s bare-bones approach is there’s not a lot of waste
One big benefit of Dinnerly’s bare-bones approach is there’s not a lot of waste. The cardboard box we received was curbside recyclable, as was the cardboard and paper insulating liner.
All in all, the kit generated about as much plastic as we’d get from shopping at the grocery store. Some of the produce was allowed to roam free in the box, like the tomatoes, garlic, and limes. We appreciated that the company didn’t just wrap two cloves in a plastic bag for each meal, but instead just tossed a whole bulb in. But the leafy greens and green beans had to be wrapped in plastic and the yogurt got tucked into a plastic clamshell to keep it from getting punctured. The gel pack could be reused or the contents squeezed into the garbage and the plastic thrown out or recycled. Our area’s recycling service doesn’t take film plastic and clamshells, but in areas that do, these things would be recyclable.
The Cooking Process: Very Easy
Unlike most companies, Dinnerly’s recipes don’t have step-by-step photos, just big numbers to indicate the steps. However, the recipes were so basic they didn’t need any photo illustrations, and there were never more than five steps to follow.
Each kit we tried had either six or seven ingredients, only a couple of which actually needing any chopping, so prep work took five to 10 minutes tops. Two recipes needed just one skillet, while the other needed a skillet and a pot, so cleanup was a cinch.
The recipes were so simple and easy to follow, even beginners would have no trouble. And the cooking times were accurate. We were expected to provide a few more ingredients than most other meal kits we’ve tried. In addition to the usual olive oil, salt and pepper, we also had to provide our own egg, vinegar and sugar. To be honest, though, we didn’t mind at all. We usually have these ingredients on hand and it was nice to not have even more plastic to contend with.
Each kit we tried had either six or seven ingredients, only a couple of which actually needing any chopping, so prep work took five to 10 minutes tops.
Flavor, Freshness and Quality: Just OK
The ingredients we received were in good shape. The scallions were looking a little wilted, but it didn’t affect the flavor of the dish we used them in.
The dishes themselves, however, were rather bland. Granted, we didn’t expect fireworks since the recipes were so simple and basic. And they were tasty enough that we ate without complaint. But none of the three dishes we tried had us wishing there was more, or even wanting to order them again.
We’re not sure what made the Greek Meatballs with Tomatoes and Orzo seem “Greek.” Sure, there was an overabundance of dried oregano in the meat and the sauce, and the orzo pasta is a popular shape in Greece, but ultimately it just tasted like kind of boring meatballs and sauce you’d get on a kids’ menu. Even just a little feta and kalamata olives would have been nice. And since the meatballs didn’t have breadcrumbs to absorb juices, they oozed during cooking and turned out misshapen.
The Chickpea Shawarma in Lettuce Cups was perhaps the biggest disappointment. The recipe called for sautéing a small amount of ras el hanout spices with onions and chickpeas, but we needed to add the whole packet just to make the mixture even remotely flavorful. Then, it was nearly impossible to tuck the roly-poly sautéed beans into the curled up romaine lettuce leaves that had already been slathered with garlicky yogurt. The result? Burned fingertips and mess ensued. After filling a few leaves, we plopped most of the rest of the bean mixture and vinegar-tossed tomatoes on the lettuce and ate it bowl-style. Flavor-wise it was just OK and could have benefited from being incorporated into a quinoa bowl instead of a lettuce wrap.
The Thai Pork Salad with Green Beans and Crispy Shallots was the best of the bunch, but it bore little resemblance to anything Thai. It just tasted vaguely Asian. The ground pork gets flavored with lime juice, tamari, garlic, shallots, and sugar, then served with sautéed green beans on lettuce. There was no ginger or lemongrass or curry paste or anything to make it overtly Thai, or even interesting.
Still, there was always plenty of food for two people.
None of the three dishes we tried had us wishing there was more, or even wanting to order them again.
Who it’s Good For?
Dinnerly would work for people on a tight budget who want to put a non-takeout dinner on the table but can’t plan and shop for quick meals.
Who it isn’t Good For?
People who crave flavorful meals and a varied menu will likely find Dinnerly’s options boring.
Customer service: Limited
There’s no staffer manning a chat line for this budget service, but if you need to contact a customer service rep, you can call, email or fill out a form online or in the app. The Frequently Asked Questions link answers most of the big questions, and you can click the talk bubble icon to chat with a bot, who will comb the FAQ for you.
Making Changes and Canceling: Just a Few Clicks
Dinnerly makes it easy to change recipes, delivery address, delivery day or even skip the order, by just clicking on the corresponding link in that week’s menu either online or in the app. No hunting around the website required.
On the settings page, we could pause the subscription indefinitely or cancel it completely, but it has to be done six days in advance.
The Competition: Dinnerly vs. Every Plate
Both Dinnerly and Every Plate offer budget-friendly meal kits. Both companies charge extra for shipping ($8.99), and both specialize in easy, familiar meals that take 30 minutes to cook. However, Dinnerly offers a few more options — 14 recipes compared to 8 each week. And Dinnerly allows families of four to order three, four or five meals, whereas Every Plate offers just one option — three meals — when you need to serve four people.
Better than fast food.
Dinnerly doesn’t offer meals so delicious you’ll crave them later, but they are tasty enough, built on fresh foods and whole ingredients, and they don’t take much effort at all to prepare. In other words, they’re a healthful alternative to takeout. If you’re on a tight budget and tight schedule, Dinnerly makes life a little easier since you don’t have to think about what to make for dinner and worry about how much it will cost. However, customer service is lacking, the delivery service window is narrow, and we wish the meals were more flavorful, which is why we landed on the star rating we did.
- Product Name Dinnerly
- Price $38.93
- Shipping 8.99
- Typical Cost per Serving 4.99
- Lowest Cost per Serving 4.49 (must order 5 meals for 4 people)
- Weekly Meal Options Choose from 3 to 5 meals per week, and 2 or 4 servings per meal
- Promotional Deals Available in the app: After you make your second order you’ll get a referral to send a friend a free box.