Our goal at Spruce Eats is to not only provide recipes, but also the information, research and reviews you need to help make life as delicious as possible. With meal kit delivery services gaining steam and growing in both popularity and number, we knew it was time to sort through the marketing clutter and put them to the test. We tried out more than a dozen companies over the course of several months, and we’re constantly adding more to the lineup. We evaluated each service on 17 features to help you decide which, if any, are worth adding to your table.
Each review is assigned a star rating, which is based on rating each feature on a scale from 1 to 5. Some categories are weighted heavier, depending on how important it is compared to the other categories. For example, how the meals taste is more important than how easy they were to order. Here we explain the full methodology behind the features we evaluate.
Ease of Ordering
If meal kits are all about making dinner easy and stress-free, then signing up, ordering, making changes and canceling should be easy, too. We evaluate how well companies organize their websites and display the most essential links. Companies that make it intuitive and simple to make changes to an order, skip or reschedule a delivery, and pause or cancel the service score the highest. Essential links should be prominently displayed on the main menu page, or at least easy to find via drop-down menus. Companies that clutter their websites with marketing fodder and don’t organize the navigation well, or make essential links hard to find, score lower. We have found that some companies bury their links to cancel within the FAQ section — definitely not customer friendly.
Subscribing to a meal kit delivery only makes sense if the meals are something you want to eat. Offering lots of choices that appeal to a wide range of tastes is key. That’s why we weight this category heavier than most. Companies that offer more than 10 recipe options each week score the highest.
These days more people are watching what they eat, whether they’re avoiding meat, cholesterol or common allergens like wheat or dairy. And those with dietary issues often have the hardest time finding quick and easy meal solutions. It can be difficult to know what to cook, especially when adjusting to a new diet, and restaurant meals can be a minefield. These people are prime candidates for a meal kit subscription, but only if it can accommodate their needs. We pay close attention to which companies offer meal choices that accommodate the most common dietary restrictions, particularly vegan, vegetarian, low-carb and wheat-free. Those that make a priority of catering to these groups, particularly those that offer separate plans for certain diets, score the highest.
Flexibility of Servings
Most meal kit services cater to households of two or four people because their meals either serve, you guessed it, two or four. But what about families with three kids (which is quite common)? Or what if you’re a couple and want to throw a dinner party? We think it’s important to have the option to order more than four servings without having to start another subscription account just to get an additional kit, so we give companies that don’t limit their customers the highest ratings.
When you get a meal kit, one of the first things you notice is the onslaught of plastic packaging. It seems so wasteful but it also seems like a necessary evil. How else can companies ship a cavalcade of perishable vegetables, meats, and sauces right to your door? But companies that take pains to reduce and minimize the packaging (i.e. not wrapping each individual scallion in a plastic bag), and use easily recyclable (or better yet compostable) materials score highest.
Some people have predictable schedules, some don’t, so it’s great to have the ability to change your delivery date when needed. And not everyone works Monday through Friday, which means a Saturday delivery option can be a boon. Companies who could offer the most flexible delivery options score the highest.
In the Kitchen
Here’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. If the meals themselves don’t actually taste good, or they’re such a pain to prepare you’re tempted to throw in the towel, then everything else is moot. Nobody wants to spend time and money cooking a meal just to end up wishing they’d opted for frozen pizza. Here we evaluate the cooking and eating experience. We take into account the deliciousness of the meal, whether or not it’s creative or predictable, the quality of the ingredients, the ease and clarity of the recipes, and whether or not they can be executed in the time promised. We always cook at least three meals in our tests and include a vegetarian meal when available.
Admittedly this category is tricky, since taste is subjective. What’s delicious to one person might be awful to another. However, certain aspects that make up the deliciousness of a dish hold true no matter what your preferences. A well-balanced and well-seasoned dish will offer a harmony of the five basic tastes: sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, acidity and savoriness. A good dish will also offer pleasant textures. For example, we take into consideration whether something intended to be mushy (i.e. mashed potatoes) is, while something that isn’t supposed to be mushy (i.e. breaded chicken cutlets) isn’t. Considering how important it is that the meals actually taste good, this is one of those heavily weighted categories. Companies that offer meals so good we’d happily make them again rise to the top.
One of the best parts about subscribing to a meal kit service is getting the chance to try new dishes and new flavors in the comfort of your home. They should get you out of a cooking rut, not put you back in one. So we study how inventive and interesting the meals are, and how often the companies venture into lesser known ingredients from around the globe. Those pulling from a small database of basic, run-of-the-mill dishes score lower than those putting a priority on creativity.
Good chefs know creative doesn’t have to mean complicated. As much as we all want to get out of our dinner ruts, we don’t want to spend hours tied to the stove to do so. We evaluate each company’s recipes to ensure they’re not overly finicky. The recipe cards should be clear and easy to follow with no errors. Bonus points for step-by-step photos. Some companies save money by putting their recipes online-only, which isn’t the worst thing, but certainly not as convenient as a recipe card (especially when your device goes to sleep mid-recipe). The recipes should also require a minimum of pots and pans and not too many steps.
Most meal kit companies promise dinners that can be made in 30 minutes or less. Some even say 15 or 20 minutes. And then within the recipes there are cooking times for various stages in the process. We keep careful track as we’re cooking to determine the accuracy of the times. If a recipe promises speed but doesn’t deliver, it falls down the ranking.
Knowing that no one wants to open up their meal kit to find the ingredients browned, wilted, bruised, slimy or otherwise unusable, we carefully inspect the ingredients in each kit to evaluate them for freshness and quality. Kits where every ingredient looks freshly picked score the best. The occasional yellowed kale leaf doesn’t cause us much concern, but when more than one ingredient is visibly old or so poorly packed it gets damaged in transit, or when meats are badly cut or overly gristly, then we start really docking points.
In an ideal world, everyone could afford the cost of organic, sustainably raised produce and proteins. But the reality is these items cost more, so many meal kit companies don’t offer them. However, several companies make these ingredients integral to their mission and use them exclusively, or at least offer customers the option to pay extra for them. We think it’s important to offer these better-for-you-and-the-environment-ingredients as often as possible, or at least make them available. The more companies work these ingredients into their lineups, the better their score.
Price and taste are perhaps the two biggest concerns when it comes to meal kits. We want them to taste great, sure, but they shouldn’t break the bank. After all, cooking from scratch is supposed to be economical. We look at each meal subscription from the point of view of value. Is it worth the price and our investment of time? Or would we have been better off going out to a sit-down dinner? Was the “free” shipping actually free or did the high price per serving negate it?
Everyone wants free shipping these days, so companies that don’t charge extra to deliver their meal kits score the highest. However, we also look at whether the price per serving is still in line with what other companies charge. Most companies offer free shipping with a minimum purchase, which is reasonable.
Few things are better than a bargain meal that doesn’t taste like one. Kits that offer generous portions of delicious meals for about what you’d pay shopping and schlepping the ingredients yourself score the highest. On the other end of the spectrum, meals that seem like a waste of money because they’re flat-out disappointing in flavor, quantity or both, rank at the bottom.
This is a heavily weighted category because price is a big consideration when picking a meal kit subscription. Most of the time, you pay a premium for the convenience of having the shopping and prep work done for you, but too high of a premium and you might as well dine out or hire a personal chef.
After experiencing the ease of having a dinner plan and ingredients shipped to your door, you might decide having a healthy breakfast on hand is just as much of a relief. Or how about some extra chicken breasts you can poach and add to a salad for a quick lunch? Or maybe wine to go with dinner? These add-ons may not be essential, but they’re nice options to have. We rate companies according to how many they offer.
Those without a ton of cooking experience are prime candidates for meal kits, and newbies can certainly benefit from additional support such as cooking video tutorials, how-to articles, or even just tips embedded in the recipes. We keep note of which companies offer this extra help.
Questions and issues are bound to come up, which means at some point you’ll likely want to get in touch with someone at the company. We take note of the various customer service options each company offers, what their availability is, and how courteous and efficient they are. We also carefully read through the Frequently Asked Questions to find out if they’re as comprehensive as they need to be. Ideally, customers with questions can search the FAQ and get all the answers they need.
The Bottom Line
Our methodology shows the criteria we use to evaluate each meal kit, but it also serves as a great jumping-off point for your own evaluations. Maybe you’d rather have familiar recipes rather than those riffing on global dishes. Maybe you don’t care one iota about ordering more than two or four servings, or opting for a Saturday delivery. Or maybe you're interested in strictly vegan dishes. Feel free to ignore the rankings of features that mean the least to you and focus instead on what you deem most important. That's why some of our round-up articles have meal services with lower star ratings still ranked best overall – because they just do one thing so well (i.e. have the best vegan selection, keto selection, etc.). Our goal is to be as transparent and comprehensive as possible, so you can easily navigate the ever-more crowded world of meal kit subscriptions and find one to suit your needs.