Best Subscription Meal Kits of 2019
Image Credit: Blue Apron

If you’re looking for a way to make dinner more manageable, the odds are good you’ve questioned whether you should sign up for a meal kit. This form of home delivery service gives you the ingredients you need to put food on the table faster, offering you a dinner solution that’s (almost) as convenient as takeout. 

Since the start of HelloFresh in 2011, the meal kit industry has exploded to encompass dozens of companies, all striving to set themselves apart from the competition. Depending on your dietary preferences, it’s possible to choose a meal subscription service that specializes in vegetarian-friendly food, gourmet recipes, or even pre-cooked meals.

But how should you choose the best meal plan for you? Sifting through the details of dozens of companies is overwhelming, so we’ve done the hard work for you. This article will compare the selling points of six subscription meal kit services to help you make the best decision for your needs.

HighYa’s Top Pick for the Best Overall Subscription Meal Kit of 2019

We scoured the details of six subscription meal kits to decide on our definitive rankings from #1 to #6.

These rankings are based on six categories for each service: the price per serving, shipping costs, approximate number of weekly meal options, level of required kitchen effort, the presence of add-on options, and whether the plan is vegetarian-friendly.

We ranked the subscriptions in each category by assigning them a letter grade and then averaged the results to come to our overall rankings.

Rank Subscription Overall Grade Cost Per Serving Shipping Costs Weekly Meal Options Kitchen Effort Required Available Add-On Options Vegetarian-Friendly
1 Freshly A B+ A A A C A-
2 Blue Apron A- A- A B B A A-
3 HelloFresh B+ B+ B- B+ B+ A+ A-
4 Plated B B+ B+ A- C+ A A-
5 Purple Carrot B- C+ A C+ C+ A A+
6 Dinnerly C+ A C+ C+ B+ C C

 

From this analysis, our meal kit winner is Freshly. Their meals are priced competitively compared to the other brands we looked at and they won big points for their extensive meal selection and minimal kitchen prep time.

However, Freshly is not the best option for those who like to cook because the meals come premade. If you’re looking for a more traditional meal kit experience, we recommend our second choice, Blue Apron, instead.

A closer look at our rationale for these rankings is below:

 

#1. Freshly
Freshly
Highlights: For approximately the same price as the other services we looked at, Freshly provides you with healthy, pre-cooked meals that take mere seconds to heat up in the microwave.

Level of Kitchen Effort Required: Low (meals arrive pre-made)

Add-On Options: None

Vegetarian-Friendly: Yes
Est. Cost Per Serving Shipping Costs Approx. Weekly Meal Options
$8.99–$12.50 Free 30
More on this subscription: Read Our Full Review

 

 

#2. Blue Apron
Blue Apron
Highlights: Considered one of the most popular meal kit companies, Blue Apron wins points for consistent quality, a large meal selection, and relatively simple prep work.

Level of Kitchen Effort Required: Medium (30 min. prep time, ingredients for multiple dishes often packaged together)

Add-On Options: Monthly wine subscription option for $56/month (6 bottles)

Vegetarian-Friendly: Yes
Est. Cost Per Serving Shipping Costs Approx. Weekly Meal Options
$8.50–$10.00 Free 8
More on this subscription: Read Our Full Review

 

#3. HelloFresh
Hello Fresh
Highlights: HelloFresh offers all-around quality and offers a variety of recipes that range in ingredients and difficulty level to fit every culinary niche.

Level of Kitchen Effort Required: Medium-low (fairly basic recipes with minimal prep time)

Add-On Options: Wine subscription program for $89/month (6 bottles)

Vegetarian-Friendly: Yes
Est. Cost Per Serving Shipping Costs Approx. Weekly Meal Options
$9.99–$11.50 $5.95 per order 12 meals (classic and veggie plan)
More on this subscription: Read Our Full Review

 

#4. Plated
Plated
Highlights: Branded as a gourmet meal kit option, Plated recipes tend to be more labor-intensive than other companies, and you have opportunities to add dessert and sides to your order.

Level of Kitchen Effort Required: High (1 hr. or more of prep time, numerous pots and pans)

Add-On Options: Rotating dessert and side options

Vegetarian-Friendly: Yes
Est. Cost Per Serving Shipping Costs Approx. Weekly Meal Options
$9.95–$11.95 Free for orders over $60 20 (including dessert)
More on this subscription: Read Our Full Review

 

#5. Purple Carrot
Purple Carrot
Highlights: This plant based meal kit is more expensive and labor intensive than the competition, but it showcases the most extensive variety of fresh ingredients and offers options for lunch and breakfast as well.

Level of Kitchen Effort Required: Moderate to advanced

Add-On Options: Plant-based breakfasts and lunch options that take fewer than 5 minutes to prepare

Vegetarian-Friendly: Yes, all meals are plant-based
Est. Cost Per Serving Shipping Costs Approx. Weekly Meal Options
$12–$13 Free 6
More on this subscription: Read Our Full Review

 

#6. Dinnerly
Dinnerly
Highlights: This budget-friendly meal kit offers simple recipes that contain 6 or fewer ingredients, but you’ll sacrifice frills like included recipes cards.

Level of Kitchen Effort Required: Medium-low (meals contain few ingredients and require minimal prep)

Add-On Options: None

Vegetarian-Friendly: No
Est. Cost Per Serving Shipping Costs Approx. Weekly Meal Options
$5 $8.99 per order 6
More on this subscription: Read Our Full Review

 

Despite the conclusions of these rankings, Freshly isn’t the best subscription meal kit for every situation. In this next section, we’ll discuss the details of specific circumstances to help you decide which meal kit makes the most sense for your particular situation.

HighYa’s Picks of Best Subscription Meal Kits for Specific Situations

There’s a lot of variation between the kinds of meals and extra perks you get with each subscription meal kit company, so we decided on the following categories to help you determine the factors that are most important to you:

Best Budget-Friendly Meal Kit: Dinnerly

For those looking to save money on their meal kit, it’s hard to beat Dinnerly regarding price. At $4.99 per serving, you’ll often save money on this plan compared to buying the same ingredients from the grocery store – especially if you choose the plan’s protein-rich meals like hamburgers or chicken breasts.

However, you do sacrifice some service with a Dinnerly order, as the company doesn’t separate ingredients within each box by meal and the recipe cards must be downloaded separately. We also read more reviews about Dinnerly boxes arriving without crucial ingredients than any other meal kit we looked at.

If you’re looking for a compromise between cost and quality, we think Blue Apron, HelloFresh, and Freshly all fit the bill. Each plan costs approximately $10 per serving, and they all offer a good variety of unique but unfussy meals. 

Rank Meal Kit Average Cost/Meal (3 meals per week for 2 people, plus shipping)
1 Dinnerly $6.49
2 HelloFresh $9.99
2 Blue Apron $9.99
2 Freshly $9.99
5 Plated $11.95
6 Purple Carrot $12

Best Meal Kit for Gourmet Cooking: Plated

For those who are interested in meal kits for the chance to experiment with gourmet ingredients and cooking styles, our top recommendation is Plated.

This plan provides a more extensive variety of ingredients than the other programs, many of which aren’t mainstream options in grocery stores, such as cornichons, capers, baby arugula, and fresh dill. The reviews we looked at show that Plated provides quality cuts of meat, though the recipe information can be somewhat lacking and a little overwhelming for beginning cooks.

Purple Carrot is next on our list for its offering of gourmet, plant-based recipes. Plan to have plenty of cooking tools available for making each meal, as user reviews show that these recipes tend to involve lots of steps. 

If you’re looking for an easier entry into the world of home cooking, Blue Apron and HelloFresh offer innovative yet quick recipes that don’t require much technical skill, and the included recipe instructions offer detailed learning opportunities for the steps you might not be familiar with.

We think HelloFresh edges out Blue Apron because it provides the option to upgrade your subscription to gourmet meals each week.

Rank Meal Kit Additional Information
1 Plated These meals are typically involve prepping and cooking relatively rare ingredients and using multiple pans.
2 Purple Carrot These plant-based meals require lots of ingredient prep and tend to be very hands-on and showcase exotic vegetables and flavoring.
3 HelloFresh HelloFresh meals range from quick recipes to more involved gourmet meals, and time requirements are clearly specified, though the ingredients lean towards basic.
4 Blue Apron Most Blue Apron meals take half an hour to make, and the recipes range in ingredient quality and complexity.
5 Freshly All Freshly meals arrive premade, though they often showcase hard-to-find ingredients or international inspiration.
6 Dinnerly Dinnerly recipes tend to have six ingredients or fewer, and they come together quickly.

Best Meal Kit for Convenience: Freshly

For those whose goal is to get dinner on the table as quickly as possible, it’s hard to argue with the convenience of Freshly.

These meals come premade, and they require just a few minutes in the microwave before you can eat them. The plan offers approximately 30 meals at a time on a rotating basis, and there is a good mix of cultural cuisines, protein sources, and vegetarian options available.

If your goal is to cook each meal, Dinnerly offers the most convenient option of these subscription services. Each recipe relies on just a few ingredients, and they are designed to come together quickly. 

Rank Meal Kit Additional Information
1 Freshly Meals arrive pre-made and microwave ready.
2 Dinnerly Meals contain few ingredients and require minimal prep.
3 Blue Apron Most dishes require a half hour of prep time.
4 HelloFresh Recipes come together in about half an hour, though subscribers have the option to select gourmet meals that can be more labor intensive.
5 Purple Carrot Most meals require lots of chopping produce and prep time.
6 Plated Many dishes require prepping multiple ingredients and relying on different pots and pans.

Best Meal Kit for Customization: Plated

For those who crave variety in their meal plans, our top recommendation for a subscription meal service is Plated.

Members can pick from 20 different meals each week, and they are sorted by a variety of categories, including family-friendly, meat, seafood, vegetarian, popular, low-calorie, low-carb, no gluten ingredients, stovetop only, and spicy. The plan also provides options for adding extras to your menu selection, including dessert.

HelloFresh and Blue Apron also offer numerous options for creating your perfect meal plan, as both provide an ever-changing array of menu options as well as wine subscription programs designed to help you pair your dinner with a drink.

Rank Meal Kit Additional Information
1 Plated 20 rotating meals are available each week, including dessert options.
2 HelloFresh 12 rotating meals are available each week, including options for snacks, sides, and wine.
3 Blue Apron 18–20 meals available each week with a wine subscription option.
4 Freshly 30+ meals available each week, though most are available multiple weeks in a row.
5 Dinnerly 8 recipes per week, no option for extras.
6 Purple Carrot 3 pre-selected dinners per week with option for 2 breakfast add-ons and 2 lunch add-ons.

Most Vegetarian-Friendly Meal Kit: Purple Carrot

When it comes to selecting a meal kit for vegetarian-friendly food, you can’t do better than Purple Carrot. This plant-based meal plan focuses on offering a variety of vegetarian dishes that are high both in calories and protein content.

If you’re looking for a different option, HelloFresh and Blue Apron both offer veggie-only meal plans, though there’s less selection for the meals you receive and you might not be able to customize your menu.

Freshly also wins points for offering numerous vegetarian options, but the menu’s meals don’t rotate as much as the other plans, so sticking to just its meat-free options might get repetitive.

Rank Meal Kit Additional Information
1 Purple Carrot All meals are plant-based.
2 HelloFresh HelloFresh offers a Veggie Plan option, as well as vegetarian-friendly meals in its Classic Plan.
2 Blue Apron Blue Apron offers a Vegetarian Plan option and vegetarian-friendly meals in its Classic Plan.
4 Plated 4 of 20 meals were vegetarian at the time of writing.
5 Freshly 4 of 30 meals were vegetarian at the time of writing.
6 Dinnerly No vegetarian meals were available at the time of writing.

Meal Subscription Kit FAQ

Why Use a Meal Kit?

People sign up for meal subscription services for a variety of reasons. Some are striving to save money by transitioning away from eating out every meal, while others are looking to gain confidence in the kitchen by working with recipes with clear instructions and pre-measured ingredients.

Still, others want exposure to new and innovative cooking techniques and appreciate the gourmet-quality meals and hard to find ingredients provided in many meal kits. It’s also common for many people to sign up for meal kits for short amounts of time to make home life more convenient, like after a big move or while recovering from medical treatment.  

Your reasons might be different, but the primary goal for most people who sign up for a meal subscription service is convenience and the chance to build up their confidence in the kitchen.

How Do Meal Kit Subscriptions Work?

All meal kit services are slightly different, but the general idea is that you sign up for a weekly subscription that provides you with a set number of meal servings per week (the default tends to be three two-serving meals). These subscriptions will automatically renew each week unless you opt to cancel them, and if you do, it’s essential to do so before the next delivery’s cut-off date. There’s usually no penalty for canceling your subscription.

Each of the meal plans we looked at offered a variety of menu options to choose from each week, with the exception of HelloFresh and Blue Apron’s vegetarian subscriptions, which each offered just three meat-free meals each week. 

While most meal kits provide the majority of ingredients required, there’s a good chance you’ll need some pantry staples like salt and pepper, butter, oil, and even eggs. This information is usually listed on the company website when you make your meal selection so you can plan for your recipes in advance.

Will a Meal Kit Save You Money on Groceries?

Some people sign up for meal kits to save money on groceries, but it’s debatable whether these services are a smart way to cut shopping costs.

You’ll often pay more per ingredient for a subscription than at the store when you look at the price per serving, but only committing to the pre-portioned servings that come in a meal kit is an advantage for people who wouldn’t use the full amount if they bought it. This makes meal kits cost-effective for those who might otherwise waste ingredients by allowing them to go bad before they use them. 

Some meal kits, such as Plated, offer high-quality cuts of meat that are certified organic or grass-fed. Buying equivalent quality cuts in the grocery store can be more expensive than the proportionate cost for a subscription box.

In short, there’s a good chance you will save money with a subscription meal kit if the ingredients you buy often go bad before you get to them, if you frequently go out to eat, or if you tend to buy higher quality cuts of meat. If this doesn’t describe you, you might save money by sticking to the grocery store instead.

» For Further Reading: Popular Meal Kit Delivery Services vs. Groceries

Six Tips for Maximizing Your Meal Kit Subscription Experience

With these facts in mind, how can you ensure that you’re committing to the right meal kit service for your needs? Following these suggestions will help you make the right decision.

1. Determine What You’re Looking For

The first step towards choosing the right meal subscription service is determining what your priorities are. If you want to get dinner on the table with as little thought as possible, consider Freshly or Dinnerly.

If home cooking intrigues you, but you don’t want to overcommit to elaborate recipes, HelloFresh and Blue Apron are smart choices. Vegetarians will most enjoy the plant-based menu of Purple Carrot, while those who value a more gourmet culinary experience should consider Plated.

2. Look for Promotional Offers

Meal kit companies are eager to get people to try out their services, so many brands continuously run deals for first-time subscribers. Look for referral codes from friends, or scour social media platforms for advertised deals, and you might get 50 percent or more off your first box.

3. Ship to a Place You Can Pick It Up Quickly

While most meal kit orders arrive packed in ice, the boxes contain perishable food that you’ll want to put into the refrigerator quickly. For this reason, it’s best to have your meal kit delivered to your home on a day that you can get to it within a few hours of arrival.

4. Keep Staples on Hand

Most meal kits contain the majority of the ingredients that you’ll need, but it’s often expected you’ll have a few staples on hand. Look through the recipes ahead of time so that you’re not caught in a tricky situation when you’re trying to cook.

5. Make Meals within a Week of Delivery

Meal kit ingredients typically arrive fresh and unprocessed, which is excellent for your health but means that they have a lifespan of just a few days.

Likewise, the transit time to land on your doorstep might mean each ingredient is older than what you’d buy in the store. For these reasons, it’s smart to cook each recipe within a week of delivery so you can ensure you maximize taste and nutrient quality.

6. Cancel Your Service a Full Week Before You Want Your Last Box

If you know in advance you don’t want to continue with your meal kit service, make it a priority to cancel your account a week before your last delivery.

While the companies we looked at have flexible cancelation policies, they won’t refund you the cost of a box if you cancel after it’s been processed. You can avoid this problem by paying attention to the terms of service for your brand.

Methodology and Data Used

To determine which subscription meal service was our top choice, we compared six companies based on their cost per serving, shipping costs, approximate number of weekly meal options, level of kitchen effort required, the presence of add-on options, and whether the plan is vegetarian-friendly.

From there, we ranked the subscriptions in each category from best to worst, and assigned them a letter grade from a scale that went from A+ to C.

When we averaged out these rankings, Freshly came out ahead as our top meal subscription service, and Blue Apron earned the position as the best traditional subscription meal kit.


Lydia Noyes

Lydia Noyes is a health, wellness, and lifestyle reporter who focuses on ways to live a healthier, more sustainable life. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists. She received a bachelor’s in Environmental Studies from Calvin College and her writing work has been featured in Mother Earth News Magazine, Natural Living Ideas, and dozens of other websites, including her personal site FirstRootsFarm.

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