Packaged Dinner Kit Services – Are They Worth It?

Packaged Dinner Kit Services – Are They Worth It?
I have several friends who subscribe to dinner kit delivery services that offer pre-measured ingredients with recipe instruction. The meals are relatively easy to prepare. Often some of the time consuming items are already premade, such as dough and ramen noodles. However, chefs-to-be still need to prep vegetables. This means peeling, slicing and dicing.  Everything is essentially pan saute’ or assemble and pop into an oven and bake. It’s easy enough to put these premeasured dinners together, but the burning question of course – is it worth it? 

A common complaint from my friends is the packaging. Every little ingredient comes in it’s own container or bag. Mini oils in plastic bottles. Tiny plastic boxes for herbs. Plastic bags for each and every vegetable, meat, grain, etc. Not to mention the food is shipped in thick insulated styrofoam containers. It’s a lot of debris for one meal.

However, the overall feedback is that the products and ingredients are usually fresh and tasty, with rarely any misses. The instructions, printed and online, are easy to follow and the stress factor into dinner prep decreases because this is a ‘tested recipe’. Should there be something wrong or missing from the dinner pack, these kit companies are known for having excellent customer service. Mishaps are often taken care of by offering credits, or additional free boxes. One friend received THREE extra dinner boxes to make up for one box with the incorrect order.

Cost of a pre-prepped dinner:

If ordering for a family of four, the average cost for two meals a week is is about $70, or $35 per meal.

To really judge the effectiveness of these meal services, I decided to do a comparison with price, time savings and food quality.

To level the playing field, I’m going to compare a to-my-door dinner-to-prep service such as ‘Blue Apron’ and to-my-door groceries via Amazon Prime. Amazon Prime is a grocery delivery service that allows me to order food via their app and pick a 2 hour windows for delivery to my door. It is not available everywhere – mostly larger cities for now. Amazon’s Prime Now service takes ‘grocery shopping’ in the traditional sense out of the picture completely. All food is coming to my door, just like a dinner kit service. The difference being, I have to make a list and order everything and then measure out my ingredients for my dinner. Prime Now is also great with handling any delivery mishaps by offering a credit, or removing errant products from your bill.

Sample Meal Ingredients from Blue Apron – Butternut Squash Pasta with Romaine & Apple Salad

  • ¾ Pound Elicoidali Pasta
  • 3 Cloves Garlic
  • 2 Romaine Hearts
  • 1 Apple
  • 1 Butternut Squash
  • 1 Bunch Kale
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1 Bunch Rosemary
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • 2 Ounces Ricotta Salata Cheese
  • 1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Whole Grain Dijon Mustard

Cost – $35

I usually have items like butter, garlic, red wine vinegar and mustard on hand, but for a complete fairness evaluation, I’m going to order full bottles/quantities of everything to pretend like I’m starting from scratch. I will also order the smallest quantity possible to match up to that of Blue Apron, but in some cases will have more than is required for the recipe.

Sample Meal Ingredients as Ordered per Amazon Prime at Sprouts Grocery Store

  • Rigatoni Pasta – 1 pound – $2.29
  • Garlic – .33
  • 2 Romaine Hearts – 1.99
  • 1 apple .49
  • Butternut squash $2.48
  • 1 Bunch Kale .99
  • 1 Lemon .50
  • 1 Bunch Rosemary $2.99 (14 oz)
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter $3.69 (16 oz)
  • 2 Ounces Ricotta Salata Cheese $4.29 (15 oz)
  • 1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar  $2.49 (16.9 fl oz)
  • 1 Tablespoon Whole Grain Dijon Mustard $1.99  (12 oz)

Total Cost for Amazon Prime Ingredients – $24.52 + $5 Tip Mandatory Tip = $29.52

Cost Comparison – Amazon Prime Delivery wins on cost savings. Not only is it less expensive, but I am also getting full size items like butter, cheese, vinegar, mustard, etc. Blue Apron counter argues needed full-sizes of anything with ‘ We then send our home chefs pre-portioned ingredients to cook our recipes, so they’re not left with extra food at the end of the week.”

Instructions provided by Amazon Prime Delivery on how to assemble my dinner – none. However, there’s always the internet with unlimited recipe websites and hey, Blue Apron’s website that I can refer to.

Instructions provided by Blue Apron – nice printed sheet with photos and step-by-step instructions. This is great for a family who is learning how to cook, or wants to get the kids involved in the dinner process.

Ingredients  Blue Apron touts non-GMO ingredients, sustainable seafood & non-hormone meats. That’s a win for most consumers.

Ingredients Amazon Prime – If I order from Sprouts, I am able to choose organic products. I have a bit more control over the precise item and brand I want, however there have been times where my ‘Amazon shopper’ can’t find the exact item I wanted and will either sub out for another item, or just skip it. This could be catestrophic for a dinner recipe if you needed rigatoni and they were OUT of rigatoni!

Final Verdict

As someone who enjoys cooking and even coming up with my own recipes, this service is not a good fit for me. Also, as a resident of Southern California, I am lucky to live near locally sourced produce and sustainable fresh seafood.

However, for a busy family looking to eat healthy, this may be a great solution. It’s also a fun way those who want to learn how to cook to get their feet wet. The bonus is that if you have kids to help you prepare dinner (by following the easy directions), you just may have hit the jackpot! Kids…following directions…and the result is dinner? That’s actually pretty amazing.

Perhaps these dinner delivery services ( Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Plated, Sun Basket, Chef’d, Purple Carrot & more seem to be popping up every week) can continue to work on packaging and waste reduction.

And, as much as I like Amazon Prime, I’ll often receive one tiny frozen item in a whole paper bag. Ack!

Suggestion – should any large corporation out there be reading  –  I wash my veggies regardless of where they came from, or how they were packaged. Everyone should wash their veggies. Why not package some veggies together (potatoes, carrots, zucchini, etc) and let chefs-to-be sort and wash later? One bag versus ten.

Recipe for comparison and ingredients photos from Blue Apron –

Pricing for Amazon Prime Now provided by Prime Now app for Sprouts San Diego as of 2/7/16

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