The Best Meal Kit Delivery Services of 2018By Cassidy Olsen
Unlike a lot of products we test at Reviewed, a meal kit delivery service isn’t something you buy once and use for years to come—it’s a subscription that gets factored into your monthly budget, asks you to make choices each week, and changes how you cook, eat, and spend time with your friends and family. As a result, choosing which service is right for you is a major decision—and a personal one.
Since the launch of model meal kit company Blue Apron in 2012, a seemingly endless number of competitors have emerged, each with unique gimmicks and recipes—from vegan to pre-prepped, Southern barbecue to Martha Stewart-approved. We found that our favorite service, Home Chef, forgoes gimmick in favor of providing consistently excellent recipes, quality ingredients, and enough variety to satisfy most diets.
To come to this conclusion—and to help you decide which services are worth your time and money—I spent three months testing and retesting 11 meal kits, cooking more than 40 different dinners across three different kitchens on my own busy weeknights. I evaluated for quality of ingredients, recipe accuracy and variety, difficulty, speed, packaging, cleanup, taste, and more—everything the average busy person (like me) considers when it comes time to make dinner.
Whether you’re an experienced home chef or you don’t know your way around a kitchen, cooking for yourself or trying to feed a family, a good meal kit can make dinner as convenient as it is delicious. These are the best meal kit delivery services we tested, ranked in order:
Updated October 12, 2018
Top 5 Meal Kit Delivery Services—The Short Version
Just want to know which service you should order based on our testing? These are our top picks and why we chose them, abridged for easy reading. Or feel free to scroll down for full review of all 10 services that we tested.
The best meal kit subscription delivery service for you is probably Home Chef.
High-quality ingredients, well-written recipes, and fantastic flavors make the Home Chef experience one you’ll want to integrate into your weeknights—and the service’s organization makes it incredibly easy to do so. You may just impress yourself with how good your Home Chef meals turn out.
Best for Families
Whether you’re cooking for picky eaters or need a plan that fits into your busy schedule, Plated can probably help you. The service’s large portions, huge recipe variety, and cook time accuracy make it our top choice for families—or those of us who love to have leftovers.
Best for Vegetarians
While not an entirely vegetarian service, Sun Basket offers a huge variety of quick, flavorful plant-based meals that will satisfy vegetarians and omnivores alike. Their ingredients are largely organic, and their recipes are some of the fastest we tested.
Meal kit giant HelloFresh featured our very favorite recipe of the entire experience and earned high marks for flavor overall. While their recipes weren’t always quick to make, I always had fun in the process.
Co-led by lifestyle and cooking icon Martha Stewart, Martha and Marley Spoon offers meals as sophisticated, simple, and American as its namesake. However, we did note smaller-than-average portions and little variety across each weekly menu.
|Price / serving (2 people)||$9.95||$11.95||$11.99||$8.99||$10.25|
|Price / serving (4 people)||$9.95||$9.95||$10.99||$7.49||$8.90|
|Meals offered / week||16||20||18||12||10|
|Time to table||45||44||40||46||50|
* NOTE: The service offers at least two options of this dietary preference each week.
Best Overall—Home Chef
Cost: Visit HomeChef.com for updated pricing. When tested, meals were $9.95 per serving, regardless of frequency or quantity. Meals can serve 2, 4, or 6 people.
Like its name suggests, Home Chef provides customers with the tools necessary to become true masters of the kitchen. From Home Chef’s fresh, high-quality ingredients to well-written recipes that break down intimidating cooking methods into digestible steps, everything about this service made me feel like I was preparing restaurant-worthy (or at least guest-worthy) meals without running around like a maniac.
Take Home Chef’s Farmhouse Fried Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, Green Onion Gravy, and Corn. While browsing for meals on the company’s website, I initially saw fried chicken and laughed. How could a food so many people find impossible to cook at home be executed well in the context of a meal kit? I was shocked—and thrilled!—to find that Home Chef’s recipe yielded wonderfully even, juicy chicken with nary an oil burn in sight. I could hardly believe I did it myself.
If the words “fried chicken” make you clutch your heart in health-related fear, don’t worry—Home Chef’s offerings are diverse enough to accommodate almost any diet, including vegetarians and vegans. It offers 16 dinner options per week, as well as a handful of lunch and snack choices as add-ons to its main menu. I was impressed by the depth of flavor in the Yang-Yang Beef with Shishito Peppers, a lighter alternative to traditional Chinese food, and loved the Hot Honey Salmon with Zucchini and Tomatoes for its summer simplicity. Vegetarian meals, like the Wild Rice and Brussels Sprouts Harvest Bowl, were on the table in less than 30 minutes.
At the heart of Home Chef’s success is its organization. Any experienced cook knows that preparation is half the battle, and this company knows it, too. Ingredients are divided per meal into labeled bags that easily slide into the fridge, recipe instructions are consistently clear, time estimates are largely accurate, and the website is easy to navigate, allowing you the freedom to choose meals and skip delivery weeks at will. This clarity and organization made for faster fridge-to-table times than a lot of the competition and saved me the stress of forgetting ingredients and re-reading recipes four times over.
Home Chef would be wise to incorporate more biodegradable packaging into their existing model, but I struggle to find any other criticism of this excellent service.
Best for Families—Plated
Cost: Visit Plated.com for updated pricing. When tested, meals were $11.95 per serving for 2 people, $9.95 per serving for 3 to 4 people, regardless of frequency. Different plans are available.
Favorite meal: Beef and Grape Tomato Ragù Over Summer Squash Noodles
If you’ve got four or more people to feed, including picky eaters and those who always go back for seconds, Plated is our choice for you. With 20 different meals to choose from each week, this service has both the largest menu and some of the largest portions I saw among all the meal kits I tested, making it great for families.
Plated meals are filling without being heavy, and while many rely on a traditional meat, grain, and veggie combination, at least three meals a week are entirely vegetarian. In my testing, I was impressed by how quickly dinners like Crunchy Pork Milanese with Honey Mustard and Arugula came together—and while the flavors were often not as complex as those of the competition, they were always strong, and never bland. This is great news for parents who want to eat well, but don’t want to bother preparing meals their kids won’t enjoy, too.
Another reason Plated is great for families? It has extremely flexible policies when skipping a delivery, changing delivery days, and altering meal boxes, making it easier for you to fit them into your family’s hectic schedule. Unfortunately, their packaging is plastic-heavy—so extremely eco-friendly customers may want to look elsewhere—but packaging is a consistent issue with most meal kit services that has yet be solved entirely.
Best for Vegetarians—Sun Basket
Cost: Visit SunBasket.com for updated pricing. When tested, meals were $11.99 per serving for 2 people, $10.99 per serving for 4 people, regardless of frequency. Different plans are available.
Favorite meal: Chicken Yakitori with Broccoli and Rice
Although Sun Basket isn’t only for vegetarians, the organic service offers a wide variety of unique, meat-free meals that will satisfy vegetarian and vegan customers alike. Fast Mediterranean Flatbreads with Beet Salad and Skordalia and Simple Tempeh Curry Stir-Fry with Black Rice were among its current vegan offerings when we put this story together. And Sun Basket makes a great alternative to Purple Carrot, the vegan meal kit service that I had a number of issues with during testing.
I was impressed by how easily my Sun Basket meals came together, relying on just a few key ingredients and spice blends to do most of the heavy lifting, which meant spending less time cooking and more time enjoying my food with my boyfriend. Sun Basket’s meals also lean heavily into South and East Asian flavors, but this is partly why it’s such a strong service for vegetarians—it tends to avoid the carb-centric dinners that are so often the only options for people who avoid meat.
Because I’m a reformed vegetarian, Sun Basket’s omnivore meals were still my favorite—Chicken Yakitori with Broccoli and Rice and Quick Curried Beef Khow Suey with Ramen Noodles were simple, filling meals that took about 30 minutes to prepare. Some flavors, such as the khow suey or salam spice, could have been stronger to distinguish dishes from one another.
My one issue with Sun Basket? Their cancellation policy is the worst I’ve seen, requiring you to call an impossible-to-find number and speak to a customer service representative rather than emailing or clicking a button on your account. It’s a dishonest, unhelpful way to retain customers and I hope they do away with it soon.
It’s also important to note that while Sun Basket’s ingredients are largely organic, the company is not certified organic like Green Chef, meaning it can swap in non-organic ingredients when necessary and offer a consistently large menu. In high school and early college, I worked at an organic juice bar and cafe that similarly forwent organic certification for a larger menu. It’s a trade-off that I was (and am) willing to make for variety and high-quality food year-round, but devout organic eaters may not be interested in a service that lacks certification.
How We Tested
I’m Cassidy Olsen, and I love to cook—so much so that I write about it for a living! But because I’m young, busy, and new to the nine-to-five life, making a proper dinner for myself each night can still be daunting. Sometimes I’ll have bursts of motivation and and bookmark 10 different New York Times Cooking recipes for myself, but most of the time I don’t have the creative energy (or regular energy) to go shopping for new meals and actually make them. Also, trying new recipes can be flat-out hard! As much as I love cooking, I’m no expert, and I don’t want a bunch of expensive ingredients to go to waste because I wasn’t sure what I was doing.
Basically, I’m the perfect candidate for testing meal kit delivery services. I have the cooking and food knowledge to know what works, but the attitude of a very tired person who craves convenience and simplicity. My boyfriend also conveniently loves to eat and not go grocery shopping, so he acted as a second tester when it came to reviewing the meals themselves.
After testing the most popular meal kit delivery services on the market back in 2016, we recently decided our rankings might need an overhaul—in two years, many services have grown to cater to more diets, prices have largely fallen, and new competition has emerged. So, I re-tested all the existing contenders along with some new entries that were growing in popularity, including celebrity chef-approved services Martha and Marley Spoon and Chef’d.
During our testing, Chef’d was acquired by True Food Innovation and rolled into their True Chef meal kit service—and since True Chef doesn’t deliver nationally, I left it out of our final ranking. That same reason is why we omitted new services like AmazonFresh that are still in beta or only deliver to certain markets. We also didn’t test services like Veestro that deliver pre-prepared meals instead of true meal kits.
For each service, I ordered one box of three, two-serving meals through their website just like a regular customer, choosing a diverse variety of meals when available. I prepared each meal on a weeknight for myself and my boyfriend and evaluated for quality of ingredients, recipe accuracy and variety, difficulty, speed, cleanup, taste, and more.
I also considered cost, how eco-friendly and user-friendly the kit’s packaging was, and how easy (or difficult) it was to cancel the service after we were done testing. I scored and compared each meal in a large spreadsheet and kept detailed notes in an accompanying document like a true food nerd. I also re-tested our winner, Home Chef, to make sure they were deserving of the title.
Things to Know About Meal Kits
Even if you’ve already decided which meal kit delivery service is right for you, chances are you’re still confused about what your first box actually entails. While each service has different approaches to ordering, packaging, and delivery, I’ve found that most services have some baseline similarities.
You’ll get a discount on your first box. Almost every service we tried offers a large discount on the first box. While this is an awesome benefit for new customers, don’t let it fool you into thinking one service is much cheaper than the others. Our price breakdown for each service reflects the price you’ll be regularly paying per meal, disregarding initial discounts.
Your box is good to sit on your doorstep until the end of the day. Because delivery windows for these services are as broad as a full day, they package ingredients to last outside your actual refrigerator until the end of the day (i.e. when you get home from work and errands). Most often, produce and dry ingredients will be grouped in bags above ice packs, and any meat will be fully insulated below ice packs.
The packaging is going to be bulky and cumbersome. As much as certain services pride themselves on eco-friendly boxes, there’s no way around the massive amounts of packaging that go into meal kit delivery. Disposing of the large, insulated cardboard boxes and ice packs can be a hassle, and you need to stay on top of them lest you develop a small mountain in some corner of your home. Because I moved apartments mid-testing, I was already surrounded by cardboard and trash from new furniture, so I incorporated the boxes into my regular dumpster and recycling runs.
Recipes are usually seasonal, but favorites are often repeated. Every meal kit service has a different approach to repeating meals, but most try to make recipes as seasonal as possible to keep you from getting bored and to guarantee fresh, sustainable produce. That being said, most companies make note of their most popular meals and offer them many weeks a year, regardless of season. If you really love one of your meals, hold onto the recipe card for future reference so you can request it again—or make it yourself using store-bought ingredients.
Cook your meals soon after receiving them. Meal kit ingredients are typically fresh and high-quality, but there’s nothing special preserving them—they’re just like what you buy from the grocery store. Because of transit times, they might actually be older than what you buy from the store! That’s why it’s important to give them priority in your fridge and cook them as soon as possible. Use common sense when approaching certain dishes—seafood, fresh greens, and chicken should be prepared first, while red meat, pork, and harder produce can last a few more days. Freeze any meat you won’t be eating in the first few days after receiving your box.
Cancel at least one full week before you want your last box. Most meal kit companies have solid customer service and flexible cancellation policies, but it’s important to consider the long-term logistics that go into assembling your box. If you’re interested in canceling your subscription, make sure to do it at least one full week before you want your last box. If you want to skip a week or take a break from deliveries, most services allow you to make those selections, too.
Many meal kits are now offered in grocery stores, too. To combat the high operational costs of delivery-only services, many meal kit companies have partnered with (or been acquired by) major food stores and are now offering their kits in the grocery aisles. While we only tested delivery services, many of the recipes we tried are also available in stores for equal or lower prices. If you’re curious to try a meal before you subscribe to a service, or you’re willing to regularly visit the grocery store for your meal kits, these are good options to investigate at your local chains like Stop & Shop, Safeway, and Kroger.
Before you order, you’ll also want to make sure you have some essential cooking tools at the ready. Here are our recommendations:
- The Best Cutting Boards
- The Best Kitchen Knives
- The Best Measuring Cups and Spoons
- The Best Mixing Bowls
- The Best Cookware Sets
I would also recommend having a good cast iron pan or a Dutch oven handy, although I never needed to use both together for any meal kit dinner. If you’re entirely new to cooking and meal kits are just your gateway into the kitchen, these tools will be all you need to prepare amazing meals for many years to come.
Other Meal Kit Services We Tested
Though we feel that our top picks should satisfy most people, the competition has some benefits, too. Here are our reviews of the other meal kit delivery services that we tested.
Cost: Visit HelloFresh.com for updated pricing. When tested, meals were $8.99 per serving for 2 people ordering at least 3 meals a week, $7.49 per serving for 3+ people ordering at least 3 meals a week. Different plans are available.
The wallet-friendly HelloFresh is the market’s biggest name after Blue Apron, and it’s easy to see why—big portions, affordable prices, and straightforward recipes make the service incredibly approachable. Although I found that HelloFresh meals were rarely on the table in the 30 or so minutes the recipe cards promised, I was consistently impressed by the flavor. Its Bánh Mi Burger, which puts an American twist on the classic Vietnamese sandwich with lightly pickled veggies and sriracha mayo, is absolutely out of this world—it’s by far my favorite meal of testing, and it’s the only meal kit recipe I’ve made again for myself.
While HelloFresh offers more variety in their meals than it was two years ago, it still doesn’t have consistent vegan offerings, and it struggles with clarity and ease-of-use on their website—I accidentally selected a “premium meal” of Balsamic Nectarine Duck Breasts and was surprised to find a second invoice for the price difference in my inbox.
However, changes in these areas might be coming in the future—HelloFresh acquired certified organic and gluten-free service Green Chef in March, which could help them provide more reasonably-priced options for those following organic, vegan, gluten-free, paleo, and keto diets. A spokesperson for the company said that there are "no expected changes to HelloFresh or Green Chef anywhere in the near future."
Martha and Marley Spoon
Cost: Visit MarleySpoon.com for updated pricing. When tested, meals were $10.25 per serving for 2 people ordering 3 meals a week, $8.89 per serving for 4 people ordering at least 3 meals a week. Different plans are available.
Favorite meal: Chipotle-Spiced Steak with Potato Salad and Charred Snap Peas
The oddly-named Martha and Marley Spoon is actually a partnership between German meal kit company Marley Spoon and lifestyle mogul Martha Stewart—and her influence over the brand is evident. Meals like Chipotle-Spiced Steak with Potato Salad and Charred Snap Peas and Garlicky Chicken with Dilly Beans and Corn on the Cob are simple, sophisticated, and downright American, just like the homemaking queen.
While I was consistently impressed by the flavor and inventiveness of Martha and Marley Spoon’s side dishes, I found less to celebrate in the mains, which were typically plain animal proteins. The service is also far from ideal for those with dietary restrictions—in typical American fashion, every recipe revolves around an animal protein or heavy carbs. To keep calories from spinning out of control, most Martha and Marley Spoon meals have smaller portions than those from other services. Oddly, this service is one of the only ones we tested that doesn’t publically archive their recipes online to access at any time.
The service did score points with me for its eco-friendly packaging, made almost entirely from biodegradable materials. Most of its recipes were also easy to follow for new cooks. If you’re looking for meals with classic American flavors and high-quality ingredients, Martha and Marley Spoon might be a good option for you. Want to learn more? Read my full review of Martha and Marley Spoon.
Cost: Visit BlueApron.com for updated pricing. When tested, meals were $9.99 per serving for 2 people, $7.99 per serving for 4 people ordering 3 meals a week. Different plans are available.
Despite the success of its competition, the original meal kit service Blue Apron still has some fight left in them. Time and experience has allowed Blue Apron to keep prices low, perfect time estimates on recipes, and offer fun wine-pairing and gift options.
Unfortunately, it seems like some of that time would be better spent on diversifying its menu and making recipes taste better. In my testing, I had consistent problems with flavors and ratios being off—oregano overpowered orecchiette, jalapeno overwhelmed peach salsa, and my polenta was in desperate need of salt, spice, or anything to make it more than a bland mush. My favorite meal of the bunch was a simple quesadilla that really didn’t require a recipe. With only eight meal options per week, Blue Apron also offers one of the smallest menus of any service.
I appreciate how easy and quick my Blue Apron meals were to make, but disorganized packaging, limited menus, and recipes riddled with problems are preventing me from awarding the classic service a higher ranking.
Cost: Visit TerrasKitchen.com for updated pricing. When tested, meals were $9.99 to $17.99 per serving, depending on the meal. Minimum order is $63.49 per vessel.
Favorite meal: Bacon, Kale and Caramelized Onion Pasta Bowl
With an eye toward sustainability, Terra’s Kitchen ships customers their meal kits in a large, reusable vessel that’s designed to be picked up and returned the next business day following delivery. While this practice is eco-friendly in theory, I found every other aspect of the company’s packaging to be disorganized and plastic-heavy, which outweighs any good that comes from the reusable nature of the vessel.
First, there are no clear directions about how to return the vessel evident on the package itself, which led me to miss my first pick-up attempts—that’s a lot of wasted fossil fuel. Second, all the smaller containers within the vessel are made of single-use plastic and aren’t organized by meal, which led to a lot scrambling around in the fridge trying to find the right ingredients for each meal.
Another point of pride for Terra’s Kitchen is its pre-chopped ingredients, which are designed to save customers a lot of time and hassle when cooking. While this certainly helped me get meals on the table faster, I’m skeptical of pre-chopped vegetables for a lot of reasons, including shorter shelf life, loss of nutrients, and potential for contamination. I don’t mind taking the time to chop a carrot—I would prefer to save time with more organized meal bags.
The meals themselves were very easy and fairly tasty, but wholly unremarkable. Terra’s Kitchen’s packaging problems, compounded by a cluttered website full of meals that vary wildly in price, far outweigh the service’s convenience in my book. However, those with limited mobility or difficulty using their hands may find their pre-chopped ingredients to be a lifesaver.
Cost: Visit GreenChef.com for updated pricing. When tested, meals were $10.49 to $14.99 per serving, depending on your plan.
Our former top pick for meal kits, Green Chef, didn’t impress me the way it did our previous reviewer. Like Sun Basket, Green Chef promises organic ingredients, certified gluten-free meals, and health-minded recipes for all types of diets—however, this service’s plans are much more restrictive, only allowing you to choose from a handful of meals per week.
This is likely due in part to Green Chef’s status as certified organic, meaning that every single ingredient they include in their meal kits is organic, no exceptions. While this is great news for people who abide by strict organic diets, it’s rather limiting in the scope of food that Green Chef can consistently provide to its customers for a reasonable price—it can be hard to source many organic ingredients year-round. Sun Basket, on the other hand, is not certified organic, meaning they can offer a larger menu and swap in non-organic ingredients when organic simply isn’t available. As I wrote before, it’s a trade-off that I’m willing to make for variety, but devout organic eaters may prefer the limited menu if it means certified organic ingredients.
As someone who will eat anything and everything, I originally chose Green Chef’s “omnivore” plan but noticed that the gluten-free meals that week were more appealing and opted into that plan instead. While I received an email about a “one-time change to my plan” in my inbox that afternoon, I had to go hunting for a receipt to find that there was an extra charge of $7 for going gluten-free. These sneaky price differences can be confusing for users who just want the meals that sound the best to them, not the ones Green Chef decides they should be eating.
The flavor profiles of most meals were all over the place—mixing Thai with Southwestern and so on—and some directions were clearly incorrect on one of the recipe cards. However, all of the meals tasted just fine in the end.
As Green Chef was acquired by HelloFresh in March, it’s a possibility that they may soon have the resources to broaden their menu and offer better, more consistent recipes, but these changes are necessary before I would recommend them to a friend.
Cost: Visit PurpleCarrot.com for updated pricing. When tested, meals were $12.00 per serving, fixed. Different plans are available.
Favorite meal: Japanese Bento Box with Miso-Glazed Tofu and Yu Choy
I wanted to love Purple Carrot, I really did. Sadly, my experience with this vegan service was riddled with confusing recipes, bland flavors, missing ingredients, and altogether bad meals.
Although I typically eat meat, I was a vegetarian for a period of my life and regularly enjoy vegan meals with my friends, so this isn’t coming from someone who needs to always eat animal products. I truly hated two out of the three meals I received from Purple Carrot—specifically, the Buffalo Cauliflower Salad with Farro and Ranch Dressing, and the Chilaquiles Salsa Verde with Tomatillos and Black Beans. The salad involved an entire head of lettuce and only a handful of spicy cauliflower pieces tossed together with a bit of ranch, an overwhelmingly bland, damp meal that left me hungry.
The chilaquiles—the recipe for which instructed me to blend hot, raw onion and tomato puree in a hand blender—was difficult to make and nearly-inedible in the end thanks to its overpowering onion flavor and soggy tortillas. The redeeming meal of the bunch, a Japanese Bento Box with Miso-Glazed Tofu and Yu Choy, severely lacked texture, as well as one of its central ingredients, yu choy, which was unceremoniously replaced with broccoli in my box.
These meals actually felt like what a huge carnivore imagines vegan eating to be like—mushy, bland, and calorie-deficient. I know for a fact that vegan meals can (and should!) have more flavor and texture than any of these dishes did.
Cost: Visit PeachDish.com for updated pricing. When tested, meals were around $12.50 per serving, although prices vary per meal
Favorite meal: Kevin Clark’s Comfy Chicken
If it isn’t evident by its name, Peach Dish is the Southern comfort food-themed meal kit that claims to bring authentic Southern recipes to your doorstep each week. While I’m no expert when it comes to food from the American South, it’s hard to tell who exactly this meal kit is for. Even non-Southerners can tell that most of the service’s recipes—like Turkey Mushroom Burgers and Italian Wedding Soup—aren’t very Southern, and out-of-towners like me aren’t likely to find the richness of the actual Southern recipes like Chicken and Dumplings to be appealing on a weekly basis.
Ultimately, it’s a confusing meal kit with time-consuming recipes that are simply too much for regular cooking. Too much butter, too much milk, and too much flour in most recipes for health-minded people to enjoy, yet not enough flavor to make the indulgence worth it. With only eight meals offered per week, variety is also hard to come by, so I ended up with two creamy chicken dishes and a shrimp pasta bowl in my box.
While none of my meals were inedible, I felt crampy after eating the leftovers from the shrimp dish and noticed that some of the milk provided had spoiled within four days of delivery. Peach Dish was very responsive to my concerns and assured me that their food is always held to high standards and packaged to survive transportation, so it’s likely my illness was just due to the richness of the food not agreeing with me—but it was an unfortunate end to my testing.
If you're shopping for the best ways to make dinner, check out our guide, The Best Cookware Sets.