6 tasty pre-made meal kits to try if you're tired of cooking
You'd never guess they came out of a microwave.
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We’ve updated this article to include new testing from Sun Basket. Meal costs may have changed since our initial publication; check individual sites for up-to-date information.
Meal kit subscription services are popular for a reason—pre-portioned ingredients delivered to your door so you can play chef and avoid another week of, “Look how many ways I can make chicken breasts—again.”
And we’ve covered a number of popular options, from the best meal kits on the market and how they’re responding to demand during the coronavirus pandemic, to great options for vegetarians, to some of the biggest names in the game and how they stack up when put head-to-head.
But while I typically enjoy cooking a meal from scratch, there are days when I just don’t feel like it. Or days when I’m too busy to do anything other than leftovers or boxed pasta. And then there are people who just plain don’t enjoy the cooking process in general, but who still want to have fresh, tasty meals.
Pre-made meal kits—like Freshly, Daily Harvest, Sakara, Snap Kitchen, and Splendid Spoon—are an answer to those problems, providing a fresh, healthy lunch or dinner right from the fridge, or after only minutes in the microwave or blender.
I tested all five over the course of a month. On the whole, they were so convenient that I found myself having more time in my day (gym visits increased), actually eating lunch every afternoon, and spending less on take-out.
And while I personally don’t think I could give up cooking from scratch in any long-term capacity, I would highly recommend them for those who find themselves relying on takeout or frozen dinners. The only work is picking a plan that suits you—they’re not one-size-fits-all so it’s important to know what you’re getting.
How we tested pre-made meal kits
I went into pre-made meal kit testing with an open mind. Before I honed basic cooking skills, I was known to shop the frozen dinner section of the supermarket for sodium-packed meals that both looked sad and left me feeling less than satiated.
Pre-made frozen or refrigerated meals sent directly to my house? Sure, why not. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of taste, but I was curious if these could be “good enough” for the person who leans on takeout more than groceries.
I decided to try five popular options that required no cooking whatsoever, save for some personal blender action and heating a few dishes on the stovetop. I ordered primarily lunch and/or dinner options (as well as some breakfast dishes when applicable), and took notes on quality, taste, and ease of dealing with ordering and cancelations. Costs all account for shipping, which was included in many cases, and may vary based on your order and current promotions.
Best Overall: Freshly
What I tried: Sicilian-Style Chicken Parm, Steak Peppercorn, Pork Carnitas, Cauliflower-Shell Bolognese
Cost: $49.99 ($12.50 per meal)
Freshly was the closest to a home-cooked meal that I came during this testing process. Once they were plated on my dishware, I wouldn’t have believed they were microwaved if I hadn’t done it myself. Other than some slightly bland broccoli that came with the chicken parm dish, I enjoyed every bite.
Most of the ingredients tasted fresh and high-quality. There’s no getting around a sub-par steak. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Freshly’s Steak Peppercorn. Having never cooked steak on my own, I would’ve been proud if I had whipped that up.
And while the pork carnitas dish wasn’t the most appetizing to look at in the microwave, it was packed with flavor and so good I would jump at the chance to order it again. The same goes for the bolognese—I loved the fact that the cauliflower offered a low-carb alternative to the classic.
I most appreciated the portion sizes. With pre-made dinners, if you’re left hungry enough to need more food, it almost defeats the point. Freshly offered plenty of food to leave me feeling full, even after a workout.
I did find the cancelation process to be a bit cumbersome. I was taken through several steps on their website that included confirming on multiple pop-up boxes that I indeed wanted to cancel. But with the quality of the food and the fact that skipping meals for weeks at a time was simple, hopefully it’s not something you’ll have to do once you join.
Here are the rest of the pre-made meal kits I tried, in alphabetical order
What I tried: Chocolate + Almond Chia Bowl, Strawberry + Peach Smoothie, Cucumber + Greens Smoothie, Mulberry + Dragon Fruit Oat Bowl, Banana + Greens Smoothie, Pineapple + Matcha Smoothie, Carrot + Cinnamon Smoothie, Sweet Potato + Wild Rice Harvest Bowl, Butternut Squash + Rosemary Puree Soup
Cost: $49.75 for the taster box; $69.75 for future boxes ($5.53 per meal; $7.75 per meal going forward)
Smoothies have always seemed more aspirational than realistic in my daily routine. I blame an ill-advised juice cleanse I once tried years ago—a lot of work for an end product that left me starving and hunched over in the fridge eating cold pasta. So I was skeptical that I’d enjoy Daily Harvest, or even find it filling enough.
In testing, they weren’t as filling as the egg white scramble I typically make for breakfast—even with cups allegedly containing two servings—but they were a great way to start the day on a healthy note. There’s also no chopping involved—just throw everything into a blender and you’re good to go. It was convenient and required very little cleanup.
The fruits and veggies tasted fresh enough that I was surprised I made something so tasty in my kitchen with a cup I pulled out of my freezer just five minutes prior. (The Carrot + Cinnamon Smoothie with walnuts was my favorite.)
I was especially surprised by the non-smoothie options: chia bowls, oat bowls, even soup. Some didn’t require blending at all, only soaking overnight or heating up on the stovetop.
I did have a hard time getting the frozen ingredients out of the cups, but that may have been more to do with my freezer settings. (Speaking of the freezer, nine cups can take up a good amount of space, so be sure you have room before your delivery arrives.)
Overall, while I did crave some more filling protein from time to time, Daily Harvest made smoothies accessible—no prep work, minimal cleanup, and the cups are ready for you to carry on the go (though I opted to eat them at home). They helped me start my day on a healthy note, which made it easier to make solid lunch and snack decisions throughout the rest of the day.
What I tried: Equinox Salad with Stone Fruit Tahini, Winter Sun Salad, Sakara-Style Pasta Bolognese
Cost: $90.31 ($30.10 per meal)
Beloved by Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle blog Goop, Sakara is a meal delivery service with a focus on “clean eating” that features 100% organic, plant-based ingredients that are gluten- and dairy-free, and have no refined sugars or GMOs. Orders come complete with herbal teas billed as “detoxifying,” and collagen-infused chocolates meant to help your skin.
We opted not to test the validity of claims about their weeks-long detox diets and wellness plans—there’s a whole Sakara community to join if you’re so inclined—and instead choose a simple plan of three lunches.
The two salads were tasty enough, though by the second day after delivery, I found the greens to be more wilted than I’d like. The bolognese held up much better and was definitely the best-tasting of the three.
However, tracking down nutrition information was tricky—the Winter Sun Salad’s label frustratingly only mentioned “sunshine” as a key ingredient. I eventually found it on the website, but it took me emailing a customer service rep to find it. (To their credit, they responded quickly.)
All that said, the price is really what clouded my opinion of Sakara. With tax, it cost $90.31 for the three meals, making those lunches approximately $30 apiece. As good as they were, they weren’t $30 good—you could dine at a nice restaurant every day and still save money.
Also, the box was delivered to me at 12:27 am. Yes, it was within the 12-6 am delivery window, and I had an email with tracking information, but it was strange nonetheless. I live in a building that can receive packages at any time, but I’d be wary of this sitting on a stoop or front porch unattended overnight.
The commitment to organic ingredients was admirable, and I enjoyed the creative ways they pulled them all together. If you have the means and are looking for a full community experience, there could be some solid lunch or dinner options here, but it likely doesn’t make sense for most people.
What I tried: Shrimp & Cauliflower Grits, Chicken Butternut Macaroni, Chopped Brisket with BBQ Sauce, Turkey Quinoa Hash, Grass-Fed Beef Taco Hash, Chicken Thighs with Harvest Vegetables & Apples
Cost: $69.99 ($11.67 per meal)
Like Freshly, Snap Kitchen’s portion sizes were large enough that I wasn’t left feeling hungry after dinner. The meals may have been among the least appetizing to look at, but they were all packed full of flavor and yummy ingredients.
You can select individual meals on your own or browse by categories like gluten-free, low carb, high protein, paleo, vegetarian, and keto-friendly.
I did notice that in comparison to Freshly, the cuts of meat were smaller and shredded. The Chopped Brisket with BBQ Sauce dish was more of a has, featuring the meat mixed into the dish rather than standing on its own. That being said, it was tasty and really brought that barbecue flavor.
I was impressed with the variety of options available, even shrimp, which I was skeptical to try since, as a New Englander, I’m not used to my seafood traveling by mail. But paired with the grits, it was great.
What I didn’t enjoy about Snap Kitchen was the packaging. Each individual meal was kept closed with a giant sticker label that wrapped around both lid and dish, and it was always a sticky mess trying to remove before heating.
I understand the need to keep containers closed, but other services were able to do it without so much mess. And even still, one of the Snap Kitchen meals arrived leaking, so it doesn’t seem to be the most effective method either.
But cosmetic aspects aside, this is one plan I’d definitely recommend, especially for those people who are following a specific diet or have certain food restrictions.
What I tried: Tuscan White Bean and Tomato Bowl, Aloo Gobi Quinoa Bowl, Brown Rice Taco Bowl, Sweet Potato Quinoa Bowl, Cumin Sweet Potato Puree
Cost: $65 ($13 per meal)
I’ve never been much of a fan of eating soup as a meal, but after trying Splendid Spoon I realize I just hadn’t given the right soups a chance. Packed with flavor and filling—even if, like Daily Harvest, single containers were supposedly two servings—I looked forward to having a quick, satisfying lunch every day I was testing.
My personal favorite was the Sweet Potato Quinoa Bowl with tahini, chickpeas, and shiitake mushrooms. Not only did it taste great, I had several coworkers ask about what smelled so good.
I was able to heat all of my meals in the microwave in my office lunchroom, and on a day I worked from home I used the stovetop. I preferred the stovetop to heating in the microwave-safe container, but it worked fine enough.
All of the Splendid Spoon meals are plant-based, and they also offer a number of bottled smoothies and juices as part of their subscriptions. I appreciated that while plant-based, they still packed a ton of protein from other ingredients, so they were more filling than I was expecting and made for a great lunchtime option. And all the packaging is 100% recyclable.
What I tried: Creamy Mushroom Penne with Baby Spinach and Almonds, Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese, Butter Chicken with Basmati Rice Pilaf, and Southwestern Turkey and Sweet Potato Skillet
Cost: $87.92 ($10.99 per meal)
When I heard that Sun Basket had gotten into the pre-made meal game, I knew I had to test them out and see how they measured up to other services on this list. As our choice for best meal kit for vegetarians, Sun Basket had a reputation to uphold, so I had a feeling I was in for some tasty dinners. I opted for two vegetarian meals, and two dishes with poultry.
Sun Basket’s Fresh & Ready meals for two are pre-cooked, so once you pop them in the microwave or oven, you’re only six minutes away from dinner. To keep consistent with other testing, I used the microwave for each of my meals.
Unfortunately, some of the packaging that arrived was not microwave-safe. Instead, I had to transfer things like rice and chicken from plastic packaging to my own bowls, before microwaving with a damp paper towel over top. It was a small step, but one that did add some time to the process, making it feel slightly less instant. And having to wash produce like spinach and add my own salt and pepper also made it feel less pre-made.
The taste of each meal, however, was tops. Each dish was flavorful, packed with fresh ingredients, and portions were substantial enough for a dinner for two. Considering the per-meal cost was less than just about every other service we’ve tested, it’s also a great value. Overall, if you’re OK with putting in minimal effort to take these mostly-ready meals from your fridge to your tale, Sun Basket is a great bet.
Which pre-made meal kit is right for you?
While we stand by Freshly being the best overall in this space for its portion sizes, taste, and quality of ingredients, every person’s dietary preferences are different. If you love smoothies, check out Daily Harvest.
If you have specific dietary restrictions, Snap Kitchen or Sakara may best suit your needs. And if you want filling, plant-based bowls, it’s all about Splendid Spoon. Be sure to check price, delivery information, and weekly menus to see which sounds most appetizing.
And when you’re ready to spend just a little bit more time cooking, check out the best traditional meal kits—we’ve done plenty of testing on those too.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.