If you’re totally burned out on cooking for yourself after months of the coronavirus pandemic, we feel you. Cooking every single night is exhausting, which is why we are here to offer you a solution in the form a no-fuss delicious and nutritious meal (or a whole box of them!).
We’re talking about a prepared meal delivery service. There are lots of companies out there that ship complete meals that require minimum prep work, no trip to the store and help you stay on track if you’re trying to eat in a well-balanced way. Who knows? A meal service might even help you find some new favorite dishes or cooking ideas.
Meal delivery services have thrived this year, as Americans figure out how to still exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and stay healthy during the pandemic, which can be challenging when stress levels are high. Taking the guesswork out of dinner with a fully prepared meal can offer some welcome relief.
Prepared meal delivery
What exactly is a prepared meal delivery service? This breed of meal delivery service will send fully prepared, often nutritious meals straight to your front door. From there, it’s as simple as simple gets: Just pull a delicious meal out of your fridge or freezer and warm it up — no actual cooking required — and you’ve got a satisfying lunch or dinner ready to go.
Menu options are endless and certain prepared meal delivery services such as Freshly and Veestro have taken note of modern healthful eating habits, offering prepared menus tailored for most any dietary preference, including carnivores, vegetarians, flexitarians, vegan and other plant-based diets. They can also cater for those with dietary restrictions who are keeping to a keto, paleo, low-sodium, gluten-free, organic, low carb, low-sugar or low-calorie diet. Even a picky eater will find something they like!
The bulk of these meal subscription services ship their preportioned and precooked meals frozen or partially frozen. Since the delivered meals arrive in shipments of four or more, most meals are meant to be popped into the freezer so you can defrost and eat them over the course of the week or month. Even if you don’t plan to eat one of the meals every day — or even every week — having a prepared dish or two socked away in the freezer for those helter-skelter moments can be a total godsend.
You might be wondering how they differ from the frozen meals or classic TV dinners you find in the grocery store — and it’s a fair question. For one: Most are made just before shipping to you, so they are significantly fresher — which you can often taste. Because they don’t sit on grocery store freezer shelves, most are free from unhealthy preservatives or mounds of salt, too. Lastly, these prepared meal delivery services use higher quality ingredients, in general, and get a bit more creative with their rotating recipes, although it does vary from brand to brand. Prepared meals range anywhere from $8-$15 per meal, depending on the service you go with and the specific meal plan you choose.
Food delivery services during the pandemic
Oven-ready meal kits
Another option to consider is deliveries of oven-ready meal kits that still have to be cooked but require very minimal prep, effort or technical skill. You may be wondering how these differ from the standard meal kit delivery services. While the meal kit revolution, which led to household names like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, was all about providing you with the basic ingredients and instructions on how to pull together a delicious meal, you may not have the time or patience to do all that cooking. Oven-ready meal kits are just that: Ready to be assembled and cooked without any complicated recipes or tiresome prep.
Read more: The best meal kit delivery service for 2021: Home Chef, Freshly, Blue Apron and more
These “oven-ready” meal delivery plans, which fall somewhere between a classic meal kit and meal delivery, are uncooked but preassembled to be thrown together to be baked, roaster, stir-fried or dropped into the slow cooker with no major prep required for a healthy, fresh-cooked meal. Think simple dishes like roasted chicken breast with pre-cut vegetables and a flavorful sauce. Home Chef even provides the cooking tray in many of its meal kits so there is exactly zero cleaning to do after.
Just a reminder: While many of the meal plan services we sorted through are fully prepared, the meals kit services like Home Chef and Gobble are not yet cooked, so know you’ll still be turning on the oven — and please don’t eat any raw chicken.
While I wasn’t able to sample everything from every one of the services listed, I did get a chance to try at least a few options from each meal delivery or oven-ready meal kit program. As you’ll read, some of these meal delivery services and meal kits are centered on a particular concept. Home Chef, for instance, has simple meal kits down to a science with fresh ingredients and recipes that are already prepped to be finished in as little as 15 minutes. Others, like Veestro, specialize in premade or prepared vegetarian and vegan meals for those going meatless or dairy-free but still looking for an alternative to cooking.
I’ll concede, there’s still nothing quite like a home-cooked meal, but some of these simple and affordable services just might be the thing to lighten your cooking load and cut down on trips to the market this fall and winter.
Read more: Wine, beer, alcohol delivery: How to get alcoholic beverages delivered to your door
Here are the best prepared meal delivery services and oven-ready meal kits in 2021, which we update periodically.
- Best meal delivery that you still have to cook (a little): Home Chef
- Best prepared meal delivery service for quick lunches and dinners: Daily Harvest
- Best meal delivery for vegetarians and vegans: Veestro
- Best meal delivery for calorie counting and dieting: Freshology
- Best for gourmet meal delivery: Home Bistro
- Honorable mention best meal delivery you still have to cook: Gobble
- Best meal delivery for comfort food with a healthy edge: Freshly
Home Chef is a popular meal delivery company and recently launched a line of oven-ready meals like cajun chicken with rice and beans, meant to take nearly all the work out of dinner but still delivering home-cooked food, technically speaking.
If it’s oven-ready meal options you’re after you’ll want to choose Home Chef’s Fresh & Easy meals which are focused on easy oven-ready options. Plus this meal delivery service offers grill-ready meals for summer, 15-minute entree salads for those craving lighter fare or slow cooker meals that likewise require very minimal preparation and cleanup. This new category from Home Chef is designed to be low technical skill and is a good option if you’re wanting a home-cooked meal delivery plan but not interested in enlisting at a culinary institute to make it happen.
Pricing: No matter how you slice it, a Home Chef meal delivery kit breaks down to just under $10 per serving. Most people choose six to eight meals a week, so the average cost is about $70. But you can choose as few as six servings and as many as 12 and will save slightly more with a larger order.
Daily Harvest launched in 2015 with an army of frozen and ready-to-blend smoothies, premade soups and hearty grain bowls to keep stocked in the freezer. Some of the bowls and soups could pass as dinner but I like these best for a no-fuss lunch or breakfast. Depending on the specific offering, you either drop it into a saucepan or skillet to heat and eat. Or add nut milk and blend it up, as with the protein-packed smoothies, oat bowls or lattes.
This is a great plant based meal delivery service if you want to simplify your week and keep to a healthy eating frozen meals plan. Daily Harvest uses lots of ancient grains, oats and superfoods in their recipes, which are all mostly satisfying and well balanced in terms of flavor.
Pricing: With so many different offerings and options you can really choose whatever you want but soups, smoothies and chia bowls can be had for as low as $6 per serving, if you order a subscription and in bulk.
If you are looking for a vegetarian option, Veestro offers a wide-ranging menu meal delivery plan of 100% prepared plant-based meals for those keeping to a vegan or vegetarian diet. Vegetarian meal offerings from Veestro include dishes like tofu with red curry sauce, carrot osso buco and country-fried chick’n. Veestro uses more meat alternatives than say a Purple Carrot in the meals, so if you like seitan, tempeh and other faux ingredient meats this is a good meal delivery service to check out.
The carnivore in me has to admit that many of the vegetarian options and plant-based meals I tried from Veestro were as satisfying as the food I’m used to. I would suggest this meal plan for anyone trying to cut back on meat but not going full-fledged vegetarian, as much of the food is designed to replicate a carnivore’s diet and makes for a soft landing.
Pricing: The Veestro prepared meal delivery service breaks down to roughly $11.70 per meal for 10 meals, although it’s more expensive for a one-time order. This vegan meal delivery service gets less expensive, however, if you choose a 20-meal plan ($10.80 per meal).
You might have guessed by the name but this healthy meal delivery service doesn’t specialize in creamy mashed potatoes or mac and cheese. Depending on your nutrition goals, you can focus on specific menus like vegetarian, low carb or keto meals or to help manage diabetes. All the meal plan nutrition and calorie information is provided to help you meet those diet goals. Freshology powered by Diet-to-Go is intent on helping customers stay on track all day, too, with a full slate of breakfast, lunch and dinner options.
There is less of an emphasis on delivering haute cuisine but rather hearty and nutritious fully prepared meals with good protein, and you’ll find lots of lean protein, whole grains and green veggies without a ton of pomp and circumstance.
Pricing: Customizable meal plans start at $10 per meal. You can have as many as three meals per day delivered if you really just don’t want to cook. Ever.
Home Bistro is definitely the priciest meal delivery service on the list but that’s because the meals are of a higher caliber to be sure. You’ll find a bit less grilled chicken breast or simple pasta dishes but rather more complicated proteins like Chianti-braised short ribs, Peri-Peri pork tenderloins and chargrilled pomegranate salmon with Home Bistro.
Though this takeout kit is more expensive — comparable to takeout — if you eat a lot of meat but don’t have tons of great prepared food or delivery options in your area, this is a good meal delivery service to try. And since you can order these prepared meals a la carte, you can always save it for special occasions.
Pricing: Individual meals are between $19 and $27. You can order Home Bistro meals a la carte or packages of seven, 10 or 20 meals to be delivered weekly or biweekly.
Gobble is also not technically prepared meals but with many of the takeout kit dinners taking as little as 15 minutes to cook, it might as well be. The team at Gobble does all the recipe prep work — chopping, dicing, measuring — so you can breeze right into a cacio e pepe with shrimp and asparagus or sirloin steak with mashed potatoes with preportioned ingredients. Gobble is another great option for meal delivery if your goal is freshly prepared food with very little effort.
Pricing: Gobble meal kits start at $12 per serving but you can try your first six meals for just $36 as a one-time offer.
Freshly delivers precooked meals (fresh, not frozen) to your door. While this meal delivery service has healthy recipe options aplenty, Freshly is one of the better options if you want the occasional cheat meal or comfort food delivered to your door. Penne bolognese, peppercorn steak with mashed potatoes and chicken casserole are just some of the heartier choices you can have at the ready. But there are also healthier, low-cal options to keep yourself honest.
Pardon the word-play but Freshly did have some of the freshest-tasting ingredient meals, likely because they didn’t arrive frozen. Not everything felt restaurant quality but this company delivers a lot of crowd-pleasers including chicken tikka masala and chili-topped macaroni and cheese.
Pricing: The more you order the more you save with Freshly and the difference is significant. Four meals per week breaks down to $11.50 per meal but up that to 12 and the price per meal drops to $8.
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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
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