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Are Meal Subscription Kits Really Worth It?

Meal subscription kits are one of the biggest trends in food preparation. You’ve likely heard or seen the advertisements from companies like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Plated that send you ingredients for a certain number of meals in a box. The ingredients are fresh — all you have to do is cook, and voila! You and your family have a wonderful home-cooked meal without spending time shopping.

Worldwide, the market for these companies has sped past $1 billion. Forty percent of millennials — the 22- to 40-year-old generation — use them at least once per month.

But are these meal subscription kits really worth it? After all, they’re pretty pricey. You need to sign up for a subscription that will get you two to three meals per day for a week. The cost ranges from approximately $60 per week to more than $70.

Now, you have to weigh those costs against what you get for that price. The fact is, even a casual perusal of first-person stories from folks who have used these kits nets two sections: pro and con. Some people feel the costs are entirely worth it. Others think the wool has been pulled over people’s eyes. In their view, people are paying to cook and clean up after groceries they could purchase more cheaply themselves.

Let’s look at those two sides. We’ll start with the cons since money versus other trade-offs is at the heart of the debate.

Not Worth It: It’s Expensive for What You Get

Perhaps the biggest drawback to meal subscription kits is the expense. At $60 to $70 per week, they aren’t cheap. The cost has been estimated at 20 percent more than the cost of groceries. Now, you do receive everything you need for the meal. The main groceries are in the box, sized and proportioned for a good-sized meal. Vegetables and fruits are fresh. Any needed spices, flavorings or condiments are also included, from cilantro to turmeric.

The time versus money trade-off is a source of contention. Many people who like these services mention a saving time that would’ve otherwise been spent grocery shopping and meal planning. But don’t think meal kits are the equivalent of ordering a pizza or Chinese takeout in their ability to save time.

When you subscribe, you still do all the work of meal preparation. If fresh fish needs to be sautéed, you do it. If vegetables are to be served with an Asian fusion sauce, you prepare the sauce. Braised leeks as a side dish? You’ll braise them. Even though you get recipes for everything, you’re the person making those complicated recipes. If you think this will save you on preparation time in return for the money, it’s worth a good, long think. Many of the meals require multiple steps — all of which are done by you.

Clean-up is also done at home. You wash all the dishes used in the prep, which can be a lot. You also need to dispose of packaging. The packaging, like the meals, is complicated. The spices, flavorings and condiments all come in individualized packaging. Disposal of it all, especially if you’re environmentally conscious, can take a considerable amount of time and space.

Ultimately, the not-worth-it camp sees an expensive set of groceries that still need the work of preparation and clean-up performed.

Not Worth It: Will Your Family Like the Meals?

The other main “not worth it” argument is that children might not necessarily like the meals. Most subscription kits aim toward the foodie side of the spectrum — we’re talking roast lamb shank with mint and couscous vinaigrette, rather than grilled hamburgers.

If your family likes the recipes, great. But children and young teenagers probably won’t see the value in elaborate and sophisticated meals. Assess your family to see if these services will provide the kind of food they want to eat.

Worth It: Here’s My Meal

The pro side of subscription meal services tends to dismiss any concerns about preparing and cleaning up after the meal. They focus on the convenience of having meals delivered. In this view, meal planning and grocery shopping time are eliminated. The savings in time is well worth the expense of the subscription.

To some degree, this is a difference in emphasis. If you don’t like grocery shopping or sophisticated, foodie-type items are not available in a location near you, these subscription services can be great. They fix a problem for you.

Some parents and children like to prepare the food as a family get-together moment. For them, the preparation isn’t a time-consuming chore, but a way to bond over new meals. The subscription kit delivery creates an activity to enjoy together.

Worth It: Learning to Cook

Many people feel the subscription services are valuable because you end up with a lot of recipes. The recipes provide step-by-step preparation instructions. The subscription services in effect work like a combination of food delivery and a cookbook. In theory, you could choose the recipes you like and shop for them after you end the subscription service.

Novice cooks speak positively about the value of the step-by-step process. It allows them to prepare fresh, reasonably healthy meals without the stress of going through an unfamiliar cookbook or set of recipes and picking the ingredients out of a grocery story.

The Verdict

The fact is, the actual value of a subscription kit depends on your personal goals and feelings about shopping and cooking. If you focus on the dollar cost, prep and clean-up times, you’re likely to feel it’s very much not worth it. If you concentrate on the savings of planning and shopping time, the opportunity to cook more conveniently and the value of the instructions provided, you may feel you’re getting good bang for your buck.

What’s your verdict?

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