The staff and students at the Academy of Culinary Nutrition love meal prep – we find it relaxing and meditative, plus the end result of tasty homemade meals is worth the effort. However, we know that not everyone loves chopping vegetables, blending condiments or batch cooking quinoa. The popularity of meal prep services and meal kit delivery is on the rise, growing from 1 billion US dollars in revenue in 2015 to a projected 10 billion by 2020. In Canada, where the Academy of Culinary Nutrition is located, the meal kit business has doubled since 2014 and is estimated to surpass $400 million in the next year.
The concept is simple: a company delivers meals to your door and you eat them. But are meal prep services worth it?
Why Would Someone Buy (or hire) Meal Prep Services?
When someone else does the meal prep (and grocery shopping) instead, you can still enjoy home-cooked meals that support your health and wellness. Undoubtedly, meal prep services make cooking and eating simpler but that’s not the only rationale for using one. There are other reasons why you might be drawn to a meal prep service. Meal prep services can:
- Allow you to explore new recipes and flavours
- Help you learn basic cooking skills
- Cut down on food waste, since you are getting exactly what you need
- Offer options for different popular diets, allowing you to stick to your culinary nutrition goals
- Be a healthier alternative to takeout
- Support people who are unable to prep due to illness, injury or chronic pain (such as arthritis)
- Give you more time to pursue interests aside from cooking
Types of Meal Prep Services
There are a few different types of meal prep services. They include:
Meal Prep/Meal Kit Delivery
What Is It? You receive a delivery of chopped and prepped ingredients needed to make a full recipe, along with cooking instructions for the meal.
Best For: Those who want to eat a fresh, hot meal and aren’t a fan of leftovers or reheating. This option is also good for those who enjoy cooking, but not the time it can take to chop and prep the ingredients.
Full Meal Delivery
What Is It? You receive a fully prepared and cooked meal – all you need to do is reheat. If it’s a meal that doesn’t need to be eaten hot (like a salad), you just eat it!
Best For: Those who aren’t interested in doing any cooking at all, or don’t mind reheating foods.
What Is It? A chef or nutritionist comes to your house and creates a set of meals that are customized to your health needs. Many of our culinary nutrition expert graduates do this!
Best For: Those who desire a personal, customized approach from an expert with knowledge in nutrition and cooking for health. You can also have more control over what ingredients are used in your food, as well as the types of equipment used to cook and prepare them.
Meal Prep Considerations
If you’re thinking about purchasing from a meal prep service or online meal kit delivery, not all companies have exactly the same offerings. As you conduct your own research, contemplate:
Quality of Ingredients:
Does it matter to you if the ingredients in your meals are local, organic, non-GMO, sustainable, or fresh? What about sourcing animal products? If anything is unclear about where the ingredients are sourced from, don’t hesitate to ask. And, will the ingredients in each meal help to support your health and wellness?
Variety/Types of Recipes:
Many companies have sample menus online where you can see if the types of meals they provide are the ones you enjoy eating. It’s great to try new things, but it’s handy to know that you are getting at least a few meals a week that you know you’ll enjoy. How much variety is there from week to week? Does the menu change weekly, biweekly, monthly? Can you pick and choose, or is the menu plan set for you?
How long do meals take to cook from start to finish? Given the demographic these companies are targeting, most meal kit services provide relatively quick and straightforward meals. However, if you don’t want to wait 30 or 45 minutes for your dinner, perhaps a meal prep service with more pre-cooked items might be for you.
How much chopping will you need to do? Some companies offer everything sliced, diced and ready to go, while others may require you to do some light prep work.
Meal prep services and meal kit services are more expensive than cooking yourself. Prices vary, though on average you’ll probably pay about $10-12 dollars per serving. Yes, that’s probably cheaper than eating at a restaurant or some takeout spots. However, if you’re a family of four you could be paying $40 to $50 per meal – and you could probably make something yourself for less and have more servings to freeze or take for lunch to work the next day.
Two or four servings is standard for most meal prep services, and you can usually choose how many recipes you’d like per week. How big are those portion sizes? We all have different appetites, so it’s worth looking into reviews about this or asking the company if they can give you an approximate yield of food provided.
Are there options if you have allergies or dietary restrictions, or can you request substitutions? Many services also have plans that follow the popular diets like vegan, Paleo and keto. If you have severe allergies, you’ll want to ask about cross-contamination in the prepping process.
Meal kit delivery services can use a lot of packaging, as each component of a meal can be wrapped separately and there is also the box itself that the full meal arrives in. Check if the packaging is plastic, or is made from a material that is more eco-friendly and sustainable. The home chef option typically uses the least packaging, as you can use your own containers for storage.
Do you need to commit to a certain number of meals every week, or can you order whenever the mood strikes? Can you pause your subscription if you are going away for business or traveling with family and friends?
Want to DO Your Own Meal Prep?
Only you can decide whether a meal prep or meal delivery kit service is right for your health, your family, your lifestyle or your budget. If you’d like to try meal prepping on your own before hiring a service, here are some resources to help you:
- Healthy Batch Cooking 101
- 5 Essential Meal Prepping Tips
- How to Start a Cooking Cooperative
- What to Do With Leftovers
- 26 Best Instant Pot Recipes
- 25 Best 30 Minute Meals
- 20 Best Slow Cooker Recipes
- How to Prepare Freezer Meals + Top Tips for Freezing Food