By Mary Lindsey Jackson
Clinical Nutritionist Educator
“Mushroom Gravy Chicken over Couscous with Lemony Arugula”; “Roasted Chickpea and Freekeh Salad with Lemon Labneh and Harissa-Glazed Carrots” – dishes from an exotic downtown restaurant, or meals that you could make easily in the comfort of your own home with the help of a meal-subscription service?
Meal delivery services such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh have been on the rise in recent years, and are bringing both a convenience and a gourmet aspect to home-cooked meals. Most of these popular services work by sending refrigerated “meal kits” each week. These kits include the ingredients and detailed recipes for 2-4 meals each week, many with options for single, dual or multi-person households.
Most meals take 20 minutes to 45 minutes to prepare. Many companies offer heavily discounted prices for the first week or two of trying the service, which can provide an affordable option to test out the quality and value of the meals before committing. After any initial discounted weeks, costs can vary between companies but most average $9-$15 per portion (translating to $60-$90 weekly). This may be considered expensive compared to purchasing all ingredients at the store, although some would argue that it is still cheaper than going out to most restaurants for a dinner for two.
One of the main benefits of using these services is the assistance with meal planning. Outsourcing this task decreases the stress of searching for recipes every week, and can also cut down on time spent grocery shopping. Using a meal-subscription service also offers the opportunity to try a variety of cuisines or ingredients that one may not have explored otherwise, without having to purchase bottles of exotic spices or an entire bunch of herbs.
From a nutrition standpoint, offerings can vary widely. Many meals average 500-800 calories, which may provide excessive calories for a single meal depending on an individual’s needs or health goals.
However, one could cut down on oils while cooking, reduce high-calorie condiments included or split the portion in half and add more vegetables to lower overall caloric density. Different companies also cater to a variety of food preferences or dietary needs.
For example, Purple Carrot offers solely plant-based meals; Green Chef has options for vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free or vegan meals; Blue Apron and others use responsibly sourced meat and seafood; Sunbasket offers “Lean & Clean” meals that provide less than 550 calories per serving and “Mediterranean” meals for a heart-healthy diet. Almost all meals contain vegetables either incorporated into the dish or as a side, and many include whole grains or legumes.
While these meals can be a fun incentive to get back into the kitchen and reduce barriers to cooking more frequently at home, stay mindful to choose meals that incorporate lean proteins, vegetables, fruit, healthy fats and whole grains, and modify recipes as needed. Consider choosing a company that offers a variety of menus like those mentioned above; this allows for more customization of recipes depending on health goals.
Mary Lindsey Jackson, RD, LDN, is a Clinical Nutritionist Educator for Mission Weight Management.