Home meal delivery services… are they worth it? And which food delivery company is best?
Thanks to quick, inexpensive mail delivery, by now you know someone who’s used a home subscription service for groceries, clothes, shaving supplies, makeup, dog toys, or movies (remember when everyone got Netflix DVDs mailed to them?).
In the last year or two, home meal delivery subscriptions have picked up steam (pun intended). Services like Blue Apron and Plated promise high quality, easily-to-prepare dishes with recipies designed by chefs… all from the comfort of your own home.
We’re not talking about pre-cooked delivery from your favorite Chinese or pizza take out joint… these services mail you high-end, pre-portioned, “nice restaurant”-quality raw ingredients with detailed instructions on how you can personally prepare the food in less than an hour. With both services, it’s almost like getting a mini cookbook on any given week, with all of the materials (except for cookware, salt, and oil) you need to make a nice meal.
The two biggest names in the home delivery game are Blue Apron and Plated… and I’ve purchased multiple boxes from both of them both over the last 9 months. So, does reality live up to the hype around these “meals in a box?” And are meal delivery services worth the money?
I’ll answer those questions and more in the pros and cons section of this review of meal delivery services and I’ll declare a winner between Blue Apron and Plated. Note: This is from the perspective of a guy with intermediate cooking skills in a household of 2 people, so I’m comparing the meals for 2 from each service to the cost and ease of eating out a restaurant where you’d probably spend $15 per plate to get something of comparable (before tax and tip).
Pros of meal delivery services
- Big time saver – you skip the trip to the grocery store
- Much less measuring, everything comes pre-portioned
- You can control amount of salt, sugar, butter, sauce
- Typically healthier than eating out
- No going out of your way to find specialty sauces or spices
- Much less waste, you use almost everything and you don’t have to buy a big box of one ingredient that you’ll only ever use once
- Great way to learn techniques & try new ingredients & cuisines
- Lower chance of screwing things up than DIY
- Good practice for aspiring chefs
- Sometimes you have enough for leftovers (usually the sides)
- Good if you struggle to figure out what to cook
- You can give free food to your friends thru referrals
- Free shipping!
Cons of meal delivery services
- Protein portions can sometimes be small
- Minimum order size depending on service
- Can be hard to cook a whole box of food while it’s still fresh
- Not good for single folks (minimum portions, feel obligated to cook instead of go out)
- Sometimes you don’t want the available dish options
- I might be slow, but prep time longer than advertised
- Cooking usually takes 45 mins to an hour, so if you might not eat til late… compared to picking up take out
- Must plan ahead, order / cancel 5 days in advance
- You might forgot to cancel & get unexpected food
- Could be more expensive than grocery shopping (if you are good at being economical)
- Some individual dishes could be better
- Your food could sit unattended at your front door for a while
- Shipping food with heavy ice packs seems bad for environment?
Blue Apron vs Plated Differences
- Plated costs > $12 per plate, and Blue Apron is < $10
- Plated might have slightly fresher ingredients
- While neither is perfect, I felt like there were more misses with Plated than with Blue Apron
- Blue Apron has really well-balanced flavors that rely on use of spices (there’s always an interesting twist to the dishes like ginger, lemon zest, marjoram, tarragon, mint, lemongrass, thyme, etc…) while Plated’s flavors rely more on oily or buttery sauces
- Recipes cards are easier to follow with Blue Apron
- Blue Apron Asian dishes are way better. Plated is too sweet.
- Plated lets you order a minimum of 2 dishes (4 plates) per week, a Blue Apron box always comes with exactly 3 meals (6 plates)
- With Plated you only get free shipping ($6) if you order 3 dishes or more.
- Plated has built a community around their #platedpics hashtag, so you can see what other people are cooking
- Plated seems to have slightly fancier protiens, but they fall flat on the side dishes
- Packaging is more efficient with Blue Apron
- Blue Apron more efficiently designs meals to use less pots / pans
Are Blue Apron or Plated worth it?
So, are home delivery services as easy as they say, and is it worth the cost? Eating at a reasonably nice restaurant costs at least $15 a similar meal, there’s a minimum $3-5 savings per dish (not to mention tax + tip). The question is, do you really want to eat that kind of food 3 times a week? If you want to just sustain yourself, you can get a decent meal for $7 at a fast casual place, make yourself some instant ramen, or fry a couple of eggs and eat them over rice (which both cost next to nothing). So cost isn’t going to be the motivating factor here for me.
The biggest advantage of these delivery services for me is that they provide an easy way to learn how to cooking using different techniques and ingredients. I’d never pan fried fish in rice flour before, cooked with marjoram or lemongrass, and I didn’t fully appreciate the benefits of lemon zest before starting with Blue Apron. Also, Plated taught me that mashed cauliflower is really delicious and much better for you than potatoes. I think these services make the most sense for someone who honestly wants to learn how to cook… they take out the pain of gathering all of your ingredients or scouring cookbooks / the Internet for a good recipe. And every service is about convenience these days… and many will appreciate being able to cook fancy food with minimal effort.
I don’t order a box every week (sometimes that gets tedious, as it forces you to cook at least 3 times a week), but I get excited when there’s a dish that I’ve been meaning to learn how to cook coming up. For example, this week I’m finally going to learn how to cook both shrimp n’ grits and three cup chicken… two dishes I really love.
Which one is better… Blue Apron or Plated?
If you can’t already tell from the pros and cons list, I think Blue Apron is better than Plated for many reasons. Blue Apron wins on taste, price, packaging, and ease of following instructions. The only downside is the requirement for 3 meals for each order.
Plated is pretty close, but I had one too many “meh” dishes from them (mostly the Asian dishes or ones where the portions were too small) to be able to recommend them whole-heartedly. When I get Blue Apron dishes, half the time I have enough to piece together some leftovers for lunch at work the following day. All of the dishes I’ve gotten from Blue Apron have been above average to excellent and I always learn one or two new tricks each time… I mess up less with Blue Apron too, as the instructions are better and they group the ingredients together better than Plated to avoid confusion.
That’s my take on the Blue Apron vs Plated debate… in parting, I have some words of advice to both services to make their product even better:
Advice to Blue Apron and Plated:
- Stop putting sticky sauces in tiny bottles with small openings… it’s even harder than getting ketchup out of a glass bottle. Use the ketchup / jello shot containers with lids instead
- If you send many meals in one box, recommend which meals to cook first (should be those with the most perishable ingredients)
- Blue Apron, start a hashtag for your meals. It’s fun to see what others are cooking
- Both, please send us a reminder email as to what non included pots / pans we might need that week (in case we don’t own one already)
- Include more information about the proteins you’re sending, especially if it’s high quality stuff… we’ll feel like we’re getting more value out of the meal.
- Create a beginner and advanced prep time advisory
- Blue Apron, switch from an opt-in schedule instead of opt-out. I know people that have gotten unexpected boxes because they didn’t check their email. Your product is great, but you are making people cancel unnecessarily because they are scared of accidental orders. I know you’re worried about losing orders, but it’s better than losing customers forever. I think you’d get permission to email most people every week to show us what delicious dishes we’re missing out on.
Hope that review helped… happy tasting everyone!