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Last updated on September 18, 2017

The Best Meal-Delivery Service

Home-cooked meals without the hassle
The 30-Second Review

The best meal-delivery service brings fresh ingredients and nutritious recipes to your doorstep, allowing you to enjoy home-cooked meals even if you’re too busy to grocery shop. After trying out seven of the most popular meal-delivery services, we found that HelloFresh, Plated, and Blue Apron outshone the competition, with cuisine that was convenient to order, easy to cook — and delicious.

Best Overall

HelloFresh scored top marks for quality ingredients, a flexible delivery schedule, and varied menu options that ranged from Asian fusion to meatloaf. We also appreciated that HelloFresh's packaging was less wasteful than other finalists. And if that's not enough, it tied with Blue Apron for cheapest price.

Best for Novice Chefs

Easy recipes, plus the option to repeat meals, make Plated a great service for beginners looking to hone their cooking skills.

Best Recipes

Blue Apron

If you like to cook but are bored with your usual standbys and looking for inspiration, Blue Apron is our pick. We found their recipes tasty and creative, with ingredient combinations we’d never have considered on our own.

The Best Meal-Delivery Service

In the past few years, meal-delivery services have shown that whipping up a fabulous dinner in your own kitchen is easier than you think. The premise is simple: Subscribe to a meal plan, and every week you’ll receive a refrigerated box with ingredients and recipes for three meals each week. You get the fun of cooking new meals while skipping the groceries and some of the prep work. As this concept has gained popularity, more and more companies have created their own meal kits, providing a dazzling array of options, from vegan and organic to paleo food. We tested seven popular companies to find the best meal-delivery service — and three stood out as winners.

HelloFresh was our overall favorite, with a blend of convenience, nutrition, and quality that we didn’t get anywhere else. It’s suited to people with hectic schedules. Meal boxes can be delivered on any day of the week, and you can cancel with less than a week’s notice — options that most other services didn’t offer. The food was fresh and nutritious, and HelloFresh’s packaging was a little more eco-friendly than other services. It earned those accolades at a reasonable price, too: roughly $10 per person per meal, tying with Blue Apron for cheapest service.

Plated was a very close runner-up. Like HelloFresh, it offers a customizable delivery schedule and keeps wasteful packaging to a minimum. Dishes did repeat more frequently than our other top picks — a downside for adventurous eaters, but convenient for newer cooks who want a chance to re-do meals as their skills improve. The company is a little less transparent about its nutrition information, but offers easy-to-follow instructions and simple recipes, at about $12 per person per meal.

We tried a lot of recipes when testing these services, but Blue Apron's were consistently our favorites. They were easy to follow and often included creative flourishes that other services didn’t offer. Unfortunately, you have to cancel shipments a full week ahead of time, and we had trouble figuring out how to change our delivery day. But if you’re stuck in a cooking rut and need a source of inspiration, Blue Apron is our pick. Even better: At just $10 per meal per person, Blue Apron tied HelloFresh for cheapest meal-delivery service.

Our Picks for the Best Meal-Delivery Service

Best Overall

HelloFresh The meal plan that has it all: Convenient scheduling and tasty meals, plus a low price point and easy-to-recycle packaging.

After weeks of cooking, testing, and gathering data, HelloFresh narrowly beat out Plated and Blue Apron to take the top spot.

From the very beginning of the process, HelloFresh stood out; unlike virtually every other service (except Plated), HelloFresh will deliver on any day of the week — though they do note options are limited in some regions. You can also skip a HelloFresh delivery on relatively short notice: five days in advance rather than the standard seven days required by other companies.

And when your delivery does arrive, it’s eco-friendly — or at least as eco-friendly as these boxes can be. Excessive packaging is a problem inherent to the industry, but HelloFresh reduces it as much as possible. It groups ingredients for the three different meals into three paper bags, so fewer things have to be individually wrapped in plastic, and depending on what season it is, the insulation is made of recyclable and/or compostable elements.

HelloFresh tries to mitigate packaging waste by bundling meal ingredients into paper bags rather than wrapping them individually.

So how’s the food? The HelloFresh meals we received were tasty and interesting without being overly difficult. The parmesan raviolini combined a few simple flavors for very satisfying results, and the lentil-freekeh jumble was something we’d never heard of, let alone tried, but after cooking it, we realized we’ve been missing out.

We especially loved the variety of our meals: The three dinners that come every week are notably distinct from each other, and recipes don’t repeat, so you get to enjoy new flavors all the time. One week you might dine on a traditional American meatloaf, shrimp farfalle, and an Asian-inspired honey-ginger chicken — all without any planning or grocery shopping. A common challenge when cooking on your own is getting stuck in a rut, and according to Emily Dellas, who runs First Class Cooking, “A lot of people just end up cooking the same thing over and over.” HelloFresh gives you all the adventure with none of the mental effort.

The one drawback is that HelloFresh sometimes calls for equipment the average subscriber won’t own. While it wasn’t as serious an offender as Home Chef or Green Chef, one recipe did call for a masher, and using a fork instead was laborious. Another instructed users to zest a lemon… without explaining what to do if you don’t own a zester. (For the record, as Blue Apron’s instructions helpfully explain, you slice off strips of the peel without including the white pith, then mince the strips of peel.)

But overall, HelloFresh served up convenient, delicious, nutritious meals, and it did so at a cost of just $10 per person per meal. Combine that with the flexible delivery, the exciting variety of recipes, and the effort to minimize packaging, and we think HelloFresh hits all the right notes.

Best for Novice Cooks

Plated Easy recipes, plus the ability to repeat meals — useful if you're honing your kitchen skills and want to try again.

Plated very nearly won the top spot. Like HelloFresh, it maximizes convenience by delivering on any day of the week and minimizing wasteful packaging — in fact, it ships meals in the smallest cardboard box of any of the services we tested.

Our Plated delivery arrived in a much smaller package than offerings from competitors like HelloFresh and Blue Apron.

Build your skills. Cooking school director Sarah Nelson was surprised to hear from a woman in her 60s who’d been cooking for years, but learned new things from her Blue Apron subscription. “It’s pretty impressive to me that with just the box of food and the recipe, without a video … even without a teacher, people are able to cook more."

But Plated offers a different dining experience than HelloFresh. While it does mix things up with some Asian and Latin fusion dishes — meals that blend different recipes from those regions — the service generally draws from fewer cuisines and styles, relying more heavily on traditional American fare like burgers. The reduced menu can boring for adventurous eaters, but good if you’re new to the kitchen and not sure you’re ready for a lentil-freekeh jumble.

Plated also repeats meals more often, making multiple “Encore Recipes” available every single week. (Blue Apron and HelloFresh, on the other hand, rarely, if ever, repeat a recipe.) Again, for novice chefs, this is likely to be a draw: If you mess up a dish, you can hone your skills by trying again, making the same salmon poke bowl or chicken bruschetta several times until you feel comfortable with the process. And this way, if you find a recipe you like, you get the chance to revisit it without having to recreate the meal on your own — not true of our other recommendations. And the recipes Plated sent us were generally a little easier to make than the ones we got from HelloFresh, with one tester noting she was “shocked at how quick and easy” her Plated meal was.

Clear and helpful recipe cards facilitate the learning process, offering a comprehensive list of all the equipment you’ll need before you dive in, plus tips that break down the cooking process. For example, Plated’s recipe for horiatiki (Greek salad) with chickpeas and flatbread didn’t just instruct us to scoop the seeds out of the cucumber — it also explained why (“Cucumber seeds contain a lot of water, so we’re removing them to keep moisture out of your salad”).

The one thing we weren’t wild about was Plated’s lack of transparency about nutritional information. While its meals fell within our calorie range (averaging 705 calories per meal) and came with a decent balance of protein and veggies, the sugar and fiber content of our food was nowhere to be found. When we inquired about it, we were told, “Unfortunately, we cannot provide the nutritional information that you requested.” That makes us suspect Plated doesn’t think we’ll like the numbers. (Although Plated isn’t the only offender here — Home Chef had the same response.)

Still, if you’re looking to get your feet wet in the kitchen, Plated is the way to go. At $12 per serving, it’s a low-stakes way to figure out how to make a tasty burger — and what the heck a fig compote is.

Are sugar and fiber really that important?

These nutrients might sound too boring to have a strong opinion about, but according to Rifkin, “Everyone should be aware of how much sugar is in their food. It’s not just the amount of sugar, but what form the sugar is in, as this affects how quickly it will move into your bloodstream.” None of this info was readily available from Plated.

And fiber (along with fat and protein) behaves like brakes, slowing down sugar’s absorption. Rifkin gave us this example: “If you eat the quantity of whole oranges that you’d need to make one cup of juice, the oranges will have a much better effect on your body. The fiber in them slows down the sugar, and even that fact that an orange is a solid — as opposed to a juice, which is liquid — will make a difference.” In other words, fiber, too, is basic nutritional info that it’s a good idea to keep track of.

Best Recipes

Blue Apron Creative and tasty ingredient combinations that are a great source of inspiration.

Blue Apron is the most recognizable meal-delivery service (thanks in no small part to its ubiquitous podcast advertising), so we had high expectations going into testing. And it met those expectations — especially in the quality of its recipes. In fact, of all the meals we tested across all seven services, only one was so good that a tester attempted to recreate it on her own: Blue Apron’s Vietnamese-style vegetable sandwiches. (Her solo attempt wasn’t bad, she said, but definitely inferior to Blue Apron’s.) Other testers also reported keeping their Blue Apron recipe cards to reuse.

Why? We found the company’s ingredient combinations more creative than other finalists. Its risotto recipe, for example, was more sophisticated than the risottos from both Home Chef and Plated: Blue Apron’s recipe included a delicate interplay between tangy tomato paste, creamy mascarpone cheese, and a generous pinch of saffron, which one tester had never cooked with before.

And comparing Blue Apron’s Vidalia onion tart to PeachDish’s is almost insulting. PeachDish provided tart shells that disintegrated before they were even out of their packaging, dolloped with a meager egg mixture that didn’t even fill up the shell. Blue Apron, on the other hand, sent a buttery, tender tart shell and instructed us to fill it with kale in addition to egg and onions, then paired it with remarkably tasty lemon-garlic roasted potatoes. (Turns out: lemon + garlic + parmesan cheese = flavor explosion!) “I think there are experienced cooks who like to use services like Blue Apron to give them ideas for recipes or techniques,” confirmed Sarah Nelson, executive director of the community cooking school 18 Reasons.

That said, Blue Apron is less convenient than our other top picks — in several ways. While you can theoretically receive your box any day from Tuesday through Friday, the service defaults to Friday when you sign up — without mentioning that you have other options. (To switch, you’ll need to revisit your account settings post-signup.) And if you want to skip a delivery, you also have to do it with a week of advance notice.

A couple of testers also noted that the instructions on their recipe cards sometimes felt out-of-order, making Blue Apron a better option for cooks who already possess basic cooking skills (like preparing rice) and don’t need instructions at every step. Blue Apron is the only company that lets you send packaging materials back to them to be reused, but it doesn’t make much of an effort to minimize that packaging, wrapping almost every ingredient individually in plastic.

Blue Apron’s packaging is a little less eco-friendly than our other finalists.

But Blue Apron ties with HelloFresh as the cheapest meal-delivery service, at $10 per meal per person. Although the experience isn’t quite as hassle-free as HelloFresh and Plated, Blue Apron provides creative recipes and excellent food at a low price, making it a great resource for home chefs in need of inspiration.

Best for Dietary Restrictions

Green Chef A good option for paleo, vegan, and gluten-free meals.

All of our top picks offer meat-based and vegetarian options, but if you have additional dietary restrictions, Green Chef is worth considering. It came in fourth overall, and while its food didn’t score quite as highly as our top picks, it does cater to a wide variety of diets, including vegan, gluten-free and paleo. In fact, testers preferred Green Chef’s veggie dishes to the vegan-only Purple Carrot, whose recipes sometimes felt unnecessarily complicated.

Cooking Tips

A few tricks to make your time in the kitchen more enjoyable.

If you’re new to cooking, our experts offered a few super-simple tips to help you get started:

  • Learn how to handle knives. Both Nelson and Dellas named knife skills as the no. 1 thing their students don’t know. As Nelson explains, “If you can safely and effectively use a knife, you can pretty much do anything in the kitchen, and that’s really the first step I think a lot of people need to get to that next level.” (And while we're on the subject, check out our review of the best chef knives.)
  • You don’t need to constantly be stirring. “Cooking only really happens when things are in contact with the pan, so if you’re moving them, they’re not cooking,” says Dellas. “So free yourself; free the process; enjoy it more; have a sip of wine.”
  • Use the right oil for the job. Dellas says some recipes, including those in meal kits, tend to call for olive oil because they “don’t want to complicate people by making them have two oils in their household.” If you’re frying or otherwise cooking with high heat, you’re better off using sunflower or sesame oil instead of olive.
  • Add salt and pepper at each stage of the process to create layers of flavor. This is one our tester figured out thanks to Blue Apron. Rifkin also tipped us off that as long as you don't have a chronic disease, and you're eating a good amount of vegetables, you don’t need to worry much about your salt intake when you cook.

Did You Know?

Food waste is a growing problem.

Unused food adds up to a staggering sum. According to the US Department of Agriculture, “Food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply.” It’s an even bigger problem because farming food, especially meat, has a huge impact on the environment: Agriculture uses about 80 percent of our water and creates 9 percent of our greenhouse-gas emissions (possibly one-third if you consider the food system more broadly). If we only grew as much food as we actually needed, we could conserve resources and significantly reduce our carbon footprint. Meal-delivery kits help do that by sending you just as much food as you need — no more arugula moldering in the produce drawer until you throw it out.

How to recycle everything in your meal kit.

Different meal-delivery companies use slightly different materials, so you’ll want to double-check recycling information on their websites, but these tips will apply in most cases:

Cardboard and plastics: Clean cardboard and most plastics can be put in your curbside recycling, but you’ll have to take plastic baggies to a supermarket or hardware store to recycle them. And if your cardboard is soiled with grease or pieces of food, don’t throw it in the recycling — you should compost it instead.

Freezer packs: All the services we tested used frozen gel packs to keep food cool during transit. To dispose of them, clip off a corner, pour the gel into the trash, and then recycle the plastic wrapper with other plastic baggies/films. All of the companies we tested say the gel in their packs is nontoxic.

Insulation: The meal-delivery kits we tested used a variety of different materials as insulation to keep the boxes cool during transit. Most were recyclable and/or compostable, but you’ll have to check your favorite service’s website for details.

Send it back: Unlike other meal-delivery services, Blue Apron lets you send gel packs and foil liners back to reuse. Just print a shipping label out from its website, tape it to the Blue Apron box full of materials, and drop it off at the post office, free of charge.

The Best Meal-Delivery Service Summed Up

Meal-Delivery Service
The Best
For Novice Cooks
Blue Apron
Green Chef
For Dietary Restrictions