New & NowDinner, FasterFood Biz

Getting the Lay of the Meal Delivery Service Land

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At first, there was nothing. And by nothing, I mean that the closest thing to a "meal delivery service" was contained in takeout menus and, later, in Seamless. It was the alternative to cooking, rather than a stepping stone towards it.

Now there are posters for new meal delivery services splashed up on the walls of the subway as often as we ask, "What's for dinner?" And they have us asking what exactly makes them all different. Don't they all do the same thing, i.e. eliminate the trip to the grocery store, the meal planning, et al?

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Yes—but they've found other ways to diversify (dessert! ethical sourcing! chef-written recipes!). Here's a guide to the topography of the meal delivery service landscape, from the simply-reheat to the some-chopping-required.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Everything but the Grocery Store

A good choice if: you want to learn cooking techniques; if your kitchen is well-stocked with kitchen tools. This seems to be the most common kind of service.

Blue Apron

Ingredients: Pre-portioned, per the included recipe card. Some ingredients, like produce, arrive wrapped.
Sourcing: "We [...] work directly with over 100 family­-run farms who use regenerative farming practices that help build healthy soil for future generations. [...] All of our seafood comes from sustainable fisheries rated “green” (best choice) or “yellow” (good alternative) by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch [...] Our meat is raised with care and respect, and without added hormones or sub-­therapeutic antibiotics."
Amont of involvement: Chopping and cooking, but no measuring.
Pricing: Starts at $8.74 per serving.
Extras: Each recipe suggests a wine to pair with it; you can add a 500-milliliter bottle to your box for $10.
Availability: All of contiguous USA.

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Plated

Ingredients: Pre-portioned, per the included recipe card. Some ingredients, like produce, arrive wrapped.
Sourcing: "Our ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible, and are always carefully curated from responsible providers. While we don’t exclusively source organically, we use 100% domestic and sustainably sourced seafood, 100% antibiotic-free meats, beef with no added hormones, and produce that is fresh, seasonal, and hand-packed."
Amont of involvement: Chopping and cooking, but no measuring.
Pricing: Starts at $12 per serving.
Extras: Recipes are recommended to you weekly based on the "taste profile" you build. There are also weekly featured dessert recipes ($4 per serving).
Availability: All of contiguous USA (save for a few cities in Texas).

Peach Dish

Ingredients: Pre-portioned, per the included recipe card. Some ingredients, like produce, arrive wrapped. The recipes are Southern-inspired.
Sourcing: They have a nifty map of all of their suppliers, and "work directly with many local farms."
Amount of involvement: Chopping and cooking, but no measuring.
Pricing: Starts at $12.50 per serving. (Price decreases slightly the more servings you order—up to 12.)
Extras: They have an online store where you can buy "Southern favorites" like Mississippi-made hot sauce.
Availability: All of contiguous USA.

Others include...

Chef'd (the recipes are written by chefs, restaurants, and companies like the James Beard Foundation and Vegetarian Times), Hello Fresh, Marley Spoon, Home Chef, The Purple Carrot (vegan), Just Add Cooking.

Prepped but Not Prepared

A good choice if: you have one pan; you dislike doing dishes; you don't have any knives; you want one step above takeout.

Photo by Mise En Place

Mise En Place

Ingredients: Pre-portioned, pre-chopped, individually packaged.
Sourcing: Unknown.
Amont of involvement: The equivalent of "dump and stir."
Pricing: Starts at $15 per person.
Availability: Manhattan only, with plans to expand to the other New York boroughs soon.

Gobble

Ingredients: "Fresh pre-chopped and par-cooked ingredients," individually wrapped.
Sourcing: Not much information, but the FAQ explains that their "chefs take pride in sourcing truly local and fresh ingredients."
Amount of involvement: "10-minute dinner kits [...] with foolproof three-step recipe cards."
Pricing: Starts at $11.95 per serving.
Availability: All California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Idaho, and Utah.

Others include...

Din ("Recreate restaurant dishes at home in about 20 minutes").

Fully Prepared Meals

A good choice if: you don't want to do the actual cooking; you have a microwave and ample freezer space.

Photo by Umi Kitchen

Sprig

Ingredients: Pre-made meals—like takeout, but not tied to a restaurant.
Sourcing: "We support sustainable, local and ethical growers, choose organic produce as a high priority and opt for meat that is sustainably-raised." They share "sourcing info for many of our ingredients, right in the app."
Amount of involvement: Order meals, drinks, and snacks from the app and it's delivered about 20 minutes later.
Pricing: About $10 to $14 per serving.
Extras: All orders are placed through their app; it seems geared mostly towards the lunch crowd. Availability: San Francisco and Palo Alto, California; Chicago, Illinois.

Umi Kitchen

Ingredients: Pre-made meals made by a home cook that you choose, delivered to your house.
Sourcing: Unknown.
Amount of involvement: Order meals from home cooks who live in your city, and they deliver them to you.
Pricing: Under $20 per serving.
Availability: New Haven, Connecticut; Brooklyn, New York.

Others include...

Veestro (Order up to 3 frozen, prepared, vegetarian meals for 21 days; there's also a bit of a weight-loss focus.), Provenance Meals (organic, dairy-free, gluten-free prepared meals)

Have you used a meal delivery service before? What did you think? How do you feel about them? Tell us in the comments.

Tags: meal delivery services, blue apron