Ask most families to reveal their biggest budget expense, and the answer will likely be food. Between restaurant outings, grocery store bills, and snacks or fast food to fill in the gaps, the average American spends $151 a week on food.
Nearly half of us spend that much or more — and that doesn’t even factor in the cost of your time that it takes to shop, prepare, and cook meals at home.
Pulling together all the ingredients you need to cook every meal at home can get pricey if you don’t have time to shop sales, use coupons, or source the lowest-priced products. Here are some alternatives that could save you money (and time).
Meal kit delivery services can be cost-effective
Getting meals delivered straight to your home seems like a luxury reserved for the wealthy. But depending on your current culinary habits and food budget, meal kit delivery services could provide you with a healthy, cost-effective way to prepare your own food.
Meal delivery companies allow you to browse recipes, place orders (or subscriptions), and have ready-to-make meals delivered straight to your door. These services promise to deliver fresh ingredients that are easy to prepare and enjoyable to eat.
This type of meal delivery has increased in popularity, making services more accessible and affordable. They can provide customers with a lot of benefits, including:
- Convenience: Meal kits arrive at your doorstep with prepackaged, premeasured ingredients. Just cook as directed — no shopping or measuring required!
- Healthier food: Home-cooked meals are healthier than fast food. Meal kit deliveries combine the convenience of grabbing food on the go with the better-for-your-health benefits of meals cooked at home.
- Experience: Many times, people turn to going out for a meal as a form of entertainment. But preparing a meal at home with friends or family — without the stress of sourcing ingredients or measuring out exactly what you need while carrying a conversation — can provide a cheaper way to spend quality time with others.
- Less waste: Meal kits can help you cut back on food waste because they deliver only what you need. You don’t need to buy a whole carton of buttermilk for one recipe — your kit includes only what you’ll use.
If you rely largely on takeout or restaurant meals, you could save if you removed those expenses and replaced them with meal delivery.
A two-person plan from Blue Apron, for example, costs $60 per week. You get three recipes that each serve two people (that’s six meals total). You might even be able to stretch that further, depending on what kind of portion size you want; a smaller helping at dinner can mean leftovers for lunch the next day.
Compare that to eating at a restaurant: Three dinners for two people can easily cost double that amount — and that’s assuming you only order entrees, not apps or cocktails.
Compare different services for the best value
There are dozens of meal delivery options on the market now, and that number will only increase as the industry and market grow.
Before selecting a service, do your research and compare your options. Not all companies offer the same service, and factors like food qualify or how ingredients are sourced will vary across the board.
To help get you started, here’s a quick comparison of some of the biggest national meal kit delivery services. All offer free shipping and allow you to skip weekly deliveries when you don’t need it.
- Blue Apron
Price (3 meals per week for 2 people): $60
- Purple Carrot
Price (3 meals per week for 2 people): $68
Price (3 meals per week for 2 people): $69
Price (3 meals per week for 2 people): $72
As more and more services spring up, brands are finding ways to add value and draw in customers. Blue Apron, for example, also has a wine club that will help you pair some vino with your delivered meals.
Look for local options
The services covered here are nationally available, but there are plenty of meal delivery services available in specific cities and even local neighborhoods.
If you want to try meal kit delivery, check in your area to see all your options. A national brand may still be your best bet, but it’s worth exploring in your hometown, too.
If meal delivery doesn’t work out for your budget but you still need to save time on grocery shopping, try grocery delivery. Many stores now offer home delivery, and companies like Instacart can also hit up your preferred grocer and bring you what you need.
Is a meal kit delivery service right for you?
Of course, meal delivery services could increase your food bill. If you’re already good about shopping at the grocery store and preparing your meals and snacks at home, the added convenience of a service might mean paying more.
Track your spending for three months. Tally up every dollar you spent on food and note the source of each purchase. From there, you can determine if it’s worth it to try a meal delivery service.
If you find you’re constantly going out to eat because you don’t have food at home, experiment and see if getting ready-to-make meals allows you to cut back on expensive restaurant dinners.
Do you buy a lot of groceries, but find you don’t use them up before they go to waste? You might also benefit from trying a delivery service and cutting back on what you buy at the store.
If you consistently shop at the grocery store and make most of your own meals without issue, you probably have this meal thing figured out. While you can try a meal service if it interests you, know that it may not save you money over shopping at the grocery store.
Either way, the key is to track your spending before and after you employ a meal kit company to help feed you. Track your food waste, too. That’s the only sure way to understand if delivery services deserve a place in your budget.
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