Are Meal Kit Subscriptions Cheaper than Buying Groceries?

Elizabeth S. | January 8, 2019
vegetables and meat

Out of all the expenses many of us seek to find shortcuts on, food and groceries may be the easiest — and also the most complicated. If you’re like me, working, raising two kids, and planning meals on a daily basis can sometimes get a little overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to cut a few corners when keeping the fridge and pantry stocked.

But while money is indeed valuable, so is time. I don’t always have the hours available to prep and put together an impressive meal while mixing in some new elements. These situations usually leave you with two solutions: make something quick and basic with what’s on hand, or order takeout. One of those options is much more tempting than the other, but also much more expensive.

Fortunately, there are some newer options these days that give you more choices for food at home, and with a lot more convenience. Have you heard of meal kit subscriptions like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron? These services have risen in popularity in recent years, but not everyone is familiar with them.

Here’s how they work: with most meal kit services, you sign up for a certain amount of meals and servings to be delivered to your home on a weekly basis, which typically involves choosing the foods your prefer, and things you can’t eat, if applicable. The service then mails you boxes of fresh ingredients and step-by-step instructions, with everything pre-portioned so you have exactly enough needed to make the dishes.

Simple, right? The convenience factor is obviously a big draw, but so is the potential for saving money on groceries. Many of these services may seem a little pricey up front, but when compared with prices of doing the grocery shopping yourself, you may be surprised.

So, do these services save you money on groceries in the long run? The answer is a bit more complicated than merely comparing prices of tomatoes and salmon. Let’s take a look at all the factors involved, and then compare two of the most established and popular services: Hello Fresh and Blue Apron.

Advantages Meal Kits Offer

Meal kits sent directly to your doorstep provide you with some key advantages over basic grocery shopping and cooking from square one.

  • Pre-portioned ingredients, which means zero food waste
  • Recipes picked for you
  • Exposure to new foods, spices, and cooking methods
  • Consistent pricing
  • A lot less time in the kitchen
  • The avoidance of having to make trips to the store for one or two things
Woman buying produce at the grocery store that she will pay for with a installment loan

Advantages Grocery Shopping Offers

Meal kits are certainly exciting and convenient, but old-fashioned visits to the grocery store provide unique benefits as well.

  • Exposure to sales on certain items you may already need
  • Control over the quality and pricing of your ingredients
  • Control over the quantity of food you’re purchasing

Is There Really a Big Price Difference?

Nailing down an actual price difference between meal kits and purchasing groceries yourself is difficult for several reasons.

First off, the portions provided from a meal kit are often smaller than what you’d buy at a store, especially in regards to spices and sauces. For instance, a meal kit may come with a sprig of rosemary and a small container of soy sauce, but if you went to the store to buy these, you’d likely have to buy more than just a sprig and a few ounces, thus making the grocery store more expensive.

With that said, the service you choose, and the number of servings needed can play a big part in this equation, and whether or not it’s worth it. In most cases, the more servings you order at once, the cheaper the meal kit is per serving.

For example, three recipes per week for a family of four from Hello Fresh comes out to $7.49 per serving, plus $5.99 shipping for each box. That’s $95.87 per week including shipping, or $31.95 per meal for four people.

With Blue Apron, three recipes per week with four servings per meal is $7.99 per serving, with free shipping, for a weekly total of $95.88 — just one cent more than Hello Fresh.

For those who may be choosing between the two, know that they both offer initial sign up discounts, often at $20 off per box for the first few weeks, which is a pretty good deal. Hello Fresh does have kid-friendly recipes you can opt into, while Blue Apron tends to have some fancier ingredients and proteins for the same price, but without kid-friendly options.

How does that compare to buying the groceries and doing all the planning, portioning, and recipe research yourself? It’s safe to say that most of us can make meals for four at about half the price that these services offer but consider that you’re paying for more than just ingredients with a meal kit. You’re also getting zero food waste, saving a trip or two to the store, and saving a lot of valuable time and stress by having half the work already done for you.

For some, the extra cost may very well be worth it.

ingredients to make a healthy salad that you can pay for with a installment loan

Final Verdict

My suggestion? I’d consider doing a trial run with either of these services and taking advantage of the initial discounts to see how you like the food and recipes. You can pause deliveries at any time. Luckily, nowadays, there are very many different options and all with great introductory offers and coupons. Just do a quick internet search and you'll find many different options for different dietary wants/needs.

Some of which include:

  • Bistro MD- for weight-loss goals. Doctor-designed, chef-prepared entrees.
  • Freshly- gluten-free, free from refined sugars, all natural meals
  • Green Chef - includes keto, paleo, pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or omnivorous options
  • Home Chef- top-rated for variety and taste
  • Martha & Marley Spoon- includes carnivorous, vegetarian, and gluten-free options
  • Purple Carrot- for those seeking plant-based meals

After my initial trial, I settled into one weekly delivery of two recipes, leaving me with three weekdays to worry about cooking dinner for. While I may later end up pausing deliveries due to budgeting from time to time, I’ve very much enjoyed the free time, less frequent store trips, and the new recipes and foods I would’ve never cooked or tried otherwise. Give it a try for yourself!

And as always, if you’d like more financial planning and budgeting tips, feel free to visit the  Cash Store blog.

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