Spending: Meal Kits to Your Culinary Rescue

Spending: Meal Kits to Your Culinary Rescue
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Tribune News Service
By Patricia Mertz Esswein From Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

No more figuring out what to do with a giant bunch of parsley or a tub of sour cream before it spoils. A meal kit—a box of chef-created recipes and pre-measured ingredients delivered to your home—will help reduce food waste and spice up your cooking, with a dollop of convenience on the side.

We looked at three of the largest meal kit companies—HelloFresh, Sunbasket and Blue Apron—to get an idea of cost, convenience, and nutrition. What we learned is some kits offer flexibility to customize dishes and even eat healthy, but a different kind of meal planning is still required.

Each of the big three requires a subscription that renews automatically. You receive a delivery based on how many people you’re serving, the number of meals you want each week and your dietary preferences. HelloFresh and Blue Apron start at $12 per serving, but the more you order, the lower the cost. Sunbasket charges $12 per serving or more, depending on the recipe, regardless of the number of servings. Shipping is generally $10 per box.

Will you save money? At a minimum, meal kits are probably cheaper than takeout or dining out. HelloFresh claims to be 75 percent cheaper than grocery shopping in part because it buys directly from suppliers, which eliminates middlemen. But beware of the promised savings from initial discounts, which are a way to lure you into becoming a subscriber.

After analyzing a HelloFresh discount that promised free meals, watchdog Truth in Advertising discovered that consumers had to spend hundreds of dollars to realize their savings. The group reported HelloFresh to the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising in June.

There’s no shortage of dishes or choices. Blue Apron and Sunbasket provide more than a dozen recipes each week, and HelloFresh more than 30. Reviewers at TheSpruceEats.com who used and reviewed the kits found that HelloFresh offered “delicious, gourmet meals,” but required “time-consuming preparation” and “lots of clean up.” Blue Apron provides “upscale modern American cuisine” but limited dietary accommodations. Sunbasket “accommodates a range of diets” and is “simple and easy to prepare,” but flavors were occasionally “muted.” It promises that its ingredients (except meat and fish) are 99 percent organic.

Menus change weekly but you can view them in advance, along with the recipes, nutritional information and preparation time. You choose the recipes you want or receive a default selection based on your preferences. Plans can be customized by eliminating ingredients, swapping them or upgrading to more expensive ones. Each box includes everything you need except pantry staples, like oil, butter, sugar, salt and pepper.

The box is insulated, and the food is chilled with ice packs to ensure freshness. If delivery is delayed by the carrier, the ingredients may spoil. When ingredients are unacceptable or missing, you may be able to receive a credit or refund, but you’ll have to buy your own replacements.

(Patricia Mertz Esswein is a contributing writer at Kiplinger’s Retirement Report. For more on this and similar money topics, visit Kiplinger.com.)

©2022 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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