Are Meal Planning Services Worth It?
Shopping and preparing your own food is the hardest it has ever been in our modern life. We work more, are constantly connected online, and just want to crash when we come home. Food gathering and preparation has become an afterthought. I’d rather watch a monkey ride a dog or a squirrel wakeboard on YouTube than cook.
However, I am a big believer in home-cooked meals being superior to eating out. There are several popular services that can fill the need of having home cooked meals without the time commitment. Should you give them a try? It depends.
Before I get into some popular options, my hope for this article is to create a discussion. I want to hear from you. At what price point is a meal service worth it? How much money can you budget for a meal service, and will it improve your quality of life? Is this something to do only for busy times, or all the time?
Let’s start with the options that provide the most service and work our way down.
Do you want to eat delicious food like this but are too busy to cook? Perhaps a meal service is right for you. [Photo courtesy of Pixabay]
Option 1: Fresh Meals Almost Every Day
What It Looks Like: 2-3 meals per day delivered fresh at least five days a week.
Cost: Prices vary, but are usually in the $15-25 per meal range. Price depends on how fresh the food is, and where it comes from. Meals can cost well over $1,000 per month, and that is for one individual.
Pros and Cons: You get amazing food with no decision making or time commitment. You can literally have a perfectly designed meal plan with no effort. Besides the price barrier, a con is that you may not like all of the meals. Also, it gives you little flexibility in terms of going out to lunch or traveling. Many providers want a commitment, so stopping and starting can be somewhat of a hassle. Nonetheless, count me in for this if one of those emails about being a descendent of a Prince in Nigeria comes true and I get my inheritance.
Option 2: One Meal a Day Delivered Fresh
What it Looks Like: Picking only one meal, usually lunch or dinner, delivered.
Cost: In the $15-25 range, the value depends on how fresh the food is. Price can also vary because of bulk delivery. If an entire office or household is getting meals, it may be cheaper to purchase in bulk to save on delivery charges.
Pros and Cons: You still must prepare two meals every day. If you can prep for two, you can usually do three without a lot more effort. That being said, if lunch is particularly difficult at the office, it’s nice to have it delivered on a schedule. This service is also helpful if you work late and want dinner ready when you get home.
Example: Dine In 2Nite
Option 3: Frozen Meals Almost Every Day
What It Looks Like: Three meals per day delivered frozen or ready to heat up at least five days a week.
Cost: Usually $8-15 per meal.
Pros and Cons: Nothing beats fresh food, but there are companies that come close. As with the fresh meals delivered, you are paying for decisions to be made for you. Frozen meals allow you to store and use them as needed, like if you go out of town or have more time to cook on a particular week.
Option 4: Ingredients Sent to You That Get Prepared in Your Kitchen
What it Looks Like: You still have to cook the food, but all of the ingredients come to you fresh with instructions.
Cost: Usually about $40-50 per person, per week for 3-4 meals. You still need to do breakfast and snacks on your own, and most people use this option for dinner.
Pros and Cons: Convenience. There is usually no big contract, and you can store the ingredients for a bit if you can’t cook it right away. There is less food waste because you only get the ingredients what you need. It also saves time on shopping for groceries. The big con is that you still have to cook.
Option 5: Delivered Groceries
What it Looks Like: Groceries at your doorstep after you’ve picked what you like online.
Cost: Depends on amount of food purchased, but usually a $10-15 delivery fee.
Pros and Cons: Some stores offer grocery delivery services. However, it’s an involved operation due to maintaining temperature on perishable items. I wouldn’t want to be last on the delivery line. Someone has to be home to accept delivery, or delivery drivers need to have access to a cooler outside that can keep your food safe. Online inventory can sometimes be outdated.
Example: Safeway’s grocery delivery service
Option 5: Grocery Store Picking Services
How it Works: Some stores now offer a picking service where you fill an online grocery cart and the food gets assembled for you at the store. All you have to do is show up and pay for your bags.
Cost: Charges vary, but usually a $0-10 service fee.
Pros and Cons: This service is inexpensive and saves time. If you are the type of person who likes to go to the store daily for fresh produce and protein, this may not work. However, if you bulk shop, or if you can’t stand the hassle of wandering through the aisles, simply pick out the items online and stop by after work to grab your haul.
Weigh Your Options and Your Bank Account
The bottom line for any of these services is that it must make sense financially. Consider how much you make per hour at your job. Your meal service should be less than 50 percent of that amount. If it takes you five hours a week to prepare food, and you make $20 per hour, you can spend $50 a week on a meal service.
A grocery store pickup may be the best option if you work a full schedule and are short on time. Instead of spending an hour at the store, let someone else do the work. You’ll be in and out in five minutes. That’s almost free labor. Reduced stress at a bargain.
Remember, the primary reason to use these services is to reduce stress and create more time. Run the numbers, and pick a couple of the different levels of service that make sense for your situation. Do a trial, and see if you like the food first. After that, examine if it is a long-term option. Perhaps it is a seasonal thing. Either way, we have more options than ever before.
Have you tried a meal service? Drop a line in the comments and tell me about your decision-making process, and if any of these options have worked for you.
For the days you don't use a meal service: