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Recently, there has been a growing trend in the United States away from cooking meals at home. In fact, “Only 10% of consumers love to cook, while 45% hate it and 45% are lukewarm about it” according to Eddie Yoon in the Harvard Business Review. And especially among young people, this trend is amplified.
Millennials eat at restaurants or bars 30% more often than any other generation and spend only 13 minutes per day preparing food. In comparison, that’s about an hour less per week than Gen X.*
To fill the void, many people are turning to food delivery and meal prep services. Have you ever felt the time crunch come dinner time? You finally get home from a long day at work, and you have nothing left in the fridge and are too tired to go out. Or if you’re a parent with young children, meal time can be hectic and overwhelming. These options are especially popular among people who are time-crunched and don’t enjoy spending their free time preparing food or grocery shopping.
There are some very clear distinctions between meal delivery services, which are centered on providing recipe cards, ingredients, and meal plans, and food delivery services, that bring prepared, fully cooked meals, typically in under an hour. When deciding how to select where your meals come from, all of these factors are magnified in importance. Nobody wants to miss out on selecting the best option and getting the best meal possible.
Variety, dietary restrictions, contract obligations, preparation time, minimum orders, portion sizes, and price are all important factors when deciding between food delivery and meal delivery.
Below is an in-depth look at all these factors and differences between these alternative food options and how you can optimize your experience to find great meals at a fair price.
For the best food delivery deals, compare food delivery fees and time estimates.
Variety of Meals
Eating the same meal day after day is boring. People need variety in their life. The best way to ensure you get that with your meals is to have the most options available when deciding what to eat.
Meal delivery companies typically offer a pre-set weekly menu of meals aka a meal plan. Remember being in school and having to look at what lunch was on the menu? You might have some choice, but often you can only pick between 4 or 5 non-swappable options. If that whole week's menu doesn’t appeal to you, your options are to either not eat them at all and still pay for the service, or prepare and eat a meal you don’t enjoy. Services like Blue Apron offers options like dairy free, high protein, gluten free dinners that take approximately 30-45 minutes to prepare vs. services like Freshly, that provide fully cooked meals that you must microwave. It’s kind of an oxymoron, freshly prepared microwave dinners.
Both are bad options. If you choose not to eat the meals, then you’ll not only pay for the meals you skip, but you also still have to buy food. Talk about the opposite of cost efficiency. On the other hand, preparing and eating a meal you don’t like will ruin your dining experience that night.
In contrast, food delivery allows you to select any food type or restaurant you want to order from with ease. Whether you’re craving a specific dish or something from your favorite restaurant, your options for variety are much wider. Why get stuck with a few options every week you might not like? Instead, retain the flexibility to order whatever you want whenever you're craving it.
Similarly to variety, meal delivery can sometimes be lacking. If you’re looking for vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, nut free, or kid friendly options, meal prep delivery services could miss the mark.
Many meal delivery companies cater specifically to these restrictions, however as a result they limit your choice of meals. Some of the bigger companies, like Home Basket or Hello Fresh, may offer a few meals a week that adhere to these dietary restrictions, but usually with few weekly options and you might have to repeat the same meals regularly.
And some meal delivery services may simply not have meals for your restriction, in which case they are not viable options.
Food delivery alternatively limits you only based on the restaurants available in your location. With access to all the meals from nearly every restaurant in your area, you can easily find what you want. Plus, food delivery allows you the flexibility to order from a full restaurant menu.
While you might be looking for a healthy vegan option, your spouse might be craving a burger and fries. You could spend your whole night arguing over what meals to order with a meal delivery service, or you could order food delivery from hundreds of restaurant options. You could spend your night eating great food, not bickering. Food delivery is the stronger option again.
This one is pretty simple. Meal prep delivery services lock you into lengthy contracts. Food delivery doesn’t.
If you for whatever reason wish to discontinue using a meal delivery service, you could be liable for a costly cancellation fee or you may possibly have to wait a certain period of time before you can void the service altogether.
If you’re not good at commitment (I’m looking at you Millenials), meal delivery might not be for you. If you feel like you need more commitment in your life, download Hinge or buy a plant from Ikea before you take the leap and commit to an expensive weekly meal delivery service.
As much as meal delivery services love to highlight the ease with which you can make their meals, the truth is you hardly save any time compared to regular cooking. In fact, if you’re an inexperienced cook, it could easily take you double the expected cooking time the service told you it would take.
While they do provide you with most of the ingredients, you don’t necessarily know what to do with them aside from some rudimentary instructions that come in the box.
Best case scenario, it will probably take you an hour to prepare all the food and get ready to eat. Unfortunately, that is really only half the battle when preparing food. You also have to factor in the time it takes to clean up after the meal.
All said and done, a meal ordered, prepared, eaten, and cleaned up for could easily take you two hours or more from a meal delivery service.
Food delivery sometimes gets a bad reputation for taking a long time. In reality, a lot of this buzz was from a few years ago when a lot of the major players were still new to the industry. With improvements in technology, driver-side logistics, and scalability, food delivery has been able to drastically decrease the average wait time for food.
Survey data shows that the average wait time in the middle of 2019 was somewhere between 30 to 40 minutes for a food delivery order. Obviously, this is much quicker than the typical meal delivery service. And one of the best parts, there is no clean up involved at all. Get on with your day faster once you finish eating.
Meal delivery is a per serving expense. They often include options to order for multiple servings. In theory, this makes it a good option for couples or families with multiple mouths to feed at meal time.
It’s not unusual that a service will require a minimum number of meals per week or a minimum number of servings with each meal. The meal service I used to use would require you to get 2 servings of each meal and a minimum of 3 meals a week. There was no option to get just one serving. As a result, I ended up eating the second serving as a leftover most days.
That right there cuts your variety of meals in half. Cooking for one is not an easy option to find with meal delivery.
Also it may not be possible to only have a small number of meals delivered per week. You might be forced to order a more expensive plan with more meals delivered per week than you want just to be able to use the service.
On the other end of the spectrum, some food delivery services do have order minimums, meaning you have to buy a certain amount of food or they’ll charge you a small fee. Fortunately, the threshold for a minimum order is quite low across the different services so it is somewhat rare to encounter if you’re ordering a full meal.
Avoid aggravating minimum orders and opt for food delivery instead. Nobody needs a meal delivery service sending them 2 servings of the same meal to remind them they’re single.
Alone? Order for one. Are you throwing a party? Order the quantity you need when you need it with FoodBoss.
Tempted by the delicious looking images of food you see on Facebook ads or TV commercials for all these different meal prep delivery services? Well just be cautious about what looks like a full meal.
If you’re used to generous portion sizes when you eat out or cook for yourself, you’re probably going to be disappointed the first time you cook dinner from a meal delivery service.
Portion sizes tend to run a little small for my taste. Smaller portions are more cost efficient for these companies, but that could leave you still feeling hungry. Research differences in meal delivery companies to avoid signing up with a service and then being constantly hungry all day.
In contrast, food delivery meals come straight from the restaurant to your door. The rest of the world can say what they want to about America, but we know what a hearty portion size looks like. If you want leftovers or a consistently fuller meal, food delivery is a better option.
So this is perhaps the most crucial factor when people decide between food delivery and meal delivery. Prices can vary between meal delivery and food delivery services dramatically.
There are lots of different meal delivery and food delivery services you can use. If price point is your main concern when deciding on which service or option to use, then this section is for you. We will start with your options for meal kit delivery.
Some of the larger meal delivery services in the United States include Home Chef, Sun Basket, Blue Apron, Freshly, EveryPlate, Purple Carrot, Daily Harvest, or HelloFresh. See below to look at how prices per meal vary across the different services.
The minimum price per meal varies greatly for each service. With order minimums, the minimum you’ll end up spending per week for each service varies greatly. In addition, delivery costs are not included in the displayed price per meal, but must be factored into the final cost.
With the order minimums, the minimum total costs for each service per week looks like this:
Meal kit delivery services are clearly pretty pricey. And these are the minimum amounts you’ll spend per week on a service. You can easily end up spending more per week.
Most services include alternative meal options on their weekly menu that you have to pay an up-charge to order. Regardless, their barebones service already comes with a fairly high fee considering all they do is drop ingredients off at your house.
You still have to do all the cooking and preparation and clean up yourself.
Now let’s focus on food delivery as an alternative option.
Food delivery doesn’t always have to be a luxury expense. If you know how to be a savvy, intelligent consumer, food delivery can be a simple, cost effective, and efficient option for your meals.
The first step to saving money on food delivery is understanding your options. Wherever you live, there are multiple food delivery services offering delivery to all your favorite restaurants.
Below you can see the price difference across the different food delivery services:
When you add it up to a typical food order of roughly $25, you’ll find that the fees vary dramatically. The best way to find the lowest prices for food delivery is to use a food delivery aggregator, like FoodBoss.
FoodBoss compares the total fees across multiple food delivery services at once in real time. Compare the different fees for various food delivery services at once to save time with every order. Here is an example below to see how you can easily identify the cheapest option:
Why would you pay more for the same service? Use FoodBoss to identify the best deal on food delivery every time.
Food delivery doesn’t have to be a crazy expense. Especially with FoodBoss, you can get the food you want at a reasonable price easily.
Meal Delivery vs. Food Delivery
There are some pros and cons to most decisions in life. If you actually enjoy cooking dinner, then a meal delivery service may be the better move for you.
But, if you prefer to have more flexibility and don’t want to spend your precious free time cooking pre-ordered meals, then food delivery is probably the better option for you.
And with FoodBoss, you can get food delivery for the lowest price possible. Meal delivery kits and services can trap you into long, expensive, and sometimes unbreakable contracts. Avoid the hassle and use food delivery to order food whenever and wherever you want it.