8 of the Best, Cheapest Meal Delivery Services

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Woman unpacking a home delivery meal kit
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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.

Meal delivery services, or meal kits, have been around for more than a decade but have grown in number in recent years.

You’ve seen the commercials and likely received the direct mailers to your door. And if you live in an apartment building, you might have almost tripped over the 30-plus-pound boxes in the hallway outside your neighbor’s door (the weight from ice packs and filler packaging add up quickly).

The direct-to-door business has grown from one or two big-name players and expanded to include many different companies, food options and plans for any budget. The pandemic helped exacerbate the trend when people grew weary of heading out to the supermarket amid the COVID-19 risk.

And there are no signs of slowing down: Meal kits are expected to become a nearly $21 billion market in the United States this year. If you’re looking to take a break from trips to the store or grocery delivery, take a chance on a cheap meal kit service.

What Is a Meal Kit?

Food box or meal kit of fresh ingredients and recipe
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A meal kit is a box or other container that holds items you need to create meals. Depending on the the plan you choose — most offer a set amount of meals for each week for a certain amount of people — you’ll receive meals weekly, unless you choose another delivery option.

Typically, a meal kit is made up of:

  • Ingredients (vegetables, meat and spices, etc.).
  • A recipe for each meal.

Meal kits usually come with ice packs and insulation to help keep ingredients frozen until you can put them in your freezer. (The effect of this wrapping and packaging on the environment has been an increasing topic of conversation.)

Depending on the freshness or best-by dates, they might also come with directions on which meals you should make and eat sooner.

For a regular, set price per serving, you can have meals ready-to-make delivered to your doorstep.

Meal Kits vs. Prepared Meal Kits

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Before we proceed, it’s important to make a distinction between meal subscription services: Meal kits and prepared meal kits.

Most companies tend to specialize in one type or the other. At a glance, here’s the difference:

  1. Meal Kit: This kit comes with all of the necessary ingredients you need to make the meal from scratch. You’ll need to do the prep work yourself (chopping veggies, defrosting any meat) and use a stove and/or oven to finish preparing the meals.
  2. Prepared Meal Kit: This kit comes with meals already prepared and nearly ready to serve. Think: A fancier TV dinner. Simply unpack the meal, heat it in the microwave or oven, and you’re good to go.

Community entrepreneurs in large cities have also created hyper-local food subscription delivery (or pickup) services.

Many companies offer deals, especially for new subscribers. For example, you might get a certain number of meals or deliveries for free before you have to start paying.

8 of the Cheapest Meal Delivery Services at a Glance

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Here are the cheapest meal delivery services by company, starting price, shipping, what it’s best for and promos. Note: The prices below are based on two to four meals or recipes per delivery. The price of each meal or recipe typically decreases if you order more at one time.

  • Blue Apron: $7.99, $9.99, Wine and cookware, $110 off your first box and free shipping
  • Hello Fresh: $9.79, $9.99, Fresh food and promos, 16 free meals and free shipping
  • Dinnerly: $4.99, $11.99, Budget meals made fast, Get $132 off your first three boxes website
  • Factor: $10.99, $9.99, Quality, quick options, Get 40% off your first box
  • EveryPlate: $4.99, $9.99, Easy recipes on a budget, First box for $1.49/meal
  • Home Chef: $7.99, Varies, Special diets, Get 16 free meals
  • Green Chef: $11.99, $9.99, Organic ingredients, 60% off your first four boxes
  • Purple Carrot: $11, Varies, Vegans and veggie lovers, $20 off

1. Blue Apron: Best Choice for Foodies and Wine Lovers

Couple drinking wine while cooking
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Blue Apron was founded 10 years ago and is one of the most recognized brands in the meal delivery game.

The company went public in 2017 and, as of 2020, had over 350,000 customers. (Fun fact: The name “Blue Apron” pays homage to chefs who wear blue aprons when learning how to cook.)

Users can choose between two and four recipes per week (each serves two). There are lots of food options, ranging from health-conscious to diabetes-friendly recipes.

Blue Apron also offers wine delivery, gift cards and an impressive inventory of kitchen items, from an herb stripper to a handcrafted Japanese utility knife.

Blue Apron at a Glance

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  • Cost: Prices start at $7.99, plus $9.99 shipping.
  • Membership fees? No
  • Availability: Contiguous United States
  • Meal kit or prepared meal kit? Meal kit
  • Vegetarian options? Yes
  • Current promotions: New users can get $110 off their first box and free shipping.

2. HelloFresh: Best for Fresh Food and Good Promotions

woman chopping vegetables veggies
Fernanda_Reyes / Shutterstock.com

HelloFresh is another OG in the meal-kit industry, founded more than a decade ago. Users can choose between two and six recipes per week and choose servings for two or four people.

Unlike Blue Apron, HelloFresh has doubled down on food only. The service offers options ranging from meat and pescatarian to calorie-smart and quick-and-easy meals.

HelloFresh at a Glance

Cooking with a gas stove
Grusho Anna / Shutterstock.com
  • Cost: Prices start at $9.79, plus $9.99 shipping.
  • Membership fees? No.
  • Availability: Contiguous United States.
  • Meal kit or prepared meal kit? Meal kit.
  • Vegetarian options? Yes.
  • Current promotions: New users get 16 free meals and free shipping. Health care workers, military members and veterans are also eligible for a special promotion.

3. Dinnerly: Best for Families on a Time Crunch

Family chopping vegetables
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

Dinnerly is one of the more affordable meal kits on the market. Instead of investing in splashy marketing campaigns, Dinnerly passes on these savings to subscribers.

Unlike its competitors, the company also uses digital recipe cards, fewer ingredients per dish and less packaging to increase savings, shorten cooking time and reduce carbon emissions.

Users can choose between a two-person or family box, and between three and six meals. Dinnerly offers 16 different meals a week, and has options from dairy-free to low carb.

Dinnerly at a Glance

Man using a tablet
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com
  • Cost: Prices start at $4.99, plus $11.99 shipping.
  • Membership fees? No
  • Availability: Delivers to most of the contiguous United States (you can enter your ZIP code on the homepage to find out if it’s available in your area)
  • Meal kit or prepared meal kit? Meal kit
  • Vegetarian options? Yes
  • Current promotions: New users can get $132 off their first three boxes.

4. Factor: Best for People Who Want a Ready-Made Meal Option

home health care
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Factor was founded in 2013 and acquired by HelloFresh in 2020. This meal service promotes chef-prepared, healthy meals you can “heat and eat” in only two minutes.

That means no frying pan needed for this service — these are fully prepared, fresh meals.

But don’t let that fool you when it comes to variety. Recipes range from Monterey spinach chicken to a green chile turkey enchilada bowl. And unlike others on the market, you order one meal per person.

Users can choose between six and 18 meals each week. There are also vegetarian, keto, and protein-plus meals on the menu. Best-by dates are also printed on the meals so you can plan them accordingly.

Factor at a Glance

Man using a laptop in his kitchen
mavo / Shutterstock.com
  • Cost: Prices start at $10.99, plus shipping $9.99.
  • Membership fees? No
  • Availability: Contiguous United States
  • Meal kit or prepared meal kit? Prepared meal kit
  • Vegetarian options? Limited options
  • Current promotions: New subscribers can get 40% off their first box.

5. EveryPlate: Best for Subscribers on a Strict Budget

A senior couple cuts vegetables for a salad while cooking a meal in their kitchen
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EveryPlate has, by far, one of the cheapest price-per-serving subscriptions. Similar to Dinnerly, EveryPlate makes adjustments to packaging and menu options to keep prices affordable for subscribers.

Picky eaters will appreciate recipes like gravy-lover’s meatballs, while other palates can go for premium meals like lemon parsley scallops.

Users can choose a ClassicPlate, VeggiePlate or FamilyPlate meal. Meals serve two or four people, and you can get between three to five meals per week.

It’s worth noting that the menu options are also more restrictive than its competitors — no dedicated vegetarian, keto, vegan, gluten-free, low-carb or paleo options at this time.

EveryPlate at a Glance

Woman cooking at home
miya227 / Shutterstock.com
  • Cost: Prices start at $4.99, plus $9.99 shipping.
  • Membership fees? No
  • Availability: Delivers to most of the contiguous United States. Enter your ZIP code on the homepage to find out if it’s available in your area.
  • Meal kit or prepared meal kit? Meal kit
  • Vegetarian options? Limited
  • Current promotions: New users can get their first box for $1.49/meal.

6. Home Chef: Best for Users With Special Dietary Needs

Women meal planning
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Home Chef is one of the highest-rated meal-delivery services today. Founded in 2013, Home Chef meal kits are available via mail delivery and in some brick-and-mortar stores (at various price points) as well.

There’s Home Chef, which is a traditional meal kit, and Home Chef: Fresh and Easy, which has low- or no-prep meals. Home Chef offers oven- and grill-ready quick dishes, as well as dessert options. (Lemon cake slice? Yes, please.)

This service also boasts an extremely wide array of recipes, especially if you have particular dietary needs. Whether you need to avoid nuts, wheat, soy or dairy, there are plenty of meal options for you.

Meals serve from two to six people, and users can choose between two and six recipes a week.

Home Chef at a Glance

Senior couple eating a meal at home
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com
  • Cost: Prices start at $7.99, plus shipping (varies).
  • Membership fees? No.
  • Availability: Delivers to most of the contiguous United States. Enter your ZIP code on the homepage to find out if it’s available in your area.
  • Meal kit or prepared meal kit? Meal kit.
  • Vegetarian options? Yes.
  • Current promotions: New users can get 16 free meals.

7. Green Chef: Best for Customers Who Want Organic Ingredients

woman chopping vegetables
Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock.com

If you’re looking for fresh ingredients and nourishing meals you can cook in about 30 minutes, Green Chef could be the meal-plan option for you.

This service skews toward healthier recipes, with an emphasis on clean ingredients and sustainable packaging (truly putting the “green” in Green Chef, eh?).

The company offers a range of food options, from keto and paleo to gluten-free boxes.

Compared to its contemporaries, though, there may not be as many meals to choose from each week (a quick glance at one menu shows nine options). However, if you’re someone who gets hung up by analysis paralysis, a tighter menu might be just what you’re looking for.

Customers can choose plans for between two and six people, and three or four meals per week.

Green Chef at a Glance

Senior cooking at home
Lordn / Shutterstock.com
  • Cost: Prices start at $11.99, plus $9.99 shipping
  • Membership fees? No
  • Availability: Most of the continental United States, aside from some parts of Louisiana
  • Meal kit or prepared meal kit? Meal kit
  • Vegetarian options? Yes
  • Current promotions: New subscribers get 60% off their first four boxes.

8. Purple Carrot: Best for Vegan Subscribers and Veggie Lovers

Men preparing meals in their kitchen
Dmytro Zinkevych / Shutterstock.com

When it comes to some meal kits, vegan options can feel like an afterthought. Purple Carrot is here to change that.

PC calls itself “pro-plant,” offering veggie-laden, plant-based meals. Unlike other services, it also offers both meal kits and prepared-meal plans, so you can choose what best fits your lifestyle.

Currently, you can only belong to one plan, though — that is, you can’t mix and match kits and already-prepared meals in one order. Subscribers can whip up Tuscan-stuffed zucchini or heat up some creamy mac n’ cheese with buffalo-roasted chickpeas.

Purple Carrot also has fun merch (so, you can pick out a meal plan and a pair of embroidered carrot socks).

For the meal kit, you can choose between two and four servings, and three or four meals per week. For the prepared-meals plan, there’s only one serving; however, you can choose between six and 10 dinners a week.

Purple Carrot at a Glance

Woman eating a carrot
Josep Suria / Shutterstock.com
  • Cost: Meals start at $11, and shipping costs vary
  • Membership fees? No
  • Availability: Contiguous United States only, though you’ll also want to use the website chat feature to confirm Purple Carrot serves your location.
  • Meal kit or prepared meal kit? Both
  • Vegetarian options? Yes
  • Current promotions: Get $20 off your first order.

How Do You Order and Choose Meals?

Gay couple using a laptop
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You usually need to select meals (or defer or cancel that week’s delivery) by a certain date the week before you’re due to receive your next package.

You also have the option to choose which meals you’d like to receive; if you elect not to pick them, options will be chosen for you.

Whether you’re looking for low carb, gluten-free or other menu options, there’s likely a meal plan and kit for you. Bonus: Some of their offerings taste better than takeout or a dish at your favorite restaurant.

Why Choose a Meal Kit?

Man chopping vegetables
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It’s fun to play chef and make meals you wouldn’t normally make yourself.

If you want to make Thai chicken coconut curry, but can’t track down coconut milk in your area market, it’s nice to select that meal from a service that will give you everything you need to make it (in just the right quantity, to boot).

Also, if you don’t like it, you aren’t stuck with a full spice or dried herb container that you aren’t likely to use again since you only got enough to make that one dish.

Whether you want a break from grocery shopping, need help with meal planning or just want to try new, delicious food, meal kits can be an affordable option for you.

Making Your Own Meals vs. Ordering a Meal Kit

A couple unpacks a meal delivery package in their kitchen
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Meal kits can be an affordable, alternative option. But if you’re faced with sticker shock, remember that you’re paying for the convenience factor.

If you’d like to make your own meals at home, be savvier about where your funds go and what you buy.

And if you find yourself over-purchasing groceries and contributing to the nation’s food waste problem — which accounts for 30% to 40% of the food supply, per the USDA — know that there are ways to be smarter about how you shop.

Know which items (think: non-perishables) are best to buy in bulk. You can also use online tools and store-specific guides to get the best deals and save on groceries.

Bottom line: With a plan in place, there are endless ways to save money on groceries and food shopping.

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