Pick the Best Cheapest Meal Delivery Service For You

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Pick the Best Cheapest Meal Delivery Service For You

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. And there are no signs of slowing down: Meal kits are expected to become a $7.6 billion market in the United States by the year 2024.

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?

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 meals 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, you can have meals ready-to-make delivered to your doorstep.

Meal Kits vs. Prepared Meal Kits

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:

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.
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

6 of the Cheapest Meal Delivery Service Brands

Company
Prices Start At
Shipping
Best For
Promotions
Blue Apron
$8.99
$9.99
Foodies who want wine and product offerings
New users can get $27.50 off their first four boxes
Hello Fresh
$12.49
$8.99
Customers who want fresh food options and good promotions for new subscribers
New users get $14 free meals, plus free shipping, and healthcare workers are also eligible for a special promotions
Dinnerly
$5.59
$8.99
Families who want to cook an affordable meal in a short period of time
New users can regularly check the website and Dinnerly social media channels for promotions
Freshly
$8.49
Varies
Singles who want quality heat-and-eat options
Freshly offers promotions from time to time on its social media channels, and the company also offers a student discount
EveryPlate
$4.99
$8.99
Subscribers on a strict budget looking for simple recipes
New users can get $40 off their first three boxes; students can also get 20% off their first two boxes
Home Chef
$8.99
Varies
Users with special dietary preferences
New subscribers can save $90 off their first four deliveries

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

Blue Apron was founded nine 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.

Cost: Prices start at $8.99, 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 $27.50 off their first four boxes

2. HelloFresh: Best for Fresh Food and Good Promotions

HelloFresh is another OG in the meal-kit industry, founded nearly 10 years ago. It’s often compared to Blue Apron, and there are similarities between the two. However, HelloFresh came out on top as one of the meal-kit winners during the pandemic, gaining nearly 3 million subscribers compared to the previous year.

Users can choose between two and six recipes per week and choose two or four people to serve. Unlike Blue Apron, HelloFresh has doubled down on food only. The service offers options ranging from meat and pescaterian to calorie-smart and quick-and-easy meals.

Cost: Prices start at $12.49, plus $8.99 shipping.
Membership fees? No.
Availability: Contiguous United States.
Meal kit or prepared meal kit? Meal kit.
Vegetarian options? Yes.
Current promotions: New users get $14 free meals, plus free shipping. Healthcare workers are also eligible for a special promotion: 50% off their first box, plus 15% off boxes for the next year.

3. Dinnerly: Best for Families on a Time Crunch

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.

Cost: Prices start at $5.59, plus $8.99 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 regularly check the website and Dinnerly social media channels for promotions.

4. Freshly: Best for Singles Who Want a Ready-Made Meal Option

Freshly was founded in 2012. This meal service promotes chef-prepared meals you can “heat and eat” in only three 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 white bean turkey chili bowl to honey-peach barbecue chicken. And unlike others on the market, you order one meal per person.

Users can choose between four and 12 meals each week. There are gluten- and peanut-free options, though the company only has a handful of vegetarian meals at this time. It’s recommended that you eat meals within three to five days. Best-by dates are also printed on the meals so you can plan them accordingly.

Cost: Prices start at $8.49, plus shipping (varies).
Membership fees? No.
Availability: Contiguous United States.
Meal kit or prepared meal kit? Prepared meal kit.
Vegetarian options? Limited options.
Current promotions: Freshly offers promotions from time to time on its social media channels. The company also offers a student discount, which gives subscribers $80 off their first five orders.

Read more about Freshly in this review in The Penny Hoarder.

5. EveryPlate: Best for Subscribers on a Strict Budget

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 is also more restrive than its competitors — no dedicated vegetarian, keto, vegan, gluten-free, low-carb or paleo options at this time.

Cost: Prices start at $4.99, plus $8.99 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 options.
Current promotions: New users can get $40 off their first three boxes. Students can also get 20% off their first two boxes.

Read more about EveryPlate in this review in The Penny Hoarder.

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

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.

Cost: Prices start at $8.99, 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 subscribers can save $90 off their first four deliveries.

How Do You Order and Choose Meals?

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?

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

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 (and “free” shipping for some kits).

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most popular questions when it comes to cheap meal kits.

​​What is the Cheapest Meal Plan Delivery?

EveryPlate is the overall cheapest meal kit service. With that said, the most affordable meal kit for you might depend on where you live and your dietary preferences. Also, if you’re a new subscriber, you could qualify for big first-time-customer specials.

Prices fluctuate, so check out different (and new-to-the-market) services regularly.

What is the Cheapest Healthy Meal Delivery Service?

Home Chef offers specialty meals at good prices. However, most meal delivery services offer a range of food options. Whether you’re looking for fresh produce or low-calorie eats, there are many options for nutritious meals.

What is the Cheapest Food Delivery Service in 2021?

Prices have shifted a bit this year to accommodate more users and account for COVID-19-induced production issues. Right now, EveryPlate and Dinnerly are two of the cheapest meal delivery services.

What is the Cheaper Version of HelloFresh?

HelloFresh offers many promotions and new-customer deals. If you’re looking for a slightly cheaper option, check out Dinnerly or Home Chef. Both offer healthy ingredients and vast menu preferences.

Contributor Kathleen Garvin (@itskgarvin) is a personal finance writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida, and former editor and marketer at The Penny Hoarder. She owns a content-writing business and her work has appeared in U.S. News, Clark.com and Well Kept Wallet.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.