Meal Kits

It’s estimated that 25 percent of Americans purchased a home-delivered meal kit in 2016. As the buzz continues to grow with the options—there are now more than 100 companies active in this space—it’s only natural to wonder if such services would simplify your dinnertime.

The Savings

Whether the food-prep kits are budget friendly or not depends on the cost of the meals they would replace. For instance, Blue Apron, an industry pioneer, charges its subscribers $59.99 per week for three meals with sufficient ingredients to feed two people. That comes out to roughly $10 a meal per person. This amount compares favorably with going out for a last-minute restaurant dinner but may be a little more than fast food or takeout meals would be.

When you compare the cost to what you would spend at the grocery store buying similar ingredients, the advantage is more nuanced. With a kit, you receive the exact amount of every ingredient you need to prepare each meal. That means you pay for what you use, making it very efficient. It eliminates the need to purchase a full jar of something when you only need a little bit. This added efficiency, however, also means no leftovers.

The ingredients are also often more exotic and possibly more expensive alternatives to what you would typically buy. However, the kits typically are made up of locally grown, organic produce; grass-fed beef; and other health-conscious choices. In addition to keeping an eye on your nutritional intake, the kits indirectly enforce portion control, potentially saving you calories along with a few dollars.

A Matter of Time

When you go out for a meal, you literally have travel time, plus waiting time at a table or counter. When you purchase ingredients for make-from-scratch meals, you spend time finding items in the aisles of a grocery store and may make multiple trips for things you forgot.

That time can stack up when added to how long it will take to cook the meal. Although, if you typically cook at home, the meal kit prep time is similar to what you would have spent anyway: 30–45 minutes, with no waiting.

The Real Advantages

What the meal kits do provide for many couples and families is a nightly opportunity to prepare a meal together. Mincing garlic while another family member washes bok choy means having the kind of conversations and interactions that you just don’t get from opening a pizza box.

It also triggers something psychologists refer to as the endowment effect. Spending hands-on time creating a restaurant-quality meal, especially when you are not a confident cook, results in a sense of personal investment in the meal. That, in turn, enhances the sense of accomplishment and enjoyment you feel when you eat it.

Between the meal prep and the cooking, it also helps you get more use out of the kitchen you may have spent so much time and thought remodeling. It also may help you realize that a future upgrade is in order.

The Bottom Line

At-home meal kits may or may not be money-savers, though they do tend to be very convenient. They also put an end to the nightly discussion of what’s for dinner. This may explain why 70 percent of those who order a kit do so again.