I’m going to be honest: I love to cook, but dinner is a drag. I’m totally capable of scanning Pinterest for recipes. I know my way around the stove, but among figuring out what to eat, picking up ingredients I may never use again and having to put it all together, I lose my mojo. I’m guilty of throwing up my hands and ordering takeout in lieu of making my own meal.
Still, I was skeptical of meal kits: How much time could it really save? Isn’t it kind of expensive?
Well, call me converted. Beyond the fact that I no longer agonize over finding the best grain bowl recipe possible, the meal kits have also had another benefit: My husband cooks most nights now. Their no-brainer recipe directions have given him a new hobby and taken a load off my responsibility list.
Along the way, we’ve tried several different meal kits and found that each of them has pros and cons. If you’re just getting started, it can be hard to see which one is right for you, so I did the dirty work and broke it down.
Here are the top kits — all available nationwide — and the most important things to know before you choose one (or more!) to try.
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Price: $7.49 to $9.99 per plate depending on your plan
Best for: Restaurant foodies
Benefits: If you’re a foodie, you’ll love Blue Apron‘s restaurant-quality meals that introduce you to new ingredients, flavors and cooking techniques. They’re made with organic and sustainable ingredients. You can order two or three recipes a week for two people or three or four recipes per week for four people. There’s also an option to have wine delivered with your kit.
Drawbacks: Like most plans, smaller plans require you to pay shipping. There are also few options if you have diet restrictions.
Price: $7.49 to $13.99 per plate depending on your plan
Best for: Healthy eaters
Benefits: If you’re looking for healthy, junk-free meals but haven’t found a meal kit that caters to your dietary needs, you’ve just found the answers to your deepest wishes. RealEats offers fully cooked, chef-prepared meals that are vacuum-sealed for freshness. Each meal includes the nutritional info so you know exactly what you’re eating.
Drawbacks: If you’re short on fridge space, these meals might take up more space than you’d like.
Best for: People short on time
Benefits: Hungryroot sends you groceries based on your preferences each week and easy 10-minute recipe ideas to make with them. If you don’t like spending tons of time in the kitchen — or using the oven and stove — you’ll actually like cooking with these simple ingredients and recipes.
Drawbacks: These meals tend to be on the lighter side, so you might want to supplement with some items if you like heavier meals.
Price: $10 per meal
Best for: Families or simple recipe folks
Benefits: Families will likely love Home Chef. With a few options to choose from each week, many of them kid-approved, and the option to order between two and three meals a week for two or four people, you’ve got a variety of reliable, usually quick, meals to cook.
Drawbacks: Although they occasionally have some adventurous dishes, the food tends to keep ingredients and flavors pretty simple.
Price: $11 or $12 per plate depending on your plan
Best for: Organic eaters who need diet-specific meals
Benefits: If you’re concerned about having all-organic produce, sustainable seafood or antibiotic- and hormone-free meat and pasteurized organic eggs, Sun Basket has you covered. Their recipes focus on clean meats and vegetables, and you can choose from paleo, lean (550 calories per serving), gluten-free, Mediterranean, pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan meal plans.
Drawbacks: It’s one of the more expensive options, and only the family sizes (four people) allow you to choose between two, three or four meals per week.
Price: $12 per plate depending on your plan
Best for: People who need dinner made quickly
Benefits: Gobble does all of the prep work for you. Lots of starches like mashed potatoes come premade and everything is already washed, chopped and ready to be cooked.
Drawbacks: Convenience doesn’t come cheap. This is one of the more pricey options but it’s still a lot more affordable than ordering takeout.
Price: $12 per plate
Best for: Plant-based foodies
Benefits: Whether you’re full vegan, dabbling vegetarian or someone who would like to have more plant-based meals in their life, Purple Carrot offers plentiful variety and goes way beyond pasta, for Instagram-worthy meals that will light up your taste buds.
Drawbacks: Currently, the only options are for two portions three times a week.
Price: $9 to $13 per meal depending on plan
Best for: Soup and smoothie lovers
Benefits: Splendid Spoon offers breakfast and lunch options only. They have a wide variety of soup, smoothie and bowl options to keep your lunch routine from getting dull. Everything is pretty healthy so if that’s a priority, this is a great option.
Drawbacks: $13 for lunch is definitely more than most people prefer to spend. But if you’re willing to splurge on the convenience, all of their selections are delicious!
Price: $4.99+ per plate
Best for: Families, budget-conscious people
Benefits: This is by far the cheapest option which makes it great for large families. There is also a wide selection of menu options. Most services only offer 4-6 menu options but Every Plate offers 11 every week which is great if you have picky eaters in your family.
Drawbacks: The menu isn’t quite as diverse as some of the other options. This is more meat-and-potatoes meals with a side of veggies so don’t expect to see any fancy or exotic ingredients, but if you want great-tasting homestyle cooking at an affordable price, this is your best option.
Most kits offer some kind of discount as an introductory offer, so trying them out is even cheaper. If you’re ready to make recipe stress a thing of the past, give a meal kit a chance.
A version of this article was originally published May 2018.