Is outsourcing your shopping and meal planning worth it?

Food boxes and meal prep kits are growing in popularity for couples and families alike, but are they worth it?

The boxes are estimated by Nielsen to be worth $300 million in Australia in 2020, and growing rapidly.

Considering that you still have to do the actual cooking yourself, what is the appeal?

Well, cooking is often more time consuming than just chopping up your vegies and popping them in a pan. First, you need to seek out interesting recipes for the week and decide on what you want to cook; next you’ll need to make a shopping list and finally, head out to buy all the ingredients.

Meal kit services offer to deliver fresh ingredients straight to your door, in the right quantities for each delicious meal, and with an easy-to-follow printed recipe. But at between $5 and $11 per meal, the price needs to be weighed up.

Read more: Batch cooking is your secret weapon

How much do they cost?
The price of meal delivery services in Australia differs. Here are the prices of a couple and family box from Hello Fresh, Marley Spoon, Dinnerly and Every Plate, including shipping (correct as of June 2021).

Meal kit delivery service  Cost for couplesCost for four people
Hello Fresh    $75.93 for three meals   $109.89 for five meals  $129.87 for three meals   $169.79 for five meals
Marley Spoon    $76.45 for three meals   $113.95 for five meals  $121.15 for three meals   $178.95 for five meals  
Dinnerly    $52.45 for three meals   $73.95 for five meals  $83.95 for three meals   $118.95 for five meals
Every Plate    $48.93 for three meals   $66.89 for five meals  $75.87 for three meals   $109.79 for five meals

Are they cost-effective?
Consumer advocacy group CHOICE surveyed meal kits last year and found that the cost of buying equivalent ingredients at the supermarket was not much less than receiving them in a food box.

Sometimes a supermarket buy could work out to be even more expensive if groceries were home delivered, as they are with kits.

But the survey highlighted the fact that meal kit customers were potentially missing out on savings by not taking advantage of specials or bulk offers in the supermarket.

There is also only enough food provided for the set recipes – so no handy leftovers for lunch the next day.

Who are they aimed at?
Most meal kit boxes are marketed to people who like to cook but find it hard to decide what to cook, those hoping to cut down on food waste, and those who just want to avoid a large weekly grocery shop.

Read more: Shoppers abandoning Coles and Woolies, but not because of savings

How do they work?
You need to create an account on whichever website you think looks the best for you, and the one within your price range. I recommend reading a few reviews as they can vary, just so you know what to expect.

Many companies offer first-time users a free or heavily discounted box to start with, which is a great way of testing out some recipes and seeing for yourself whether you like it.

What are the benefits?
You can still enjoy healthy, home-cooked meals without a lot of faff in the kitchen, such as coming up with recipes and weighing ingredients.

Meal prep services can also help you to:

  • explore new recipes and flavours
  • learn basic cooking skills
  • cut down on food waste
  • spend less time in the kitchen
  • have a healthier alternative to takeout.

The downsides
You have to pay shipping costs on the boxes, making them a little bit more expensive. They also only contain between two and five meals, so you still need to go grocery shopping for the other meals you’ll eat throughout the week.

My verdict
I have used both Hello Fresh and Marley Spoon a few times. It’s not a regular thing for me due to the cost, but I do order a box when I have a busy week coming up.

I love the array of recipes, the easy-to-follow instructions and the fact it’s delivered straight to your door. The individually portioned spices and sauces are great too as you don’t have to buy them in a big container and have it sitting around in the fridge until you use it again someday (or throw it away because it’s gone bad).

Read more: You’re cooking your food wrong

But there were a few times when it didn’t go to plan.

Once, I decided to splash out on a ‘gourmet’ lamb dinner for my partner and I (you pay a bit extra for gourmet dinners), but when I opened the box to start cooking, I discovered they’d forgotten to add the lamb! I did get a refund for that meal and the customer service was very easy to deal with. But it was disappointing.

A few times the vegies haven’t been as fresh as I would have liked. Sometimes I’ve had to throw away a flimsy carrot or sad-looking salad leaves and substitute for what I already had in the fridge, which is disappointing as a main draw of meal kits is less food waste.

When you receive your delivery, the meals are separated into bags containing the right ingredients for a certain meal, often you’ll find stickers that say, ‘eat me first’ or ‘eat me early’. So, you do need to have a bit of flexibility around which meals you will cook first.

However, a few of my favourite meals to cook at home have come from meal kit boxes and now they are firmly in rotation in my kitchen.

I love the fact that you can simply pause your subscription for as many weeks as you want. You’re not locked into any regular contract or subscription length, so you can make any changes or cancellations right up to the deadline.

Do you often struggle to know what to cook for dinner? Have you tried a meal kit? Have your say in the comments section below.

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Written by Ellie Baxter

Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.

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