Meal Kits vs Meal Planning: We Weigh the Pros and Cons
The number of companies offering to measure, pack and ship pre-made meal kits to your home seems to grow every week. Meal kits deliver a box of ingredients to your door, that typically make three dinners for two, for around $10/meal.
But if you're looking for an option that's more customizable, that helps with all meals of the day, that reduces food cost, or that just doesn't have so much packaging, a meal planning service might be a better option. Online meal planners and online menu planner services like PlateJoy provide an outline for what to eat throughout the week, tailored to your preferences. These include shopping lists and helpful cooking tips to make eating well simple, stress-free and interesting, saving you time and mental resources by taking the guesswork out of figuring out what to do - and what to have - in the kitchen.
Which should you choose? We’ve laid out the pros on cons on both sides of the counter:
The decision is made for you
Most meal kit services will contact you a week or so before delivery and ask you to select a variety of meals from their offering, either by listing a main ingredient (“chicken”, “salmon”, “tofu”) or using the name of the dish (“Moroccan Lamb with Couscous” or “Spinach and Feta Flatbread”).
Once you select your meals for the week using a handy description and mouthwatering photo, your decision-making is complete. There’s no mid-week “What should we make?!” panic and no worrying you won’t have the right goat cheese to make that pizza crust.
You’re given precisely what you need to make exactly what the company has prescribed. There’s not much wiggle room for creativity or last-minute cravings - plus, if you want to skip a week or your schedule doesn't allow for cooking, you're out of luck.
You’re only given what you need
Meal kit services will send precisely portioned amounts of everything you need for the week’s recipes.
For space, for your wallet, for your commitment issues, meal kits can provide a great way to date different ingredients without feeling like you have to settle down with a jar of Baltic curry seasoning forever. Having exactly what you need to make a couple of portions means no food waste, too.
Being provided only what you need for a specific meal means little room for creativity. If you rely solely on kits for ingredients, you lose out on the flexibility to craft a different meal or to make modifications. There’s something to be said for having a few extra ingredients on hand for a little wiggle room.
Also, in their effort to provide tiny amounts of many ingredients, meal kits generate a lot of garbage: most of what comes in that box of food – including the disposable ice pack – will just become landfill. It takes a lot of individual pieces of plastic, aluminum, waxed paper, Styrofoam and cardboard to ship meals to thousands of people every week.
Kits get you outside your comfort zone
You may be pleasantly surprised by how skilled a cook you are, particularly with recipes you’ve never heard of before.
Cooking can be intimidating: meal kits allow you to stretch your culinary prowess and introduce you to new techniques, new ingredients and new styles of food. The guiding hand – and easy-to-follow recipes – can be a welcome assist if you’re feeling stagnant or generally terrified in the kitchen.
If you have dietary restrictions (or are just a pickier eater!), there’s no guarantee kits can accommodate you. Do your research to make sure that what you’re signing up for is going to be worth it, especially if you have a variety of needs. For instance, Paleo plans and vegan plans are usually no problem, but finding a gluten-free AND vegan combination isn’t always easy. We found it’s like being meat-free at a wedding: you’re likely to be offered pasta… and you’re going to be hungry if you can’t have gluten.
You know what’s coming into your body
Planning out your meals creates awareness and can help achieve your health goals.
Meal planning means you have full control over the ingredients you buy, allowing you to control for things like sugar, salt and oil, or buy only organic if you prefer. You’ll also be able to pick only the ingredients you love. Meal planning is also a great way to develop an awareness of which foods make you feel amazing and which ones aren’t the best fit for your unique body. Plate Joy’s menu planner allows you to control for any of these variables and to omit foods you’d rather not have.
It takes a little bit of work to understand how to structure a week’s worth of meals to cover your nutritional bases. To skip that step, PlateJoy’s custom plans are developed in consultation with nutrition professionals to ensure your food will suit your body and your taste buds, and do all the planning and tracking for you.
Meal planning fits your busy schedule
As opposed to meal kits, a meal plan offers more flexibility for your schedule.
When you’re creating a meal plan, you control how much time what kinds of meals you want to see on your plate (and how long they take). You choose when you shop and how you want to prep your meals, whether that means one meal a day or batch cooking several ingredients all at once. The short time it takes to plan and shop for your meals will save you time across the week. Most meal kits include just dinner, but with a meal plan, you’re covered every day, all day: breakfast, lunch and snacks, too.
Meal planning itself can be time-consuming, if you’re scrolling through Pinterest or flipping through a cookbook for things to make each week . PlateJoy does all that planning for you – from which ingredients to pick up to how to prep your veggies – so your time is used most efficiently.
Meal planning is more affordable
When you can be more selective with your ingredients – and use a little of what you already have on hand – you get more for your money.
Whereas meal kits can be upwards of $10 or $12 per person per meal, meal planning allows you to capitalize on bulk purchasing, seasonal ingredients and leftovers. When you plan your meals ahead of time and sketch out what you’ll need ingredient-wise for each, your list will save you from making impulse buys at the store. When you’re prepared, you can live by the rule, “If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t go in the cart”. Plus, you’re not spending as much on unnecessary packaging (something that drives up the cost of meal kits).
Hmmm… you’re saving money and reducing packaging waste. Nope, there really isn’t a downside here.
Ready to try meal planning? Get 10 days of PlateJoy free here.