Your Personal Meal Planning Assistant
July 20, 2020 / Amy Height

Are Meal Plans Worth it?

Table group sharing a meal

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 makes three dinners for two, for around $10/meal. But are meal kits worth it?

If you're looking for an option that's more customizable, helps with each meal of the day, reduces food costs, and has less packaging, a meal planning service might be a better option.

Online meal planners provide an outline for what to eat throughout the week, tailored to your preferences. From personalized keto meal plans to low carb meal plans, you receive shopping lists and helpful cooking tips to make eating well a simple, stress-free, and fun process. With online grocery integration with Amazon Fresh and Instacart, you can even get your weekly shopping done with the click of a button.

In contrast, meal kits send you the exact ingredients and recipes you need for specific meals based on their weekly menu options. If you’re not one that enjoys planning your meals, ordering meal kits can be useful.

So which should you choose? We’ve compared and contrasted your options to see if meal kits are worth it.

Meal Planning vs. Meal Kits

Whether you’re choosing meal planning or meal kits, you want to give you and your loved ones healthy, delicious meals that don’t take a long time to prepare. With the numerous meal planning and delivery services available these days, it can be a challenge to know which one is the best fit.

To help you make the best choice for your family, we’re breaking down meal kits and meal plans to analyze cost, prep time, and skill level.

Costs

Budget is always a concern when planning meals and there are benefits to both meal planning and meal kits. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons.

Meal Kits Give You Specific Portions

If you’re trying to figure out if meal kits are worth it, this may be something to consider: meal kits offer you precise ingredients and portions so you don’t feel like your over-buying and wasting food.

Meal kits can provide a great way to date different ingredients without feeling like you have to settle down with one you bought and don’t like. You always know you have just enough.

On the downside, you still have to purchase other ingredients to cover additional meals on top of the cost of meal kits. That may get costly over time, especially if you’re also budgeting for meals out.

Meal Planning is an Affordable Way to Shop

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, 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 and shipping costs (something that drives up the cost of meal kits).

To get even more out of meal planning, you can try a meal planning assistant that gathers data points and uses algorithms to generate the exact amount of food you need for recipes and groceries.

Time Commitment

Your time is valuable. If you’ve got a busy schedule and multiple people to feed, you likely want a meal solution that frees up as much time as possible to do other important tasks, like spending quality time with loved ones. So, which meal option works best for your lifestyle?

Meal Kit Portions Make Prep Quick and Easy

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 the main ingredient (“chicken,” “salmon.” “tofu”) or using the name of the dish (“Moroccan Lamb with Couscous” or “Spinach and Feta Flatbread”).

This can help you quickly select your meals for the week by simply using a list with a handy description and mouth watering photo. Just like that, your decision-making is complete. There’s no mid-week “What should we make?!” panic and no worrying about if you have the right goat cheese to make that pizza. This kind of convenience may be a real draw if you don't have time to come up with new recipes.

While picking meals may be quick and easy, the drawback is that you’re only given 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. This can tack on extra time in planning outside of your meal kits.

Meal Planning Fits Your Busy Schedule

When you’re creating a meal plan, you can control how much time and what kinds of meals you want to see on your plate (and how long they take). You choose when to 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 time investment you make in planning and shopping can help you save time later in the week.

With meal planning, you don’t just get dinner, but the ability to plan for the whole day: breakfast, lunch, dinner, 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. This is where a meal planning service may help you save time, while still allowing you to have control over personalizing recipes and ingredients.

It does take time and a bit of work to understand how to structure a week’s worth of meals to cover your nutritional bases and unique tastes. PlateJoy’s custom plans are developed in consultation with nutrition professionals and chefs to ensure your food will suit your body and your taste buds, and do all the planning and tracking for you, which can save you time.

Do You Need to Be a Skilled Cook?

Both meal kits and meal planning require that you actually do the cooking yourself. Both offer recipes, but if cooking isn’t your hobby, which one makes the most sense? Are meal kits worth it? Or is meal planning a better fit? Let’s take a look at what each offers.

Meal Kits Teach You New Methods

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, but 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.

One of the challenges of using meal kits is that they may not always accommodate special diets. Cooking for vegan, paleo, keto, or gluten-free diets can be difficult when you’re limited to specific recipes from a meal kit service.

If you have dietary restrictions, 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, gluten-free plans and vegan meal plans are usually no problem, but finding a gluten-free and vegan combination isn’t always easy. If you have specific dietary needs that meal kits don’t offer, meal planning is a great alternative to get the recipes, ingredients, and grocery delivery you need.

Meal Planning Offers Recipes for Special Diets

Like meal kits, you don’t need to be a chef with a good meal plan. A meal planning service like PlateJoy lets you choose from numerous recipes that are based on your personal preferences, and many recipes include tutorials to teach you new cooking techniques If you come across one that’s too time-consuming or requires a skill you’re unfamiliar with, simply swap it out for another recipe that fits your constraints.

Another benefit of meal planning is getting easy-to-prepare recipes for special diets. While meal kits may offer recipes and ingredients that suit some diets, it’s hard for them to cover everything. It can also be hard to find recipes that are simple to prepare for specialty diets. But with meal planning like PlateJoy, you can quickly find recipes that not only meet your dietary needs but are accessible for even the most novice home cook.

The Takeaway

When it comes to deciding if meal kits are worth it, remember a few key factors:

Both meal planning and meal kits offer benefits, but if you’re committed to clean eating meal plans, reducing waste, and using up those leftovers in your pantry, check out PlateJoy’s personalized meal planning assistant. With a few quick minutes, you can create a weekly meal plan – and even set up grocery delivery in the same place!

Amy Height
Holistic Nutritionist @ From the Ground Up Wellness

Amy Height is the founder of From the Ground Up Wellness, a holistic nutrition practice where she specializes in plant-based nutrition and helping her clients combat food addiction. She completed her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where she received her certification in the Health Coach Training Program. She is a triathlete and CrossFitter with a passion for all things outdoors. By night, Amy stage manages Broadway musicals and she frequently travels North America seeking out the best vegan restaurants and the best run courses. Follow her on Instagram or check out her blog for recipe and wellness ideas.

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