Are Meal Subscription Kits A Saviour or A Waste of Money for Families?

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Quick, easy meals! No more, “what’s for dinner, Mom!” Learn new cooking skills! 

Yep, I finally decided to check out subscription meal kit services. Will it be worth it? Will it transform our meal times and save my sanity? And most important, is it worth the price? Let’s dig in!

subscription meal kit review for family

First, I want to let you know this is NOT sponsored in any way. I’m trying out several subscription meal kit services using my own cash …and a lot of coupons!

I’ve looked at a lot of plans–and tried a few out–to write this post. It’s not surprising that all of these companies are following the same formula with small variations. Some are more gourmet, some emphasize speed or organic ingredients–at least one is strictly vegan! Heck, I even found a service that will send you fully prepared meals for your infant or toddler.

The Plans

Some services offer a cheaper family plan–usually with limited “kid friendly” recipes–while others just let you pick from all their offerings at one flat price. You might find it insulting that a company thinks your 6 year-old doesn’t like steak, it could be helpful to set the default to “family” in case you sign up for the long haul. All of these services are meant to auto-renew each week–and if you don’t pick out your recipes in advance they will send their most popular dish. Which might be a mushroom and goat cheese quiche.

All the companies I looked at offered plans by number of servings, generally 2 or 4 people. You can also pick how many meals you’ll get a week–anywhere from 2 to 7 depending on the company.

I’ve yet to find a plan that caters to families over 4, though if your kids are small enough to split an adult meal you might squeak by.

And that brings me to a touchy area: serving size!

Serving Sizes?

When started this project I read a lot of reviews and their comment sections. You know haters are gonna hate, but I was surprised at how many people bitterly complained about the portion sizes.

I think this has to do with the Super Size Me epidemic: Americans just don’t know what a “normal” serving size looks like anymore.

Me included. 

You can get a basic idea of a meal kit’s portion size by digging into the recipe details. Everyone lists the calorie count for their meals somewhere. If your family is full of big eaters, you’ll want to avoid the light dishes and focus on the heartier meals.Hello Fresh meal kits serving size

Hello Fresh sent 20 oz (1.25 pound) of ground beef and 24 oz (1.5 pound) of chicken for my family four.

You can also plan on serving dessert, or throw in an extra side dish…though that kinda defeats the purpose of having a meal prepped and sent to your house.

Of course you can also embrace the serving size and use the meal kits as a way to re-calibrate your diet. A lot of people use meal kits as a way to diet without the pain of eating diet food.hello fresh broccoli and sesame chicken

If you’re not used to judging a meal by its calorie count, let me give you a comparison most moms can grasp. I fixed Honey Sesame Chicken with a side of roasted broccoli and white rice for my first Hello Fresh meal. Divided by 4 servings, this meal clocks in around 670 calories…about the same as a McDonald’s 10 piece chicken nugget and a small fry.  In fact, you get about the same amount of chicken in each meal, but instead of small fries, you get a cup of rice and a nice serving of broccoli!

Hello Fresh roasted Broccoli

 

The Food

Let’s take a look at the first Hello Fresh meal I prepared for the family: Honey Sesame Chicken Tenders. I can’t lie–this meal was awesome! I’m guilty of making the same ol’ Chinese style stir fry…and no matter what I do, it always tastes the same.Hello fresh sesame chicken in a bowl

Hello Fresh gave me a few new things to try, like working with fresh ginger and roasting broccoli. I also used fresh garlic, which I haven’t done in ages! The recipe impressed everyone, and I’m keeping the card to make it again.

Price Break Down

Another area where people tend to complain is price. I have a belief that people who are happy with a product rarely go out of their way to post a compliment, but if they’ve been wronged they fly to the internet with rocket powered pants. I decided to not pay too much attention to the negative comments, especially the ones complaining about price.rocket kid

Let’s get something straight. Having your food packed up, put on ice and shipped to your house is no small feat. This is a luxury service, not a bargain hunters dream. Maybe you can feed your family for less than $8 a plate, but I doubt you’re serving up a culinary treat.

For my family of four…before tax

Hello Fresh Honey Sesame Chicken Tenders $34.96/$8.74 a serving 

Sesame Chinese Restaurant (in Crestwood) Sesame Chicken: $38/$9.50 a serving

Walmart Grocery Honey Sesame Chicken: $27.54/$6.88 a serving

I’m using Sesame Chinese Restaurant because it’s my favorite place to order carry out. I usually spend more than $38–we always add crab rangoon and fried rice!

The Walmart tally is also difficult to nail down. I used Walmart’s grocery website to compile a list of items needed to cook the same sesame chicken recipe–and like Hello Fresh, I bought everything but salt, pepper and cooking oil. I also included a $7 package of trimmed chicken breast tenderloins, even though I would normally get the mega chicken pack.

If you want an even MORE accurate price, I ran it again–this time excluding my normal pantry staples: corn starch, soy sauce and sesame oil, plus the cheaper chicken ($1.99 a pound vs $4.64). A Walmart grocery run for the same meal using my pantry staples would breeze in at $17.22 or $4.30 a serving.*

I know some of you fine readers wouldn’t grocery shop at Walmart even if was the zombie apocalypse, so for fairness, I ran my list through Schnuck using their Instacart online prices. My Sesame Chicken Schnucks run–using my pantry staples–would cost $20.46 or $5.11 per serving.*

*I calculated the new price based on using the cheapest fresh chicken “per pound.” I did not include the price of the leftover chicken–a mega pack of chicken is $12 and about 4 pounds. If you have Jasmine rice on hand, you can subtract another 3 bucks.

It’s no surprise that you can grocery shop (or heck, get your groceries delivered) for cheaper than ordering a subscription meal service. But like I said earlier, price isn’t the reason to sign up for Hello Fresh or one the dozen other services in the market.shopping on a budget

The Coupons

I started this project at New Years and was rewarded with many deep discounts to try out new plans. Sometimes coupon offers will pop up on the top of a services website and sometimes you need to go find a coupon code. I noticed that once I “liked” a company on Facebook I was flooded with discounts for their competitors in my news feed.

You could go for a month or two just trying out the various services on their first time user discounts! There’s also a good chance that if you try a plan, then cancel, you’ll be offered a 2nd coupon to come back.

The Time You Save

I have to admit, these subscription plans CAN save you time. This is where they really shine! It saves you a trip to to the grocery store and solves the problem of “what’s for dinner, mom?” If you’re the kind of person who always forgets some random ingredient to make a complicated dish, you’ll enjoy having everything you need in one neat package.

The Wrap Up

Whew, that’s a lot of info! So what’s the end result? Did it save me money? Nope. But it was FUN, it got me to try new cooking techniques and a few new recipes. I verified that instant mash potatoes are just as good as the real thing, but roasted broccoli is far superior to a quick nuke in a steamer bag. It’s also really nice to not have to think about what’s for dinner.

I think I’ll keep using a few of these meal kit companies–maybe not every week, but once a month sounds about right.

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