A UVA Heart & Vascular Center Initiative
nutrition

Dinner … Delivered! The Pros and Cons of Meals by Mail

Posted January 03, 2017

The struggle is real. Pulling together healthy, nutrient-rich meals seven nights a week is no easy feat. So what’s the solution? Freezer meals? Crockpot dinners? Both are great alternatives to eating out or relying on prepackaged foods. But if you’re looking for another option – one that doesn’t require any shopping or prep work – a meal delivery service may be your saving grace.

No doubt you’ve seen the ads: boxes brimming with crisp veggies and other perfectly packaged items. Although it looks too good to be true, our Club Red clinical ambassador and UVA Heart & Vascular Center dietitian Katherine Basbaum, RD, says her experience with meal delivery services has been positive.

“There are many different options out there, so you have to look around to see which suits you best,” she says. “My boyfriend and I have tried three of the services and all have had great quality foods, but we settled on one that offers organic produce and more challenging recipes.”

Ready to give meal delivery a try? We asked Basbaum to share more about the pros and cons, so you can determine if it’s right for you:

Pros

Simplicity
From sign-up to delivery to meal prep, simplicity is perhaps the greatest advantage. Just register online and specify your menu preference (vegan or carnivore, for example), dietary restrictions (gluten free, peanut allergies) and the number of meals and servings desired. All of the ingredients you will need – except cooking oil, salt and pepper, in most cases – arrive boxed and labeled, along with illustrated recipes, which range in difficulty based on the plan you choose. Because ingredients are pre-measured, there’s no waste. You can also cancel, change or put your meal plan on hold as needed.

Variety
There are many meal delivery services to choose from today. Most offer a one-week trial, either for free or at a reduced price, so that you can try them out before you commit. Some provide a few ingredients you just chop up and toss in a pan or crockpot. Others require a bit more skill and include more unique flavors. Chances are, any of the meal plans you choose will broaden your food horizons a bit, with ingredients you may have never tried. You can opt for dinner dishes only or add in a breakfast or snack in some cases. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all health food. You can choose the types of foods that appeal to you.

Quality
Despite the fact that foods are shipped in a box, they are surprisingly good quality. You might get the occasional mealy tomato out of season, but for the most part, produce is fresh and crisp and meats are lean and tender. If you prefer all organic or locally sourced ingredients, those options are available in many places.

Nutrient Rich
When it comes to meeting your dietary needs, meal delivery plans may be a good option if you’re having a hard time getting five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. In most instances, delivered meals include 2-3 servings each, so it’s a great way to up your intake without having to brainstorm new recipes or buy big bags of produce that spoil and go to waste.

Cons

Sodium
The sodium content in many recipes can be on the high side, so it’s a good idea to review nutrition information prior to meal selection if possible. You want to stick to those dishes that have 500 mg or less of sodium per serving.

Portion size
Even meals designated for two people tend to go much further. So if you’re watching your weight, be mindful of your portion sizes. The good news is you’ll have leftovers for lunch the next day.

Cost
Depending on your grocery budget, the cost of having meals delivered may be more than you would typically spend. On average, you can expect to pay between $60-$80 per week for three meals feeding two people. That’s approximately $10 per person per meal, so compared with eating out, you’re likely saving a bit, not to mention eating healthier.

Hit or Miss
Not all dishes are going to satisfy your tastes. If your family isn’t as adventurous when it comes to eating new things, do your research to find meal plans that are more traditional.

The overall verdict: meal delivery services are a good investment if you’re crunched for time, are in a weekday meal slump or just don’t enjoy meal planning and grocery shopping. Cooking at home is always a good idea health-wise, so if having food delivered will keep you out of the restaurants and drive-through, then give it a try!

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