The meal subscriptions to sign up to - according to a dietitian
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Americans are busier than ever, juggling increasingly demanding jobs, childcare and trying to make up for lost time with friends and family post-Covid. 

One consequence is that fewer of us than ever before are cooking regularly. The number of Americans eating at home reached a historic low last year – 8.2 meals per week, according to a survey of 2,000 US residents by Cookpad.

As a result, the market for meal-kit subscription services, like HelloFresh and GreenChef, is booming. 

The market for the boxes – which provide the exact quantity of ingredients needed to make a full meal in rapid time – is growing 17 percent year-on-year, and is estimated to be worth around $33.48 billion.

And particularly popular are those that claim to be healthy. Some offer low-calorie recipes for those trying to lose weight, while others are said to be especially good for heart health.

But which one should you choose? DailyMail.com asked Erin Palinski-Wade, a registered dietician from New Jersey, to rate five of the most popular kits. 

HelloFresh

Price: $56.95-$250.75 per week

*Two meals for two people per week (four servings) costs $56.95, which works out at $5.49 per serving.

Meal example: Citrus pork tacos with pickled onion and southwest crema

Rating: ★★★★★

HelloFresh touts itself as America’s number-one meal kit. It offers meat-and-vegetable, vegetarian-friendly, family-friendly, pescatarian-friendly, low-effort, and low-calorie meal options. 

The meals come with printed recipe cards that state how many calories, servings, and how long the meals take to make. 

‘They have dietitians on staff, so you know it’s more balanced and nutrient-rich,’ Palinski-Wade said.

The service is reasonably priced, ‘but also you don’t have a commitment,’ she said.

HelloFresh allows you to ‘pause’ the subscription for a week, meaning you don’t have to abandon your healthy plan altogether if you have a short busy period.

‘If somebody wants to do these for the short term, or they want to skip a week, it’s pretty flexible so it can work with your lifestyle.’

Another good thing is the variety of meals. 

‘You want some variety because it helps the meal to be more enjoyable,’ Palinksi-Wade said. ‘You can mix and match a bit. You can choose what recipes you want, and you can have some on repeat.

‘There is a really big selection that can appeal to all the members of your household and really help you step outside the box and try some new recipes or new flavors that you haven’t tried before,’ Palinski-Wade said.

Other dietitians have praised HelloFresh’s nutritional balance with a good portion of fiber through vegetables and healthy protein in the recipes, as well as being low in saturated fat and a good amount of calories. 

Green Chef

Price: $80-$288

*Three meals for two people (six servings) costs $80.94, which works out at $13.49 a meal.

Meal example: Herbed chicken and bacon penne alfredo with peas, parmesan and shallot

Rating: ★★★★✰

Green Chef, which was bought by HelloFresh in 2018, is an organic meal-kit company.

‘This one is really focused on healthy meals, fresh ingredients and organic produce,’ Palinski-Wade said.

‘What I like about it is that you have add-ons too, so you can have the meal, but you could also add on things like breakfast, on-the-go options for snacks, so you can round it out with what works best for your lifestyle,’ she said.

Green Chef allows you to choose add-ons to be delivered in the weekly box such as cookies or spring rolls.

‘They also do a really good job labeling things that only take 10 minutes to prepare, are gluten-free, good for heart health, calorie smart.’

However, Palinski-Wade advised customers looking to lose weight to select meals carefully, as many ‘are not in line with a low-calorie diet’.

Another downside is that the dishes, on the whole, are ‘a little bit saltier compared to the other meal kits subscriptions’.

Dinnerly

Price: $44.15-$131.75

*Two meals for two people (four servings) costs $44.15, which works out at $8.04 a meal.

Meal example: Apricot-harissa glazed steak

Rating: ★★★✰✰

Dinnerly markets itself as an affordable meal delivery service. 

Palinski-Wade said: ‘The menu is a bit more limited than others, and it’s not as heavy in the fruit and veg department; it’s perhaps lacking a bit in the fiber.’

Fiber is a vital nutrient found in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains that helps food move through the digestive system, prevents snacking and protects against bowel cancer.

But, Palinski-Wade adds: ‘Some of the meals include chickpeas and some have green beans on the side, so there’s definitely the opportunity to add more fiber to your plate.’

But compared to the other meal kits on offer, ‘there’s more comfort food and perhaps some recipes that are a bit higher in the calorie or potentially saturated fat through this particular meal kit.’

‘Those using meal kits to lose weight or improve cardiovascular health should be cautious when they’re choosing.

‘Some of the choices are more indulgent.’

There is also no option to view the amount of salt in the meals. Dinnerly lists only the calories, protein, fat and carbs.

Excessive salt, which contains sodium, is known to contribute to hypertension, which is a leading cause of stroke and heart attack. 

‘The more information the better,’ Palinski-Wade said. ‘If they could list the grams of fiber and sodium we’d have a clearer idea of how healthy the kits are.

‘Without knowing for sure, it can be a little harder to know if it’s going to work for your health goals.’

‘It’s going to take a little more legwork on the consumer’s part to make sure they’re picking options that fit within their nutrition goals.’

Blue Apron

Price: $60.95-$119.80

*Two meals for two people (four servings) costs $60.95, which works out at $12.49 a meal.

Meal example:  Soy-lime shrimp and scallion rice

Rating: ★★★★✰

Like Hello Fresh, Blue Apron also enlists a nutrition expert to approve its recipes.

Prep time is roughly the same as HelloFresh, Palinski-Wade said.

‘They do have a lot of meat-free options. For somebody who is looking to add more plant-based foods to their diet, or somebody who is vegetarian or vegan, they’re going to find a lot of options through Blue Apron.’

This week, a ‘groundbreaking’ study of twins showed that going vegan does lower the risk of heart problems in a matter of weeks. 

And studies show those who eat five portions of fruits and vegetables per day have a lower risk of diseases compared to others. 

She adds: ‘Most of the meals are well balanced. However, some calorific meals have slipped in.

‘For instance, there’s a pork belly and miso ramen that is very high in sodium. It has one and a half times a whole day’s worth of sodium in that meal. But most of their other meals aren’t that high.’

The pork belly and miso ramen is also 1210 calories per serving, which is more than half the recommended daily intake.

Palinski-Wade said: ‘As the consumer, you want to be aware that it is still easy with these services to get some meals that are too high in sodium and calories for your needs. Look at  nutrition facts before adding them to your cart.’

For people on a weight-loss diet, she advises choosing one of the options that’s under 600 calories.

A final observation is that the menu is ‘slightly smaller’ than Hello Fresh’s.

Daily Harvest

Price: $39.16-$288

*Two meals for two people (four servings) costs $39.16, which works out at $9.79 a meal.

Meal example: Broccoli and tamari sesame harvest bowl 

Rating: ★★★✰✰ 

Daily Harvest offers a range of smoothies, harvest bowls, soups and flatbreads, with emphasis on organic and unprocessed ingredients.

‘Organic doesn’t necessarily mean more nutritious or healthier,’ Palinksi-Wade said. 

Worryingly, Daily Harvest made headlines last summer after some of its food was linked to liver issues. 

The company was forced to recall its lentil and leek crumbles following almost 500 reports of sickness, with some reporting liver dysfunction.

The firm later said it identified tara flour as the ingredient that made people ill.

‘Daily Harvest offers a lot more fruits and vegetables than some of the other brands – in the form of soups, smoothies and harvest bowls. This is great if you want to boost your fiber intake.

‘It’s not one to choose if you’re looking for comfort foods or meals that a family will enjoy.’

Palinksi-Wade said the portion sizes are also a bit small.

However, the high proportion of fiber means you’ll stay full for a long time, but eat relatively few calories.

She appreciates, however, that the kits are expensive.

‘It is cheaper to make these meals at home, but you’re paying for the convenience of having it done for you,’ she says. 

Another downside is the ‘acquired taste’ of some of the meals – which include artichoke, shitake and cremini.

‘Someone who loves robust flavors and lots of fruits and vegetables would be a big fan of Daily Harvest,’ she says. 

‘But if you’re looking for comfort food and maybe you aren’t that adventurous, it’s possible you won’t find many of the dishes appeal to you.’

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