Meal delivery services and subscription food boxes

We look at well-known meal delivery services, their pros and cons and the cost of convenience.

No time to shop?

  • Minimal prep and ability to freeze for future use are seen as key benefits of prepared meal delivery services
  • Local ingredients, easy to follow recipes and minimal food waste are highlights of food subscription boxes
  • We compare costs, subscription plans, meal options and delivery areas for leading companies including Hello Fresh, Youfoodz and Marley Spoon

Sometimes doing the grocery shopping and cooking meals from scratch just isn't an option. You might be juggling work and study, at home with a new baby, convalescing from an illness or simply time-poor. Or perhaps cooking just isn't your thing.

You could settle for eating toast or takeaways, but an increasingly popular alternative is to use a meal delivery service. And there's been a proliferation of new businesses recently. 

Some provide a range of "fabulous chef-inspired dishes" made from "the finest produce, sourced from local and trusted suppliers" that are "ridiculously convenient, freakin' fresh" – essentially, gourmet alternatives to supermarket ready-meals. Other services deliver "amazing, easy to prepare recipes" and fresh "Australian farmed and grown" ingredients to your door each week so you can prepare a home-cooked meal without the tedium of planning and grocery shopping.

So if you haven't already tried a meal delivery service but you're considering it, what should you expect?

In this article:

The Thermomix has a reputation for getting a meal on the table, fast. But how about its rivals from Bellini and KitchenAid? Read our all-in-one kitchen machine reviews.

The lowdown on meal delivery services

We surveyed 420 consumers in 2016 about their awareness and use of Australian meal delivery services – both fully prepared meal delivery services as well as recipe and ingredient food subscription box varieties. We've taken the feedback from those who've used them to prepare a general user guide, along with some tips and traps, for each service type. 

We've also profiled some of the better known meal delivery services, including prices that were correct as of 5 June 2018.

Prepared meal delivery services

Services such as Youfoodz, Gourmet Dinner Service, Dinner Ladies and My Goodness Organics sell predominantly fully prepared meals. Ordering is simply a matter of choosing from the range of meals displayed on their websites, and the chilled or frozen meals will arrive at your door in a coolbox on your nominated delivery date.

Benefits: minimal prep, can keep in freezer for future

What users of these services told us they liked most is the minimal preparation required – in most cases, little more than heating then eating. Another benefit is being able to stockpile meals in the freezer to use later. 

Tips and traps

  • The meals from some of these services focus predominantly on the protein component, with nary a vegetable in sight. They suggest you add a salad or vegetable side dish – and usually offer these to buy – but this will obviously bump up the total cost. This is worth bearing in mind when comparing meal prices (see the cost of convenience, below).
  • Some of these services offer a good selection of freshly prepared, chilled meals, while others sell predominantly frozen meals. If this difference is important to you, make sure you're clear on what they're offering before you order. We've provided this detail in the company profiles below.

They have been great – especially when I had a baby and two small children and cooking wasn't a priority – I could guarantee something relatively healthy for the family to eat.

(Belinda, Gourmet Dinner Service customer)

Food subscription boxes

If you enjoy cooking, but meal planning gives you a headache or you find it hard to make time for the weekly shop, then subscription services such as Hello Fresh, Marley Spoon, Dinnerly and Pepper Leaf can be a good option. Each week these subscription services deliver recipes and the precise quantity of the predominantly fresh ingredients you'll need to cook them.

Kathy, also a Hello Fresh customer, told us, "I used them because I was studying and working and didn't have much time to shop."

Benefits: minimal food waste, easy to follow recipes, ingredients local and pre-measured

A major drawcard for our survey respondents who use these types of services is the minimal food waste associated with being supplied with the exact quantities of ingredients required for each recipe. This is particularly beneficial with ingredients you're unlikely to use frequently. One respondent gave the example of "a pinch of paprika – I don't have to buy a whole bottle of spices that I won't use again". If you've ever bought a huge bag of fenugreek for a recipe only to use one teaspoon of it in four years, then you'll be able to relate.

The majority of users said they found the recipes to be simple and easy to follow, and obviously cooking with pre-measured ingredients means you can turn the meal around in less time than if you were starting from scratch. The use of locally sourced Australian ingredients, promoted by these services, was an attraction for many. And Hello Fresh subscriber Pam was pleasantly surprised by the knock-on effect it had on her husband. "My male partner has started cooking!" she said.

Tips and traps

  • When using these types of services you'll need to have to hand a range of everyday ingredients which frequently feature in the recipes. These include pantry staples such as soy sauce, white vinegar, salt and pepper, honey, oil, butter, milk, eggs, flour and sugar – so it's worth checking you have them before your first delivery so you're not caught short.
  • You can check out the following week's menu in advance, but there's little scope to make changes to what you'll receive. "There was no way to choose meals based on our likes or dislikes," said one user. This could be an issue, particularly for people with allergies. However certain allergens are identified on the recipes, and because you're cooking it yourself you'll have the opportunity to remove or substitute ingredients that aren't suitable.
  • Some people also commented that the amount of packaging – each pre-measured ingredient comes in its own bag or container – was a deterrent. How sustainable are meal box delivery services? looks at this issue in more detail.

I use them so I don't have to think about meal planning, plus their meals are interesting – not always the same boring staples I'd cook.

(Jessica, Hello Fresh customer)

The cost of convenience

Prepared meals

People who used prepared meal services were more likely to consider them good value for money than those using subscription food box services. But how do they compare in price with the equally convenient supermarket ready-meals?

We compared the cost of two different dishes from prepared meal services with similar supermarket ready-meals and found the meal service dishes to be more expensive – and that's before you factor in delivery costs. A single serve of butter chicken from meal delivery services ranged in price from $9.95 to $20.99, but the Woolworths chilled version was just $7.49. The cheapest single serve lasagne offered by the meal delivery services we looked at cost $8.95 (300g) but the equivalent from Woolworths (fresh, single serve) was just $6.89 (400g). 

Overall 93% of prepared meal service users in our survey rated food quality, freshness and taste as good, very good or excellent. But whether or not the quality of ingredients warrants the higher price is hard to say.

Food boxes

We also compared the price of the popular Hello Fresh Classic Plan food box ($69.95 for three meals per week for two people) with the cost of buying the ingredients for those three meals (in the same or similar quantities) from Coles and Woolworths. We found you don't actually pay much less at a supermarket, and sometimes you pay more once you factor in delivery costs. But in reality when doing your weekly shop you're more likely to take advantage of special offers or buy larger packs which are better value for money – a 1kg tub of Farmers Union Greek Style natural yoghurt (50c per 100g) rather than a 200g individual tub ($1.10 per 100g), for example. And as long as you end up using the leftover ingredients before they reach their use-by or best-before dates and need to be discarded, then it's cheaper doing the shopping yourself. 

Overall 87% of subscription food box users rated food quality, freshness and taste as good, very good or excellent.

Want to know which Greek yoghurt to buy? We test 22 different products in our Greek yoghurt reviews.

Feeding kids

If you're planning on using a meal delivery service to feed a family that includes young kids you might want to proceed with caution. While overall ratings for meal services were generally positive, their meals aren't guaranteed to win over a fussy toddler. "Nothing targeted to toddlers," commented one respondent about Gourmet Dinner Service. "I would like to see more small kids' meal options like the pasta with sneaky veg," said another about Dinner Ladies.

Tried and tested

Some services, including Youfoodz, allow customers to rate and/or review each meal, which can be helpful as a guide when choosing.

Company profiles

The following companies offering subscription food boxes or prepared meal delivery services are amongst the most recognised:

Fresh/frozen: Fresh.

Subscription options: Classic Box (three to five meals per week for 2 or 4 people), Veggie Box (three or four meals per week for 2 or 4 people), Family Box (three to five meals per week for 4 people).

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details: Each recipe provides an ingredients list and nutrition per serving. Allergens such as peanuts, egg, gluten and sesame are highlighted.

Cost: Classic is $109.95 (2 people) or $189.95 (4 people) for five meals ($11 and $9.50 per meal respectively), free delivery.

Meal examples: Chicken satay skewers with rice; pork schnitzel with parmesan slaw.

Areas available: NSW (Sydney, Newcastle, Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Albury, Illawarra), Vic (Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo), ACT (Canberra), SA (Adelaide), Qld (Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast).

Fresh/frozen: Fresh.

Subscription options: 2-Person Box (two to four meals per week for two people), 4-Person Box (two to four meals per week for four people).

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details: Each recipe details the ingredients being provided, and additional pantry staples you'll need. Nutrition per serving and common allergens are highlighted.

Cost: 2-Person is $92 for four meals and 4-Person is $143.20 for four meals ($11.50 and $8.95 per meal respectively), free delivery.

Meal examples: Asian caramel chicken with cucumber ribbon salad; chorizo and veggie risotto with thyme and parmesan.

Areas available: Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, the Gold Coast, Wollongong, Newcastle and NSW's Central Coast.

Fresh/frozen: Fresh.

Subscription options: Two-Person Box (three meals per week for two people), Family Box (three meals per week for 3-5 people, four adult portions).

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details: Each recipe details the ingredients being provided, and additional pantry staples you'll need. Nutrition per serving and common allergens are highlighted.

Cost: Two-person (two portions) is $47.95 for three meals, Family (four portions) is $77.95 for three meals ($8 and $6.50 per meal respectively), delivery is $8.95.

Meal examples: Teriyaki vegetable stir-fry with quinoa; beef and onion burgers with crispy potatoes.

Areas available: NSW, ACT, VIC, QLD.

Fresh/frozen: Fresh.

Subscription options: Classic Box (3-5 meals per week for 1-2 people), Vegetarian Box (2-4 meals per week for 2-6 people), Family Box (2-5 meals per week for 4-6 people).

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details: Each recipe details the ingredients being provided, and additional pantry staples you'll need. Nutrition per serving and common allergens are highlighted.

Cost: Classic (two people) is $108.90 for five nights and Family (four people) is $184.90 for five nights ($10.89 and $9.25 per meal respectively), free delivery.

Meal examples: Chilli Baked Salmon with Mexican Rice; Lamb Croquettes with Couscous Tabouli.

Areas available: NSW, VIC.

Fresh/frozen: Fresh.

Meal options: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, snacks, drinks and customisable meal plans.

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details: Each meal comes with an ingredients list and full nutrition information per serve and per 100g. It's largely up to you to check the ingredients list of each meal for any allergens before ordering. When viewing a particular meal, the broad category it falls into is stated just above the customer reviews – dairy-free, gluten-free or vegetarian, for example. Clicking on a category allows you to see the full list of meals available.

Cost: Most lunches and dinners cost $9.95. Delivery is $20 to Perth, $10 to Cairns, Darwin, Townsville, Southwest NSW and NSW border and free to all other locations.

Meal examples: Satay chicken with stirfry vegetables; rosemary roast lamb with roast vegetables and mint-infused pea mash.

Areas available: NSW, Vic, SA (Adelaide), Qld, ACT (Canberra), WA (Perth), NT (Darwin).

Fresh/frozen: Main meals are frozen.

Meal options: Mains, sides, salads and desserts.

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details: Each meal comes with an ingredients list and full nutrition information per serve and per 100g. Vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free meals are identified by a symbol.

Cost: Main meals range from $9.90 to $18.90. Minimum order $50, excluding delivery. Delivery costs around $12 depending on delivery area.

Meal examples: Ocean trout with olive trust and vegetable ratatouille; chicken and leek pie.

Areas available: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and surrounds.

Fresh/frozen: Both fresh and frozen (this detail is provided for each meal).

Meal options: Weekly changing menu of main meals, soups/snacks, salads/sides, sauces and desserts.

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details: An ingredients list is provided for each meal. Vegetarian, nut-free, dairy-free, gluten-free and pork-free meals are identified by a symbol.

Cost: Meals for 1–2 people range from $6-7 (for soups) to $23. Minimum order of $50 for deliveries. Delivery is free for orders of $100 or more, $7.50 for orders between $50 and $99, and $10 for orders under $50.

Meal examples: Lamb roghan josh with cauliflower and spinach; Potager pie.

Areas available: NSW (Sydney).

Fresh/frozen: Fresh.

Meal options: Menu items include breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, smoothies, juices, soups and broths. Paleo and vegan 5-day meal plans available.

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details: Each meal comes with an ingredients list. Nutrition information isn't provided, nor is specific allergen information.

Cost: Dinner meals for one person range from $11.99 (for soup) to $21.99 Serve sizes are 420-450g. Minimum order $100 excluding delivery. Delivery is $15 for metro areas, $22 for greater metro.

Meal examples: Lebanese spiced fish; Caramelised pork with Asian veg.

Areas available: Vic (Melbourne).

What about weight loss?

Weight loss was a key motivation for users of some meal delivery services, including the popular service Light 'n Easy, Eat Fit Food, Muscle Meals Direct and Dietlicious (sister company to Gourmet Dinner Service). While we did collect responses from people who'd used these services, the focus of our survey was on the pros, cons and experiences of using meal delivery services more generally.

Motivations aside, people's experiences of these meal delivery services with an emphasis on weight loss were overall positive. Ninety-eight percent of survey respondents who had used weight loss meal delivery services rated their delivery reliability as good, very good or excellent, and 77% of users rated food quality, freshness and taste as good, very good or excellent overall.

Does Lite 'n Easy help you lose weight? See our Lite 'n Easy review for the lowdown, and read our journalist's experience of a week on a Lite 'n Easy diet.

Leave a comment

Display comments