More time spent at home over the past few years and an increased desire for convenience has meant that meal delivery services and make-at-home meal kits have surged in popularity. If you enjoy cooking but hate meal planning, if you're lacking inspiration or wanting to avoid unhealthy takeaways, food box delivery services such as HelloFresh, Marley Spoon, Dinnerly, Everyplate and Pepper Leaf can be an enticing option.
"Meal kit delivery services can be useful if you're time-poor but still want to eat good-quality home-cooked food," says CHOICE test expert Chantelle Dart. "As there is lots of variety available with simple instructions, they can also be a great way to learn how to cook."
In response to a 2019 survey about the main reasons consumers bought meal kits, half of respondents said they purchased them because there were healthy options available. Thirty-six percent said they bought them because the service removes the need to head into a shop to buy ingredients, and 34 per cent of respondents said they bought them because they wanted to try something new.
Finding the service that's right for you
If you're considering trying out one of the many meal kit delivery services available but not sure which one is right for you, CHOICE's expert testers have done the hard work for you.
CHOICE testers rated the services for ease of ordering, presentation and temperature on delivery, ingredient freshness, recipe accuracy and more
Our testers ordered and cooked three meals (two meat and one vegetarian option, each to feed four people) from HelloFresh, Marley Spoon, Pepper Leaf, Dinnerly and Everyplate. They rated the services for ease of ordering, presentation and temperature on delivery, ingredient freshness, recipe accuracy and more.
CHOICE members can view the full results of which delivery services rated the highest. We've also detailed below some of the most interesting things we found, and some factors to consider before choosing the right service for you.
1. There's lots of variety, depending on your needs
Each service our testers looked at had a wide variety of meal options to choose from each week, from about 16 meal options from Pepper Leaf up to more than 40 from Marley Spoon and Dinnerly.
"If you find yourself cooking the same dinners over and over again, these meal kits can be a good way to learn some new recipes and expand your repertoire, perhaps try a new cuisine or ingredients you don't usually cook with," says Chantelle.
With all providers, you select the number of people you're cooking for (anywhere from one to six people, depending on the provider) and the number of meals per week you'd like, and when you'd like them delivered. You can then choose from a range of menu preferences that may be sorted into categories such as 'quick and easy' or 'family friendly'.
Adding extras to your box
A new service from Marley Spoon – Market by Marley Spoon – lets you supplement your food box with extras such as whole ingredients and readymade meals (eggs, olive oil or a readymade lasagne, perhaps), further reducing your need to venture into a supermarket. Everyplate gives you the option to add a fruit box to your order and Pepper Leaf currently offers free seasonal fruit to add to your first two boxes.
2. Specific health and dietary requirements available
CHOICE testers noted that most providers now cater for specific nutritional or dietary requirements. All services offer a vegetarian option, but there is increasing variety available from some providers for people who want things such as vegan, low calorie, 'carb smart' or 'protein smart' options.
"I found that Hello Fresh had the most diverse range of categories to choose from," says Chantelle.
"You can filter your meal choices based on things such as vegetarian, calorie smart, carb smart, flexitarian and protein rich meals. Their recipes are also tagged based on categories such as 'not suitable for coeliacs', 'dietitian approved' and 'family friendly'.
"In contrast, Every Plate has limited categories to help you make choices based on specific dietary requirements, so it depends what is important to you."
The contents of a Marley Spoon box we received, including recipe card.
3. They probably won't save you money
Since we last tested meal kit delivery services in 2020, we'e noticed that, unsurprisingly, prices have increased slightly. And although these boxes may indeed be convenient and stop the temptation to buy expensive takeaways, they're probably not something to sign up to if you're trying to save money on groceries.
We found that when comparing the price of ingredients of a Hello Fresh food box versus the cost of buying ingredients for that specific meal in the supermarket, the box costs slightly more, particularly when you factor in delivery costs. And, when you take into account that while doing your supermarket shop you may buy larger packs or take advantage of specials, you'll probably get better value.
But if you're someone who often throws out perishable food items because they've gone bad, or you have a cupboard full of jars you've bought for a specific recipe and taken one spoonful out of but will never use again, it may work out as the more cost-efficient option for you. Read more about our cost comparison in our gourmet meal delivery services buying guide.
Cheapest meal delivery service
If cost is a factor for you, but you're happy to pay for the convenience of having all the ingredients you need for a recipe packaged neatly up for you and delivered to your door, the cheapest meal kit delivery service we tested is Everyplate.
The cheapest meal kit delivery service we tested is Everyplate
Everyplate says they deliver a lower cost by 'cutting the frills', for example using less ingredients in their recipes and DInnerly says they cut costs through things such as providing recipes digitally instead of printing you out a card to follow.
Average cost for four-person box (three meals a week) including delivery
Everyplate: $81.99 Dinnerly: $94.37Pepperleaf: $134.90 Hello Fresh: $134.99 Marley Spoon: $142.37.
There are often introductory discounts and offers are available, so check before you sign up and make sure you understand what the ongoing cost will be. Once you sign up to a plan, you'll be automatically billed for the same order each week unless you cancel your subscription within the specified time frame.
The contents of a Pepper Leaf box we received.
4. You need to be careful about food safety
To ensure food safety, particularly when ordering meat and dairy items, CHOICE experts recommend choosing a delivery time slot when you will be home and able to place items in the refrigerator immediately.
Although protein and dairy products are delivered in an insulated bag with an ice gel pack, we found in one or two cases when we ordered food to a southern Sydney address that even though we accepted delivery at the door, chicken thighs had already warmed to 5°C, and in one case, beef mince was already at 8°C.
What is a safe food temperature?
According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the safest temperature for potentially hazardous foods such as raw meat, seafood and dairy products is 5°C or colder. Food that has warmed hotter than this is still safe to consume as long as it has not been at this warmer temperature for more than four hours and is consumed immediately. If it has been at a warmer temperature than 5°C for more than four hours, you should throw it out.
If it has been at a warmer temperature than 5°C for more than four hours, you should throw it out
This is because it takes more than four hours for food-poisoning bacteria to grow to dangerous levels.The best performers in our review in terms of food being delivered within the ideal food temperature ranges for our specific deliveries were Hello Fresh, Pepper Leaf and Every Plate.
5. There are pros and cons for the environment
The fact that ingredients arrive pre-portioned in individual sachets, with only the quantity of fresh ingredients you'll need, means cooking from these types of meal kit boxes generates minimal food waste as you'll use everything up. That's obviously a win on the sustainability front.
However, this means that a lot of the kits come with a large amount of plastic that will probably end up in the bin (unless you recycle your soft plastics). But most providers are recognising how important sustainability is to consumers, and are making an effort to provide more eco-friendly or recyclable packing.
Most providers also specify that they aim to use locally grown and/or sourced Australian produce (and minimal imported ingredients). But Pepper Leaf is the only service that specifies that they use free-range and grass-fed meat, as well as sustainably caught seafood.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.