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Holistic Medicine, Wellness

The True Cost of Meal Delivery Kits

Jlavraie25 contributor

Meal delivery services, as convenient as they might be, have their downside.

Millions of working women in the U.S. must constantly think about ways to make their lives easier. Many have demanding jobs, families, school, side hustles, businesses, and a social life to navigate. Sometimes, if not often, these responsibilities intersect to make free time a luxury. With lack of time comes the need to find a convenient way to get food in your system, and although some resort to eating out, fast food chains or uber eats and similar services, others, with health in mind, resort to meal delivery kits such as Factor, HelloFresh, Blue Apron among others. You might think this is the best and healthiest solution for a busy woman to get her meals ready and eliminate one worry from an already busy life. However, these services, as convenient as they might be, have their downside, and anyone considering them an option should look into both the pros and cons.

Let's get the obvious pros out of the way. There's a clear level of convenience regarding meal delivery kits. You'll get a box delivered to your door without the need to leave the house, which is a good alternative when time is an issue. Depending on the service, the meals will be previously prepared and frozen, as in the case of Factor, or you'll find all of the ingredients packaged and previously portioned for you to prep the meal, as it is with Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. There's a clear differentiation here already, as heating a meal will be significantly faster than cooking one. Still– in both cases, the food gets to your door. Another pro of these services, but less prevalent, is that they could help people who have a tendency to constantly eat out with their spending habits; however, no one is to say that some might still eat out even with boxes of food being delivered.

Other benefits might come to mind, such as the "fresh" factor or the use of having things pre-portioned, but what is less talked about are the cons of these services and why things such as good old meal prepping might be a better alternative, especially when considering some critical factors: The amount of waste that most of these kits produce and the lack of recyclable materials, the large shipping carbon footprint, and surprisingly, the potential for microbial contamination and unsafe handling, especially for meat-based meals. To understand these issues further, let's dive into some data:

  • As reported by the InHabitat publication, U.S. Packaging and Wrapping performed a study on the waste created by meal delivery kit services by looking at the packaging and shipping of three of the most popular services. The findings pointed to high percentages of waste, plastic use, and low rate of recyclable materials: For Blue Apron, the best-ranked company, "only 50% of the packaging was labeled for recycling. Although that's exponentially better than Everyplate, with only 3% recyclable materials. In this case, that meant one package in the entire box of three meals. Hello Fresh wasn't a lot better at 9% and Home Chef contained 19% recyclable items." When it came to the percentage of plastic content, the results were not much better; "in the four companies tested, plastic content ranged from 66% from Hello Fresh to 92% with Blue Apron. Home Chef measured 90% and EveryPlate came in at 78%." These results make us question how meaningful the claims of lowering food waste are when so much packaging and plastic waste is created. This is before considering the carbon footprint from several rounds of shipping.

  • Looking at food sanitation and handling concerns, a study performed by Food Safety News found that many of the delivery services had little to no handling instructions for customers to review and used misleading language, such as checking that the meat was "cool to the touch" upon receipt as a way of telling that the meat was safe to consume. The study found significant inconsistencies regarding the temperatures of food items, even in the same shipment, '"surface temperatures varied significantly among products in the same shipment and even on different locations on the same product. Nearly 47 percent of the 684 items researchers ordered arrived with surface temperatures above 40 degrees, rendering them unsafe to consume."' The study added that the microbial load of items arriving at 60 or 70 degrees was off the charts.

These concerns, paired with the fact that about 90% of meal delivery kit subscriptions are canceled after six months, point to the fact that the services prove to be less valuable, convenient, and cost-effective than they claim to be. Considering a weekly grocery trip, using your own reusable bags and a meal prep session might still be the healthiest and least wasteful way to get a sustainable and nutritious meal.