The Best Meals By Mail

Between long hours at the office, happy hours, and dates, it’s damn hard to shop and cook on a regular basis, especially if you’re about that healthy life in 2016 and trying to stick to your budget. Sure, there are fast food drive-thru’s on every corner, but you might as well drive off a cliff after scarfing that trash down. Fortunately, thanks to some enterprising entrepreneurs there are a growing number of healthy, convenient and economically-smart alternatives in the form of meal-kit delivery companies. With most priced around $9 to $12 per person per meal, and offering a variety of prep times, they make the cooking and dining experience enjoyable and attainable, while saving you time and money. Most recipes are ready in 15 to 20 minutes with some in as little as 5 and meal ingredients are proportioned out so you will never have that leftover gingergrass you used for a chicken recipe decomposing in the back of your fridge. These simple, cost-effective meal plans re-define boxed meals, making them not only a no-brainer for the modern world, but the future of dining-in.

Blue Apron
The New York-based startup sits at the head of the meals-by-mail table, having raised $200 million in venture capital, while delivering three million meals a month throughout the United States.

The Dish
Upon signing up, you will be surveyed along three basic categories: choice of meal plans (two-person plan is $60 per week for 6 meals, a family plan serves four for $140), dietary preferences (vegetarian, meat, seafood) and delivery parameters, which vary by zip code. Like all of these meal services, it’s subscription based, a la Netflix, automatically renewing each week. You can put your subscription on pause if you’re going on vacation or that week’s menu isn’t appetizing. You can cancel at anytime with a click of a button by emailing them.

On The Menu
They offer straight-forward, kitchen-fire proof recipes that aim to please a broad palate ("Maple & Ginger Glazed Salmon with Watercress, Orange and Parsnip Salad). Their menu items, which average a cook and prep time of 30-40 minutes guarantees to never repeat recipes in the same year. Blue Apron also offer wines from small-lot vineyards to pair with your meals. For $66 you get six bottles delivered to your door. They also sell knives, seasonings and cooking tools directly from their site.

The Verdict
They’re the biggest and some would say blandest, but you also get the most value and convenience.

Munchery
Inspired by the simple question “What’s for dinner?” Tri Tran founded Munchery back in 2010 with the ideal of giving everyone access to their own personal chef at an affordable cost. Munchery now services San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and Los Angeles.

The Dish
Rather than provide you with the ingredients to cook you own meal, Munchery employs a team of locally sourced chefs, many from the city's best kitchens, who prepare a selection of dishes. The food arrives on your doorstep in a predetermined window of time fully prepared, all that’s required is a few minutes in the microwave or oven. A well-designed app and affordable costs (dishes are $9-15) make enjoyment easy.

On The Menu
Munchery’s skilled chefs offer up everything from healthy options like a California Cobb Salad and Chicken Quinoa Bowls to comfort foods like Steak Diane, Caribbean Ribs, and Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies. Menus change each week and there’s always a 10-12 entree options as well as side dishes and desserts. Munchery has also begun offering unique dish options in collaboration with high-profile chefs like Kogi GAWD Roy Choi as well as feature restaurants.

The Verdict
Delicious food and very high quality at affordable prices make Munchery an awesome option for those who aren’t too keen on cooking for 30 minutes each night.

Plated
Co-founded by two Harvard-B-School entrepreneurs in 2012, the fast-growing NY-based company is valued at $2 billion, shipping $3 million in meals per month to over 95% of the nation. A high-profile appearance on Shark Tank also boosted their profile.

The Dish
Plated is primary focus is on food, whereas their main rival has branched out with their Blue Apron brand products. Investing in sustainability and technology, Plated ensures that their meals leave a small ecological footprint. Their seafood is domestically farmed and their state-of-the-art insulation method uses 100% recycled liner.

On The Menu
Plated offers you more of a dining experience as you can pick and choose which meals you want from a list of seven posted on the site each week. That means you can pass when/if Salisbury Steak is on the menu (no one needs college-life PTSD flashback). The pricing is $12 per dish for comfort food favorites like chicken pot pie with flaky biscuits or healthy options like "Swordfish with Gremolata and Lemon Basil Zucchini.” Plated also offers specialized dietary control options: dairy, gluten, spicy, peanuts, soy, nuts, and pasta.

The Verdict
Plated gives you greater control, but at a (slightly) more premium price. Say you have a dinner party coming up, users can increase the serving size (up to six diners) at an a la carte price of $15 per plate, or $12 per plate with a monthly or annual membership. You can add also special cuts of meat and market price seafood for $20 extra. Think of Blue Apron as Ralph’s or Vons and Plated as Whole Foods.

Green Blender
The make-your-smoothie-at-home service started back east, but is now heading west, starting with, obviously, Los Angeles.

The Dish
Green Blender delivers 5 new recipes (10 smoothies). Each week's box costs $49 or you can purchase a 12-box subscription at $39 a box. All you'll need to get your drank on is a blender and some water.

On The Menu
The pre-portioned ingredients (no more severed fingertips cutting kale?) are all organic, non-GMO, vegan). Smoothie flavors vary (Apple Maple Grapefruit, Ginger Mango Glow, Bok Chow Matcha), but all the exotically colored concoctions make the perfect daytime workout wear accessory. The recipes are curated by leading nutritionists and focused on high-nutrition, superfood focused recipes.

The Verdict
Green Blender is a cheaper, if more time-consuming option than making a run to Jamba Juice, but if you want to stay-in-the box (as in you’re too hungover to leave the house) this is a saving grace. It probably makes sense if you're a big-time protein shake type of guy too.