What is meal delivery?
Prepared meal companies cook food in bulk in commercial kitchens on a regular often weekly basis.
The meals are then packaged for each person or household and can be picked up or delivered to your door.
Each one works a little differently. Some have offer individual and family-size servings, some cater to
fitness or specific diets (such as keto, paleo, vegetarian, etc.), some are meal kits you have to cook,
others come ready to heat and eat.
How do meal delivery companies work?
Each company has its unique model, but here's how they generally work.
- Choose your meals: They have a selection of meals available to choose from on their website. You select the meals you want that week. Most companies rotate their menus regularly, often weekly. Some companies require subscriptions, many offer a la carte ordering where you can only order when you want to and are not committed to a subscription.
- They cook: They generally cook their meals on specific days of the week in a shared commercial kitchen or in their cafe or restaurant if they have a storefront. Some companies cook one day a week, others cook daily. Once cooked, the meals are then refrigerated or frozen before delivery.
- They deliver: Most prepared foods companies offer scheduled delivery on a specific day of the week within a time window. Many will text you with better delivery time estimates on delivery day and some even have real-time tracking of their delivery vehicles. You typically don't need to be home for delivery, they can pack your food in insulated bags with ice to keep them cool. Some companies deliver food in regular vehicles with coolers, others with longer routes will deliver in refrigerated vans. Some companies have the ability to ship food in an insulated box with ice in the mail which means they can delivery further - statewide, regionally or even nationally. Some companies offer pickup at their kitchen or storefront or even at other local places such as gyms at specified pickup times. Finally, some companies offer grab and go options, which means you don't even need to order in advance, they have extra meals ready to pick up anytime at their store.
- You eat! Your meals are ready for you in the fridge or freezer for you to eat whenever you want. Most companies package in plastic or compostable containers and the fresh meals must be eaten within 5-7 days. Some use vacuum seal technology that keeps the food fresh for up to 14 days. Others deliver meals frozen, or you can freeze your fresh meals and they are good frozen generally for 3-6 months depending on the company.
How much work is it to make the meals?
There are a few different types of prepared meal and meal kit services that take different levels of work effort. The NoStove directory labels each business with one of these "Cook Level" labels:
- No cook: Also often called heat and eat, ready-to-eat or fully prepared. This means your meal arrives fully prepared and ready to eat in one (or few) container. You just need to put it on a plate and stick it in the microwave (or microwave it directly in the container if its made for it). Ready to eat time is usually 2-6 minutes (2-3 if fresh, 5-6 if frozen).
- Assembly: This is a meal that arrives in multiple containers and is ready to eat but needs assembly. For example, If you have a family meal of burgers, the buns, patties, lettuce, tomato, ketchup and sides are all in separate containers. You open them, heat up the relevant ingredients and assemble them. Ready-to-eat-time is usually 2-10 minutes.
- Light Cooking: A small amount of prep and cooking is required. For example: Ingredients are chopped you just need to put them in a pan and cook them for 5 minutes. Another example: Meals come in frozen family size trays, you need to stick it in the oven for 30-40 min to heat. Ready-to-eat time is 5-20 minutes for fresh meals and up to 40 for passive oven cooking.
- Full Cook: Meal kits are generally "Full cook". You're provided the ingredients and the recipe, you do all the chopping, cutting, mixing, and cooking. These are usually fun experiences if you have the time to cook, and provide new and interesting ingredients and recipes, but still require a lot of work. Ready-to-eat-time is 20-40 minutes, and typically at least 20 minutes of active work.
Are they all subscription services? Will I get stuck?
Each business is different, some require subscriptions, many don't. We label each business this way:
- Yes: This means you must enroll in a subscription or are defaulted into a subscription in your first order. Many of these plans allow you to manage and skip weeks, but it's still a subscription. Some businesses default you to a subscription and you can later opt out for one-time deliveries. We still label these as required subscriptions because you're opted in be default and need to work to make the change.
- No: This means there is no subscription service available. You must order a-la-carte when you want to food.
- Optional: This means the business supports both subscription services and a-la-carte ordering. It means you can order once to try it out, order it every once in awhile when you're in the mood, or if you love it, you can set and forget - subscribe and not have to choose each week.
I've tried a meal box and it had so much plastic and packaging, are there more eco-friendly options?
It's true, fresh food delivered by mail needs a lot of packaging: the cardboard box, insulation, ice packs, and sometimes individual
packaging for ingredients. It's what keeps the food cold and safe to eat and protects it from jostling around while in transit!
Local meal delivery or pick up are usually more eco-friendly. They often drop off with a single paper bag or an insulated cooler
bag that you return/exchange on the next delivery. The plastic packaging is a lot of material but can usually be recycled. Some meal
delivery companies now package in compostable containers (it's required in Hawaii, in fact!), and a few even delivery in reusable
plastic or glass containers that you exchange on your next delivery.
How do you get your meals?
Every company has different options on how they deliver and or coordinate pickup. Here are the general delivery categories:
- Local delivery: The food is delivered locally in a car, van or refridgerated van. They typically deliver with in a 5-100 mile radius.
- Shipped: The food is shipped in a box in the mail via USPS, FedEx, or UPS.
- Pick up: You go to pick up your meals during a designated day and time window. Pickup locations are typically the commercial kitchen itself, the company's restaurant or cafe if they have one, or gyms or other fitness centers.
- Grab & Go: Some companies only cook once a week, but others cook daily and have a storefront, cafe or restaurant. They might have meals for pick up that are pre-made and ready to get whenever you want without ordering in advance.
- In-home cooking: Some companies include private chefs that bring ingredients and cook the meals right in your home.
What if I follow a specific diet?
Many of these prepared meal companies cater to a healthy lifestyle, meaning they are meant for athletes or anyone careful about what
they eat. Many of these companies provide the macros for each meal (the amount of fat, carbs and protein) and offer meals for specific
diet types such as keto, paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan and Whole30. Some have portions for weight loss or weight
gain as well. Note though, that for many companies, dairy-free and gluten-free is meant as a dietary preference and is not suitable
for people with allergies.
What if I have allergies?
Most businesses are not suitable for people with food allergies as they use a mix of ingredients and often use shared commerical kitchen
space. Some businesses ask you to contact them so they can determine how they can serve you. A few businesses do support specific allergies,
for example their facility may be entirely gluten-free or dairy-free.