Meal Delivery vs Grocery Shopping: The Pros and Cons

In 2015, the Washington Post announced “the slow death of the home cooked meal.” Cooking wasn’t exactly dead, they said, but it wasn’t alive and well either. Fast forward to a little over three years later, and it looks like they spoke too soon. A new study shows that meal delivery services may be encouraging the rise of the eat-at-home trend. Meal kits are convenient, help novice chefs become masters in the kitchen and can seriously reduce food waste. But when it comes to meal delivery vs grocery shopping, which is actually the better deal?

According to the NPD Group, Americans are choosing to eat the majority of their meals at home, even though restaurant spending is also on the rise. Their research shows that 80 percent of American meals are prepared at home, compared to 75 percent in 1975. David Portalatin, a food and industry advisor for NPD, says, “the reason home cooked meals are on the rise is that there are fewer reasons than ever to actually leave the house.”

Meal delivery services make it easy to plan your meals for the week and get all the necessary ingredients delivered straight to your door. All from the comfort of home.

But are you paying a premium for meal delivery services? Is it actually cheaper to make the same meal with ingredients you can pick up from your local grocery store? The answers aren’t so clear-cut. They depend on factors like how you value your time, how many people you’re cooking for and whether you control food waste on your own. But here’s what we know for sure.

The meal kit market makes up about $1.5 billion of the $800 billion spent annually on grocery sales, and grocery stores owners see this as a threat. Grocery stores are so eager to get in on the meal delivery service action, they’re offering meal kits for sale in their stores from services like Blue Apron and even coming up with their own meal kits.

To help you decide whether using a meal delivery service is worth it for you, we broke down the pros and cons of each. Meal delivery vs grocery shopping: Which is actually better?

Let’s look at the different meal delivery vs grocery shopping options to help you really compare.

How Meal Delivery Services Work

meal delivery vs grocery shopping spreading out ingredients on counter

Meal delivery services like Hello Fresh, Blue Apron and Plated all generally work the same. Trained chefs created delicious, mostly healthy recipes that you can choose from in your online account. Nutritional information, calories, ingredients and portion size recommendations are all listed to help you choose your meals. You can adjust the portions if you’re cooking for more than two people, save your favorite recipes in your account to easily order them again and choose how many meals you want delivered for the week.

Most meals offered through these types of meal delivery services are designed as lunch or dinner options. Once you’ve picked your recipes for the week, the grocery shopping (and sometimes the chopping) is done for you. You’re then shipped all of the ingredients you need to make your meals for the week straight to your door. No need to rush home from work to unpack everything; ingredients are shipped in insulated packing that keeps everything fresh for up to 24 hours after delivery.

Other meal delivery services like Daily Harvest and Splendid Spoon offer options that are better for breakfast, lunch or even cleansing. Daily Harvest ships ingredients for super healthy smoothies, harvest bowls, lattes and soups in convenient to-go containers. There’s little prep work involved in whipping up these recipes. Most involve dumping everything into a blender and you’re good to go. Splendid Spoon is even more convenient. Everything is shipped pre-made, and only some meals, like soups, need to be heated.

Meal delivery vs grocery shopping: Which is more cost effective?

meal delivery vs grocery shopping turkey kibbeh with cucumber salad and mint yogurt sauce on plate

Blue apron claims they can deliver ingredients for 60 percent less than shoppers would have to pay for those same ingredients at Whole Foods. Market Watch recently put their claims to the test, and the results were surprising. They tested three different Blue Apron recipes, and only one actually cost less through the meal delivery service than through shopping at Whole Foods.

The turkey kibbeh with cucumber salad and mint yogurt sauce (pictured in the photo above) came out a winner for Blue Apron, but only by $0.12.Market Watch noted that the recipes that came out cheaper at Whole Foods were pasta dishes, while recipes with meat seemed to come in cheaper through Blue Apron (even if only by a few cents).

It’s important to keep in mind that the timing of when they shopped at Whole Foods could have affected the outcome. If ingredients are out of season, they’re likely to be more expensive in grocery stores than other times of the year. Another thing to keep in mind is that even though Blue Apron only came in cheaper by a few cents for recipes with meat, they also saved the customer time. Time is also money. Saving $0.12, time spent meal planning, a trip to the grocery store and your amount of food waste is all worth it for a lot of busy folks. That’s why grocery stores all over America are starting to incorporate meal delivery services into their stores to compete.

When Meal Kits Are Worth It

meal delivery vs grocery shopping meal kit laid out

When You’re Trying to Lose Weight

Sticking to your weight loss goals can be challenging. But using a meal delivery service can actually help you lose weight fast. How? You can pick healthy meals with a full nutritional breakdown ahead of time to make sure you’re sticking to your diet and calorie count for the day. Having only the exact ingredients you need to make your meals for the week also makes it harder to cheat on your diet. If you only have a few perfectly portioned meals for the week, there’s no leftovers to tempt you.

When You Want to Cook MoreThe fun thing about using a meal delivery service is that you have the chance to learn how to cook new, healthy, delicious recipes designed by some of the top chefs in the country. Meal kits come with detailed recipe cards that make it easy to follow the directions. Most even come with a picture guide! If you’ve been wanting to learn how to cook different cuisines from around the world, try a meal delivery service like Plated that works with expert chefs from around the globe.

When You Want to Reduce Food Waste

Did you know that using a meal delivery service can also help you reduce food waste? Food waste is such a big problem in America that 40 percent of the food supply purchased is thrown away. It can be time consuming to plan out the exact proportions of ingredients you really need. Even when you do, it’s hard to get it exactly right. Meal delivery services send you the perfect amount of ingredients you need for the portion sizes you selected. No more. No less.

Some critics argue that meal delivery services aren’t sustainable. Recipes are delivered in boxes, ingredients are individually wrapped, and insulated packing is included. It’s true that meal kits come with packaging waste, but so does shopping at the grocery store.

To argue that a meal delivery service is less sustainable than grocery shopping really depends on the shopper. If you’re someone who always brings reusable bags to the grocery store and never uses plastic produce bags, meal kits will cause more packaging waste. But if you’re someone who always forgets your reusable bags or hasn’t even purchased any yet, the impact of packaging waste is going to be about the same. You’re also more likely to reduce food waste with a meal delivery service.

Time Is Also an Investment 

The main reason meal delivery services have become so popular is that they’re saving a lot of people a lot of time and frustration. Convenience, time saved and the expert advice of nutritionists and chefs makes meal planning a no-brainer. If money is the deciding factor for you, stick with grocery shopping. If you aren’t strapped for cash and could use the extra time and/or nutritional and culinary guidelines, then meal delivery services are your best bet.

The Bottom Line

meal delivery vs grocery shopping chicken and vegetables in skillet

Meal Delivery Services

Pros:

  • Saves you time grocery shopping
  • Saves you time meal planning
  • Makes it easy to stick to diet goals
  • Easy-to-follow recipe cards make cooking fast and simple
  • Reduces food waste

Cons:

  • Excess packaging waste
  • Can be more expensive than grocery shopping for some recipes

Grocery Shopping

Pros:

  • Ability to reduce packaging waste if you bring your own reusable bags
  • Offers in store discounts and sales
  • Can be more cost effective

Cons:

  • Time spent grocery shopping
  • Time spent meal planning
  • Creates more food waste

How Much Money You Save by Cooking at Home Will Shock You How Much Money You Save by Cooking at Home Will Shock You