Finance

Is a meal delivery service worth it?


“Hey,” Kim said one day last week as she was leaving for work. “There’s a package coming today from one of the doctors I work with. To thank all of his hygienists, he’s sending us a trial of HelloFresh.”

“What’s HelloFresh?” I asked.

“It’s a meal delivery service,” Kim said. “Anyhow, it’d be great if you could bring in the package and put the food in the fridge. And it’d be even greater if you made one of the meals for dinner!”

I kissed her good-bye, then promptly forgot what she had told me. (This is par for the course.)

How Does HelloFresh Work?

That afternoon when I returned from walking the dog, a package from HelloFresh was waiting on the porch. I took it inside to open it. The box contained three brown paper sacks, each with a different meal from HelloFresh.

“Oh yeah,” I thought. “I’m supposed to make dinner from one of these. I wonder what they are.”

I opened the bag labeled Pineapple Poblano Beef Tacos. Inside was an illustrated recipe card and a set of pre-measured ingredients. “Seems simple enough,” I said to the dog. Tahleuqah just looked at me as if I were supposed to feed her. That dog is always ready for food.

HelloFresh Recipe Card

When Kim got home from work, I made the tacos. They were amazing. I’m not joking. They were delicious. (The dog agrees.) “You know, I should have taken photos along the way,” I told Kim. “I should write about this at Get Rich Slowly.

“Well, you could always make dinner for us again tomorrow night,” she said. So I did. And this time, I did take pictures.

For round two, the dog and I prepared Sweet-as-Honey Chicken. Here’s the bag and recipe card:

HelloFresh Sack and Card

Here are the ingredients from inside the bag and the other side of the recipe card (with actual instructions):

HelloFresh Recipe and Ingredients

Here’s some of my meal prep:

HelloFresh Meal Prep

HelloFresh Skillet

And here’s the final product:

HelloFresh Finished Meal

“You know what my favorite part of this is?” Kim asked as I served her dinner. “It’s that you can use the paper sack to dispose of your trash while you prep the meal.” (I’m kind of messy in the kitchen.) The dog look hurt. She’s always happy to help us dispose of kitchen trash.

While not quite as delicious as the tacos, the chicken was still very good. And simple. (The HelloFresh recipe cards estimate 20-30 minutes of prep time; for me, that was more like 30-45 minutes. But then I’m always slow in the kitchen.)

How Much Does HelloFresh Cost?

“How much did this cost?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “The doctor paid for it. But I think it’s something like $20 per meal. So, since he sent us three meals, that’s about $60 for the week.”

“That seems expensive,” I said. “I should research the numbers.” So, like a good money nerd, that’s exactly what I did.

First, I checked the HelloFresh website to find out how much the service costs. There are three plans — Veggie, Classic, and Family — each with similar costs.

  • Veggie Plan: three recipes per week at $9.99 per serving.
  • Classic Plan: your choice of two, three, or four recipes per week at $9.99 per serving. If you choose the four-person plan, your only option is three recipes per week. If you choose two recipes per week on the two person plan, there’s a $7.99 delivery charge.
  • Family Plan: two or three recipes per week at $8.74 per serving.

In other words, HelloFresh costs between $9 and $10 per person per meal. That’s much cheaper than eating in a restaurant, obviously, but it’s more expensive than normal home dining. Or is it? I decided to dig deeper into the numbers.

During the first four months of 2018, I spent an average of $477.33 per month on groceries and $332.01 per month on restaurants. That’s a total of $809.34 per month on food. Given 90 meals in a typical month, my food spending averages $8.99 per meal. Holy cats!

That’s right: My average monthly food spending is almost the same as the cost of subscribing to HelloFresh. From this perspective, a meal delivery service seems like a good deal.

“But what if I were to simply make my own versions of the HelloFresh recipes?” I wondered. “What would my costs be then?”

Armed with the Sweet-as-Honey Chicken recipe card, I made a trip to the local Wal-Mart. I browsed the aisles, pricing out the individual ingredients.

HelloFresh vs. Wal-Mart

From my calculations, it’d cost me $6.10 to purchase the ingredients needed for the meal. (This counts only the quantities I’d need for that specific meal, not the extra garlic, rice, chicken, etcetera that I’d end up with.) That’s a total of $3.05 per person per meal versus $9.99 per person per meal.

From this perspective, HelloFresh isn’t such a good deal. If I were a subscriber, this meal would have cost me more than three times what I could pay for the ingredients at Wal-Mart.

Is HelloFresh Worth It?

I’ll confess: As much as I wanted to not like HelloFresh…I liked it. A lot. The meals are fun, tasty, and convenient. From what I can tell, here are the advantages of a meal delivery service like this:

  • Ingredients are precisely measured so there’s no waste. (This is a huge advantage. If I were making the chicken recipe on my own, for instance, what would I do with the big container of chicken stock I’d have left over?)
  • It’s easy to track calories. Each shipment includes detailed nutrition info, just like you’d find on pre-packaged food in the store.
  • The meals are relatively healthy. (From my perspective, they’re very healthy; Kim thinks they’re only moderately so.)
  • The three recipes we tried were all delicious. That said, all of the HelloFresh recipes are available for free on their website.
  • The meals were relatively easy to make. There were a couple of times I thought things were unclear, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m a little slow in the kitchen.
  • Making these meals is a great way to learn new cooking skills. After making the chicken glaze, for example, I feel like I could create other similar glazes.

In fact, I only have good things to say about the entire HelloFresh experience with one obvious exception: the price.

But here’s the thing: The meals were better quality than what we usually eat at home. And they’re much cheaper than what we pay to eat out. We didn’t eat out a single time last week. (Actually, we went two weeks without eating in a restaurant, which must be a new record for us.)

I don’t feel like the HelloFresh prices are outrageous by any means. They’re just not frugal. So, I can’t see recommending a meal delivery service to a family on a budget or to somebody who already does a lot of cooking and knows how to co-ordinate meal plans. On the other hand, HelloFresh could be a terrific option for people who might otherwise spend a lot on food.

As for us? At this point, we don’t plan to become regular HelloFresh subscribers…but we haven’t ruled it out either. Although I’m slow and unsure as a chef, I enjoy cooking. Instead of using HelloFresh, I think I’m going to make an effort to prepare more meals at home during the coming months, meals that are not from a can. If that doesn’t work out? And if my $8.99 spending per meal doesn’t drop? Well, then HelloFresh is an excellent option.

Another option for somebody interested in a service like HelloFresh but not willing to pay the price? Check out $5 Meal Plan from my buddies Erin and Jim. Their service doesn’t ship you the ingredients, but it gives you meal plans and recipes that work out to about $2 per person per meal.



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