June 16, 2021

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Qualified food specialists

Best prepared meal delivery for 2021

11 min read

This past year — well, the last year and a half — has been one for the books and I know I’m not the only one who coped by chowing down on comfort foods like pizzasourdough bread and bacon. Now I’m looking to reset my eating habits and introduce a few more vegetables into my daily eating routine. 

Even if you’re not trying to overhaul your entire diet, committing to eating healthier just a few times a week can have a huge impact on your overall well-being. However, if you don’t have the time to start meal prepping and macro-counting, eating healthier probably feels daunting. Finding a convenient and healthy prepared meal delivery service for your healthy eating goals could be an easy way to make some strides in the right direction. 

Meal delivery is also a surefire way to ease the pressure of relentless grocery shopping, meal planning and cooking. There’s an entire category of healthy, ready-to-cook meal kits and prepared meal delivery services designed to keep you on track, physically and mentally. These companies ship fully prepped and nutritious meal options that require zero trips to the store, little to no prep work, and help you track calories and protein if you’re trying to eat a healthier, more balanced diet

But with so many players in the game, finding the best prepared food service takes some work — or at least a whole bunch of taste testing. We were more than happy to take this on. 

Read moreThe best meal kit sign-up offers in 2021: Meals as low as $2 per serving

Prepared meal delivery

What exactly is a prepared meal delivery service? This breed of meal delivery will send fully cooked, often nutritious meals straight to your home. From there, it’s as simple as simple gets: Just pull a delicious meal out of your fridge or freezer and warm it up — no actual cooking required — and you’ve got a satisfying lunch or dinner ready to go. 

Menu options are endless and certain prepared meal delivery services such as Freshly and Veestro have taken note of modern healthful eating habits, offering prepared menus tailored for almost any dietary preference, including carnivores, vegetarians, flexitarians, vegan and other plant-based diets. They can also cater to those with dietary restrictions who are keeping to a keto, low-sodium, gluten-free, organic, low carb, low-sugar or paleo diet. Even a picky eater will find something they like with these fully prepared meal options.

The bulk of these meal subscription services ship their preportioned and precooked food frozen or as a partially frozen meal. Since the delivered meals arrive in shipments of four or more, most meals are meant to be popped into the freezer so you can defrost and eat them over the course of the week or month. Even if you don’t plan to eat one of the meals every day — or even every week — having a prepared dish or two socked away in the freezer for those helter-skelter moments can be a total godsend.

You might be wondering how they differ from the frozen meals or classic TV dinners you find in the grocery store — and it’s a fair question. For one: Most are made just before shipping to you, so each individual meal is significantly fresher — which you can often taste. Because they don’t sit on grocery store freezer shelves, most are free from unhealthy preservatives or mounds of salt, too. Lastly, these prepared meal delivery services use higher quality ingredients, in general, and get a bit more creative with their rotating recipes, although it does vary from brand to brand. Prepared meals range anywhere from $8-$15 per meal, depending on the service you go with and the specific meal plan you choose.


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Oven-ready meal kits

Another option to consider is deliveries of oven-ready meal kits that still have to be cooked but require very minimal prep, effort or technical skill to make a fresh meal. You may be wondering how these differ from the standard meal kit delivery services. While the meal-kit revolution, which led to household names like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, was all about providing you with the basic ingredients and instructions on how to pull together a delicious meal, you may not have the time or patience to do all that cooking. Oven-ready meal kits are just that: A fresh meal ready to be assembled and cooked without any complicated recipes or tiresome prep. 

Read more: The best meal kit services for 2021: Home Chef, Freshly, Blue Apron and more

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Home Chef

These “oven-ready” meal delivery plans, which fall somewhere between a classic meal kit and meal delivery, are uncooked but preassembled to be thrown together to be baked, roaster, stir-fried or dropped into the slow cooker with no major prep required for a healthy, fresh-cooked meal. Think simple dishes like roasted chicken breast with precut vegetables and a flavorful sauce. Home Chef even provides the cooking tray in many of its meal kits so there is exactly zero cleaning to do after.

Just a reminder: While many of the meal plan services we sorted through are fully prepared, the meal-kit services like Home Chef and Gobble are not yet cooked, so know you’ll still be turning on the oven — and please don’t eat any raw chicken. 

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Veestro

Having tried offerings from every company on this list (and many more), I’ve determined the best prepared meal service for each type of diner from vegans to those seeking a more restaurant-quality experience. Luckily there’s a meal delivery service geared to almost every person, with budgets ranging from the affordable to the total splurge. 

As you’ll read, some of these meal delivery services and meal kits are centered on a particular concept. Home Chef, for instance, has simple meal kits down to a science with fresh ingredients and recipes that are already prepped and ready to be cooked in as little as 15 minutes. Other operations such as Veestro specialize in premade or prepared vegetarian and vegan meals for those going meatless or dairy-free but still looking for an alternative to cooking.

I’ll concede, there’s still nothing quite like a home-cooked meal, but some of these simple and affordable services just might be the thing to lighten your cooking load and cut down on trips to the market this fall and winter.

Read more: Wine, beer, alcohol delivery: How to get alcoholic beverages delivered to your door

Here are the best prepared meal delivery services and oven-ready meal kits in 2021. A list we’ll continue to update as new players enter the arena.

  • Best overall prepared meal delivery service: Fresh n’ Lean
  • Best meal delivery that you still have to cook (a little): Home Chef
  • Best prepared meal delivery service for quick breakfasts and lunches: Daily Harvest
  • Best meal delivery for vegetarians and vegans: Veestro
  • Best meal delivery for eating organic: Trifecta Nutrition
  • Best meal delivery for calorie counting and diets: Freshology
  • Best prepared meal delivery for gourmet food: Home Bistro
  • Best meal delivery for comfort food with a healthy edge: Freshly

Fresh n’ Lean

Having tested all of the leading prepared meal delivery service options, Fresh n’ Lean ran away from the competition, ticking more boxes than any other. The food is healthy, thoughtfully prepared, tastes fantastic, looks appetizing and is fairly affordable depending on the plan you select.

Fresh n’ Lean has five meal plans to help keep folks on track with their specific nutrition goals including low-carb, vegan, paleo and protein plus options. The food I tried was all made exceptionally well, made from simple, whole ingredients. Save for one dry chicken breast, everything I had was at least good, and most better than good, with some meals even bordering on restaurant-quality. My favorite was a tender braised beef with vegetables and coconut-cilantro sauce.

Pricing: Price per meal varies greatly depending on the plan you select as well as the number of meals per week. It’s roughly $10-$12 if you order 10 or more meals per week. If you select lunch or dinners only, it’ll be more like $15 per meal. It’s not the cheapest, but not the most expensive either and totally worth the extra few bucks, in my opinion.

Home Chef

Home Chef is a popular meal delivery company and recently launched a line of oven-ready meals like cajun chicken with rice and beans, meant to take nearly all the work out of dinner but still delivering home-cooked food, technically speaking. 

If it’s oven-ready meal options you’re after you’ll want to choose Home Chef’s Fresh & Easy meals which are focused on easy oven-ready options. Plus this meal delivery service offers grill-ready meals for summer, 15-minute entree salads for those craving lighter fare or slow cooker meals that likewise require very minimal preparation and cleanup. This new category from Home Chef is designed to be low technical skill and is a good option if you’re wanting a home-cooked meal delivery plan but not interested in enlisting at a culinary institute to make a delicious meal happen. 

Pricing: No matter how you slice it, a Home Chef meal delivery kit breaks down to just under $10 per serving. Most people choose six to eight meals a week, so the average cost is about $70. But you can choose as few as six servings and as many as 12 and will save slightly more with a larger order.

Read our Home Chef review.

 

Daily Harvest

Daily Harvest launched in 2015 with an army of frozen and ready-to-blend smoothies, premade soups and hearty grain bowls to keep stocked in the freezer. Some of the bowls and soups could pass as dinner, but I like these best for a quick lunch or breakfast. Depending on the specific meal, you either drop it into a saucepan or skillet to heat and eat. Or add nut milk and blend it up, for Daily Harvest’s protein-packed smoothies, oat bowls and lattes.

This is a completely plant-based meal delivery service and is great if you want to simplify your week and keep meals healthy. Daily Harvest uses lots of ancient grains, oats and trendy superfoods like chia, avocado and kabocha squash in its recipes, which are satisfying and mostly well-balanced in flavor. The brand recently expanded offerings to include flatbreads, which I wasn’t crazy about, and snacks and desserts such as low-calorie ice cream and protein bites.

Pricing: With so many different offerings and options you can build a box with whatever you’d like. Smoothies and chia bowls can be had for as little as $6 per serving with bigger meals like grain bowls, soups and flatbreads in the $8-$9 range.

Read our Daily Harvest review.

 

Veestro

If you are looking for a vegetarian option, Veestro offers a wide-ranging menu meal delivery plan of 100% prepared plant-based meals for those keeping to a vegan or vegetarian diet. Vegetarian meal offerings from Veestro include dishes like tofu with red curry sauce, carrot osso buco and country-fried chick’n. Veestro uses more meat alternatives than say a Purple Carrot in the meals, so if you like seitan, tempeh and other faux ingredient meats this is a good meal delivery service to check out.

The carnivore in me has to admit that many of the vegetarian options and plant-based meals I tried from Veestro were as satisfying as the food I’m used to. I would suggest this meal plan for anyone trying to cut back on meat but not going full-fledged vegetarian, as much of the food is designed to replicate a carnivore’s diet and makes for a soft landing.

Pricing: The Veestro prepared meal delivery service breaks down to roughly $11.70 per meal for 10 meals, although it’s more expensive for a one-time order. This vegan meal delivery service gets less expensive, however, if you choose a 20-meal plan ($10.80 per meal).

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Like other services, Trifecta has healthy prepared meals that cater to any number of nutrition plans or diets — keto, paleo, low-calorie — but its selling point is the high quality of its ingredients. Trifecta uses mostly organic ingredients as well as humanely raised chicken and grass-fed beef. 

You’ll find lots of clean, lean meats and vegetables in Trifecta meals. While I didn’t love everything I tried, there were some real standouts and everything tasted very fresh. My personal favorite was Trifecta’s pesto salmon with quinoa and sautéed vegetables.

Pricing: All these high-quality ingredients come at a price, however, and Trifecta will run you around $15 for most of the meal plans, with a few exceptions. That said, if organic is important to you, this is the meal delivery service to try.

Read our Trifecta review.

 

Freshology

You might have guessed by the name but this healthy meal delivery service doesn’t specialize in creamy mashed potatoes or mac and cheese. Depending on your nutrition goals, you can focus on specific menus like vegetarian, low carb or keto meals or to help manage diabetes. All the meal plan nutrition and calorie information is provided to help you meet those diet goals. Freshology powered by Diet-to-Go is intent on helping customers stay on track all day, too, with a full slate of breakfast, lunch and dinner options. 

There is less of an emphasis on delivering haute cuisine but rather hearty and nutritious fully prepared meals with good protein, and you’ll find lots of lean protein, whole grains and green veggies without a ton of pomp and circumstance. 

Pricing: Customizable meal plans start at $10 per meal. You can have as many as three meals per day delivered if you really just don’t want to cook. Ever. 

Home Bistro

Home Bistro is easily the priciest meal delivery service on the list, but that’s because the gourmet meals are of a higher caliber to be certain. You’ll find a bit less simple grilled chicken breast or predictable pasta dishes with Home Bistro and more complicated dinners like Chianti-braised short ribs, Peri-Peri pork tenderloins and chargrilled pomegranate salmon. 

Though these meals are, on the whole, more expensive than any others we tried — comparable to takeout — if you eat a lot of meat but don’t have tons of great prepared food or delivery options in your area, this is a very good meal kit service to try. And since you can order these prepared meals a la carte, you can always save them for special occasions. 

Pricing: Individual meals are between $19 and $27. You can order Home Bistro meals a la carte or packages of seven, 10 or 20 meals to be delivered weekly or biweekly.

Freshly

Freshly delivers precooked meals (fresh, not frozen) to your door. While this meal delivery service has healthy recipe options aplenty, Freshly is one of the better options if you want the occasional cheat meal or comfort food delivered to your door. Sample meal options include penne bolognese, peppercorn steak with mashed potatoes and chicken casserole are just some of the heartier choices you can have delivered and at the ready, but there are also healthier, low-cal Freshly meals to keep yourself honest. 

Pardon the word-play but Freshly did have some of the freshest tasting meals. Not everything felt restaurant quality but this company delivers a lot of crowd-pleasers, including chicken tikka masala and chili-topped macaroni and cheese. I wouldn’t call the Freshly meal choices diet food, but they aren’t terribly unhealthy either and a lot of them are just what you want after a long day.

Pricing: The more you order the more you save with Freshly and the difference is significant. Four meals per week breaks down to $11.50 per meal, but up that to 12 and the price per meal drops to $8, making it one of the most affordable meal delivery services on the list.

Read our Freshly review.

 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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