The Best Meal Delivery Services of 2020
|Hours of Research||Number of Experts Consulted||Companies Reviewed||Companies Selected|
Aging can make maintaining a balanced diet difficult. Seniors may face newly developing health conditions like diabetes and heart disease, loss of appetite, mobility challenges, and depleting energy. These changes can lead to an often-overlooked crisis in which seniors struggle to make it to the grocery store alone or cook for themselves. Malnutrition can become an issue for those who skip meals or settle for easy but low-quality options.
Loved ones may step in by shopping and cooking for the seniors in their lives, but those who also have jobs and children may find this challenging to keep up with. A subscription for easy meal kits or fully prepared meals through a meal delivery service can dramatically reduce the time and stress involved in preparing meals. Meal delivery has become a multimillion-dollar industry in the past two decades, however, so families who want to order meal delivery need to shift through dozens of companies.
We’ve created a guide to help you understand the differences between the many meal delivery services available. Below you’ll find explanations of the major categories of meal delivery, profiles on some prominent companies in the industry, and a step-by-step guide to finding a company that’s right for you.
How We Chose the Best Meal Delivery Services
For our guide, we focused on finding companies with wide distribution so that even seniors in rural areas can find a service that will reach them. Many companies on our list deliver meals in the entire continental United States, and those that don’t deliver in every state are spread across the nation and likely to expand their distribution. Unfortunately, none of the companies on our list deliver to Hawaii or Alaska due to high shipping costs.
For many years the packaged food industry has been a source of overly refined, carb- and sodium-heavy meals that leave consumers’ diets unbalanced. There’s still plenty of unhealthy packaged food available, but we focused on finding meal delivery companies that offer healthy alternatives. All of the brands we’ve included offer at least one specialized diet option in addition to the regular menu items that feature vegetables and other healthy ingredients.
As we combed through the dozens of meal delivery programs available, we focused on brands that blend affordability with quality and variety. We eliminated luxury brands that serve meals for $20 or more per serving, knowing that most seniors only want to spend that much money on a meal if they’re eating out. We focused on brands that offer servings for $15 or less, with the majority of them for between $6-$12. A few companies on our list provide free or discounted meals based on age and need. We also considered shipping costs when including companies.
Meal Delivery Service Categories
Meal delivery services usually provide either meal kits or fully prepared meals, packed in ice and delivered to your door in a large box. Many companies from either category let you purchase meals through a subscription that can be paused or canceled any time.
Review our brief descriptions of meal kit services and fully prepared meal services below, then check out our guide to discover some of the best brands available from these categories.
What you get:
- A recipe card: The card will have easy step-by-step instructions and may include visuals and nutritional information. Many of these recipes can be completed in 30 minutes, though some may take up to an hour.
- Ingredients: These will probably be individually wrapped, will come in the exact amount you need, and in the case of produce, may already be washed. You’ll need to do some chopping and cooking but probably will do little or no measuring.
What you need to already have:
- Standard appliances: You’ll need a sink, stovetop, and oven to use most meal kits.
- Cookware: You’ll need some pots, pans, cutting boards, knives, and utensils. Recipes won’t call for specialized cooking tools, just the basics.
- A few staples: Some companies will assume that you already stock the most basic items such as salt, pepper, and olive oil.
Fully Prepared Meals
What you get:
- Fully cooked meals: These will be either fresh or frozen. Just heat and serve the single-serving you are provided according to the directions. Many of these meals come with side dishes included in the same tray as the main dish.
What you need to already have:
- Refrigerator with freezer: Your meals will come in a box with ice packs or some other cooling material, so they’ll be safe sitting on your porch for a while if you’re not home to receive them. Once in the fridge, they may last about a week, though this varies according to the company. Freeze what you won’t eat quickly.
- Oven or microwave: Most meals should be heated in the microwave. Some may be heated in the oven if you prefer, though not all companies provide oven-safe containers.
The 8 Best Meal Delivery Companies of 2020
Overview of Meal Delivery Companies
|Meals Available*||Cost per Serving||Shipping Costs||Special Diet Options||Number of Weekly Meal Choices*|
|Meal Kits Services|
|Martha & Marley Spoon||Lunch and Dinner||$6.99-$8.99||8.99||-Health & Diet|
-Vegetarian & Vegan
-Meat & Fish
-Under 30 Minutes
|HelloFresh||Lunch and Dinner||$6.99-$8.99 plus some surcharges||6.99||-Vegetarian|
|Purple Carrot||Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner||$7.99 per serving for the family plan and $11.99 for the two-person plan||Free||-Vegan|
|Pre-Prepared Meal Services|
|Freshly||Lunch and Dinner||$8.99 for most meals||Free||-Low Calorie|
|Mom's Meals||Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner||$6.99 for regular meals, $7.99 for pureed meals, Free for some seniors||14.95||-Gluten-Free|
|60+ items for self-pay customers|
|Silver Cusine by Bistro MD||Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snacks||$5.99-$13.99||19.95||-Menopause|
|Diet-to-Go||Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner||$8.57-$13.00||19.98||-Balance|
|Top Chef Meals||Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Dessert, and Shakes||$6.11-$15.90||Order exactly 21 meals and get shipping for Free, $8.25, or $22.50, depending on location.||-Diabetic|
|Note: Most companies have a large selection of recipes that they rotate through, with different recipes open for ordering on different weeks. Some companies frequently change menus to accommodate seasonal items. Companies that we've marked as providing lunch and dinner may not label any items as lunch items, but we consider them suitable for either meal.|
The 3 Best Meal Kit Services
Best for a Simple Cooking Experience
Martha & Marley Spoon is a collaboration between beloved chef Martha Stewart and the meal kit brand Marley Spoon. Martha Stewart has been influencing the food industry since the 1970s when she began a catering business. Since then she’s become familiar thanks to her television shows, cookbooks, and magazines. Marley Spoon has been delivering sustainable, easy to use meal kits globally since 2014, and its collaboration with Martha Stewart in 2016 was a perfect way to bring Marley Spoon’s meal kits to Americans.
If you want to cook more for yourself but are worried that meal kit recipes will be over your head, Martha & Marley Spoon might be the mea kit brand you need. These kits come neatly packaged with each meal’s ingredients together in a paper bag so there’s no confusion. The meals can all be prepared in six steps according to included recipe cards. Martha & Marley Spoon takes care to make all its meal kits as user-friendly as possible, even for the novice chef.
Martha & Marley Spoon Services and Products
|Meals Available||Lunch and Dinner|
|Cost per Serving||$6.99-$8.99|
|Special Diet Options||-Health & Diet
-Vegetarian & Vegan
-Meat & Fish
-Under 30 Minutes
|Number of Weekly Meal Choices||20|
Pros and Cons of Ordering Marley Spoon
- Celebrity chef: If you’re a fan of Martha Stewart cookbooks or shows, you’ll enjoy her collaboration with the global brand Marley Spoon. All of her recipes can be cooked in the six steps listed on recipe cards.
- Seasonal ingredients: Martha & Marley Spoon focuses on delivering season and sustainable produce to your door. You’ll be able to taste a wide variety of produce throughout the year, and you can feel good about its impact on the earth.
- Award-winning collaborations: Martha & Marley Spoon sources cheeses, condiments, and other pre-made items from award-winning companies. These meal kits will give you the opportunity to try unique flavors from brands that take pride in their products, which are often handmade. You may just find a new favorite that you’ll start stocking regularly in your home.
- Reasonable costs: Martha & Marley Spoon’s per serving prices range from $6.99 to $8.99 depending on how many meals you order per week. In an industry where meals can often cost $15 or more per serving, this brand keeps the prices low and accessible. Even shipping costs are reasonable at $8.99 per box, which translates to $467.48 a year if you were to receive a box a week.
- Cooking times: Each week features different menu choices, but this brand does tend to include recipes that take longer than 30 minutes to prepare. With many Martha & Marley Spoon recipes, you may be cooking for closer to an hour. Considering that you don’t need to do any meal planning or grocery shopping, these meals are still time-savers, however.
Best American Menu Items
HelloFresh is working to alter the way people think about healthy eating not just in America, but across the globe. This brand currently delivers meals in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and beyond. Its wide reach makes it all the more surprising that HelloFresh started extremely small, with founders Dominik Richter and Thomas Griesel hand-delivering groceries to several friends in Berlin, Germany.
HelloFresh’s menu has something to suit any craving and features many internationally- inspired dishes, but perhaps the tastiest items from HelloFresh are its twists on classic American food. For those who love a good burger now and then, HelloFresh delivers several options that blend gourmet and unusual condiments with quality meat. HelloFresh might be a good choice for you if you crave restaurant style burgers but don’t want to go out to enjoy them.
HelloFresh Services and Products
|Meals Available||Lunch and Dinner|
|Cost per Serving||$6.99-$8.99 plus some surcharges|
|Special Diet Options||-Vegetarian
|Number of Weekly Meal Choices||20|
HelloFresh meal kits are a time-tested way to get fresh groceries and easy recipes delivered to your door. This brand tests all of its recipes 45 separate times in order to streamline them as much as possible.
Consider HelloFresh’s upsides and downsides that we’ve included below.
Pros and Cons of Ordering HelloFresh
- Reasonable starting costs: Prices on entrees vary at HelloFresh, but many start as low as $7.49 per serving. Compared to some brands that charge $15 or more, that’s a competitive price.
- Low shipping fee: HelloFresh doesn’t offer free shipping, but at just $6.99 a box, its shipping costs are reasonable. If you bought a box every week, you would spend $370.47 each year in shipping. This is less than half of the shipping costs for some companies on our list.
- Amazing discounts: It’s very easy to get a new customer discount with HelloFresh. Although the discount itself may change from time to time, the brand currently offers $80 off, spread out over the first four boxes that you order. The new customer discount makes this an easy meal kit service to test since even if you decide to cancel early on, you won’t have paid full price.
- Surcharges: HelloFresh’s meals start at $7.49 per serving, but four of its seven meal categories include a surcharge. The company doesn’t provide exact surcharge amounts to those who are not customers, but if you order a meal labeled with “Gourmet”, “Gourmet Plus”, “Taste Tours”, or “Craft Burger,” expect to spend at least an extra dollar per serving.
- Lack of special diet options: HelloFresh has a variety of taste categories, but it doesn’t cater to many specialized diets such as vegan or keto diets. Ingredients are listed online, and you have to determine for yourself if a recipe suits your lifestyle or allergies. The brand does offer some “calorie-smart” choices and some vegetarian options.
Best Vegan Meals
Purple Carrot is the kind of company that challenges our culture’s concept of what makes food appealing and healthy. The entire product line features only plant-based meals, which means no dairy, meat, poultry, fish, or eggs. Purple Carrot runs on two linked goals: better health and a better environmental legacy. CEO Andy Levitt founded the company in 2014 in part because of his experiences with chronic health problems and in part because he realized that plant-based eating uses far fewer precious resources than diets with animal products do.
Many meal delivery companies offer one or two vegan dinners a week, but Purple Carrot rises above the rest by fully committing to a plant-based menu. Vegans can enjoy their Purple Carrot meal kits without feeling like they need to comb through ingredients lists and only order certain menu items. Plant-based offerings are the main attraction, not an afterthought. Those who eat a completely vegan diet will never have to worry about accidentally ingesting animal products.
Purple Carrot Services and Products
|Meals Available||Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner|
|Cost per Serving||$7.99 per serving for the family plan and $11.99 for the two-person plan|
|Special Diet Options||-Vegan
|Number of Weekly Meal Choices||About 12|
Purple Carrot meal kits are easy to cook with and come in family and two-person sized subscriptions that can be paused or canceled easily. Read on to learn about all the pros and cons of this innovative brand.
Pros and cons of ordering Purple Carrot
- Free Shipping: Purple Carrot builds the cost of shipping into its meal prices so that the cost to you is as simple to understand as possible.
- Breakfast available: Breakfast is one of those less available options from meal delivery services, and often when it’s offered it is egg-based. Purple Carrot has a few tasty options for those who don’t eat eggs.
- Unique ingredients: From pumpkin-based alfredo, to quinoa soup, to tamarind chutney, you’re bound to taste some adventurous combinations with Purple Carrot, and the recipes will change with the seasons. If usually like food but struggle with a low appetite, Purple Carrot might provide the variety you need to get you interested in eating well again.
- Small menu: Purple Carrot does have one of the smallest menus on the market, with eight dinner options per week, plus a few snack, breakfast, and lunch items you can add on. Typically you’ll only have twelve items to choose from each week. However, Purple Carrot subscriptions are only designed to cover three dinners each week, and the available recipes change over time.
- High two-person cost: Purple Carrot’s two-person meal subscription offers more choices than the family plan does, but it also costs a full $3 more per serving. At $11.99 per serving, it’s still lower than many companies we saw in our research.
The 5 Best Pre-Prepared Meal Services
Best for Those Recovering from Illness or Surgery
Barb Anderson founded Mom’s Meals over 17 years ago when she saw the nutrition challenges faced by seniors who deal with chronic diseases or difficult medical recoveries. Sick and recuperating people often don’t feel well enough to cook wholesome, nutritious food crucial to their recovery. They also don’t always have family nearby to cook for them. Anderson’s company saw that need and met it with a fully prepared food delivery service designed by dieticians. Mom’s Meals designs and prepares all of its dishes in Iowa, focusing on locally-sourced produce.
Mom’s Meals is outstanding in the meal delivery industry because it partners with caseworkers in 40 states and with 400 healthcare companies, as well as selling directing to caregivers and individuals. If you qualify for Medicare waivers for food service, or if your Medicare Advantage or other health plan covers meal services during recovery periods, then Mom’s Meals might be able to cover your needs following a surgery or hospital stay. This brand even liaisons with your healthcare team to ensure that you get the right meals for your condition.
Mom’s Meals Services and Products
|Meals Available||Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner|
|Cost per Serving||$6.99 for regular meals, $7.99 for pureed meals, Free for some seniors|
|Special Diet Options||-Gluten-Free
|Number of Weekly Meal Choices||60+ items for self-pay customers|
These meals arrive fresh and individually portioned and need just a quick reheat before they are served. Read on to learn more about Mom’s Meals.
Pros and Cons of Ordering Mom’s Meals
- Nutrition options: Mom’s Meals cares about being there for those who need the most help in managing their health. If you’re in need of food to fit a specialized diet, Mom’s Meals has options in the following categories: gluten-free, renal-friendly, heart-friendly, low sodium, pureed, cancer support, and vegetarian.
- Low per serving cost: It’s extremely common to find $12 meals at many meal delivery companies. Mom’s Meals keeps is meals at $6.99 per serving, a remarkably low price. Even if you don’t qualify for free meals through Medicare or other health plans that Mom’s Meals works with, you may still find this a very affordable option.
- All meals offered: Many companies only offer items suitable for lunch or dinner, but Mom’s Meals also has a full menu of breakfast items.
- Shipping costs: Self-paying customers need to spend $14.95 per order for shipping. While this is by no means the highest rate on the market, it adds up. If you ordered a box per week, you could spend about $777.40 on shipping in one year. However, when you consider that Mom’s meals cost as much as $3 or $4 less than many competitor meals, you’ll still be saving money.
Most Extensive Menu
Silver Cuisine has its roots in the company BistroMD, a food program created by husband and wife team Ed and Caroline Cederquist. Caroline Cederquist, a bariatric doctor, brings over 20 years of lifestyle and weight loss expertise to the brand. BistroMD has been successful because its meals are built to be flavorful as well as balanced and nutritious. Silver Cuisine, the brand’s meal program for seniors, follows a very similar business model as the original BistroMD program. Although the Cederquists didn’t build Silver Cuisine specifically as a weight-loss brand, they use the same sensible principles of balance to create fully prepared meals for seniors.
Many brands only stock 20 or 30 items on their menus at a time, but Silver Cuisine consistently keeps 150 or more items on its menu. Silver Cuisine rotates its menu but keeps many favorites available. This extensive menu, which includes breakfast and snack items as well as traditional lunch and dinner dishes, makes Silver Cuisine a smart choice for seniors who enjoy variety.
Silver Cuisine Services and Products
|Meals Available||Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snacks|
|Cost per Serving||$5.99-$13.99|
|Special Diet Options||-Menopause
|Number of Weekly Meal Choices||About 150|
While you will have a customer login with Silver Cuisine, you won’t be tied to a subscription or required to order a certain amount of these meals each week. Silver Cuisine is a great option for those over 50 who don’t want to do any cooking. Read on to discover the pros and cons of this brand in more depth.
Pros and Cons of Ordering Silver Cuisine
- High gluten-free standards: Many companies offer products with no gluten added, but still note that cross-contamination may occur. Silver Cuisine meets a higher standard, randomly testing for contamination according to FDA standards and following extra protocol for its gluten-free products.
- Accommodates unique diet needs: Silver Cuisine allows customers to filter its menu by diet preferences. In addition common filters like gluten-free and low-sodium, Silver Cuisine has rare options like menopause-friendly and Mediterranean.
- Huge menu: Silver Cuisine offers its full menu all the time. With about 150 breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack items, it’s easy to find what you like.
- AARP Member Discount: AARP members get 10% off every order as well as free shipping on their first order.
- Frozen: Fully frozen is probably the safest, most fool-proof way to ship food, but not all customers enjoy the texture of reheated frozen foods. Reviews suggest that most customers love the taste of their Silver Cuisine meals, but it’s something to consider if you’re already particular about frozen foods.
- High shipping costs: Silver Cuisine charges $19.95 to ship any box regardless of box weight or your location. If you were to order a box a week, you’d spend $1,037.40 on shipping in a year.
Freshest Fully Prepared Meals
Freshly delivers fully-prepared meals that its consumers can feel 100% confident about eating. Led by CEO and co-founder Michael Wystrach, Freshly advocates for and applauds the shift towards wholesome food in the packaged food industry. This company started in 2015 and already has proven its quality and consumer satisfaction. In 2017, Nestle took notice of the startup’s success by investing in Freshly’s effort to grow its business. Freshly now delivers its boxes anywhere in the continental United States.
Freshly stays true to its vision of fresh food without compromise by keeping unnecessary and harmful preservatives and other chemicals out of its recipes. Online, you can read the list of over 85 “banned” ingredients that Freshly consistently refuses to add to its meals. Freshly offers ingredient transparency that translates to genuine flavor and true nourishment. If you’re concerned about avoiding chemical additives and dyes, Freshly makes that easy to do.
Freshly Services and Products
|Meals Available||Lunch and Dinner|
|Cost per Serving||$8.99 for most meals|
|Special Diet Options||-Low Calorie
|Number of Weekly Meal Choices||30+|
Freshly works on subscription, but you can change, cancel, or pause it at any time, so the terms are very flexible. These fully prepared meals can be delivered anywhere in the continental United States. Below you’ll find some pros and cons of choosing this company.
Pros and cons of ordering Freshly
- Low costs: If you only order 4 meals a week, you’ll pay $12.50 per serving. However, ordering 12 meals a week drops your cost to $8.99 per serving, a reasonable cost in the industry. Even ordering 6 or 9 meals drops your cost to $9.99, if 12 meals seem like too much.
- Free shipping: Many companies charge for shipping which can add up to several hundred dollars over a year. With Freshly, shipping is free. No need to calculate that added cost.
- Fresh and clean: Freshly bans over 85 ingredients, including many preservatives, from its foods. This brand prioritizes true freshness over chemical preservation.
- Short shelf life: For the sake of taste, it’s amazing that Freshly meals arrive unfrozen, but they can’t necessarily stay that way. These meals only have a shelf life of about five to seven days in your refrigerator. You’ll have to eat or freeze your meals quickly.
- Few vegan and vegetarian options: We were only able to identify one vegan option on Freshly’s current 30-item menu. This probably changes from week to week. There were a few vegetarian items, but most included dairy of some kind. Freshly just isn’t a viable option for someone who is trying to follow a totally or mostly plant-based diet.
Best Customer Support
Diet-to-Go has been delivering healthy, portion-controlled meals to customers since 1991, making this brand one of the oldest on our list. Chefs prepare Diet-to-Go meals in kitchens in Northern Virginia and Los Angeles, allowing for efficient national distribution. This company has a long history of partnering with corporations to promote workplace wellness, and it works hard to empower all consumers by providing up-to-date diet information for all.
If you’re trying to improve your health by losing weight, you probably already know how crucial it is to feel supported. You have a goal, and you want your doctor and your family to support that with positive advice and encouragement. If that’s the case for you, you’ll probably love Diet-to-Go because this brand gives you access to a free health coach by email or phone when you need that extra support and advice.
Diet-to-Go Services and Products
|Meals Available||Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner|
|Cost per Serving||$8.57-$13.00|
|Special Diet Options||-Balance
|Number of Weekly Meal Choices||50+|
Pros and cons of ordering from Diet-to-Go
- Multiple diet styles: All Diet-to-Go menu items are designed to be healthy and balanced, but if you need a really specific kind of diet, Diet-to-Go has a few options including a diabetic plan, a keto plan, and a vegetarian plan. Menu items rotate each month and offer flavor variety. Many companies only offer a few vegetarian dishes, but Diet-to-Go has just as many vegetarian items as it has in its other menus.
- Full menu: Diet-to-Go is one of the few meal delivery companies that truly can provide you every single meal in a week. Many companies intend their products to be eaten for a few meals a week, but Diet-to-Go offers seven breakfasts, seven lunches, and seven dinners each week on a rotating menu. Items arrive frozen and can conveniently be stored in your freezer.
- Low starting costs: Ordering three meals per day, seven days a week costs just $8.57 per serving for the 1,200 calorie meal plan, which is designed for women. Costs per serving do increase if you order less than three meals a day, seven days a week.
- Meal swaps: Diet-to-Go offers pre-designed menus, but you can customize them and swap meals out for other items if you don’t enjoy what’s being offered on the week’s menu.
- Higher costs for men’s plan: The men’s meal plans from Diet-to-Go are designed to deliver approximately 1,600 calories per day, but they cost about a dollar per serving more than the women’s plan does. Men and some women who find the 1,200 calorie plan insufficient for their bodies will have to pay about $84 extra dollars per month.
- High shipping costs: Shipping from Diet-to-Go is a flat fee of $19.98 per box. Over the course of a year, you could spend about $1,038.96 on shipping if you received a box of meals every week.
Most Flexible Menu Options
Paul Ghiron founded Top Chef meals after a conversation with his father inspired him to create a brand of ready-made meals with greater variety than was available at the time. Previously, Ghiron had extensive corporate catering experience with his family’s company. Top Chef Meals incorporates the culinary expertise of Ghiron into its vast collection of main and side dishes, creating customized orders near New York and shipping them frozen all over the continental United States.
Top Chef Meals caters to seniors by recognizing that they want to have choices. As you review your choices for your next week’s meals, if you dislike an entree, starch, or vegetable side, you can trade it out for something that suits you better. Having choice can have a powerful impact on your health because you won’t end up skipping part of your meal due to personal preferences or allergies. Top Chef allows you more menu control, resulting in more balanced eating habits.
Top Chef Meals Services and Products
|Meals Available||Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Dessert, and Shakes|
|Cost per Serving||$6.11-$15.90|
|Shipping Costs||Order exactly 21 meals and get Free Shipping for Free, $8.25, or $22.50 depending on your location|
|Special Diet Options||-Diabetic
|Number of Weekly Meal Choices||About 100|
Pros and Cons of Ordering from Top Chef Meals
- Consumer choice and dietary options: You can have complete control of all entrees and sides when ordering from this company, but if you have special dietary concerns you can also choose to order from a variety of special diets menus.
- 15% off for seniors: All seniors over 60 can create an account with Top Chef Meals and receive 15% off each order.
- Free shipping option: If you order exactly 21 meals in one order, you will receive free shipping if you’re located in the 1, 2, or 3-day shipping zones, which cover approximately the eastern half of the country. View the shipping zone map to see if you qualify for free shipping.
- Cooked the day before it ships: Knowing that your food was cooked just one day before it was frozen and shipped makes it easy to feel confident in the freshness and safety of what you receive.
- High shipping costs towards the west: Top Chef Meals calls the New York City area home, and that means your frozen meals have to travel a long way to reach you if you live in the Midwest or on the West Coast. Because of shipping costs, this brand is most affordable for those who live east of Texas. Ordering exactly 21 meals at a time will get you a discount, but if you live in a state in the Northwest, for example, your discounted shipping cost could still be as high as about $22.
Meals Available Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snacks Cost per Serving Often between $7.90-$10.75 Shipping Costs No Shipping Required Special Diet Options -Low Sodium
Number of Weekly Meal Choices 12+
Meal Delivery Alternatives
There are ways to receive ready-made meals that don’t involve boxes delivered to your doorstep. The following two options didn’t make our top eight list because they are a bit different than most meal delivery services and because they aren’t universally available, but if they exist in your area they are well-worth looking into.
Most Personal Service
Chefs for Seniors was founded in Madison, Wisconsin in 2013 by a father and son team committed to bringing personal chefs into seniors’ homes to prepare quality meals for them. When Nathan Allman was 20 years old, he originally put together the business idea as part of a Burrill Business Plan Competition at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He quickly teamed up with his father Barrett to make Chefs for Seniors a reality. Now Chefs for Seniors has nearly 40 franchises across the United States.
Chefs for Seniors offers the highest level of service available in the meal delivery market. Instead of getting a cardboard box full of meals or kits on your front porch, a chef will knock on your door, come into your house, and get to work preparing food for you using your appliances and her or his own knives and other kitchen tools. You’ll have the opportunity to chat with your chef, and any concerns you have can be addressed face-to-face. When the chef leaves in about two hours, you’ll have a refrigerator full of ten to twelve servings of delicious food. This level of personal contact with your chef simply can’t be beaten.
Chefs for Seniors Service
|Meals Available||Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snacks|
|Cost per Serving||Often between $7.90-$10.75|
|Shipping Costs||No Shipping Required|
|Special Diet Options||-Low Sodium
|Number of Weekly Meal Choices||12+|
Pros and Cons of Ordering Chefs for Seniors
- Custom and non-standard services: Chefs for Seniors’ standard plan lets seniors choose four meals each week from a rotating menu of twelve items. If the regular menu doesn’t suit your needs, you can instead order from the custom menu for meals tailored to your diet. The chef can even work with your doctor to understand your situation. If you need to order a custom amount of food, cater an event, or do anything else that falls outside the standard or customized plans, you can also order “non-standard services.”
- Menu Options: With Chefs for Seniors, you can go over your next week’s menu choices with your chef before she or he leaves, or you can choose your menu online if you prefer. Each franchise may have slightly different menu options.
- Simple Prices: For the standard and custom meal plans, prices are fixed so that your cost won’t fluctuate from week to week. Nonstandard prices are set on an hourly rate in addition to the cost of groceries. Chefs for Seniors’ prices do vary by city, but the company makes the prices as simple as possible. For standard and custom meals, the cost per serving should be similar to the costs you will find from other meal delivery services and could be as low as $7.90 per serving in some cities.
- Limited franchises: Chefs for Seniors currently has 37 franchises. It’s an impressive number for a company that’s less than ten years old, but this company certainly does not have coverage in every state or city. The East Coast has the most locations, especially in Florida.
Best for Low-Income Seniors
Meals on Wheels traces its roots back to the early 1950s when community organizers across the world saw the value of incorporating food delivery into their charitable services. Since that time, the Meals on Wheels America since brought together over 5,000 local partner organizations to serve disadvantaged seniors, meeting urgent food needs while providing important social interaction as well. Meals on Wheels America supports local charities on state and county levels, giving them funding, training, help through advocacy, and more.
Most Meals on Wheels partner centers tell seniors the cost of their meals (which are likely to be less than $8) and ask that seniors give what they can toward covering that cost. Those who cannot pay do not need to pay. There’s something special about how Meals on Wheels America and its nonprofit partners go above and beyond to fight loneliness and hunger in seniors regardless of their ability to leave the house or even to pay.
Meals on Wheels Services and Products
|Meals Available||Varies by Location--usually Lunch or Dinner|
|Cost per Serving||Cost provided on a sliding scale according to need, you may even pay $0.|
|Shipping Costs||No Shipping Required|
|Special Diet Options||Depends on Location|
|Number of Weekly Meal Choices||Variable|
If you visit Meals on Wheels America’s website, you’ll be able to see the senior center or other non-profit near you that partners with the national organization to deliver meals to seniors in your area. Many centers have a meal hall for those who are able to leave their homes, and they deliver to seniors who cannot. To receive meals you must meet certain qualifications such as being at risk for malnutrition and being 60 years or older. Someone must be home to accept a Meals on Wheels delivery.
Pros and Cons of Ordering from Meals on Wheels
- Nonprofit: While there’s nothing wrong with meal delivery businesses that are a for-profit part of our economy, they just are not accessible to some seniors due to cost. Meals on Wheels fills that gap. Meals on Wheels centers ask seniors to contribute what they can toward the cost of their meals, but they aren’t trying to make money and don’t require a set amount of money to be paid them.
- The personal element: Volunteers often forge meaningful relationships with the seniors they deliver meals to. Depending on the senior’s needs, volunteers can perform safety checks to minimize the risks associated with living alone and aging. They may also just sit and talk with you if you’d like.
- Fully prepared meals: Your meal may need reheating, but it won’t need to be cooked. If you struggle to care for yourself due to disability or illness, a Meals on Wheels delivery can make your life easier.
- Waiting lists: Because these centers are non-profit, sometimes funding is lacking. Depending on the situation in your area, you may be put on a waitlist to receive meal delivery services. If this is the case, you’ll have to find another meal solution in the meantime
- Less choice: With meal services that you pay for, you usually get to choose which meal you get on which day. It’s unlikely that you will have this option with a Meals on Wheels program. The focus of these programs will always be doing the most good for most people, and fewer options reduces waste and keeps costs low. What you get will probably be healthy, but it may not fit all your taste or diet preferences.
How to Choose a Meal Delivery Service
If you’re considering ordering from a meal delivery company, you may feel overwhelmed by the variety of services on the market. Use this guide as a starting point to understand the industry and determine what kind of service will fit your lifestyle.
Step 1: Determine If You Prefer Meal Kits or Fully Prepared Meals
Meal kits allow you to keep cooking while reducing your need for grocery shopping and meal planning. Fully prepared meals, on the other hand, take all of the work out of dinner time. Below you’ll find information on whom each option works best for.
When assessing, if cooking from meal kits is right for you, consider the following questions:
- Do you want to cook?: If you like the idea of cooking but you’ve always struggled to cook or plan meals, these kits will build your confidence. These kits are also helpful if getting to the grocery store is challenging. However, if you simply have no desire to cook for yourself, then there’s no reason you have to choose a meal kit. Fully prepared meals can be just as healthy and are often the same price.
- How’s your balance, vision, and coordination?: If you feel energetic and enthusiastic about cooking, but you’ve experienced falls, you may want to discuss safety with your doctor. A doctor might give you tips for eliminating hazards and making your kitchen accessible. If you’re having severe problems with unsteadiness, loss of hand strength, sight, or memory, however, then for your safety it may be time to move toward fully prepared meals.
- How’s your energy level?: It can be hard to give up cooking for those who enjoy the process, but if illness or aging are making your energy levels low or unpredictable, then a meal kit may not be right for you. You don’t want to be stuck with a refrigerator full of meal kits and no desire to get up and cook.
Fully Prepared Meals
If you need a plan that requires zero cooking, then you can choose from one of many pre-prepared meal delivery services. Fully prepared meals from a meal delivery service may remind you of the freezer section of your local grocery store, but the truth is most meal delivery services offer more balanced, nutritious meals than you can get in a typical grocery store. There are fresh and frozen options available through meal delivery companies.
Before choosing a pre-prepared meal delivery company, you may want to look into alternative services such as nonprofits that provide seniors with ready made meals. In addition, your area may have the option of affordable fresh meals made by a personal chef who visits you regularly to prepare a weeks’ worth of meals at a time in your home. These can both be great alternatives to cooking if they are available in your area.
Whether you get your meals from a meal delivery service, a nonprofit, or a personal chef, you’ll just need to reheat when you’re ready to eat. Reheating will take a matter of minutes in a microwave. Most of the time a pre-prepared meal will include one serving of an entree and side dishes, and sometimes you’ll be able to select what your side dishes are.
Step 2: Consider Your Dietary Needs
After you’ve decided between premade meals or meal kits, pause to consider if your nutritional needs should influence your company choice. Almost all companies offer some form of specialty diet options, and many are designed by dieticians to be nutritionally balanced.
Many companies carry two or three of the following diet options:
- Low Sodium
- Low Carb
- Low Calorie
- Low Fat
- Gluten-free or “no gluten added”
Other diet options, like the ones listed below, are rarer, but a few companies do offer them:
- High protein
- Cancer support
A few companies cater to special diets so much that they do one or more of the following:
- Coordinate with your doctor
- Staff health coaches that you can call
- Allow you to swap ingredients or side dishes
- Allow full meal customization
Step 3: Understand the Industry’s Pricing System
If you eat out or order takeout frequently, then switching to a meal delivery service may save you money. If you’ve been doing your grocery shopping and cooking yourself, however, a meal delivery service may require a larger food budget, unless you’re able to have meals delivered from a nonprofit organization or through your insurance. Spending more on a meal delivery service will be worthwhile if it contributes to your safety, health, and happiness.
No matter your situation, try to determine how much of your budget you can reasonably afford to spend on meal services. It will help you to be aware of the range of costs currently on the market.
Per Serving Costs
Many companies charge the same basic price per serving for all of their meals, making your weekly costs easy to predict. However, a few companies price each meal individually based on its ingredients, charging more for, say, a steak dinner than for a soup dinner.
Most companies offer a discount to customers who order large quantities of servings or meals each week. Ordering two two-serving meals will almost always be more expensive per serving than ordering three four-serving meals from the same company, for example. The price difference can be as dramatic as $2 or $3 per serving.
The lowest per serving costs we have seen on the market for dinners have started around $6.50, and the highest we have seen have been about $25. You will probably find that most companies’ per serving prices fall between $6 and $12. Breakfast and snack items are often around $5 per serving.
Some companies factor shipping costs into their per serving cost, but most add an extra shipping charge to every box delivered. Keep in mind that boxes are large and may include about 20 servings. A few companies determine shipping fees by national zones, which means those furthest from the distribution center face the highest costs. Very few companies ship to Hawaii or Alaska due to high costs.
Step 4: Decide How Much of Your Weekly Diet You Want To Be Delivered
Subscription is the most common way to buy delivery meals. When you sign up for a subscription you’ll usually have two or three options for the number of meals you receive per week as well two or three options for the number of servings per meal.
Consider the following factors to make a decision on how many days per week you want to have meals delivered:
- Your budget: Meal delivery services make life much easier for those who struggle to cook or shop, but the cost of using meal delivery for every single meal can add up. Many people find it best to combine meal delivery with some easy-to-prepare items from a grocery store (think bagged salad and rotisserie chicken kinds of dinners). With online grocery ordering and delivery becoming available in many cities, you might not need to leave your home to get a few basics.
- Your support system: The extent to which your friends, family, or other caretakers have the time and resources to help you will be the biggest factor to consider when deciding how many meals per week you should order. If your current support system is strained, adding even a small, two-dinners-a-week meal plan could give everyone the break they need while still providing the wholesome food you need to stay healthy.
- Insurance: A few meal delivery companies are capable of providing meals through insurance or Medicare waivers. If you have a chronic disease, are housebound, or are recovering from a surgery, you can speak with your Medicare Advantage provider or other insurance and benefits providers about whether or not you qualify for temporary or long-term meal assistance.
A few companies allow you to order whatever amount of meals and servings you want, and these are a great option for those who want every meal of the week delivered. Another option for getting meals delivered for every day of the week is to use two different meal subscriptions.
Step 5: Look for Promotions Before You Buy
If you have a company in mind, chances are good that you can find some kind of promotion to make your first few orders cheaper. Many companies include promotional pricing or free shipping on any new customer’s first order directly on their websites.
You can also find promotions through a variety of advertising platforms. Radio stations, podcasts, and social media influencers frequently offer codes for meal delivery services. During our research, we found $20 and $80 discount codes for leading brands through all of the above platforms. Chances are good that a younger relative of yours might be willing to use their social media accounts to conduct a hashtag search of a brand name to help you find a discount code.
Even if the company you want is more traditional and doesn’t advertise on the above-mentioned platforms, it may still offer you a discount based on your age or membership in certain organizations. It never hurts to ask.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a subscription for a meal delivery service?
Many meal delivery services, both kits and fully prepared meals, have to be purchased through a subscription. You might be nervous about adding a subscription to your budget, fearing that you’ll be unable to stop making payments if your budget changes. These subscriptions are usually very flexible, however.
With most meal delivery subscriptions, you can:
- Pick your meals a week in advance
- Choose the size of the meal plan that suits you
- Change your meal plan size anytime
- Cancel anytime without a fee
- Skip or “pause” a weekly shipment anytime
A few companies give you the option of subscription or non-subscription ordering, and some have no subscriptions at all. However, some companies do charge an extra fee for non-subscription orders.
I don’t live in the mainland United States. Can I still order meals?
Unfortunately, we were unable to locate any major meal delivery services that deliver to Alaska or Hawaii at reasonable prices. Few companies even offer to deliver to the non-continental United States, and some that do charge as much for shipping as they do for the food itself. Shipping to places like Hawaii requires airmail, which can easily cost over $100. Maybe in the future cheaper delivery systems or more distribution centers will solve this problem, but for now, your best bet is to look for a locally operated meal delivery company.
Is meal delivery safe for me if I have severe allergies?
This depends on the company as well as on your specific allergies. Many companies have allergy-friendly plans, especially for individuals intolerant to gluten, but they may hesitate to label their products as completely free of an ingredient due to the possibility of accidental cross-contamination. If you’re looking for a guarantee that your food is free of gluten, shellfish, eggs, dairy, or some other allergen, you can check out a company’s FAQ section or call their customer service line to discuss the level of separation that preparation facilities maintain between ingredients.
Is a meal delivery service really better than ordering delivery from a local restaurant?
Yes, it is, for several reasons. A full dinner from a restaurant can easily exceed the cost of your typical meal delivery service meal. Even if the restaurant delivery is cheaper, however, it’s probably not nearly as balanced of a meal, and it may be difficult to determine what the ingredients and nutritional value are. Ordering from a restaurant on a regular basis is a hassle when compared to ordering once a week and getting a whole box of meals at a time from a subscription. With a meal delivery service, your orders can be predictable, filled with variety, and affordable.
I am struggling to afford food. What resources are available to me?
If you’re struggling to afford food as a senior, you’re not alone: it’s estimated that in 2016, 13.6% of seniors faced food insecurity. In addition to the possibility of getting free meals through nonprofits such as Meals on Wheels, you should look into getting help through the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP). The SNAP website can help you determine your eligibility and take the next steps.
Do meal delivery companies waste packaging?
This is a valid question for those concerned with keeping garbage out of our planet’s landfills. Meal kits and prepared meals do include many individually wrapped items, not to mention materials for keeping the food cool in transit. Thankfully, forward-thinking brands often address this waste problem by including detailed instructions on how to best recycle packaging. Some brands even pick up materials from you for reuse, though this is uncommon.