Meal Kit Delivery Services: Do They Help or Hinder Positive Food Experiences?

Meal kit delivery is all the rage now. They claim to save mealtime preparation, and give you more time to enjoy the food. As of this writing, there are over 100 different meal kit delivery services within the United States. For example, I received a coupon in the mail from Schwan’s, claiming to bring me “Amazing food; simple, inspiring meal ideas; and convenient home delivery.”

Meal kit delivery services differ in terms of cuisine, membership requirements, and price. Each kit typically contains all the ingredients you need for the meal, and in the precise measurements that you need it. Without giving it much thought, you can take a meal kit out of your refrigerator or freezer, and in 30 minutes or so, you can have delicious, appetizing food ready for you and your family. It seems like a no-brainer, right? But how do these meal kit delivery services affect positive food experiences?

Let’s take a look at how meal kit delivery services stack up against the six principles of positive food experiences.

Food

Meal kit delivery services score high on the food principle because of the many different types of food available. Almost any cuisine or type of cooking you can think of (Italian, Asian, Indian, Greek, outdoor grilling, crockpot dishes) is available through meal kit delivery services. There are even specialty services for those who wish to buy meals that are gluten free, low sodium, vegan, vegetarian, dairy free, and non-GMO. Even within each cuisine, you can select the type of specialty food you need.

Food Choices

Food freshness is an issue with meal kit delivery services.  While they promote that they use fresh, local, and/or organic ingredients, the time from farm to table may or may not affect the freshness of the ingredients. Most meal kit delivery services do their best to provide adequate packaging to keep the food as fresh as possible. It’s always best to refrigerate, freeze, or use the kits immediately upon receiving the package.

Planning

Meal kit delivery services minimize the need for planning. Menu planning is part of the food experience because it sparks innovation, creativity, and a sense of service to you and your family. Planning new or favorite dishes, and shopping for ingredients at your local grocery store, is part of developing positive food experiences.

Time

Meal kit delivery services can be helpful for those with time constraints. Rather than spend time menu planning and at the grocery store selecting the ingredients, meal kit delivery services bring all the components of the meal to your doorstep. With some exceptions, most of them promote that you can create a meal within 30-60 minutes. Whether you are dining alone or feeding a group of any size. Having that time savings is a big benefit.

Budget

money on a counter with butter and flour, signifying the high cost of meal kits

Most meal kit delivery services average $10-15 per meal, which can be cost prohibitive for some people.

Depending on your budget, meal kit delivery services may or may not be helpful. Most of them average $10-15 per meal, which can be cost prohibitive for some people. Some  offer subscription discounts or other cost effective plans.

People

A recent study on Barriers and Facilitators to Cooking from ‘Scratch’ using Basic or Raw Ingredients revealed time, money, effort, food preference, and so-called “kitchen disasters” as the most significant barriers to cooking from scratch. While meal delivery kits help alleviate some of these barriers, they lack the human factor, the people and interaction principles that are vital to positive food experiences.

Regarding that human factor, a recent New York Times article on meal delivery services quoted culinary historian Laura Shapiro as saying,

“Eating the food cooked by your own hand from your own family and traditions are the things that constitute our emotional life with food.”

That “emotional life with food” is one of the hallmarks of positive food experiences. The food experience is about that human connection. The sense of food, fun, and family permeates the air just as much as the smell of pasta sauce. Sweet memories are created, cherished, and relived time and again.

With meal kit delivery services you are not actively purchasing ingredients at a local grocery store or farmers market, but how you use those kits may or may not involve people. For some, ordering them and cooking together is an event in itself. With most meal kit delivery services, there is still some degree of food preparation involved. You may need to chop or blend ingredients. Even if others are not participating in the kitchen, you are still cooking for a given number of people, or even for yourself. If you are new to meal kit delivery services, the very fact that it something new may be enough to spark conversation during food preparation or at the dinner table. While meal kit delivery services are relatively new, they can still be conversation starters.

a hand holding a lime with other limes in the background, signifying that the food experience is about the human connection

The food experience is about the human connection.

Environment

As an aid to the cooking process, meal kit delivery services foster a relaxed, fun, and dynamic kitchen environment. Whether you are cooking for one or 101, meal kit delivery services still offer the thrill of the grill – offering a hands-on approach. Unless you are going to place the food in a plastic container to take with you to a meeting, meal kit delivery services are typically not grab-and-go type of meals. However, there is little discussion about the food process, except to say how easy it was to mix the ingredients or the unique packaging that the food came in.

Knowledge Base

Meal kit delivery services have the potential for adding to your knowledge base depending on your existing skill set. Meal kit delivery services provide ingredients in exact proportions. Most also include well-illustrated instructions. If you are just developing your cooking skills, meal kits may be a great way to phase cooking into your life. The ingredients are pre-measured, so you do not have to worry about adding too much or too little of something. Having illustrated instructions as a reference may help to build your level of confidence in creating that dish, as well as others. Depending on your desire and ability to learn to cook, you may choose to use meal kit delivery services for a time. Then you can phase into cooking other recipes from scratch, and possibly even create your own recipes.

Interaction

Similar to other meals made from scratch, meal kit delivery services have some degree of interaction. Ordering the food from a particular service may pose a unique filter as you interact with the food. The ratings for that particular meal kit delivery service, formal reviews, what your friends think of that particular service (or about meal kit delivery services in general) can affect how you interact with that food. If you are new to meal kit delivery services, you may be a little hesitant to interact with the food. On the other hand, if you have used them for quite some time, you may be an active proponent of them, and are eager to try new recipes from the service, or perhaps try other services as well for comparison and contrast.

Motivation

Meal kit delivery services can act as a springboard to create and establish realistic goals for yourself with regard to cooking skills and how you view, choose, and interact with food.

In this step, you can examine why you selected meal kit delivery services. Why did you choose to use them in the first place? Did a friend refer you to them? Was it because of time or budget constraints? Did you have a desire to increase your cooking skills? Then you can look at the result of utilizing those services. How did they affect your cooking skills? Did they increase your enthusiasm toward cooking? Did the dish turn out as you expected? Were you able to follow the instructions clearly? How did you feel as you created the dish? Were you a little nervous, or did you step forward boldly as you created the meal?

While meal kit delivery services received mixed reviews based on our scale, they do have some benefits as a transition point. They can be a gateway to higher levels of culinary skills. For those unfamiliar with cooking, it can provide basic instruction to whet your appetite for more sophisticated dishes. There is also the time factor involved. While they can save time for the busy household, that time should be balanced out with positive food experiences. Meal planning and preparation does not need to be time intensive, but time is a factor nonetheless.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Have you tried meal kits? How has it helped or hindered you in terms of having positive food experiences?

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