What to Look for in Your Meal-Planning Service

How to get the most from a convenient option

What to Look for in Your Meal-Planning Service

You’ve seen them advertised. Your friends have tried them. Are you ready to have planned meal kits delivered to your door?

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It’s wise to do your homework first, says wellness dietitian Beth Bluestone, RD, LD. Here, she answers four questions about the services:

1. Are meal-planning services worthwhile?

If you’ve been relying on fast food or takeout, a service like this can get you back in the kitchen and cooking again. That’s huge! It can be fun to work together on a meal with your kids or your spouse. These services also exposed you to different types of food and unique ingredients.

Most services provide all the ingredients you need for a recipe, along with a recipe card. Typically, the food is delivered fresh and on ice. Ingredients are all pre-measured and weighed. So, for example, if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of barbecue spice, or three cloves of garlic, you get that exact amount.

Some services offer frozen meals that you heat up in your oven or microwave. But I prefer those that involve cooking.

2. Are the meals nutritious?

Most services offer well-rounded meals — far more nutritious than eating fast food or cereal for dinner! They provide a good source of protein. Many offer hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and dairy. Some offer whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and whole wheat noodles.

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The serving of vegetables that comes with each meal is one of the biggest nutritional benefits. A recent CDC report found that fewer than 14 percent of Americans eat enough vegetables, and fewer than 18 percent eat enough fruit, every day.

It’s best to look for a company that offers lean sources of protein (like white-meat chicken and fish), legumes, whole grains and lots of veggies (the more colorful, the better — and organic is a plus).

3. Are there any red flags to watch for?

Yes. Just because you’re eating fresh, organic and hormone-free ingredients doesn’t mean meal-planning services will help you manage weight or eat a balanced diet.

Some recipes can be high in calories or carbohydrates (especially refined carbs, which quickly turn into sugar during digestion).  Meals may be high in sodium or in saturated fat. For example, some recipes or kits provide more butter or oil than you actually need.

Portions can also be too big.  A meal for two may actually provide three to four servings. Luckily, many companies provide a nutritional facts label for meals and ingredients.

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4. Do services take kids and dietary restrictions into account?

Some companies offer two different size kits: one for two people and one for a family. And, if you’re on a gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan diet, some companies may accommodate your needs better than others.

Try to review recipes and nutrition information before selecting a company, although not all companies list this information online.

To find out more what you’re getting into, speak with a customer service representative before signing up or placing your order.  It may also be wise to ask in advance about the cancellation policy.

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