One of the hottest food trends is pre-ordered meal kits. There seem to be meal delivery plans for every type of diet: vegetarian, vegan, organic… There's even one for your smoothie obsession! These meal kits are touted as an affordable and time-efficient way to help busy people eat well without the hassle of going to the grocery store.

Clients go to their favorite meal service’s website, order what they want for the week, and then make their meals with pre-measured ingredients. Some plans renew weekly – like GreenBlender, which delivers smoothies – while others are monthly subscriptions.

All this is happening as consumer comfort with online ordering is increasing.

So meal delivery plans are a natural transition in food availability. But are they really more affordable?

The average cost for a liberally spending meal delivery plan is around $250.40 per week for a family of four, The USDA reports. They also found that it ranges from $74.80 to $84.30 for women and men respectively. (Liberal spending means that you’re not going to say “no” to expensive items on your list. Want to eat cashew butter? A liberal eating plan would typically include that.)

So let’s dive a little deeper:

The Benefits of Meal Kits

There are a number of benefits to using a meal kit. First, you don’t have to go to the grocery store. The company sends the ingredients for each week’s recipes directly to the customer. There's nothing better than arriving home from a hard day’s work and having food waiting for you on your doorstep.

With meal kits, all you need to do is follow the directions, open the ingredient packages, and cook.

Users don’t have to purchase large amounts of spices that they don’t use on a regular basis – they'll receive what they need, when they need it. Don’t normally use star anise, but have a pho recipe that calls for it? Your favorite company will send you the amount that the recipe calls for, and you’re done.

Do you enjoy cooking, but get tired of thinking up new meals for the menu? Or do you want high-quality food, but don’t feel like eating out? Then a meal delivery service may just be the thing for you.

Finally, one of the best things about meal delivery plans is the variety. Not only the variety of meals that you’ll receive, but also the variety of companies that you can choose to order from. Companies range from Blue Apron to the $5 Meal Plan and beyond.

The Drawbacks of Meal Kits

There are some cons to consider before you order your first kit. Many people forget that we eat a minimum of 14 meals a week (depending on whether you skip certain meals). And that doesn't include snacks! If you eat an average of 21 meals a week (or three meals a day), then meal delivery plans clearly aren’t the way to long-term savings.

Ordering a Blue Apron meal plan is great until you realize that you’re spending $59.94 and only taking care of three meals a week if you’re feeding two people – or spending $69.92 on two meals each week for a family of four. HelloFresh, which offers a similar service, averages a cost of around $9.99 a meal. The excessive packaging for all the meals' condiments, proteins, etc. is also a concern for many.

People tend to forget that these services are meant to complement the actual grocery shopping that you do on a weekly basis – not replace it.

As such, users may want to spend more time tracking their overall food expenses to see if this is a financially smart purchase.

Users also need to be able to cook to some degree – not to mention follow a recipe. There are many people who aren’t comfortable with cooking and may find these meal kits to be a bit intimidating. On the other end of the spectrum, if you enjoy cooking and have a well-stocked pantry, you may end up with duplicate items.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, meal delivery plans aren’t designed to save you money – they're designed to save you time. If you’re truly looking to save on groceries, then a meal kit might not be the best approach. Download a grocery savings app, spend time tracking your food expenses, and work on frugal menu planning. There are tons of YouTube videos and blog posts out there that describe how you can feed a family of four on just $100 per month.