And Why it’s So Important If You Work Long Hours
As a founder who works long hours trying to build his business, I try my best to follow a healthy diet. And honestly, I genuinely love eating healthy food– I’ll take grilled salmon and vegetables over a slice of pizza any day of the week. It’s just that I don’t really like to cook.
The upshot of all this is that I end up eating out too much, eating a lot of frozen/microwaves foods, drinking a ton of protein shakes, or at best making a lot of stir fries. I love eating home-cooked meals, but I can get lazy about making them.
That’s why I decided to start trying out meal delivery services– they make it easier to eat healthy food at home, and they effectively force you to cook unless you want to let the food you’ve ordered go to waste. Moreover, a good meal kit service can save you several hours a week– at least if the alternative is cooking meals the hard way, rather than ordering takeout night after night
My goal is to try all of the major meal delivery services– a process that might take a year or so since I’m not in a hurry about it. As such, this article is a work in progress that I’ll be updating with new recommendations every month or two over the next year.
I’ve noticed that most people who are considering joining a meal kit service are a bit fizzy about their goals with it. It’s always important to be clear about what problem you’re solving, I’m going to start this article by laying out a strategy for how to evaluate meal delivery services. After that, I’ll get into specific meal service recommendations.
In fact, this should be step one for every non-trivial decision you make in life. In this particular case, it’s important because different meal delivery services are ideal for different health, fitness and lifestyle goals.
If you want to be able to pick the best meal delivery service for you, you need to be able to clearly articulate what you want to get out of it and what your priorities are. Those could include:
- Weight loss
- Muscle/strength gain
- Improved athletic performance
- Making cooking faster and/or more convenient
- Following a specific diet
- Learning to cook
- Other specified improvement in health and wellness
Here’s are two examples of bad, overly vague goals:
I want to start eating healthier.
I want to use a meal delivery service because I hear they’re great for getting into shape.
Now here’s an example of a well-articulated set of goals:
I’ve been trying to lose weight but I find it hard to make time to cook healthy meals. I want a meal delivery service that will make it easier and more convenient to cook tasty, low-calorie meals, and that will help me cook them faster and keep to a meal prep schedule.
Notice how not only are the goals clear, but that statement also begins by stating what problem the meal delivery service is meant to solve. That’s perfect. Once you have a “mission statement” like that, you can understand what you need to be looking for in a meal service.
A variety of meal options that work for you
All of these meal delivery services publish their menu. Well, their current menu anyway– they all change the menu periodically, usually on a weekly basis. Most of them also allow you to pick which meals you want.
Look through their meal options for the upcoming weeks and see how many of them you like. You want there to be at least three options that appeal to you, each and every week. The best meal kit services offer about eight to twelve options a week, which is enough variety that most people can consistently find options to suit their palate.
Something Quick and Easy
Most meal delivery services send you a “meal kit” consisting of ingredients which you cook yourself. A few of them, however, send you chef-prepared meals, pre-packaged into individual servings and ready to heat up and eat.
Obviously the chef-prepared options are by far the fastest and easiest. Of course, they’re also among the most expensive.
This can be hard to judge without seeing the recipes. Thankfully, many meal kit services publish their recipes online, and the ones that do are generally the fastest and easiest to prepare.
A word of caution: don’t try to judge this by the number of steps the recipes take. Here’s an example of “one step” from one of the more popular meal kit programs:
Meanwhile, medium dice potatoes into ½-inch pieces. Place in a medium pot with enough salted water to cover by 2 inches. Boil until tender, about 12 minutes; drain and return potatoes to pot. While potatoes cook, in a small bowl, combine ketchup and a pinch of remaining chipotle powder. Once meatloaves have roasted 15 minutes, remove from oven and brush with chipotle ketchup. Continue roasting until meatloaves are cooked through, carrots are browned, and garlic is softened, about 5 minutes more.
Yeah. As you can see, there’s a lot of wiggle room for the companies to define what constitutes one step.
Instead, look at cooking time. If speed is of the essence, look for meals that have 5–10 minutes of prep time and 20–30 minutes of cook time.
Another thing to look for is number of ingredients– the fewer ingredients, the simpler a meal will be to prepare. The simplest meals have five to eight ingredients; the most complex may have twelve or more.
Most meal kits have very low calorie counts, around four or five hundred calories per serving. That makes them ideal for weight loss, which is a common goal among meal kit customers.
If you want to keep your calorie intake low, you have plenty of options. You will, however, need to make sure your meals have enough protein– I’ll get to that in a minute.
Of course, that isn’t going to fly for somebody who needs to eat three thousand calories a day. If you need more calories, either because you’re highly active, trying to put on weight, or just on the larger side, you don’t have nearly as many options.
In fact, it took me quite a bit of searching to find a good high-calorie meal kit; I’ll share it with you in the final part of this article.
For those who don’t know, macronutrients are carbohydrates, fat and protein.
Every meal should have at least five grams of fat, and most meals should have at least ten. Unless you’re on a ketogenic diet, you also want every meal to have at least ten grams of carbohydrates.
Now, that part usually isn’t a problem. Protein, on the other hand, can be, especially with the lower-calorie meal kits. Many of them have only twenty grams of protein per serving, and that isn’t nearly enough.
As a general guideline, small-framed women should aim for at least 25 grams of protein per serving, average-sized women for 30 grams of protein, and larger-framed women for 35 grams of protein.
Men need more, both because they’re larger overall, and because they have proportionally more muscle and less body fat. Small-framed men should eat at least 30 grams of protein per meal, average-sized men 40 grams, and big guys will need to shoot for at least 50 grams of protein per meal.
Note that those guidelines assume you’re eating three meals a day. If you choose to do four meals a day, you can reduce these numbers by 15–25%.
If you haven’t guessed already, meal kit services are more popular with women than men, and portion sizing a big reason for that. Nonetheless, there are some meal kits that provide high-protein options, either in combination with a high or low calorie count.
AKA, vitamins and minerals. You get them mostly from fruits, vegetables and protein-rich foods like meat. Thankfully, this part’s simple.
All of the meal kits provide a good deal of vegetable content, albeit some more than others. None of them really have much in the way of fruit, since fruit mostly doesn’t mesh well with entree dishes. Whichever meal kit you choose, you’ll want to supplement it with some fruit to eat as a side dish.
So micronutrients are mostly not an issue…unless you’re a vegan. Vegan meal kits don’t always do the best job of providing the mix of minerals and B vitamins that carnivores get from meat, so vegans will have to make sure the meal kit they choose has enough variety to meet this need.
Most meal kits cost upwards of ten dollars per serving, with some getting as high as fifteen. This puts them out of reach for many people.
If you’re trying to be thrifty, there are a couple of lower-priced options that will come in around seven or eight dollars a serving. On top of that, most meal kit services offer sales, bulk discounts, and introductory offers. These can lower the cost significantly, sometimes to as little as five dollars a serving.
The Best Paleo Meal Kit Program
People get into the paleo diet for all of the usual reasons like fat loss and athletic performance, but the real killer application of the paleo diet is gut health. By cutting out various anti-toxins that irritate the gut lining, the paleo diet can reduce bloating and systemic inflammation, improve digestive problems like IBS and leaky gut syndrome, and help to address issues related to autoimmunity.
That means that if you’re looking for a paleo meal kit service, you need to be absolutely confident that it contains no traces of anti-toxins like gluten, lectins, FODMAPs and phytic acid.
With that in mind, Pete’s Paleo is without a doubt the best paleo meal kit program on the market right now. All of their meals are strictly paleo and designed with an eye towards gut health. Not only does their menu change on a weekly basis, but it features fresh, seasonal ingredients.
How fresh? They harvest the produce, send it to their facility, cook the meals, and package and ship them out to you in the space of one day. By the time you receive your meals, most of the contents have been dead less than a week. This is substantially fresher than even most produce at “healthy” grocery stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, which is still often months old.
That makes Pete’s Paleo one of the more expensive options, at $12–15 per meal. The other downside is a fixed menu. You can opt to not receive pork dishes, an extra side dish per meal, choose whether you want breakfast, lunch and/or dinner dishes, and you can ask for extra protein, but other than that you don’t get to select which meals you get.
With Pete’s Paleo, you get what the chef sends you. Of course, if you’re like me, that means you get something way better than anything you’d ever cook at home.
The Best Low-Calorie, High-Protein Option
It’s not that hard to find meal kits with more than 30 or even 40 grams of protein per serving…as long as you also want a high calorie count. But what if you want high protein and low calories? What if you’re, say, trying to lose weight?
In that case, the best option is Pete’s Paleo. Specifically, their Pete’s Paleo Classic meals with the double protein option, which come out to around 40–50 grams of protein for most meals.
So far I’ve tried Pete’s Paleo and a couple of other services not mentioned here. I feel like I’ve learned enough to award those first two categories to Pete’s, but I have a lot of other recommendations I want to be able to make, including:
- The fastest/easiest to cook
- Best keto option
- Best high-calorie option
- Best vegan option
- The cheapest (that doesn’t suck)
- The best for learning to cook
- The best overall
I also have at least two more meal kit services in mind that I’d like to try over the next month, but I’d really like to hear from my readers on this one– which meal kit services have you tried, and what was your experiences with them? Which services would you like me to try, and which recommendation (i.e. “Best XXXX”) are you most eager to see?
Let me know in the comments, and look for an update to this article sometime in August.