×

Millennials warm up to recipe-delivery services

Going out to eat can get expensive, while cooking at home can be time-consuming and costly, depending on the menu.

Still, convenience often wins out. Millennials spend about $175 a month on restaurants, 14 percent more than older generations. And 87 percent of millennials will splurge on a nice meal even when money is tight, according to Restaurant Marketing Labs.

Now there's a new option growing in popularity: recipe-delivery services. It provides you with the ingredients you need to make a meal in exactly the right proportions from the different dinner options you choose on the websites. For about $190 a month, you get two servings of two or three recipes a week (depending on the service) all delivered to your door.

"If you want fresh, healthy, home-cooked food but need to save some time, recipe-delivery services are a good option," said Benjamin Glaser, an editor at DealNews.

But whether these meal-prep services save money, time and actually taste good is another story. So we tried out three: Plated, Blue Apron and Marley Spoon. Here's what we found.

The pros:

You'll save time. It's faster than going to the grocery store to shop for all of the ingredients, because the companies ship the exact amount of the items you'll need, like vegetables, meat, pickle chips, multicolored Tinkerbell peppers and even gochujang (a Korean condiment).

That also means you won't waste money on food you don't end up using. You don't shell out for ingredients that you might throw away or never use again because the services send the exact amount, like two tablespoons' worth of lemon zest or a half cup of salad dressing.

You could save money. A basic meal package will cost you $48 from Plated and Marley Spoon and $60 from Blue Apron per week. Plated and Marley Spoon include two different meals for two people. Blue Apron provides three different meals for two people, which comes out to about $10 to $12 a head, pretty reasonable for a nice dinner.

"They can be comparable to grocery store prices, which suggests they are cheaper than eating at restaurants or getting take out," said Glaser.

But do you get what you pay for? Sam Heilbroner, 24, a medical student in New York City, tried Blue Apron. "The food itself was excellent," he said. "The quality was probably the same as a $25 entree at a restaurant."

You'll pick up some new cooking tips. If you don't know how to prepare something, there are tutorial videos on the sites, like how to blanch green beans, core a tomato or the best way to mince garlic.

We made a lemon chicken and green bean dinner from one of the services. Eating a similar dish out would cost about $15, according to foodservicewarehouse.com, but could cost $20 or more at a pricier restaurant.

Millennials cooking
kupicoo | Getty Images

The cons:

Learning those techniques isn't always so easy. If you don't have a clue how to cook, then the services could be time consuming. If you've never blanched a green bean, for example, you will likely need to take the time to research it.

All that time adds up. For us, the Blue Apron meal took more than an hour and a half to prepare. Marley Spoon's took just over one hour and Plated took an hour. Most get faster with some experience, but still average about 45 minutes of prep time based on our experience. Learning to do multiple steps at once will expedite the process.

The environmental impact. There can be multiple bags and packages for the ingredients. While it may seem like a lot of packaging, Blue Apron said it has made several efforts to reduce packaging waste and continues to do so. All of the material is recyclable or biodegradable, the company said.

The boxes and packing materials also took up a lot of refrigerator space, we found, something many millennials may not have room for.

The minimum order of meals may be more than you want. "I would prefer two meals a week," said Charlotte Hindsley, 30, a client executive at IBM in Washington, D.C., who said she has tried a number of the services.

The menus are set each week and you choose the recipe options you would like. Sometimes you don't have time to cook three or four meals a week, and the food would go bad. "That could be a waste of food and, therefore, money," said Heilbroner.

Finally, don't expect to order the meal and get that delivery the next day for dinner. It can take two weeks to receive your first order, so you have to plan. Once you're on the subscription, allow a week for delivery.

The taste test:

Thumbs up. All three had good flavoring and good quality meat and vegetables. Blue Apron, in our opinion, had the best flavor and the better quality meat. Marley Spoon had the ripest vegetables but also required the most time chopping.

Overall, the services are a pretty good deal for all of the food you receive, but it takes time and work, something restaurants still have to their advantage.