(AP) Sarah Michaelson no longer wonders what she'll be having for dinner. Her meals are delivered to her door.
She signed up with Blue Apron, a company that ships ready-to-cook dinner kits last fall. Michaelson and her husband, Phil, pay $59.94 a week to have six uncooked meals sent to their home every week. Blue Apron's kits are filled with everything needed to whip up a meal, from the raw meat and fish to spices and vegetables. Recipes, with step-by-step instructions and pictures, are included.
"It saves us a lot of money," says Michaelson, a marketing manager at Betterment.com, an online investment management company.
She now eats dinner at home at least three times a week. Before, she would order takeout while at work, or head to a restaurant. Takeout can cost as much as $35 for the New York couple, and dinner at a restaurant starts at $40 for the two of them Michaelson says.
Ready-to-cook dinner kits are the latest concept in online grocery delivery. Blue Apron, and fellow startups HelloFresh and Plated, are targeting busy consumers who want to cook at home, but don't have the time hit the grocery store every week. The companies are new all three have launched within the last year but are growing quickly and have plans to reach more customers in more states soon. The kits make cooking at home easier. Since all the ingredients are included and measured, you don't have to buy six onions when all you need is one or a bottle of a spice you'll only use a sprinkle of. The kits can sometimes be cheaper than dining out or ordering in, costing between $10 and $15 a meal. But some of the companies require a subscription or buying a minimum amount of meals a week.
They all work differently, but they all aim to give even the most inexperienced cook the ingredients to cook a gourmet meal.
Michaelson says she has become a better cook since joining Blue Apron. For a recent dinner party, she made seared rainbow trout and an arugula and peach salad, using a Blue Apron recipe. "Usually, I'm pretty basic with how I cook," says Michaelson.
Subscribers are able to choose dishes they want to cook. A box is sent with that week's meals. The boxes are packed with ice packs and insulated to keep the items fresh. All three services use seasonal vegetables and fruits, and recipes change every week. Subscribers benefit from variety so they're not repeating the same meals week in and week out.
The dinner kits are not cheaper than fixing a bowl of spaghetti at home, but they can be cheaper than takeout. Blue Apron's meals cost less than $10 each. The meals at HelloFresh and Plated are a couple of dollars more, but you can lower the price if you buy more meals per shipment or opt for the vegetarian meals from HelloFresh. While the companies tout the per meal price, Blue Apron and HelloFresh require buying a minimum of six meals for each shipment. Plated requires four meals. The cheapest is HelloFresh's vegetarian dinner kit, which costs $59 a week. Delivery for all three companies is free.
But be aware that these services cater to couples and families. Single subscribers may end up with more food than they know what to do with. The minimum dinner kit available from Blue Apron and HelloFresh has two servings of three different recipes. That's six meals all together.
At Plated, you can order a minimum of two servings of two different recipes, a total of four meals per shipment. Josh Hix, Plated's co-founder, says the company's single customers save extra food for leftovers or use it for date nights.
If subscribing to a ready-to-cook delivery service sounds appetizing, here's what you need to know about each company:
PRICING: A minimum of $59.94 a week, which includes three meals for two people ($9.99 a meal). No membership required, cancel any time. A kit for four people costs $119.88, and for six, $179.82.
RECENT RECIPES: Cod with crispy kale and roasted tomato. Lemongrass shrimp with soba noodles and Chinese broccoli.
VEGETARIAN OPTION: Yes
DELIVERY AREAS: Available in 38 states and Washington D.C.: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
PRICING: A minimum of $69 a week, which includes three meals for two people ($11.50 a meal). For four people, its $129 a week, or $10.75 a meal. The vegetarian kits are $59, which includes three meals for two people ($9.83 a meal).
RECENT RECIPES: Beef cabbage wraps with sweet potato fries. Honey chili chicken with tomato relish.
VEGETARIAN OPTION: Yes.
DELIVERY AREAS: Available in 29 states and Washington D.C.: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
PRICING: A minimum of $60 for four meals ($15 a meal). Order six or more meals, for $14 each. If you pay a monthly membership of $10, its $12 a meal if you buy four or $10 a meal if you order six or more.
RECENT DISHES: Pork tenderloin with watermelon, mint, feta and cucumber salad. Apricot chicken with green beans and almonds.
VEGETARIAN OPTION: No. (The company expects to add it this fall)
DELIVERY AREAS: Available in 18 states and Washington D.C.: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
Follow Joseph Pisani at http://twitter.com/josephpisani .