With many people spending less time cooking and more time eating out and ordering takeaways, the food industry has adapted by introducing commercial meal kit subscription services that deliver recipes and fresh, pre-measured ingredients direct to people’s doors.
They’re touted as providing a healthier alternative to convenience foods, but how do these kits stack up nutritionally?
Understood to be the first published research of its kind, University of Sydney researchers analysed and compared five popular commercial meal kit subscription services available in Australia – Dinnerly, HelloFresh™, MarleySpoon™, Pepper Leaf, Thomas Farms Kitchen – to find out.
“We wanted to find out the nutritional qualities of these kits, to provide people with independent and evidence-based information to help them make informed purchasing – and eating – choices,” said co-author of the study Dr Alice Gibson, from the University of Sydney Children’s Hospital Westmead Clinical School and Charles Perkins Centre.
Published today in Nutrients, the study analysed a random selection of 12 different meals from each of the subscription services identified.
The nutritional composition for each meal was obtained by weighing all raw ingredients supplied per recipe, and standardised portions of ingredients were assumed when non-specific measures were used in recipes such as ‘drizzle’ or ‘pinch.’
Where available, the researchers also compared the suggested dietary target to reduce chronic disease risk in addition to the recommended dietary intake or adequate intake.
The meal kits were shown to be a good source of veggies, but too high in fat (and energy) and salt – and they could do with a little more fibre.
“Overall, we found these meal kits to be a good substitute for takeaway and convenience foods, and even some home-cooked meals – but they could be better aligned with dietary guidelines for the prevention of chronic disease,” said co-author Dr Stephanie Partridge, from the University of Sydney’s Westmead Applied Research Centre, School of Public Health and Charles Perkin Centre.
Really simple changes – such as reducing or eliminating the added salt, increasing whole grains and legumes, reducing added fat and using leaner varieties of meat – could make a big difference.
“We suggest people avoid adding salt and limit adding fat, even when the recipes instruct them to do so – and the option to reduce the size of the meals and energy intake could also be reduced for people managing their weight.”
“We’d also like to see all the companies providing recipes and nutritional information up front, before people make their selection – as those companies that do provide this are helping people to make informed choices for the benefit of their health,” Dr Partridge added.
The researchers intend to follow up this study with further studies on meal kit subscription services. If you’d like to find out more, and possibly participate in future research, contact the research team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Declaration: This research received no external funding, and the authors declare no conflict of interest.