I don’t cook. Really.
In college, I once gave my mom a Mother’s Day card that read: “Thank you for teaching me the joys of cooking. Peel back microwave film, set to high.”
For much of my adulthood, I’ve subsisted on Special K, Lean Cuisine, Amy’s frozen dinners and Sweetgreen. “Cooking” to me means throwing a veggie burger on my trusty countertop George Foreman and tossing some veggies from the freezer into the microwave of my tiny NYC kitchen.<
But, one thing I repeatedly hear as a health writer is that making your own meals is good for you — and your wallet. A 2017 study from the University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine found that people who cook at home more often than eating out have “healthier overall diets without higher food expenses.”
So, when Instagram began showing me ads for supposedly healthy, prepared meal services, such as Sakara Life, I was a prime target. Sakara is one of several companies advertising chef- and dietitian-prepared meals that are nutritious, delicious and, most importantly, don’t require me to attempt cooking.
Along with Brooklyn-based registered dietitian Allison Knott, I decided to try out several of these services and rank them. Our criteria: Everything had to be fully prepped — meaning no dishes, no mess. Every meal also had to be vegetarian to keep things consistent. (One of the most popular companies is vegan.)
Read on for the best and worst of the bunch, listed in order of our most to least favorite.
The service: This vegan, organic socialite favorite offers meals with trendy ingredients, such as spirulina-infused green goddess “mylk,” with various “detox” teas on the side.
Average price per meal: $20
Typical dish: Empress rice, described on the menu as “superfood rice” and vegetables
How it fared: The rice dish was surprisingly tasty and one of the best meals I tried flavorwise, but the company annoyingly refuses to provide nutritional information. Knott notes that the meal seems to be “lacking in protein” and the trendy astragalus root it contains “may have some side effects such as gastrointestinal upset and may disrupt blood sugar levels.” Still, I felt light and healthier while eating this rabbit food, and my jeans fit better after just two days.
The service: Born in a Brooklyn kitchen, Mosaic offers frozen grain bowls and risottos and claims to roast, saute and season its food by hand. The company says it doesn’t use any preservatives, other than natural lemon juice, which is why the “use by” date is shorter than standard ice-box meals.
Average price per meal: $12.50
Typical dish: Peanut tofu bowl
How it fared: The most aesthetically pleasing of the bunch, the food looked like actual food, rather than a messy mush. Although the flavor was a bit bland, the vegetables were vibrant and crisp and the meal was filling. But at more than 500 calories for the meal I tried, it has as many calories as a typical Amy’s dish. Still, our dietitian is a fan. It has more than 20 grams of protein and a moderate amount of sodium. Also, “it has a good amount of fiber and is an excellent source of vitamin A and C,” Knott says.
The service: Made in a Brooklyn kitchen, this organic meal delivery service offers fresh food with plant-based or omnivore options that are gluten-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free.
Average price per meal: $18
Typical dish: Chickpea fennel Salad with harissa tahini dressing
How it fared: The breakfasts were delicious, but the salads felt basic and much less satiating than my usual lunchtime bowl at Sweetgreen. Knott notes that “they don’t list calories or nutritional information, like Sakara . . . but they seem to rely on ingredients more commonly found on store shelves and less on the superfood and exotic ingredients.”
The service: This Bronx-based company caters to an array of diets — from Whole30 to paleo to vegan — and offers a variety of healthy desserts and snacks.
Average price per meal: $10
Typical dish: Herbed chickpea frittatas: a two-bite light breakfast with fresh herbs and roasted vegetables, paired with savory tomato jam and a Sicilian kale salad
How it fared: Reviews were mixed. I found the frittata dry and flavorless, but a friend loved it. Knott praised the offerings for being low in calories but satiating. “The combination of protein and fiber plus unsaturated fats from olive oil and olives will likely make this a filling breakfast option despite it only being 300 calories,” she says.
The service: Prepared with dietitians (and supposedly cooked by Michelin-starred chefs), this is the first meal-delivery service tailored specifically to diets low in FODMAPs — fermentable carbs like cauliflower, lima beans and onions that can cause digestive issues.
Average price per meal: $8
Typical dish: Spaghetti squash with basil pesto
How it fared: Pass the salt! Even the mac ‘n’ cheese, albeit creamy, needed a bit more punch in order to be enjoyable. Knott notes that the squash meal is low in protein and fiber, and someone relying on these meals might need to get fiber elsewhere.
The service: This frozen food company is “sugar conscious,” gluten-free and focuses on having the right balance of macronutrients (fats, carbs, proteins) and micronutrients (vitamins, anti-oxidants, minerals) in each meal.
Average price per meal: $12.50 each
Typical dish: Veggie tikka masala
How it fared: The meals looked like your typical frozen dinner mush and tasted like it, too. They’re not any healthier, either. “The saturated fat is surprisingly high with a closer look at the ingredients showing that the majority . . . is coming from half-and-half and butter,” says Knott. “The sodium is also on the high side.”