How healthy are meal-kit delivery services

They take the hassle out of meal planning and grocery shopping but how healthy are they?

Research suggests that if you cook food regularly at home, you are more likely to eat healthier meals and consume fewer kilojoules, sugar and fat, than someone who regularly eats out or eats takeaway food. 

But does that apply when it’s a meal-kit delivery service you’re using to make preparing a home-cooked meal as easy as possible?

Home cooking tends to be healthier than buying takeaway every day, but what you might not know is that cooking healthy food  at home at least five times a week, may help you live a longer healthier life,  according to a Monash University study in older people living in Taiwan.   

The problem is, we’re time poor, which may have many of us falling on to the sofa and reaching for the take-away menu and the phone after work instead of planning what to eat for dinner, going  grocery shopping and then cooking.   

And that’s one reason why meal-kit delivery services are growing in popularity. 

Delivering a box full of simple recipes and fresh ingredients to your place every week, companies offering services like this  generally have a few different boxes to choose from, based on your food preferences, the number of people you’re cooking for and how many meals a week you want catered. 

Boxing clever?

So are they a healthy solution for the time-strapped? For starters, it’s important to check that meals from companies offering these services are designed in conjunction with nutritionists  so that they are healthy and well balanced, and include at least two or three serves of vegetables per dinner. If they are, Lisa Renn, a Melbourne-based accredited practising dietitian , is in favour. “With only one in 20 Australian adults eating enough vegetables per day, any initiative that provides a number of vegetable serves will help benefit your health and weight,” she says. 

Plus, after Deakin University researchers pinpointed a lack of skills and cooking confidence as one barrier to home cooking,   Renn says anything that helps counter that as well, is a positive. “Having food and instructions delivered means people who are less sure of cooking can improve their skills and are also more likely to try new foods.” 

Some companies also provide the nutritional breakdown of each meal , so you can see exactly what you’re eating. But Renn doesn’t see recipes free of that detail, as a drawback. “I think focusing on fresh food ingredients and learning cooking skills is far healthier than concentrating too heavily on nutritional information and counting kilojoules.” 

The fact that some meals usually take around 30 minutes to cook  is a bonus too..   Plus, ordering fresh food online has already been linked to weight-loss success, because it may help to reduce the temptation of in-store impulse purchases and lead to healthier food choices.   
lady cooking lots of veges

Mix and match

Just because a recipe says one thing, don’t be afraid to do another if it’ll make a meal healthier, says Renn. Here are her top five tips for customising a meal-kit dish to make it healthier. 

1.  If you like the idea of eating more vegetables than those provided, then add them – the more the merrier!

2.  Use commonsense about portion sizes. Let your appetite guide you rather than eating everything on your plate just because it’s the suggested serving size. Any leftovers can be used for lunch the next day.

3.  Meals that are more heavily influenced by a chef rather than a dietitian can contain larger quantities of oil and salt. If you’re concerned, decrease the amount you use.

4.  For good health, it’s best to use vegetable-based oils such as olive oil, rather than oils higher in saturated fat like coconut oil. Feel free to substitute these if you want to.

5.  Remember that meals based on lean protein, vegetables and wholegrains will usually be the healthier option. Substitute recommended ingredients with those if you want, or need to.

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