You’ve likely seen the ads for meal delivery—healthy, convenient, and most of all tasty entrees—brought to your door.

While a few meal delivery services existed before the pandemic, COVID-19 has made that business model more popular. Now there are many companies competing in this space, such as Blue Apron, Freshly, HelloFresh, HungryRoot, Sunbasket and others.

We’ll take a look at some of the main factors to consider as you choose a service, and help you figure out which ones can best accommodate your nutritional requirements, your taste preferences and your budget.

Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND, a dietitian and Associate Clinical Professor Emeritus at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, New York, suggests starting out by asking yourself an important question: “What is it that you want to get out of this service?”

If you’re looking for a quick meal solution, you may not want to choose a service that provides recipes and a big box of ingredients. Or you may enjoy the cooking part, but hate the prep work, so you’ll want your ingredients pre-measured.

So, take some time to determine your goal—such a cost, convenience, or special dietary or health requirements.

How Much Do You Want to Spend on Meal Delivery?

Typically, the food from these services costs less per meal than going out to a restaurant, but more than you would spend on groceries you cook on your own: The price usually breaks down to about $10 per individual meal.

Ayoob recommends determining how often you want to eat the service’s food. You may want to do it every night, or maybe just nights during the week when you work late, or whenever else it makes sense for you.

“You also want to factor in things like shipping costs, and are you going to be home to get it, and are you going to have enough room in the fridge, and how long after you get it home are you going to start cooking with it?” he added, because you don’t want to waste money on food that will go bad before you’re able to use it.

Do You Want to Cook at All?

Some meal services deliver refrigerated or frozen complete meals, ready to heat and eat. Freshly, for example, delivers entrees that take about three minutes in the microwave. If you are usually short on time, buying full meals might be the way to go.

Other services, such as Blue Apron or Sun Basket, deliver fresh ingredients plus recipes that you use to prepare the food yourself, saving you trips to the grocery store. You can also choose a more limited delivery, such as just a box of vegetables provided by a regional or local source, once or twice a month.

“If you know how to cook, it’s just going to be a convenience,” Ayoob said.

If you do like to cook but you’re bored with making the same few things, a meal service can give you more options, lead you to discover a new spice, or even introduce you to a new favorite recipe.

“It’s a great way to build a little repertoire of dishes that you like,” Ayoob added.

If the service you choose provides ingredients and recipes, check to see how complex the meals are to prepare; some note the typical preparation and cooking time on the recipe cards.

“If you’re doing this for convenience and the meal takes an hour and a half, is that going to be convenient for you?” Ayoob said. “Pick the recipes that look like they’re fairly simple to put together, if that’s the need that you have.”

What’s on the Meal Delivery Menu?

Neither prepared meals nor recipes are useful to you if you don’t like eating the food. Browse their offerings to make sure there’s enough variety to keep you interested; also find out how often new foods are added.

Consider the nutritional quality of the food, too—as a massage therapist, you need to eat a varied diet that will give you the energy to do your job well.

“I would definitely recommend something that’s going to have a good source of protein,” said Hannah Cooper, RD, LDN, a dietitian in Houston, Texas, “That’s going to help keep [you] full longer so [you’re] not needing tons of snacks … [or] running low on fuel during the day.”

Lean proteins like chicken, fish and turkey are all good choices, she noted; she also suggests looking for food that’s a good source of complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, sweet potatoes and starchy vegetables.

Are You on a Special Diet?

Most meal services offer multiple food options for those on special diets. For example, HelloFresh has choices for vegetarians, pescatarians, and people counting calories; Freshly includes gluten- and peanut-free choices.

While not all are low-fat or low-carb, foods from meal services can work for you if you are trying to lose weight. Most provide the calories and other nutrition info on their websites so you can fit them into your overall diet. Portions are controlled, which also helps.

 “Somebody has already portioned it out for you, so you can be really assured that if it says it’s four ounces of chicken, it’s four ounces of chicken. And that can be a really good tool in two ways,” Ayoob said. “One, you know how much you’re getting; secondly, visually you get a chance to have a working acquaintance with what four ounces really looks like. And if it’s different than what you thought it was, that’s a wake-up call.”

Other Meal Delivery Factors to Consider

• Do you want a recurring subscription plan, or a buy-as-you-go plan? If it’s a subscription, how often can you change your food options? What if you want to skip a week or two?

• Where do the ingredients come from? Are they locally sourced? Organic?

• Can you recycle the boxes and ice packs? Meals or ingredients are typically delivered in a box with several ice packs, plus some insulation. You can usually save and re-use the ice packs, but you can only use so many before you run out of freezer space. Check the company’s website for details on how to recycle the packaging, if possible.

Get Cooking! (Or Not)

Whether you use a meal service as an occasional complement to your own cooking or as your complete source of food, the criteria here can help guide you toward the right service for you—one that gives you a good value for your money, time and nutritional needs.

About the Author:

Allison M. Payne is an independent writer and editor based in central Florida. Her recent articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “Claim Your Google My Business Page to Get Free Publicity for Your Massage Practice” and “The Self-Employed MT’s Guide to Getting Health Insurance.”