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Ready-to-cook dinner kits may save time, money

A HelloFresh dinner kit. The company and its rivals target people too busy to shop.

HelloFresh via Associated Press

A HelloFresh dinner kit. The company and its rivals target people too busy to shop.

Sarah Michaelson no longer wonders what she’ll be having for dinner. Her meals are delivered to her door.

Last fall, she signed up with Blue Apron, a company that ships ready-to-cook dinner kits. She and her husband, Phil Michaelson, pay $59.94 a week to have six uncooked meals sent to their home. 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.

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‘‘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 start-ups HelloFresh and Plated, target busy consumers who want to cook at home but don’t have time to hit the grocery store every week. All three have been launched within the past 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 be cheaper than dining out or ordering in, costing $10 to $15 a meal. But some of the companies require a subscription or buying a minimum number of meals a week.

They all work differently, but they all aim to give even the most inexperienced cook the ingredients for 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,’’ Michaelson says.

Subscribers choose dishes they want to cook. A box is sent with that week’s meals. The boxes are packed with ice 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.

None of the companies charge a delivery fee.

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.

At Plated, you can order a minimum of two servings of two recipes, a total of four meals per shipment.

Josh Hix, Plated’s cofounder, 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:

Blue Apron

 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; for six, $179.82.

 Vegetarian option: Yes

 Delivery areas: Available in 38 states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Hellofresh

 Pricing: A minimum of $69 a week, which includes three meals for two people ($11.50 a meal). For four people, $129 a week, or $10.75 a meal. Vegetarian kits are $59, which includes three meals for two people ($9.83 a meal).

 Vegetarian option: Yes.

 Delivery areas: 29 states, including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Plated

 Pricing: A minimum of $60 for four meals ($15 a meal). Order six or more meals for $14 each. Pay a monthly membership of $10, and it’s $12 a meal if you buy four or $10 if you order six or more.

 Vegetarian option: No. (The company expects to add it this fall.)

 Delivery areas: 18 states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

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