Meal delivery services: convenient, but healthy?
In today’s busy world, a lot of families find it hard to find time to shop for groceries and cook healthy dinners. Many are turning to the new meal kit services that deliver all of the ingredients for a full meal right to your door. The kits come with glossy photos, recipe cards, and premeasured ingredients that have dinner on the table in 30 to 40 minutes.
Sure these meals are convenient, but are they actually healthy? We asked two of Cape Cod Healthcare’s clinical dieticians for their opinion on the meal kits. Both said that the meals have pros and cons. The key to keeping the meals healthy is to choose carefully.
“I think that the meal delivery services are a great way to get people involved in cooking their own food and preparing their own recipes,” said Mallory Doolan, RDN, a dietician at Falmouth Hospital, who is considering signing up for a meal kit plan herself after researching them.
“Someone who might not cook regularly might be willing to cook something that comes pre-prepared and I think they’ll tend to still be lower in calories than some of the food you eat out in a restaurant. But like all foods and meals, you need to look really closely at the nutrition facts and pay attention to the salt, fat and sugar content.”
Rachel Songer, RDN, at Cape Cod Hospital likes the fact that the meal kit companies allow people to choose meal options like vegan or gluten-free as well as what type of protein they prefer.
“They get people to try new foods and new cooking methods,” she said. “Most recipes are easy to make and convenient and they provide a meal card with all the ingredients and instructions so you can remake the recipe another time, if desired.”
But not all the meal choices are healthy for all people. For example, when she examined the spinach gnocchi recipe from Blue Apron, she had concerns.
“That meal is definitely too high in saturated fat and sodium for those who have any kind of cardiovascular disease like high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease or high cholesterol who need to limit those specific nutrients,” Songer said.
A close examination of the recipes from Plated revealed that some of the meals are high in calories, fat and sodium as well, she said. She sampled a meal of skillet roast chicken with caramelized fennel and potatoes. She noted that Plated only lists the calorie per serving amount on the recipe card, but didn’t break down how much fat or what kind of fat there is or how much sodium is in the recipe. These are important considerations for a lot of people.
Some of the companies let you choose what you want by dietary restrictions. Chef’d partnered with the American Diabetes Association and had dieticians create menus specifically for people with diabetes, Doolan said. She also pointed out that because most of the meal kits are freshly prepared, you can adjust seasoning and fat content on your own by leaving certain ingredients out to make them healthier.
Doolan offered the following dietary guidelines:
- Sodium: less than 2,300 mg/day and less than 1,500 mg/day for those with high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease.
- Sugar: less than 10 percent of your total calories for the day.
- Saturated fat: less than 10 percent of total calories for the day
- Calories: the dietary guidelines are based on 2,000 calories a day, but the actual number of calories depends on activity level and other factors. If you have questions, it’s best to consult a registered dietitian nutritionist
Patients should consult a registered dietician nutritionist with any questions on these recommendations, Doolan advised.