Meal kits are often touted as providing a healthier alternative to convenience foods, so the researchers from the University of Sydney compared five popular commercial meal kit subscription services available in Australia—Dinnerly, HelloFresh, MarleySpoon, Pepper Leaf, and Thomas Farms Kitchen—to find out. The results are published in the journal Nutrients.
The researchers analyzed a random selection of 12 different meals from each of the subscription services identified. The nutritional composition for each meal was obtained by weighing all raw ingredients supplied per recipe, and standardized portions of ingredients were assumed when non-specific measures were used in recipes such as “drizzle” or “pinch.” Where available, the researchers also compared the suggested dietary target to reduce chronic disease risk in addition to the recommended dietary intake or adequate intake.
The researchers found that the meal kits were a good source of veggies, but too high in fat (and energy) and salt, and they could do with a little more fiber. The kits provided good amounts of vegetables, ranging from 2.3 servings per meal for Thomas Farms Kitchen and up to 3.1 servings for HelloFresh.
All meals were high in salt, with over 30% of the suggested dietary target for sodium. HelloFresh meals contained almost double the sodium content (1,426 mg) of the other companies, with their recipes instructing salt be added more than twice on average per recipe.
In addition, the meals were high in fat with more than 30 g on average per serving and contributing 40%–60% of the average total energy content of the meal. However, the type of fat differed with MarleySpoon and Pepper Leaf containing about 6 g of saturated fat on average per serving compared to Thomas Farms Kitchen which contained 22 g.
The average energy contents were around 700 calories per serving for three companies: Dinnerly, MarleySpoon, and Pepper Leaf. HelloFresh and Thomas Farms Kitchen had higher fat content resulting in higher energy contents of around 950 calories. “
Only Dinnerly provided a large proportion of grain serves as whole grains (60%) compared with 22% for Thomas Farms Kitchen, 11% for Pepper Leaf, 8% for MarleySpoon, and none from HelloFresh. Dietary fiber content met the suggested dietary fiber target for women but not men, and was similar across the services, although Thomas Farms Kitchen meals were slightly lower.
“Overall, we found these meal kits to be a good substitute for takeaway and convenience foods, and even some home-cooked meals, but they could be better aligned with dietary guidelines for the prevention of chronic disease,” said co-author Stephanie Partridge, from the University of Sydney’s Westmead Applied Research Centre, School of Public Health and Charles Perkin Centre.
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