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Food/Nutrition Columnist Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food/Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Dinner In A Box – Use With Caution

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food/Nutrition Columnist -
May 21, 2017 - 9:16:08 AM

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( - Home delivered meals have been around since the first pizza was delivered in 1889 to the king and queen of Italy by Raffaele Esposito, the famous pizza chef of Naples. Today, home delivered meals are a rapidly growing $1.5 billion business, provided by more than 100 companies. The meals take on many variations but the common theme is that someone does the shopping, chopping and even cooking for you.

Having your dinner delivered in a box is enticing to time-crunched families, singles and older clients. Meal delivery kits are very popular right now and there are many versions of the concept. Think about what you are looking for before you pick a company. What are your food tastes? How much time to you have to devote to cooking. Do you want meals for every day or just a couple of days each week? Are you feeding kids? There are companies to satisfy every need, including specialized diets for diabetes, gluten-free, vegetarian and paleo.

Everyone has seen commercials for Jenny Craig Weight Loss. This is a home meal delivery system with the goal of helping you lose weight. Lean13 and BristroMD are similar programs. Healthy meals are prepackaged and sent to your home to guide you into making healthier selections in portion-controlled amounts. The shopping and prep have been done for you.

Some home delivery brands, such as Magic Kitchen, send premade frozen meals that you can heat and eat on your schedule. Personal Chef To Go sends freshly prepared meals that only need to be reheated and can be held, unopened and refrigerated for a number of days. Still others like Terra’s Kitchen do all the prep ahead and your only job is to cook the meal in 30 minutes or less. If you wish to eat organic foods, Sun Basket and Green Chef can meet your needs. Veestro offers plant-based meals.

Many meal kit brands offer you a cooking experience in a box. For those with limited culinary skills these have many advantages. First, all ingredients are provided. If you need just 3 stalks of celery, that is what the brand packs, not the entire head. When you open the box, everything is at your fingertips – a recipe card with detailed instructions to prepare and cook your dinner plus all the ingredients. You may get a picture of the finished product and a nutrition analysis of the meal. It is like having a personal chef come to your home and help you prepare dinner. You reduce waste, eliminate shopping, and broaden culinary skills. Though the meals may be costly, they are usually less expensive than a restaurant meal.

Dinner in a box can sound too tempting to pass up but there is a downside to this convenience. Even though more than 8 million Americans have tried meal kit delivery, customer retention is a headache for most companies. With deeply discounted enticements on first orders, many don’t return to sign up for the ongoing service or jump from brand to brand gobbling up discount trial meals.

Most meal kits are delivered in insulated boxes, and many companies attempt to make their packaging from recycled material that is eco-friendly, but there still is a great deal of garbage after unpacking and cooking dinner. The number one complaint of customers is that food arrives spoiled, melted or inedible.

William Hallman, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University presented research on home meal kits at the 2017 Food Safety Summit. Dr. Hallman found that even though the meal kits were cold-packed, nearly half of the meals containing meat, seafood or poultry arrived at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit (F), making them questionable to eat safely.

Bacteria grow most rapidly between 40 and 140 degree F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. Perishable foods left in this zone for more than two hours should be discarded. When temperatures approach 90 degree F, food should not be left out for longer than one hour. Does your meal kit sit on your doorstep for hours waiting for you to get home from work? Does the meal kit require a signature so it cannot be delivered and left unattended? Are the meals transported in a refrigerated truck? Dr. Hallman’s research found that meal kits that arrived at temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees F had microbial loads that were high enough to cause foodborne illness if eaten.

Bottom line: Choose the meal delivery company wisely. After you ask about the meal choices available, question the delivery and handling from their source to your home.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:

Diabetes Counter

Calorie Counter

Protein Counter

Healthy Wholefoods Counter

Complete Food Counter

Fat and Cholesterol Counter

Available in print from Gallery Books:

Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:



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