One big surprise from meal delivery kits

- We get just about everything delivered these days, so why not a really nice meal?  No, not take-out, but meal delivery kits that offer gourmet, healthy meals that you still cook yourself.

At first blush, it might sound kind of out there - too expensive, maybe time consuming. But, this is what we found, you can save money, save your waistline and expand your taste buds.

We met three families with three different needs in the kitchen, but they had one thing in common: They all have to eat dinner.

"My son plays three sports. We're traveling. We're at a practice, or we're at a game," Krystal Smith told us.

TIME. This Barrow County mom wants home cooked meals, but she doesn't always have the time, so she was happy to help out as we experimented with meal delivery kits.

We ordered online from Hello Fresh, Plated, Blue Apron and Home Chef. They all arrived at our door heavily packed in cold, well-insulated boxes.

The ingredients were fresh and ready to cook. But how'd they pan out?

Krystal tested Home Chef's meal kit to see if it might make her life easier. She got two nights of dinners - Shrimp Bisque and Sicilian Herbed Chicken delivered to her home.

With three family members, she selected the four plate option for $79.60.

She was surprised, she said, that the ingredients arrived individually measured and labeled. All of them.&

"It included the parsley. It included all of those things down to the tomatoes, so that was good because I was thinking that maybe you'd have to get the meat separately or something."

That's super convenient, but you still have to prep the meals - cutting, chopping, then cooking - you don't get out of that.   And the real measure of success? The taste test.

"I love the Shrimp Bisque, but I probably would have never have thought to make it at home," Krystal admitted.

She liked that everything was included, that she had leftovers and found it was reasonably priced. But, the prep and cooking took longer than she expected it.

We tried two meal delivery companies at my house. Now, my husband is the real tester because he's the cook and he wants GOURMET. He likes good food. But he looked forward to not having to plan the menu.

Blue Apron arrived first with ingredients for Shrimp Etouffe and Soy-Glazed Chicken.  Both were for a family of four.  And that costs $71.92. Just like every meal kit we tested, the ingredients come portioned with easy-to-follow instructions.

"It's good," tester David Powell told us.

Both meals, honestly, were really good.  We liked that we can pick our delivery date, that you could buy wine to pair with the meals, and, that Blue Apron will take back all of the packaging and recycle it. We would have liked a family of three order option, but that wasn't on the menu.

ww.hellofresh.com">Hello Fresh has three meal options -  Classic, Vegetarian and Family plans. With some you can select your meals, with others, they're chosen for you.

Both the Chicken Pineapple Party Tacos and the One-Pot Sausage and Tortelloni Soup were very good.  We paid $69.92. We had leftovers for lunches the next day, and we tried new things. As with all of these deliveries, there is no way around all of this packaging. Although, they encourage you to recycle the shipping material on your own.

So, how would something like this work out for a single guy? I asked my photographer to try it out. So for this, I'll have to turn the camera around.

Plated was delivered to Chris Rosenthal. He'd never tried a meal delivery kit before because of MONEY. He assumed it wouldn't be cost effective for a single guy.

He prepped, and he cooked both Seared Steak and Chicken Piccata.

"One of the really tough things about being a single person and cooking for yourself is the portions.

It came with just enough of what you need, all of the ingredients, you didn't have to buy more than you need," he said.

Chris tried new food. Had plenty of leftovers because he had to get two servings because there are no single guy options.  He paid $55.75.

Whether it was Home Chef, Blue Apron, Hello Fresh or Plated, they all arrived with recipes you can keep that give you full nutritional information like calories and sodium per meal.

All in all we had great experiences.  But there was one thing none of us expected. All of the meals were actually cost effective for us.  You know when you buy a whole bottle of something when you only need a dash of it? So, no waste and plenty of leftovers for more meals.

But here is something none of us liked.  The deliveries come weekly unless you actively go into the calendar and opt out. This is good when you're vacationing and don't want a delivery.  But, you have to stay on it.  You really need to manage the calendar. We all would have preferred to have the option of opting in - not out - from week to week.

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