These days, busy lifestyles don't often allow time for everyday tasks, such as cooking. Enter meal-delivery services: those neatly packaged boxes of ingredients with pictures and step-by-step instructions to transform raw meat, herbs, and veggies into restaurant-quality meals in 45 minutes or less.

But meal kits do more than save us time at the grocery store and encourage eating whole, nutrient-rich foods. They boost confidence for non-chefs. “I dig meal-planning services because they offer novice cooks an approachable way to get in the kitchen,” says Karla Williams, an executive chef at the Hilton Head Health's True Restaurant.

Meal-delivery services curtail dining out, she says, which is a huge step toward eating healthier, since restaurant meals typically provide larger portion sides and are loaded with nutritional no-nos like too much salt and sugar, as well as unhealthy fats.

“A meal-delivery service gives us the option to put at least minimal thought into what we will consume,” she says.

For cooks with little time to prep dinner, HelloFresh features a Classic Plan, with two- or four-person meals that come together in around 20 minutes. A selection of meat, fish, produce, and grains ensures well-rounded menus. And while meals range from 500 to 800 calories, nutrition information gives consumers “the ability to pick and choose which meals can be healthier.” The brand also lists a vegetarian plan, and one for families.

For vegetable lovers, Purple Carrot focuses on plant-based eating. “The menu is relatable with an exotic flare,” says Williams. Omnivores can benefit too. “Their meals add a lot of variety with different grains and produce.” A unique option with Purple Carrot is its T-12 Performance Meals, developed in partnership with football superstar Tom Brady. The fare features high-protein and gluten-free ingredients.

Featuring non-GMO and organic foods, Green Chef takes both health and flavor seriously. “Most dishes are vegetable-forward,” says Williams. Green Chef caters to every eater, suggesting omnivore, paleo, keto, and vegan menus. Green Chef received Gluten-Free Certification through the Gluten Intolerance Group's GFFS program—a huge advantage for celiac disease sufferers and those who manage gl'uten intolerance.

Launched in 2012, Blue Apron remains one of the most popular meal-kit services, offering options of meals for two or four people. Blue Apron dishes are packed with flavor, but cheese and butter are used frequently, and not all are low-cal—a serving of seared steak with garlic mashed potatoes weighs in at 720 calories. There are some lighter dishes; the vegetable and udon noodle stir-fry with soft-boiled eggs is only 480 calories. While certain recipes include white rice and white bread, others incorporate whole grains such as quinoa and farro, adding fiber. There's an advantage to meal-delivery services that most consumers don't consider, says Williams: “I am convinced there is a correlation between satiety and preparing one's food. You begin enjoying your meal far before you're at the table.”

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