3 Meal Services That are Healthier (& Cheaper) Than Take Out


I used to like to cook. Then I tried to raise two humans, while schools closed due to a pandemic and I still worked a full-time job. Frankly, I’m over cooking. Or rather, I was. Then I discovered three meal services that are healthier and cheaper than take out. Now I get meals delivered for two of my weekly dinners. On those nights my kids eat mac n’ cheese, which they love.

meal services
Photo: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Coconut Crumble, courtesy of Vegetable + Butcher

Having a little break during the week when no one cooks or does more than a few dishes was a real game-changer. It made cooking healthy meals less of a chore and gave my partner and I the break we needed to mix up the weekly menu. Pre-made meals may not be for everyone, but for those of you who want to give them a try, here is my experience with three services available in the D.C area.

1. Daily Harvest: for the plant-based, low-cal eater

Daily Harvest will deliver a variety of pre-frozen smoothies, bowls and flatbreads right to your doorstep. Just heat (or blend) and enjoy. Meals average about $9 each, and the more you buy, the more of a discount you get.

These vegetarian meals are packed with bright veggies, and they are delicious. They have a great variety of deep flavors, but they can be light on substance. If you are a big eater, you may not find the meals filling. (My husband would add a fried egg to the shakshuka bowl, for example.) But if you are aiming for smaller portions and trying to get away from a meat-based diet, this is a good option. Bonus: Their food comes in compostable bowls if you use a composting service.

2. Vegetable and Butcher: for the ethical, local foodie

Vegetable and Butcher (V&B) is a local company: Their food is locally sourced, made right here in the District, and delivered to your door fresh in a cooler bag — which is about as close to a personal chef as I’ll probably ever get. V&B offers two options: one vegan, one with meat (hence the name).

Meals range from about $12-$16 per meal, depending how many you sign up for per week. So while it’s the most expensive of the three options I’m covering in this post, it may be the best value in quality and portions. The flavors are exquisite, and the quality of the ingredients is evident (fresh herb toppings, for example). The only drawback to V&B is that the menu is limited. I never minded this, since I loved every meal they sent for several months, but that might be a deal-breaker for some. V&B meals also come in compostable containers, and the company will pick them up for you if you don’t have a composting service that can handle them.

Factor 75: For the practical eater with a special diet plan

If V&B is the gourmet restaurant of local meal delivery, Factor is the health-food roadside diner. It’s more economical, but also more pre-packaged. The food lasts for a week if you don’t eat it in the first day or two (or you can freeze them). Factor also lets you choose from a wide variety of options each week and customize to your exact dietary restrictions. Vegan? No problem. Keto? That’s an option, too. Watching calories? There is a low-calorie plan, too.

The meals from Factor 75 come in plastic containers that are not compostable, and the presentation is pretty basic but they are actually quite yummy. My husband says these meals are always more delicious than they look; I have to agree. We tried eating on the ketogenic diet plan, and those meals were all surprisingly delicious and creative. Meals range from $10 to $15 depending on the plan you choose, but they also offer quite a few discounts.

Have you tried any meal services that are healthier and cheaper than take out? And saves you from cooking?! Tell us about your favorites in the comments below!

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Katherine lived on four different continents before settling in Washington, D.C., to raise her family. She works at a global think tank during the day and raises twin boys the rest of the time. When she isn't working on a spreadsheet for work, she loves walking in the forest with her family, which invariably involves stomping in puddles and climbing on logs. Though she is less of a world traveler these days, she continues to seek out adventures, from exploring D.C.'s museums and playgrounds to taking road trips to national parks. When it's time to unwind, she can be found snuggling with her husband on the couch. Likes: adventures, sleeping past 7 a.m., being surrounded by forests, the sound of her boys laughing, and locally made ice cream. Dislikes: whining, the patriarchy, and people who judge parents.