Hot Take: Meal Kits Make Cooking More Stressful (Though *Why* Depends on What Type of Cook You Are)

Yup, we’re ordering takeout

are meal kits convenient or stressful: illustration of someone reading a recipe at a kitchen counter confused
Dasha Burobina for PureWow

There are two things my best friend hates: receiving Instagram videos in his DMs and cooking. He’ll prepare the occasional peanut noodles, boxed mac and cheese or cheeseburger, but it’s not a task he relishes. One night while waxing poetic about how much he despises it, meal kits came up. I expected him to be a fan, given the pre-measured ingredients, minimal prep and easy recipes, complete with photos for painless execution. But the opposite was true. “When a HelloFresh kit is in my fridge, that thing is about to detonate,” he said, revealing it’s more likely to go bad before he even opens the box. To him, meal kits make dinner even more of a ~thing~ and consequently make him dread it even more.

As someone who enjoys cooking and doesn’t use meal subscriptions (but writes about their perks semi-frequently), it got me thinking: Are meal kits truly more convenient and timesaving—especially for those who don’t like to cook—or are they more burdensome than regular groceries?

Clearly, there are devotees, otherwise this wouldn’t be such a big business (it’s a $17.4 billion industry, according to Global Market Insights). But what’s the real appeal? And are we collectively falling for a well-marketed rip-off? When I polled my friends in an Instagram story, reactions were divided. Seeing there was digging to be done, I polled a group of 58 more people from PureWow’s social audience to find out how home cooks really feel about meal subscriptions. Sure, it may not be the most scientific sample size, but it was large enough to prove that my friend’s hot take wasn’t as rare as I initially thought—and provide interesting insights into the way we cook and what we truly value these days.

The 15 Best At-Home Meal Kits for Newbie Cooks, Plant-Based Eaters and Everyone in Between

are meal kits convenient or stressful: pie chart showing if meal kits are convenient or stressful

Of everyone I surveyed, roughly one in ten people find meal kits stressful, though the overwhelming majority believes they make cooking easier and more convenient. Most feel they’ve mastered cooking basics too, so these aren’t newbies leaning on a meal kit to help them make something a bit more involved than a PB&J.

Do You Have Meal Planning Anxiety…or Dinnertime Dread?

After sifting through all the responses, it seems to me that there aren’t necessarily meal kit people and anti-meal kit people (of course, there are some diehard cooks who would never deem them worth it, and some who wholeheartedly swear by their convenience), but rather that the stress of figuring out dinner divides many of us into two camps: Those who loathe the process of deciding what to cook and shopping for it, and those who loathe the actual cooking. Think of it as meal planning anxiety versus dinnertime dread. For select folks in each group, meal kits are mostly worth it—but can certainly be improved.

Meal planning anxiety is undeniably real, according to our survey results. The majority—87.9 percent of participants—say meal kits make them feel less stressed about figuring out what to cook, and 72.4 percent report that meal kits alleviate the stress of grocery shopping. Many wrote in about avoiding choice paralysis and the “IDK, what do you want?” cycle, as well as the perks of trying new recipes that they otherwise wouldn’t tackle, making some more comfortable in the kitchen in the long run. 

“It takes the planning of meals off my plate (pun intended),” one participant wrote. “I have a long commute to work, and I love that I have three dinners per week already planned out and don’t have to the worry about that.”

“I’ve tried so many times to get into cooking, but the combination of meal planning plus grocery shopping, then trying to figure out what to do with leftover ingredients was always so stressful,” explained another. “I started doing HelloFresh a little over a year ago, and it’s been such a game changer for me. I love that the ingredients are pre-portioned, so I don’t feel like anything is going to waste, and it’s nice not having to take the time out of my super busy schedule to go to the grocery store. I’ve recently started using the various parts of my meal kits to build other recipes…and feel so much more confident as a cook now.” 

are meal kits convenient or stressful: pie chart showing what stressors people feel meal kits alleviate

As for the Dinnertime Dread group, our survey revealed that those who are more opposed to kitchen work feel meal kits relieve some of the burden of cooking (6.9 percent), chopping (24.1 percent) or meal prepping (31 percent). These folks seem to feel more affected by the apparent rigidity that meal kits impose: think following instructions, receiving limited ingredients of questionable freshness or quality and having to cook the kit before it goes bad.

Many wrote in about how tedious prep work is and expressed that meal kits aren’t as convenient as they want them to be. They wish subscription services would do even more of the work for them, say by pre-slicing the produce. (“Nobody wants to chop an onion,” asserts my friend.) It seems there are folks who crave something a step above a microwave dinner, but simultaneously want the meal to basically cook itself.

Furthermore, a few people called their meal subscriptions out for exaggerating how low lift the recipes are. “It made it seem so easy and quick, like 5 minutes prep time. But I can’t cut or prep that fast, so it always wound up taking more time than anticipated,” said one participant.

Some surveyed also stress about cooking their meal kit before it goes bad (that’s what my friend meant by the box being a ticking time bomb). Whether it’s a change in dinner plans, forgetting to skip the week or not being in the mood for what they ordered, not cooking a meal kit—and the post-purchase guilt that comes with it—is a major turnoff for our participants.

“Sometimes the meal kits are wasted because we aren’t craving the meal or other plans come up and we don’t cook them in time; we’ve noticed they aren’t always super fresh with produce,” wrote one.

are meal kits convenient or stressful: pie chart showing how much people are willing to spend on meal kits

What’s the True Cost of Meal Kits—And Their Value?

For both camps, price is overwhelmingly the number one complaint, and many of those surveyed find meal kits to be more expensive than groceries. (The wasteful packaging, particularly plastic and non-recyclable materials, is a close second.) A whopping 41.4 percent of those polled think meal kits are overpriced, compared to 25.9 percent that think they’re fairly priced. 58.6 percent of those polled don’t shop according to a specific diet or meal plan either, so my conclusion is that most people likely buy meal kits to minimize the thought that goes into planning, shopping and cooking, regardless of what they do or don’t eat.

Those who feel time is their greatest luxury are perhaps willing to spend more anyway: Nearly 20 percent of our surveyors said they’re willing to pay $17 or more per meal for the ease of not having to grocery shop and stock their own ingredients. Interestingly, 100 percent of those polled use meal kits to make dinner, which folks likely feel is the most stress-inducing meal to prepare.

Knowing what they’re willing to shell out on this one course, I thought it was important to ask how often they’re willing to pay that amount. The number of folks who cook meal kits less than once a month (39.7 percent) is nearly equal to those who cook them two to three times a week (41.4 percent). I’m curious how many people who voted for the former have only done one or two subscription boxes in their lives and ditched it due to frustration or cost; this seems more likely to me than steadily buying one box per month.

are meal kits convenient or stressful: pull quote reading meal kit math: three boxes is cheaper per meal than two

Because of price, meal subscription plans make some people feel like they need to make more of a commitment for the sake of cost effectiveness. (“Three boxes is cheaper per meal than two,” for instance.) And despite the high price, many respondents claim meal kits never leave them with leftovers—or satisfy their appetites in the first place.

“When I cook, I make enough with leftovers for the next day’s lunch in mind. When I use a meal kit for dinner, I’m left thinking about what to make us for lunch. It defeats some of the convenience,” one reader shared.

Despite how many people are willing to pay more to do less work, many of those polled complained that recipe options feel “repetitive,” “bland” and not versatile enough. Some wish it was easier to customize, substitute and recreate recipes according to taste preferences and allergies, too. So, for some, it seems they’re willing to trade satisfaction with their meal for convenience—and at a premium.


There are certainly benefits to reap from using meal kits (such as becoming a better cook, avoiding the grocery store and not thinking about what to eat while still getting a balanced meal and avoiding takeout)—as long as they won’t be eclipsed by how much you pay for them or your high expectations.

If you hate cooking or don’t want to do any work at all, meal kits likely won’t be a hit at your house. But if you can chop a few veggies, adjust your appetite to what many believe are skimpy portion sizes and stay on top of your automatic orders so you don’t waste money or food, meal kits can make dinner prep feel like less of a chore.

taryn pire

Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...