Madison & Rayne's Trout with Summer Vegetables

Madison & Rayne's Trout with Summer Vegetables (Photo courtesy of Madison & Rayne.)

Time is tight. You and your spouse both work; the kids have after-school schedules that rival an Olympic athlete’s; the dog demands a walk. Yet, your family still needs to be fed, and the drive-thru isn’t a viable — or healthy — option, especially on a regular basis. As importantly, cooking and eating meals together as a family promotes better communication within the household, and children who regularly dine with their parents are less likely to smoke, drink, do drugs, engage in early sex, and develop eating disorders. So, what to do? Turns out, you have options.

In the past few years, a plethora of meals-at-home delivery services — both meal kits as well as fully prepared repasts — have sprung into being, and make no mistake; this is big business. National meal kit companies like Blue Apron have been valued at $2 billion; some have partnered with celebrity chefs (Marley Spoon with Martha Stewart, Purple Carrot with Mark Bittman) and lifestyle brands (Chef’d with The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Men’s Health and pretty much every Food Network star). There’s a dizzying variety.

The national players are subscription services. You can choose how many meals you want for the week, how many portions, and (with some services) indicate any dietary restrictions. In return, once-a-week meals are delivered directly to your door, either ready-to-prepare or ready-to-serve. Local services offer à la carte options, where you can pick and choose dishes, and order on a weekly basis (or not).

Our palates have become more discerning. Especially in urban areas, we’re used to the variety provided by a wide-ranging selection of ethnic restaurants and grocers. These meal delivery services know how to mix it up, providing dinners that go far beyond meatloaf and mashed potatoes, incorporating whole grains, market-fresh produce and proteins, and fresh herbs and spices into their recipes. For those prepared at home, you need only provide salt, pepper, oil and butter; everything else is there for you. To keep in mind: Most national companies, which use shipping carriers like UPS, leave fruits and veggies whole to preserve freshness, while local companies can chop and prepare them for you, as they are hand-delivering the box.

So make it easy on yourself. Check out the meal delivery options below, go online, and order a few meals for next week. Leave shopping out of the equation; keep prep to a minimum. Cook with your spouse, kids, or friends and enjoy a meal together. Welcome to the new home cooking.

Local Options:

Madison & Rayne

The Best Make-at-Home Meal Delivery Services for Fast Family Dinners: Madison & Rayne

Ingredients for Madison & Rayne’s Trout with Summer Vegetables (Photo courtesy of Madison & Rayne.)

Owner Melanie Mityas partners with friend Josh Jones (once chef de cuisine at Chicago’s famed Spring restaurant) to bring make-at-home, restaurant-quality meals to your table. Their goal? “We want to make it easier for people to cook at home more often,” says Mityas. “People want to know where their food comes from, and they want to customize their meal with preferences and allergy issues.” Being a local company that hand-delivers throughout the Chicago area lets them be more responsive to their customer’s dietary needs and restrictions.

What’s cooking? Black Bean-Glazed Salmon, Scallion & Sweet Potato Dumplings and Bok Choy; Braised Brisket Taco, Local Giardiniera, Pasilla Chile and Napa Slaw; Lamb & Mushroom Ragout, Orecchiette Pasta, Kale and Fresh Tomato

Price range: $7.50 to $17 per serving

Delivery: Order by 5 p.m. Saturday for Tuesday delivery

**SPECIAL OFFER for Make It Better readers: Enter code MIB40 at checkout to get a free meal for two (up to $40 value).

Meez Meals

The Best Make-at-Home Meal Delivery Services for Fast Family Dinners: Meez Meals

Meez Meals’ Linguini with Cilantro Edamame Pesto (Photo courtesy of Meez Meals.)

Founder Jen Moore’s Evanston-based Meez Meals has evolved over the past six years from a vegetarian meal service run out of a shared kitchen to a 3,000-square-foot commissary offering 10 or more options each week, including steak, chicken and fish as well as veggie entrees. All packaging is eco-friendly; they are the only meal kit provider currently certified by the Green Restaurant Association. Plus, you can call their Dinner Hotline with last-minute cooking questions.

What’s cooking? Kung Pao Steak Tacos; Caper Tilapia with Parsley and Potatoes; Spicy Argentinian Black Beans and Rice Bowl

Price range: $9 to $15 per serving; price discount for volume

Delivery: Order by noon Friday for Monday delivery

**SPECIAL OFFER for MIB readers: Enter code makeitbetter at checkout to get a free dinner for two.

National Options: 

Blue Apron

This weekly meal kit subscription service features seasonally driven recipes with farm-fresh ingredients that change weekly. Look online for first-order discounts.

What’s cooking? Bhindi Masala with Paneer, Naan & Cucumber Raita; Spicy Ponzu-Glazed Catfish; Southwestern Cheeseburgers with Guacamole and Sauteed Corn-Tomato Salad

Price range: $9.99 per serving for Two-Person Plan; $8.74 per serving for Family Plan

Delivery: Wednesday through Saturday in Chicago’s North Shore; must order five days ahead

Chef’d

This “à la carte” service allows you to curate your selection from scores of recipe options, featuring dishes from sources that run the gamut from Fabio Viviani to the James Beard Foundation, from allrecipes.com to Pure Wow. Order as much or as little as you’d like. Meal kit plans are available in conjunction with Weight Watchers and the New York Times among others.

What’s cooking? Weeknight Chicken Pad Thai; Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia with Orzo Pasta and Balsamic-Glazed Brussels Sprouts; Mint Lamb Chops with Sweet Potato Croquettes

Price range: $6 to $19 per serving, varies widely according to ingredients and volume

Delivery: Order five days ahead; orders of $40 or more qualify for free shipping

HelloFresh

The Best Make-at-Home Meal Delivery Services for Fast Family Dinners: HelloFresh

Photo courtesy of HelloFresh.

Choose from their menu of health-conscious recipes; celebrity chef Jamie Oliver creates a recipe weekly for this subscription service. Easy-to-follow recipe cards provided.

What’s cooking? Hoisin-Glazed Meatballs with Sweet Potatoes and Broccolini; Jamie’s Tomato, Spinach and Olive Fusilli; Seared Sesame Tuna over Rice with Ginger Aioli and Arugula-Radish Salad

Price range: $8.75 to $11.50 per serving

Delivery: Subscription service; must order five days ahead of start date; delivery in Illinois Tuesday through Saturday

Martha & Marley Spoon

That’s Martha as in Martha Stewart, who has put her imprimatur on the recipes for this meal kit subscription service. Options are based on what’s in season; they source organic whenever possible.

What’s cooking? Indonesian Chicken Kebabs with Pickled Cucumber and Coconut; Herb-Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta; Zucchini Bucatini with Pecans, Pecorino and Mint

Price range: $8.70 to $12 per serving depending on volume and frequency

Delivery: Tuesdays for Chicago’s North Shore 

**SPECIAL OFFER: Visit http://bit.ly/2c4ayLH to get $30 off your first Marley Spoon box

Plated

Choose from nine different recipes each week in any combination from this “flexible” subscription service. They source antibiotic- and hormone-free proteins, sustainably caught seafood, organic produce whenever possible, and small-batch artisanal ingredients.

What’s cooking? Feta-Stuffed Beeftekia with Green Bean, Tomato and Olive Salad; Pork Tonkatsu with Yuzu Cherry Salsa and Arugula; Roasted Halibut with Walnut Butter and Corn

Price range: $12 per serving

Delivery: Order five days ahead to start subscription; delivery available seven days a week

Purple Carrot

Cook plant-based meals with this all-vegan meal kit subscription service. Mark Bittman left a sweet gig at the New York Times for this company, which is high praise. Plus, you can feel good about reducing your carbon footprint.

What’s cooking? Mango-Curry Tofu with Wilted Spinach and Brown Rice; Moroccan-Spiced Millet with Summer Squash and Roasted Tomatoes

Price range: $11.33 per serving for two-person plan; $9.25 per serving for four-person plan

Delivery: Tuesdays or Wednesdays, depending on location


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