Are meal kits health promoting? Nutritional analysis of meals from an Australian meal kit service

Health Promot Int. 2021 Aug 24;36(3):660-668. doi: 10.1093/heapro/daaa095.


Summary: Meal kits are popular for consumers seeking greater convenience in preparing meals at home. The market share for meal kit subscription services (MKSSs) is growing in developed nations including Australia, however, literature about their health promoting qualities, e.g. nutritional composition, is scarce. This study aimed to assess the characteristics and nutritional composition of meals offered from an MKSS over 12 months. Nutritional data were extracted from recipes available to order from HelloFresh in Australia from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018. In total, 346 (251 unique) recipes were retrieved. Per serve (median size 580 g), meals contained a median of 2840 kJ (678 kcal) of energy, 58 g carbohydrate (14 g sugar), 44 g protein, 28 g total fat (8 g saturated fat) and 839 mg sodium. Median energy from macronutrients was total fat (38%), carbohydrates (34%), protein (25%) and saturated fat (11%). This paper is the first to describe characteristics of recipes available from an MKSS over a 12-month period of time. With their growing popularity, meal kit delivery services have the capacity to influence consumer food behaviours, diets and subsequently population health. MKSSs may function to promote health though education, training, and enabling home cooking behaviours, and may be a powerful commitment device for home cooking behaviour change. However, it is important for health professionals, including dietitians and nutritionists, to understand the nutritional risks, benefits and suitability of this contemporary mealtime option before recommending them to clients and members of the public as part of health promotion.

Lay summary: Meal kit delivery services are growing in popularity in developed countries, complementing busy lifestyles with pre-measured ingredients and recipe instructions delivered to the home. These meal kits have the ability to influence consumer diets and population health, and may support health promoting diet behaviours, e.g. eating vegetables, and enable home cooking. In this study, we reviewed a years' worth of recipes from a popular meal kit service. We report that a typical recipe contained approximately nine different ingredients, comprising three vegetables and required three ingredients from the home pantry. Meals took ∼35 min to prepare and were found to be relatively high in energy from fat and protein, and relatively low in energy from carbohydrates. The level of sodium varied widely and some meals exceeded the Australian Suggested Dietary Target for sodium (<2000 mg). Meal kit recipes were found to have health promoting qualities, frequently including vegetable ingredients, however, improvements to recipes would make these meal kits more health promoting. Current diet intakes and the nutritional composition of meal kits recipes should be reviewed before being recommended by health professionals.

Keywords: home cooking; macronutrients; meal kit; nutrition; sodium.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Diet
  • Health Promotion*
  • Meals*
  • Nutritive Value