My 90-something grandma is a badass boss who lives alone, takes care of herself and loves to cook. After working as a chef and nutritionist for close to 30 years, she could tell you how to make the perfect Cornish game hen like she’s giving directions to the local Dunkin’ Donuts.
Yet, as a party of one, she’s reluctant to buy bushels of herbs or large amounts of produce she knows she won’t use. That, coupled with COVID precautions keeping her away from the store, mean her menu has been looking a little bleak. So in the name of flavor and encouraging older folks to feel independent and strong, I’m gearing up to get her a meal delivery kit for the holidays. But with more options than there are Kardashians, it’s daunting to choose the perfect one.
According to Barbara Ruhs, a registered dietitian and founder of The Market RD, it’s imperative that older folks eat consistent, nutrient-dense meals. “As we age, some nutrients are not absorbed as well,” Ruhs told HuffPost. “Pre-made meals can make it easier for seniors to consume adequate nutrition.”
Retired physical therapist and home-health care specialist Cathy Ellis added that getting nutritious food delivered at home can help with recovery illness or injury. Rather than risking falling or being in public, older folks can have their pantry stocked from the inside of their own house.
Philly resident Shelby Guercio sends meal kit deliveries to her mom, who is 62, and grandmother, who is 100, in small-town Massachusetts. “My mom lives alone and works two jobs and is so busy that I worry about her being able to eat full, fresh meals after a long day of work or in between jobs,” Guercio said. “With meal kits just showing up at my mom’s door, she can either cook it quick and drop it off for my grandma, or easily bring the ingredients over and cook them at my gram’s house.”
Guercio said that sending over meal kits is easier than having her mom and grandmother drive a long way to the grocery store. Additionally, using meal kits means her mom and grandma are introduced to new foods they wouldn’t be able to get at their local store. “They live in an area where [meal] delivery takes an extra day, but still shows up fresh,” she said.
Chef Jake Minigiello says meal kits can be a low-stakes way to introduce older folks to different, but doable, ingredients and methods of cooking, especially because the pre-portioned ingredients allow you to try something new without committing to buying a whole container of it. “It’s good how they just send you the exact amount of ingredients you need for a recipe to cut that waste out,” Minigiello said.
Although meal kits may cut down on food waste, the packaging and shipping required has been the subject of criticism. And the costs of these kits can be a barrier for many shoppers. While delivery makes food more readily available, the high price points mean it’s only really available to those who can afford it. (It’s also import to note that Amazon Fresh, Top Box and Hungry Harvest, all listed below, accept EBT/SNAP.)
When exploring meal kit and food delivery options, you may also want to consider the work behind the scenes, and how those employees are treated. If worker’s rights are important to you as a consumer, find a brand that works for your kitchen and your ethics.
“Of course, a local, subsidized, sustainable alternative would be amazing, but let’s be real ― if that existed, it definitely wouldn’t exist [in rural areas] for all the old people,” Guercio said. “You can hardly even get Grubhub out there.”
If you’re looking to get a loved one started on a meal kit or trying to find the perfect one for yourself, we’ve rounded up the best meal kits for smaller portioned food and dietary restrictions.
HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently selected by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change.
Martha Stewart & Marley Spoon, for name recognition and more "meat and potatoes"-type meals
Why it works for older folks: Per Ellis, trusting a new food source can be an adjustment for someone who's homebound and into a routine. For something that feels a little more familiar, the Martha Stewart & Marley Spoon kit has a name they recognize and recipes they've likely had before. While the service does offer international cuisines and Instagrammable smoothie bowl meals, they also have comforting classics like pork tenderloin and parsnips and cheese ravioli.
How it works: Ten days before the food come to you, you get an email telling you to choose your dinners from 40 weekly recipes. You can chose up to six meals a week and portions come for two people or for four. (The more meals you order, the cheaper each becomes.) You can skip or decline an order up to five days before its scheduled delivery date, and can plan meals up to seven weeks in advance. Deliveries are made to most of the contiguous U.S. states, but you should check your zip code before ordering.
How much? Shipping is always $8.99. For a two-person portion, meals range from $9.49 to $11.99 per portion, depending on how frequent the deliveries are.
Why it works for older folks: As Ruhs described, when we get older, nutrients like B12, calcium and vitamin D are not absorbed as well by the body. Because of this, it's extra important that older folks eat consistent, nourishing meals. With Dinnerly, you have to receive at least three two-person meals a week, meaning you or your loved one will have a stocked fridge. For more stubborn folks or people who may not ask for help when they're hungry, this subscription will ensure they have ingredients for at least six meals. Dinnerly also uses fewer paper products and packaging than other kits, so it won't fill the house with trash.
How it works: After creating an account, you log on to choose your recipes and which day you want your ingredients delivered. There tons of dietary options like no meat, low-carb, dairy-free and low-calorie, and easy-cook options like "under 30 minutes" and "one-pot" meals. It's important to note that Dinnerly uses digital recipes; there is not a paper flyer like other kits, so some understanding of a smartphone or computer is needed.
How much? Shipping is $8.99 and two-portion meals range from $5.59 to $5.89 per portion.
Why it works for older folks: As Ruhs shares, older folks are at risk of not getting enough veggies. Hungry Harvest is a produce subscription box that accepts SNAP/EBT and comes in various sizes. For those who live alone, the "mini-harvest" comes with one type of green, three veggies and 2 to 3 pieces of fruit. You can set it for every other week to ensure there's fresh produce in the house, without too much food going to waste or going bad.
How it works: As of now, Hungry Harvest only delivers in Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Greater Philadelphia, Southern New Jersey, Northern Delaware, South Florida, the Triangle area and Charlotte in North Carolina and the Detroit metro area. Select the size of harvest you want and weekly or biweekly deliveries.
How much? The mini harvest is $15 per box with $3.49 shipping. Shipping is free on orders over $29.99.
Why it works for older folks: Ruhs notes that it's common for older folks to not consume enough veggies. Purple Carrot is an all plant-based meal kit that sends both fully pre-made meals and ingredients that you cook. Either pop it in the microwave or choose to chef something up (most recipes have around six steps.)
How it works: First, you choose between meal kits or prepared meals. For kits, you pick your number of servings (two or four) and how many dinners you want (three or four). Prepared meals come in single servings and you can get six, eight or 10 a week. There are options like high-protein, gluten-free, "easy" meals or "Chef’s Choice" meals, where you don't choose. To skip a delivery, just alert the website before 11 p.m. ET on Tuesdays.
How much? For meal kits, servings are $9.99 to $11.99 per serving depending on how frequent the meals are delivered. Prepared meals are $12.99 each, regardless of frequency.
Why it works for older folks: If they already use Amazon, they may know how to work the website and feel comfortable ordering from it. Additionally, Amazon Fresh makes it easy to send groceries to someone else. Stock their fridge with a click of a button.
How it works: Amazon Fresh delivers in most of the continental U.S., but check the zip code to make sure. Then, like ordering anything from Amazon, click around and find what you like. Delivery is often available same-day or the next day. Check out the SNAP-eligible page to use your SNAP/EBT on Amazon Fresh.
How much? Just like the grocery store, each item is priced separately. When using SNAP/EBT, delivery is free even if you're not an Amazon Prime member.
Why it works for older folks: Ellis shared that getting groceries delivered helps ensure people's safety and lowers risk of injury or illness that can come from going out to the market. If you're feeling skeptical about the "Jetsons"-eqsue futuristic feel of meal kits, Hungry Root may be the way to go. Instead of packaged and proportioned ingredients made for set meals, Hungry Root is a subscription grocery service that sends a selection of actual groceries and access to a bank of recipes. The packages come as if someone went to the market for you and dropped it at your door, meaning the products are all more familiar, and the recipe bank correlates to what you have, letting you decide what you want to make and how.
How it works: Upon signing up, you take a quiz to develop your grocery plan. Select "fresh veggies" for a vegetable selection every week, and "premium proteins" for meatballs, chicken breasts, Beyond meats and more. You can select "ready to eat" meals for things that only need the microwave or heating up on a stovetop. Every week Hungry Root will send you their suggestions for foods they think you'd like, and recipes you can make with the groceries.
How much? Plans start at $65 and are totally customizable.
Why it works for older folks: From "carb-conscious" to "diabetes-friendly," Sunbasket has a wealth of options for different dietary needs. Choose from pre-made meals that just need heating or meal kits that generally take between 15-45 minutes to make. In addition to dinners, Sunbasket has breakfast options like oatmeal and yogurt, snacks like granola and protein bars, and other fare like juice or red sauce.
How it works: First, decide if you want the prepared meals or meal kits. Then select all your dietary preferences and restrictions, like "low sodium" or "avoid lamb." Each week, you'll get to see a bank of recipes and pre-made meals that fit your needs. Choose the one(s) you want, then pick the day of delivery.
How much? Shipping is $7.99.Prepared meals are for one, and start at $9.99 a serving for up to 10 meals week. Meal kits come in servings of two or four, for two to five dinners a week, from $11.49 to $14.49 per serving, depending on frequency.
Why it works for older folks: "Obtaining enough protein is important to maintain muscle mass," Ruhs said, "which can be very important to avoid falls that can lead to broken bones." To help your loved one get enough protein, Green Chef has an array of keto, paleo and plant-based high protein meals. With options like gluten-free, grain-free, soy-free and legume-free, Green Chef is good for ensuring those with dietary restrictions still eat nourishing meals.
How it works: Select the "type" of meal you want — "Keto/Paleo," "balanced" (no diet restrictions) or "plant-powered" (vegan and vegetarian options) -- then choose if you want two, four or six portions and if you want three or four meals a week.
How much? Shipping is $9.99. A two-portion meal ranges from $11.49-$11.99 per serving, depending on frequency.
Why it works for older folks: A community-driven food resource, Top Box Foods is an anti-hunger non-profit that delivers grocery staples and food boxes geared at making recipes. Because it's community-run, they partner with churches, community organizations, housing facilities and schools. It's less transactional and robotic than other meal kits, and you'll likely get to know your delivery person.
How it works: As of now, Top Box Foods delivers food around Illinois, Georgia and Louisiana. You place your order before the stated date each month and get your groceries about four days later. On the website, you can choose if you want pantry staples like oatmeal and milk or a box to make a meal. They have a bank of recipes to help you chose your groceries.
How much? Take Box Foods takes EBT/SNAP. There is no delivery fee. Boxes range from $9-$23, depending on the selection, and individual items are priced separately.
Why it works for older folks: EveryPlate has fewer weekly options to choose from, meaning less decision-making and more relaxing and eating. All of EveryPlate's recipes have only six steps for cooking and most take under 30 minutes to cook. It's a more manageable kit that doesn't demand 45 minutes of zesting for every meal.
How it works: You choose your meal preferences, such as "classic" (full display recipes) "veggie" (vegetarian recipes) "family" (kid-friendly recipes) or "easy" (all under 30 minutes, often using fewer dishes). Then you decide how many meals you want a week and what day you want the delivery. You can cancel or postpone at any time online. You can even order "protein packs" alongside your meals, which are chicken breasts and cuts of meat. The minimum is three meals per week.
How much? For a two-portion meal, it's $4.99 to $5.49 per portion, depending on how many meals you get per week.