Forget going out to eat. These days, the fashionable way to eat a meal is to make it yourself, using recipes and ingredients from kits customized and delivered to your doorstep. The concept? Consumers subscribe and receive packages that include everything the at-home chef will need, including main ingredients, sauces and spices, all pre-measured.
A market-research survey shows that the U.S. meal-kit market had $1.5 billion in sales in 2016. Over 150 brands are vying for at-home chefs' business.
The kits are popular with a variety of consumers, including those who don't consider themselves cooks but want to try making a nice dinner without worrying about grocery shopping and prepping for the meal.
*Home Chef (http://www.homechef.com)
Investment banker Pat Vihtelic loved cooking but hated going to the grocery. Four years ago, he quit his job, taught himself to code and started a meal-kit service, Home Chef, which nowadays delivers 2.5 million meals a month.
Subscribers get one food box a week with fresh ingredients and instructions on how to prepare restaurant-quality meals.
Food: Home Chef has a focus on healthy meals. Current menu items include herb chicken, steak tacos and shrimp bisque.
Advantage: They label foods for allergens, such as soy, nuts, dairy and gluten.
Price: No binding contracts. There's a weekly box subscription, which can be edited, skipped or paused. No senior discounts available.
*Silver Cuisine (http://www.silver.bistromd.com)
Designed by doctors to provide meals for patients who are diabetic or otherwise on restrictive diets, such as low-sodium or heart-healthy. Silver Cuisine is a senior meal-delivery service from bistroMD.
Food: Lunch and dinner choices include salmon, pork and stew. Morning meals include omelets, pancakes and breakfast sandwiches.
Advantage: Unlike meal kits, which consumers have to prepare, Silver Cuisine entrees are delivered fully prepped. All consumers have to do is heat the food. These meals should be unpacked as soon as they're delivered. They can be frozen for up to a year afterward.
Price: No minimum order, no membership fees and no contract. Shipping is $9.95. Senior discounts available for AARP members.
*Martha & Marley Spoon (http://www.marleyspoon.com)
Not only does this meal kit do the meal planning and grocery shopping for you; it chooses from 18,000 Martha Stewart recipes.
Every week, Martha & Marley Spoon subscribers get a delivery of a chilled box filled with fresh, seasonal ingredients and recipe cards with photographs and step-by-step instructions.
Food: A variety, from burgers and mac and cheese to Mexican meals. There are also vegetarian options. Ten recipes are featured weekly. They offer two plans: a two-person box, ideal for two adults or an individual who wants leftovers; and a family box, which feeds two adults and two kids.
Advantage: They're flexible, allowing customers to choose what foods, when and for how many people.
Price: It's cheaper when you order more dishes. The price per portion ranges from $8.70 to $12. Delivery is free.
The first USDA-certified organic meal-kit company, GreenChef sources fresh, sustainable and organic ingredients.
Food: The menus differ with subscribers' dietary preferences. All of GreenChef's sauces and dressings are made from scratch.
Advantage: This kit is popular with consumers looking for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and paleo meals.
Price: They offer two-person and family plans. Shipping is $9 per box. You can skip or cancel at any time.
*Blue Apron (http://www.blueapron.com)
One of the most popular meal-kit services, Blue Apron is focused on delivering fresh ingredients and original recipes.
Food: Recent recipes include salmon, quinoa bowls, pizza and lentil salad.
Advantage: Partnered with over 150 farms, Blue Apron's meal-kit model delivers food from the farm to Blue Apron's kitchen to consumers' homes. They're committed to reducing food waste.
Price: Starts at $8.74 per serving. They offer two-person plans and family plans and allow customers to input dietary preferences, such as if they're vegetarian. There's no commitment, and you can skip or cancel at any time. Free shopping on orders over $50. No senior discounts.
*Purple Carrot (http://www.purplecarrot.com)
This meal kit features plant-based recipes using seasonal ingredients. Once a week, you'll get a box with fresh pre-measured ingredients and recipes for meals that can be made in less than 40 minutes.
Food: Think tofu steaks; spicy farro and broccolini; and zucchini lasagna.
Advantage: All items are 100 percent plant-based.
Price: Meals for one to two people start at $11.33 per plate.
While this service does not offer meal kits, Postmates is an option for getting a wide variety of food delivered to your door.
An on-demand delivery service in 40 major markets across the country, Postmates' local couriers can drop off goods from the grocery store or restaurant meals.
Food: Order anything you want, from smoothies to burgers to donuts to breakfast. Log onto the website or app to find restaurants nearby and then choose what you want to order.
Advantage: Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Price: Pay for your food's order and tack on a shipping fee. With Postmates Plus, a monthly subscription, users get free delivery for orders that cost more than $25.