Does your meal kit meet dietary guidelines?

Friday, 08 November, 2019

Does your meal kit meet dietary guidelines?

The food industry has adapted to cater to consumers who are spending less time cooking, and more time eating out and ordering takeaway, by providing commercial meal kit subscription services that deliver recipes and fresh, pre-measured ingredients direct to people’s doors. A study assessing the nutritional qualities of commercial meal kit subscription services found that they provided adequate serves of core foods such as vegetables but needed improvements to meet dietary guidelines.

University of Sydney researchers analysed and compared five popular commercial meal kit subscription services available in Australia — Dinnerly, HelloFresh, MarleySpoon, Pepper Leaf and Thomas Farms Kitchen — to determine their nutritional value. The study strives to provide independent and evidence-based information to help consumers make informed purchasing and eating choices.

Published in Nutrients, the study analysed a random selection of 12 different meals from each of the subscription services, determining the nutritional composition of each meal by weighing all raw ingredients supplied per recipe. Standardised portions of ingredients were assumed when non-specific measures were used in recipes such as ‘drizzle’ or ‘pinch’.

Researchers also compared the suggested dietary target to reduce chronic disease risk in addition to the recommended dietary intake or adequate intake. The meal kits were shown to be a good source of veggies but too high in fat, energy and salt, and lacking in fibre.

Findings revealed that the meal kits provided between 2.3 serves (Thomas Farms Kitchen) and 3.1 serves (HelloFresh) of veggies per meal. All meals were high in salt, with over 30% of the suggested dietary target for sodium. HelloFresh meals contained almost double the sodium content (1426 mg) of the other companies, with recipes instructing salt be added more than twice on average per recipe.

Meals were high in fat with over 30 g per serve, contributing 40–60% of the average total energy content of the meal. However, MarleySpoon and Pepper Leaf contained approximately 6 g of saturated fat on average per serve, compared to Thomas Farms Kitchen which contained 22 g.

Three companies averaged 2900 kJ (700 calories) per serve, while HelloFresh and Thomas Farms Kitchen had higher fat content resulting in higher energy contents of around 4000 kJ (950 calories). The energy contents were found to be too high for people with lower energy requirements, such as those who are smaller, inactive or trying to lose weight.

Dinnerly was the only service to provide 60% of grain serves as whole grains, compared with 22% for Thomas Farms Kitchen, 11% for Pepper Leaf, 8% for MarleySpoon and none from HelloFresh. The suggested dietary fibre targets were met for women, but not for men, and was similar across all services, although Thomas Farms Kitchen meals were slightly lower.

“Overall, we found these meal kits to be a good substitute for takeaway and convenience foods, and even some home-cooked meals — but they could be better aligned with dietary guidelines for the prevention of chronic disease,” said co-author Dr Stephanie Partridge, from the University of Sydney’s Westmead Applied Research Centre, School of Public Health and Charles Perkins Centre.

Reducing or eliminating the added salt, increasing whole grains and legumes, reducing added fat and using leaner varieties of meat could make a big difference. The size of the meals and energy intake could also be reduced for people managing their weight. Companies could also provide recipes and nutritional information upfront, to help people make informed choices for the benefit of their health.

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