Ready made vs home made

When does a ready-made meal service make sense? Tony Sarno finds out.

The reason to try ready-made meals was a simple one: I’m both health conscious and really, really busy, and trying to eat well when I’m often working late, travelling or attending launches is one of my biggest challenges. So I gave ready-made meals a try.

Although ready-made meals have been around forever, there’s now a new generation of services focused on delivering meals that fit in with a healthy lifestyle, and for people aware of their macros or on specific eating plans or diets. These aren’t frozen supermarket-style TV meal rubbish but food that’s made fresh, chilled and delivered to your front door.

Here’s how I thought ready-made meals stacked up against traditional home made fare.

Sticking to your diet

Ready made
Meals can be organised into various eating plans. When looking at the THR1VE service, I found there were several to choose from. There was one for strength and conditioning, described as the “nutrition solution for optimal strength conditioning and muscular recovery and repair”, plus ones for weight loss and wellbeing.

Home made
What eating plan? My eating philosophy pretty much consists of random impulse “healthy” takeaway when I’m out (from sushi to salads), frequent “cheat meals” like hamburgers, and when (if) I get home, quick dinners of protein and steamed vegetables from my weekly supermarket shop.

The winner
Ready-made. The problem with most self-administered eating plans or diets is that few people have the time or discipline to consistently stick to them. Ready-made makes it simple to follow an eating plan and getting your daily dose of vitamins and nutrients without even needing to think about it.

The time it takes

Ready made
Ready-made involves spending 10 minutes “shopping” by selecting your week’s meals on a website and 10 minutes putting your chilled food away in the fridge when it arrives. “Cooking time” is heating the meals for a couple of minutes in the microwave. For a week of ready-made meals I spent no more than 2 hours on acquiring, preparing, reheating and cleaning up after them. Incredible!

Home made
My weekly supermarket shop takes about two hours. A quick “prep” on weekends in which I chop and steam vegetables for the week is another hour. At lunch I forage for “healthy” takeaway, so that’s 15 minutes at least, five days a week. For dinner I cook my protein, heat the vegetables, eat and clean up, so an hour. Overall that’s 14 hours a week just to feed myself.

The winner
Ready-made. Hands down. It’s not even close. If time is valuable and you don’t have spare hours to shop, prep, cook and wash the dishes in addition to actually eating, ready-made is for you. It’s perfect for busy people who struggle to find the time to maintain a healthy diet, in particular, those of us who have intense jobs and who also need the time after hours to train.

Taste and texture

Ready made
You’re getting food delivered in plastic containers, which is then reheated in the microwave. You really can’t expect too much here, but the meals are definitely edible. The protein, fat and carbs tend to come out well when reheated — it’s the soggy vegetables that I found a bit of a chore to eat.

Home made
There’s no argument here that food you make yourself, or is cooked fresh for you, will taste better than anything pre-prepared and microwaved. I love nothing more than the taste of freshly steamed vegetables with a delicious salmon fillet or steak. And I’m not even a gourmet!

The winner
Home-made. There’s no contest: freshly cooked food will always trump reheated food. Gourmets should stay away from ready-made, but if you’re not trying to be a Masterchef and are focused on sticking to an eating plan or just don’t have time to cook, ready-made is palatable enough.    

Wallet impact

Ready made
In my week on the THR1VE plan, meals for lunch and dinner cost me $210. Most of the THR1VE meals range from $9.95 to $12.95, and for the total amount I also squeezed in some healthy drinks and delicious protein balls as snacks. My only other feeding cost was my own breakfasts, so in all I spent around $250 on food while on the THR1VE program.

Home made
The cost of my takeaway and home-made meals is an ongoing disaster. When I include my supermarket bill, daily lunch takeaway and eating out at night, I estimate I would spend around $500-600 a week. Food wastage is also a big problem for me, as not all of my supermarket purchases get eaten — many a vegetable I have found floppy and brown in the back of my fridge.

The winner
Ready-made. This will probably surprise a lot of people. While I’m sure many can feed themselves for less than my ready-made meal total of $210 a week, when your life is too busy to meal prep or cook (let alone shop and clean up), you’re feeding haphazardly and getting takeaway regularly, the costs will quickly mount — and not just in your bank account, but for your body and your health as well.

Conclusion

Ready-made is not for everyone, particularly those that need to have a
gourmet experience at every meal. It’s functional food designed to deliver a superior nutritional outcome to two types of people: those who are time-pressed like me, and those who have trouble sticking to an eating plan. If this sounds like you I would highly recommend giving a ready-made meal plan a go.