Kaitlyn Lucey has friends and family who love to cook—but count her out in the kitchen. Lucey, 35, a busy professional who lives and works in Rockville, isn’t big on spending her free time grocery shopping and preparing meals. For the past four years, she has depended on Phresh Gourmet, a local meal service company, to deliver to her apartment most of the lunches and dinners she eats during the workweek.
Aside from giving her more time for outside interests, such as sailing and art, ordering fully prepared meals allows Lucey to reduce food waste. Plus, the fresh ingredients and portion-controlled servings help her maintain good eating habits. “I was able to keep my diet very healthy even during the pandemic,” says Lucey, enterprise strategy director for U.S. Pharmacopeia.
Better quality than frozen supermarket dinners, less expensive and often healthier than restaurant takeout, and far less work and packaging than meal kits, ready-to-eat meal delivery caters to anyone who wants to outsource some or all of their cooking. With a few clicks online, busy family members, single professionals, senior citizens, new parents, recuperating patients, office workers and others can choose from an array of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, arrange for delivery, then simply reheat the food in the microwave.
While there are large national firms getting into the meal delivery business, we checked out five locally owned and operated companies with service areas that include Montgomery County. None require subscriptions, and most provide nutrition information about their meals, which come in recyclable or compostable containers. All deliveries were amazingly glitch-free, preceded by texts or emails about arrangements and arrival times. The companies all have appealing options to choose from—with snazzy food photos on their websites—and the portions are ample. As for taste, we ordered just two dinner dishes from each business, so this is not meant to be a comprehensive review of their offerings. Generally speaking, none of the meals we tried would be mistaken for fine cuisine, but much of the food was reminiscent of decent home cooking, and perfectly satisfying for everyday eating.
Here are details about each company. Keep in mind that prices and policies may change.
This meal service, devised to provide a living wage for immigrant and refugee cooks, made a big splash when it launched in 2016. Founder and owner Noobtsaa Philip Vang was inspired by his Laotian immigrant mother, who worked multiple jobs while he was growing up, but none that employed her best skill set—her home cooking. Vang, who went to graduate school at Georgetown University, started Foodhini with one chef and five meals; now the company offers 25 to 28 dishes from four chefs who hail from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ivory Coast and Laos. The chefs receive salaries, benefits and paid time off; over the years, some have moved on to other jobs in the restaurant industry, started their own catering businesses or pursued other careers. Foodhini, which operates out of a commercial kitchen in Northeast Washington, D.C., also sells grab-and-go items at a few Whole Foods stores in downtown D.C.
Food: Options span the globe, and each of the four chefs offers interesting restaurant-style meals, served in generous portions. We sampled ping kaduk kang (meaty Laotian-style barbecue pork ribs with a sweet and spicy tamarind sauce that really added oomph) that came with sticky rice; Afghan chicken biryani—moist chunks of thigh meat served with lemony rice; and Eritrean mandazi (a fun finish, these triangular-shaped doughnuts, which come with Nutella for dipping, benefit from a quick reheating). While Foodhini doesn’t provide nutrition information about its meals, you can filter selections by dietary preference—halal, vegan, vegetarian, keto or gluten-free.
Cost: Meals range from $10 to $18.75 and can be ordered individually, or you can opt for a Taste the World subscription, which consists of a weekly meal for one ($21.55), two ($35.45) or four people ($70.55).
Ordering and delivery: Order by 2 p.m. and Foodhini will deliver the same day, or you can place an order for delivery up to two weeks in advance. Deliveries are made Monday through Friday. Delivery fees range from $5 to $7.50 depending on location, and you can add a tip that is split between the driver and kitchen team. For $8.95 a month, customers can enroll in the TasteClub, which includes unlimited free delivery and access to special deals. This offer does not extend to those with a Taste the World subscription. Foodhini also runs a handful of neighborhood pick-up locations, including some in Bethesda.
First-time orders come with a personal handwritten note from the chef who prepared your meal. “Thank you so much for ordering my Lao food!” wrote “Chef Mam” with our order of ping kaduk kang. “I like everything about it. I hope you like too! Enjoy! Stay safe!”
Website features: See a photo of “Chef Mam” and the other chefs who may have prepared your dinner and learn about their backgrounds in their short bios.
Good for: Customers interested in supporting immigrant communities and who like to eat adventurously.
Healthy Fresh Meals
Founder and owner Shana Greenbaum grew up in Georgetown and Bethesda, working in restaurants from the time she was 17. Greenbaum, who transitioned into catering management, started participating in fitness competitions, and initially created Healthy Fresh Meals in 2016 for distribution to gyms and athletes. The business, based in Hyattsville, has evolved and expanded to also serve busy professionals, working parents, families and seniors from Richmond to Baltimore.
Food: A variety of dishes are offered each week in seven categories—the “clean” menu (well-balanced and all-natural), athlete (a little higher in protein), low carb (usually less than 25 grams of carbohydrates), family meals, kids meals, breakfast, and snacks and desserts. The low carb salmon we tried wasn’t the freshest-tasting piece of fish but was disguised by a drape of Thai coconut curry sauce and a pleasant side of kale, onions and peppers. And the “athlete” steak, potatoes and green beans meal was a respectable take on this classic combo.
Cost: No minimum orders or subscriptions. Meals, including breakfasts, range from $10 to $15 each. Family-size protein options that serve two to four (depending on the item) range from $12.99 to $25. Kids meals are $8. There is a $10 delivery fee; $5 to offices.
Ordering and delivery: Deliveries are made on Sunday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.; the company also delivers on Monday to homes and offices within a 10-mile radius of the company’s Hyattsville kitchen. All orders must be placed by Saturday at noon.
Website features: Each meal lists a complete rundown of ingredients and nutritional information.
Good for: People who want an easy and efficient ordering and delivery process. Also, Healthy Fresh Meals are heat sealed and last for seven days in the refrigerator, according to Greenbaum, which could be useful if you want a week’s supply of meals on hand.
Two Northern Virginia fitness trainers (Dan Graziano, Alex Lebonitte) and a chef (Stefano Marzano) started Mighty Meals in 2015, and sales have nearly doubled every year since, according to Marzano. The firm now has 100 employees, its own drivers and refrigerated vans. In addition to serving the Washington, D.C., metro area, Mighty Meals are distributed to clients as far south as Richmond and as far north as Baltimore. Based in Burke, Virginia, Mighty Meals is the “official meal prep company” for D.C. United, Old Glory DC and the University of Maryland Baltimore County athletic department. At press time, major expansion plans were in the works, including acquiring a $7 million, 16,000-square-foot production facility in Gainesville, Virginia.
Food: With more than 100 entrees, Mighty Meals has a lot of items to choose from; dishes are rotated, and new items are added every other week. In addition to complete meals, you can also order bulk items, such as a pound of cooked chicken, or family-size servings of vegetables or starches. We selected Italian herb chicken with spaghetti squash, which also came with spinach, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and a side container of pesto. Under 500 calories and less than 25 grams of carbohydrates, it was a fresh and lively dish made with chicken breast that stayed remarkably moist after reheating. The ropa vieja with rice was a bit bland, but filling and fine for a midweek supper.
Cost: No minimum orders or subscriptions; most meals range from $11.99 to $13.99.
Ordering and delivery: Deliveries are made Saturday and Sunday (deadline for ordering, Thursday 11:59 p.m.) and Wednesday and Thursday (deadline for ordering, Monday 11:59 p.m.). Delivery fee is $10; free for orders $130 or more.
Website features: The Mighty Meals website is scheduled to be revamped in October, but in the meantime, meals can be filtered in multiple ways—by protein source (including vegetarian); diet type (e.g., low carb, low sodium, under and over 500 calories); specified amounts of calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates; and dietary restrictions (dairy-, gluten-, shellfish-, nut-, wheat- and soy-free, as well as “not spicy”). You also can schedule a free 20-minute nutrition consultation on how to create a meal plan that’s best for you.
Good for: People who like a lot of variety and options, and want to curate their dietary intake.
Vegetable + Butcher
Opened in 2016 by Ariane Valle (a vegan) and Turner Hoff (a meat eater), Vegetable + Butcher has grown from two employees to 70 full-time staff in the past six years. Hoff is from Houston; Valle was born in the Philippines and spent part of her childhood there, the rest in Northern Virginia. With a prep kitchen in Northeast Washington, D.C., and a fulfillment center in Hyattsville, the company is consolidating its operations and planning to move into a new 46,000-square-foot facility in Upper Marlboro by the end of the year. V+B is environmentally aware—it composts its food scraps, all of its packaging is compostable, and customers can opt to return containers and bags for the company to compost (for $2.50 per week). Aside from its nutrition-minded meals, V+B also sells detox products, such as tonics, “gut reset” drinks and pre- and post-cleanse kits.
Food: Matt Baker, currently the chef/owner of Gravitas restaurant in the District, helped the couple launch the initial menus, and Valle used to work at Washington’s Knightsbridge Restaurant Group (Rasika, Bombay Club and more), so the selections will appeal to foodies. The vegan meals become paleo with a helping of animal protein; this summer’s vegan version of watermelon chaat with serrano citrus yogurt came with tofu, and the meat option came with chicken breast. For a trial order (the company picks the menu, and you can’t mix vegan and meat meals), we received kung pao Brussels sprouts with diced chicken breast, and chickpea potato curry with coconut-braised chicken thighs. Both dishes were high quality and packed with flavor.
Cost: Meals vary in price depending on whether they’re part of a trial order or subscription, and they also vary within those options. Vegan dishes cost less than those with meat, and prices decline as you order more of either. For weekly subscriptions, vegan meals range from $11.50 to $14.50 per meal, and plans with meat range from $12.50 to $16 per meal; there’s a two-meal minimum per week, and all prices include free delivery. The most popular subscription plan is eight meals per week, which works out to $13/meal for vegans (or $104/week) and $14.50/meal with meat (or $116/week). Customers who opt for non-renewing one-week orders pay a 15% premium on top of those prices (vegan $13.50 to $17 per meal; with meat $15 to $19 per meal).
Ordering and delivery: V+B strongly encourages subscriptions rather than trial orders. Subscriptions allow customers to choose their meals, but you must order either a Vegetable’s Basket or Butcher’s Box; if you want to mix and match vegan and meat dishes, you have to set up two subscriptions within an account. Deliveries, made Monday, Wednesday and Friday, are scheduled between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.—this is to ensure delivery in time for breakfast orders, and drivers can reduce carbon emissions by avoiding daytime traffic. Requests can be made for 8 a.m. to noon deliveries. Meals come in a zippered cooler bag with ice packs. There is no delivery fee.
Website features: The sleek and attractive website was refreshed recently to better focus on the company’s “soil to soil” composting mission. Before placing an order, you’re prompted to type in your first name, email address and ZIP code to see if the company delivers to your location (by typing that information in, you’ll be signed up for email promotions).
Good for: Vegans seeking a wider and better-tasting variety of options, people who are passionate about health and environmental issues, and those who don’t mind some of the company’s quirky and cumbersome policies.
Montgomery Blair High School graduate Manny Gossa launched Phresh Gourmet in 2018 in a commercial kitchen in Kensington. Gossa, who majored in marketing at West Virginia University and saw potential in the fresh and convenient food trend, expanded his business more than a year ago, and now works out of a larger space in Northeast Washington, D.C.
Food: There are a total of eight to 12 breakfast, lunch and dinner options each week, including a vegetarian dish and a main-course salad. We tried seared mahi-mahi with Brazilian collards and cauliflower rice, and shrimp Creole with saffron rice and steamed mixed vegetables. Both were serviceable dishes with some good-tasting twists (i.e., the Brazilian collards, yellow carrots and the rice sides).
Cost: A la carte meals range from $9.50 to $12.50, breakfasts $7, plus a $10 delivery fee. Monthly subscriptions are available for 20 meals ($210, five meals/week), 28 ($290, seven meals/week) or 40 ($410, 10 meals/week). Twelve breakfasts/month ($65) can be added to any plan. No delivery fee for subscriptions.
Ordering and delivery: Orders placed Wednesday through Friday are delivered Sunday noon to 8 p.m. Orders placed Saturday through Tuesday are delivered Wednesday noon to 8 p.m.
Website features: Type in your age, height, weight and exercise level under the “nutrition info” tab, and the calorie intake calculator will tell you how many calories you need to consume for weight maintenance, fat loss and extreme fat loss. Meals on the website contain calorie, fat, carbohydrate, fiber, sugar and protein counts as well as ingredient lists.
Good for: People who want to support a small Montgomery County-founded company and who look for personable one-on-one service.
Carole Sugarman, a contributing editor at Bethesda Magazine, is a longtime food writer who lives in Chevy Chase.
This story appears in the September/October 2022 issue of Bethesda Magazine.