Meal Kits and Take & Bake: Increasing Use During Changing Times

Prepared meals and meal kits have been around awhile but have grown in popularity more recently. The question is: What makes them worth trying?

Today you can’t look at social media or TV without seeing ads for a myriad of meal kit or prepared meal companies. Let’s take a look at the differences in these popular meal solutions and learn what you can expect from both.

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In 2012, the first-ever meal kit services emerged in the United States and quickly grew in popularity. There are two main reasons people love meal kits. First, they’re convenient and you save a lot of time as it eliminates the need to shop for and gather all of the individual ingredients. Also, in most kits, the vegetables come precut. Second, these chef-created recipes are delicious, and there are so many from which to choose!  

Customers receive a box that includes everything needed to make a delicious home-cooked meal. The kits include step-by-step instructions and all the fresh, high-quality ingredients needed—a perfect solution for foodies who value their time and enjoy cooking new and healthy meals for themselves and their families.

Prepared Meals

There are many companies offering subscriptions for completely prepared meals. These meet the needs of an audience that may not love to cook, or don’t have the time during their busy day. This may be the answer for someone on a specific type of diet like the popular keto diet.  There are companies that will count your calories, your macros, your carbs, basically anything related to one of those special diets you may have selected for health reasons, or just to lose weight. Many are marketed as a specific wellness plan, while others are branded for the flavors and freshness they offer. One such company, Freshly, offers a delicious, fresh recipe selection of both meals and bowl options. These companies typically offer a subscription plan, where the customer may choose the number of days of meals, what day they are delivered, and for how many people. All that is required is to receive your box, refrigerate, and then heat and eat when you are ready. Many of the same advantages of meal kits that we discuss below are a significant advantage of prepared meals as well, not to mention the time savings!

Meal Kit Subscriptions

Most of the meal kit companies operate on a subscription model. The menus are rotating and seasonally available, ensuring your taste buds never get bored. However, due to the growing trend, grocery store delis and even online shopping sites like Amazon are beginning to carry meal kits that do not require a subscription.

How Meal Kits Work

A meal kit is more complicated than ordering a pizza but less difficult than finding a recipe and grocery shopping. Once your kit arrives at the doorstep, all you have to do is a little preparation and then cook. Signing up for a service is easy, just go online to your favorite meal kit company, choose which entrées and quantities are right for you, and which day you’d like to have your kit delivered. 

Many people have asked what the difference between prepared meals and meal kits are.  Prepared meals are meals that are ready to eat the moment you receive them. Prepared meals are also available online, via subscription. They can also be found at restaurants, fast food chains and the grab-and-go section at grocery stores. Most of the time, you just heat and eat.  Meal kits, on the other hand, require a little work before consuming.

Prepared Meals and Meal Kits vs. Grocery Store Shopping

First, let’s look at the cost. The cost of buying the exact portioned amounts from a grocery store versus what you’d get in a prepared meal or kit is tough, as many ingredients you buy off the grocery store shelf come packaged in higher quantities than what you’d need to prepare one meal. However, if you break down the cost per the exact amounts, the prepared meal or kit costs usually only a little bit more to have all of the prep work and shopping done for you. 

The time saved, some consider priceless. No more time spent finding that perfect recipe, going to the grocery store and finding all the items on the list, buying more than what you need and then getting to work making it. In prepared meals, all of the work is done for you, saving significant time. In many meal kits, the food ingredients come pre-washed and already cut, saving time as well.  

Meal kits come with a lot of culinary tips not always found in cookbooks. These are tips directly from the meal’s creator, and these are the chef’s special tips to make preparing it easier. This means in addition to a healthy home cooked meal, you’re also getting an education on preparing it.

Included within these meal kits is often “a secret ingredient,” which is, of course, a delicious flavoring. Often this is a sauce packet, a seasoning blend or a special demi glace or gravy that is usually only available from the kit and the chef’s kitchen.

Restaurant Take-and-Bake Menu Options

Papa John’s® was one of the first foodservice companies to recently offer meal kits due to the closures of many foodservice establishments during the 2020 pandemic. Instead of an already cooked, ready-to-eat pizza, they provide customers with an oven-ready pizza kit to bake at home at their leisure. The 2020 temporary closure of inside dining created an opportunity for restaurants to create their own meal kits. Many restaurants are referring to these as take-and-bake. In other words, kits that include ingredients and instructions for the restaurant’s signature dishes. Not only are these take-and-bake meal kits delicious, but also, they’re fun to create at home. It is an opportunity to have a fun experience as well as delicious food together.  

Many popular restaurants such as Olive Garden®, Taco Bell®, Denny’s®, Chick-fil-A®, California Pizza Kitchen®, Boston Market®, Panera®, Cracker Barrel®, Carl’s Jr.®, Hardee’s®, Moe’s® Southwest Grill, Smashburger®, Baskin-Robbins®, Pei-Wei®, Panda Express®, Zaxby’s® and Papa John’s® are just some of the restaurants that have been creative in offering take-and-bake meal kits. 

To know if your favorite restaurant is offering take-and-bake meals, call or check out their online menus.

Are Prepared Meals and Meal Kits Worth Trying?

Prepared meals are fully prepared, and all you have to do is heat and eat. This will save a considerable amount of time, eliminating the planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning required to make a meal. Meal kits can add an element of fun and togetherness. With both prepared meals and kits, the cost is only slightly more than you would pay for the exact amount of ingredients needed from the grocery store. You also save a lot of time, and you’re getting a delicious and often chef-crafted meal with amazing flavors and world-class cooking tips from culinary experts.

What you are avoiding is food going to waste from having more than what is needed for a recipe and trying to find the time to plan healthy meals that fit all of your dietary requirements on your own.

Most prepared meal and kit companies, although they are subscription-based, can be easily canceled or changed with a week or two of notice. So are meal kits worth trying? In our opinion, yes! Try each type out for yourself. 

Here are more details you might want to know:

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Do Meal Kits Stay Fresh?

Meal kits come in a refrigerated bag within a shipping box. Meal kit companies use methods that keep the food fresh for up to 24 hours past the expected delivery date. Once delivered, the ingredients stay fresh in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days, giving you plenty of time to schedule your meal.

Everything will come with expiration dates, just so there’s no question of how long something will last. In general, you’ll want to prepare and consume any seafood or chicken dishes first, followed by any pork or beef, purely based on how long the meats stay fresh. 

Can You Freeze a Meal Kit?

Most meal kit companies send the ingredients fresh, meaning it’s never been frozen—any meats you can use or freeze before the expiration date. However, freezing the vegetables can change the texture and flavor after they’ve been thawed. Vegetables will last for seven days to a few weeks in the refrigerator, depending on the type of vegetable. Here’s a guide on how long veggies will stay fresh.  

What Kinds of Meal Kits Are Available?

The nice thing about meal kit companies is most of them are very health-conscious companies, using high-quality fresh ingredients. Meal options include gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian and low-carb. Just look over the included nutritional facts.

Meal kit companies switch their menus weekly. They offer different meat and vegetable choices, as well as vegetarian and calorie-conscious options. Some even offer low-carb and no-refined-sugar options. Look over their weekly menus, make a selection and place your order. It’s that easy.

Where and How Do You Buy Meal Kits?

Prepared meal and kit companies offer their services via their websites, usually as a subscription service. However, some companies have partnered with grocery stores and now sell their kits in the refrigerated sections. Picking them up at the store directly means no subscription required. To find out more, check out the prepared meal and meal kit companies below: 

Prepared Meals and Bowls:


Meal Kit Companies


Contact Us To Develop Your Next Meal Kit Flavors. 

Summit Hill Foods is a flavor development and manufacturing company. We don’t offer prepared meals or kits ourselves, but what we do is assist prepared meal and kit companies to develop delicious flavors. Chances are, if you’ve ever eaten out, purchased products from a grocery store or purchased a prepared meal or kit, you have probably tasted our flavors. 

If you’re a prepared meal or kit company, or thinking of offering these types of solutions to your customers, we’d love a chance to work with you for all of your flavoring needs.  Here is a link to contact us, please let us know how we can help.

Flavoring The World With Virtual Development and Tastings

Flavor development has gone virtual. People want new flavors and we have a process that just might be easier than a face-to-face meeting.  Try out our virtual development and tasting sessions to see for yourself.

A Taste of the New Normal

I am sure you are feeling it. The world has changed. The way we customize new foods and flavors and offer product taste tests have too. Back when things were “normal,” we’d invite you and your team into our Culinary Design Studio (our “CDS,” aka development center).  Here you could watch and give feedback while our food scientists worked to develop customized flavors, just for you. We’d also invite you to our Flavor Gallery to sample dishes made using one or more of our most popular product lines. 

Currently, the days of gathering with a face-to-face meeting are few and far between. We understand, and we respect the boundaries of social distancing. Not only are many of our team members working from home, but we’re also interacting with our customers differently.  Hopefully, soon we can once again invite each other into the kitchen.  In the meantime, our world has gone virtual. Fortunately, we have long embraced technology and are here willing and able to work with you for custom flavor development.

Virtual Development Is Nothing New to Us

At Summit Hill Foods, we’ve been conducting virtual food and flavor sessions for a long time, because it’s not always feasible for customers to visit us every time. When we expanded our development center a few years ago, we included technology for video sharing, knowing that our customers may not always be able to bring their entire team to Salt Lake City. We were doing video calls before they were “cool.” And that has let us serve our customers’ needs no matter the physical distance. So many of our customers have commented with accolades like: “It’s as good as being there in person!” and “Your team didn’t miss a beat – these flavors are incredible, especially without us being able to get there in person!” 

Business today has changed with the advancements in technology.   With live-stream video chats, 4K video cameras, email, phone calls, personalized web pages, YouTube and overnight shipping, it’s almost as if there are no limits. Building professional long-term relationships and making food flavorful are things we can do now successfully online. (Yes, we have even heard there are apps in development where you can lick your phone for a taste! Of course, our process is not quite yet that advanced.) However, we do believe that we are light years ahead of where we were just a few years ago. And with just a few simple steps, we are still working hand-in-hand with our customers to develop custom flavors to meet their needs, in a timely manner, and get solutions in their hands quickly. 

Our Virtual Development Process

The process is surprisingly easy, especially when you don’t have to book a flight, hotel or car rental to have a face-to-face conversation.  In fact, we have simplified it to just a few simple steps.

STEP ONE: A Conversation

Let us know what your application and flavor ideas are. We’ll ask questions like what’s the intended finished food item. How much flavor product will you be needing (our low minimums might surprise you). We’ll want to know the flavor profile you have in mind, the color, aroma, texture and any ingredient requirements like Kosher, organic or gluten-free. We’ll ask about storage requirements. The cooking temperatures your ingredient will need to endure. And the list goes on. We explore these questions, so we can understand your needs and share how that will affect things like packaging, production times and pricing to reach the best end result.

STEP TWO: Sample Creation

Based on your flavor ideas and specifications, our team of chefs, food scientists and culinary experts will get together (virtually) to strategize the best way to meet your needs. Ingredients may need to be sourced, our regulations team might need to be consulted, and finally, we will begin to make prototype samples that we think might be the right fit for you.

Our chefs and food scientists start by creating a sample based on the requested flavor profile. This could be a base, sauce, dip, marinade or something else. Flavors, after all, come in many forms. 

Our goal is to get the first sample as close to ideal as possible.  However, taste, texture and consistency are relative, so there is always room for interpretation.

STEP THREE: The Virtual Tasting Session

Once we are satisfied with the sample(s) we have created, we’ll set up a date and time for a video conference to taste them together with you. We’ll overnight samples to you, and we’ll send you a list of instructions on how to make the dishes in your kitchen. Or, we’ll follow your specific instructions and technique on how you’d prefer the dish is prepared. We will be making the exact same dishes in our kitchen, in preparation for the tasting.  

Then… we’ll taste them together via a live-stream video conference.

We will want to know what changes, if any, need to happen to get the flavor just right. Maybe a hint of lime, perhaps a little less ginger or perhaps the color needs a tweak. Is the texture correct? Does the product work for the intended application? This is a rinse-the-palate-and-repeat step until that flavor is perfect and has your approval. Doing this in a virtual development session enables us to make changes on the bench with you “present” and get the finished flavor on its way for final approval. 
Our talented team can perfect a new customized flavor within a few weeks or even days to get customer approval. We’re proud of this fact, as the industry average of developing new flavors is usually months.

STEP FOUR: Testing for Large-Scale Production

Once a new flavor is approved, the next step is to ensure its scalability. Ingredients for a small one- to five-pound batch might act differently on a larger scale. To ensure the integrity of our customer’s product no matter the batch size, we test it in our USDA Certified pilot plant and make adjustments, if needed, to ensure scalability and quality. Following a successful pilot plant run, the item is then ready for full-scale production.

We’re proud of our award-winning GMP manufacturing facilities. We are flexible in packaging sizes and containers as well as production batch sizes.

STEP FIVE: Delivery

We’re partners with DOT Expressway as well as multiple shipping and transport companies to ensure you receive your new products on time and fresh by working with refrigerated or frozen transport carriers.

Now Is the Perfect Time to Launch New Flavors      

Food brings people together, even in today’s environment. Offices are holding virtual lunches, friends use Zoom for dinner and cocktail nights, and families are sitting together for meals with both parents as they may now work from home. Food is emotional, and new flavors bring excitement and satisfaction to life. Now is the perfect time to launch new flavors through virtual development. 

The foodservice industry initially fell on hard times as social distancing rules were set in place. This impacts the industrial manufacturers who serve these restaurants and other foodservice establishments with lower supply orders and lower profits for all of these organizations. As things have begun to open back up, people want prepared meals either through a delivery service, a drive-thru, and in some areas, the actual restaurants. Many people are still opting for home-cooked meals. 

Meal kit companies are growing by delivering the ingredients and directions to consumers to cook “chef-created” meals at home. Their customers are asking for comfort foods, as well as unique flavors.  Ongoing flavor development is a must to meet these needs.   

Industrial manufacturers who serve the frozen foods market are seeing consistent growth as well. They are filling the grocery shelves as fast as they can produce products. Consumers of these end products expect quality and are always interested in trying something new. In addition to grocery, many industrial manufacturers serve national chains of quick-serve and fast-food restaurants, which are preparing to add new menu items as well. Having a great food flavor development partner is critical for successful launch.

People are craving normalcy and good food, making exciting new dishes in demand. Virtual development is currently the best solution to fulfilling this need. The good news is the process is simple, and moving forward, it might even become the preferred method of development.  

Still Business As Usual

Virtual flavor development doesn’t have to be a complicated process.  In fact, we’re confident you’ll be pleasantly surprised how fast and easy the process we’ve set in place truly is.

When you find yourself in a position of needing a new flavor for your restaurant, meal-kit company, industrial manufacturing or other type of foodservice industry company, reach out. We’d love to be your flavor development partner.  Contact us to schedule your virtual session today!