One purpose of ordering a meal delivery service is that it can simplify your life. But the ins and outs can be a little confusing at first. Here's what you need to know.

1. Most services let you select your meals. You pay the same price no matter which dishes you order, so choose those that center on pricier fare, say, a salmon dish vs. a veggie pasta.

2. You need to log in regularly. If you don’t pick the meals you want, the meal delivery service will choose for you. And if you’ll be away and forget to cancel for the week, a box will arrive at your house.

3. You need to keep some basic ingredients on hand, such as eggs, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Plated is a meal delivery service that sends an email weekly to let you know what you have to add.

4. Be prepared to do the cooking. On average, there were six steps and 10 utensils required per recipe, though the instructions and photos on the recipe cards make the dishes practically foolproof. Most meals took 30 to 45 minutes, start to finish.

5. Meal prep is a big factor. You’ll be chopping, sautéing, and more, so don’t plan on there being downtime to help with homework.

6. There’s a lot of packaging, but much of it is biodegradable, recyclable, or reusable. “We’ve reduced the weight of our boxes already by 40 percent,” says Michael Joseph, CEO of Green Chef, a meal delivery service in our tests, “and we use insulation that can break down in your backyard.”




Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the October 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.