Meal kits contain the recipe and pre-portioned ingredients for cooking a meal, packaged in a box containing refrigeration packs, and delivered to the consumer’s residence.
A 2019 study looks into the life cycle environmental impacts for five dinner recipes - meal kits for these were compared with purchasing ingredients for the same recipes from a local grocery store. Results indicated that grocery shopping generally had 33% higher greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts than meal kits. The reasons include meal kits’ direct-to-consumer supply chains, reduced food waste, lower last-mile transportation emissions, and fewer emissions using refrigeration packs compared to retail refrigeration, all of which together are sufficient to offset increases in packaging.
Regarding some other alternative meal types, previous studies have found that the environmental impacts of home-cooked food are similar or lower than semi-prepared (frozen) and ready-to-eat meals.
The study assumes a typical consumer, so you could still be environmentally conscious with grocery store shopping by meal planning, planned shopping to reduce trips (possibly walking or taking public transport or shopping on route to elsewhere), purchasing food in required portion sizes, 'compleating' food, reducing food waste and reusing leftovers. The study also did not take into account people who participate in alternative forms of grocery purchasing, like community-supported agriculture, or perhaps grow some of their own food in kitchen gardens.
Heard BR and others, “Comparison of Life Cycle Environmental Impacts from Meal Kits and Grocery Store Meals” (2019) 147 Resources, Conservation and Recycling 189
“How to Get the Most out of Food, to Reduce Waste?” (OneSharedEarth, July 2019)
McClinton D, “Meal-Prep Kits Better for Environment than a Trip to the Store, Study Finds” (The Guardian, April 2019)
“What Are Some Ways to Compleat to Avoid Food Waste?” (OneSharedEarth, July 2019)
“What Can I Do with Food Leftovers?” (OneSharedEarth, November 2019)