"Food services like these are an untapped market"
Credit: Photo by LightFieldStudios via Getty Images

The average kitchen isn’t particularly accomodating to those with disabilities. I’ve detailed my own struggles with doing basic cooking in my house, as well as ways to create an easier environment to cook in if you’re using a wheelchair, but we can only do so much. As I’ve gotten older and realized a human can’t live off fast food forever, the daily struggles of shopping and cooking can seem daunting if you aren’t able-bodied.

Which is why when I heard about subscription food boxes like HomeChef, Plated, and Prepped, a lightbulb went on. Services like these, without explicitly stating so, can limit many of the issues those with disabilities face when it comes to wanting to cook. But if you have a disability which box will work for you? Let’s look at the subscription box market with an eye towards how they help (or hinder) those with disabilities.

I currently subscribe to two different food box services: HomeChef and Freshly. I’m starting a third box, HelloFresh, next week, but for the purposes of this story I’ll stick with the two I’ve worked with. HomeChef has many things in common with HelloFresh and Plated, in that you pick a variety of meals and the ingredients are sent to you to be cooked in your own home. For someone like me who often has breakfast decided and eats lunch intermittently, knowing what’s for dinner is a great anxiety reducer. I don’t have to send whoever helps me to the store to gather ingredients, and I already know what I’m having throughout the week.

Since the food in the boxes only lasts four to seven days depending on what it is, I'm compelled to actually cook it. Most HomeChef meals aren’t too difficult to make—each comes with a card listing its skill level—and I can generally cook them with nothing more than my portable skillet and cutting board. I’ve only had maybe one or two bad HomeChef meals. I’ve also had a few ingredients leak during transport (there’s nothing worse than having chicken juice leak over everything) but the folks who run the company’s social media are incredibly helpful and will usually replace any meat or produce that’s gone bad or been ruined.

Freshly is somewhat different. Unlike HomeChef, which delivers ingredients to be cooked, Freshly has the food ready-made and just needs to be heated in the microwave. These may sound like TV dinners, but the ingredients are all fresh and cooked within a small window of time, reducing the frozen quality usually associated with pre-made meals. Full disclosure, I’m pretty sure I could live off their chicken parmesan. I use my Freshly boxes for lunch, compelling me to eat lunch in the middle of the day without having to assemble anything. However, since I can’t reach the microwave in my house, I am required to have someone assist me with actually heating these up.

The biggest drawback for me, and I’m assuming many people with disabilities, is the price. These services are cheaper than a standard trip to the store. HomeChef’s two-meal deal starts at $39.80 plus $10 to ship, although they’ll waive shipping if you add an additional meal. (HomeChef does 10-minute meals, like pre-cooked salads and sandwiches to waive the shipping fee.) Freshly does a six-meal plan for $59.99 a week. On a weekly scale these are cheaper than buying food for one at the grocery store, but most reserve these purely for dinners. HomeChef and Freshly both do breakfast options, but you’re still deciding which meals you want to have on hand, making a trip to the grocery store a must no matter what.

Boxes like these are meant as a supplement, not a way to circumvent the grocery store entirely. And for those with disabilities, these prices are definitely cheaper—but if you’re living on a fixed income they might not help decrease your food budget exponentially. It’d be great if these services, knowing of their benefits to the disabled community, offered some type of regular discounts or ways to get boxes cheaper. Most times it’s only through referring other members that discounts happen.

Regardless of costs, I think food services like these are an untapped market for helping people with disabilities eat healthy and have autonomy in the kitchen. I can say I cook a lot more than I used to and actually eat three square meals. The disabled community is too often relegated to eating poorly because of money and limitations, and food box companies like these can change that if the companies want to tap into the disabled market. Offer discounts if you collect SSI or other government programs, work alongside disabled advocacy groups. I’m happy I’ve found these services, now it’s time that others get in on them as well.