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Dinner for the time starved

Even if you love to cook, sometimes just deciding what's for dinner (or going to get the ingredients) can be a deal breaker. It's easy to find yourself in a heavy rotation of the same 3 or 4 meals―or a lot of takeout.

That's where meal kits found an opportunity. So what's all the buzz about?

We got interested when some of us received discounts for one of the services in the mail. There are several out there―Blue Apron, Plated, Hello Fresh, Peach Dish, and so on. There's also Graze, for healthy, individually packaged snacks that meet your preferences as well as nutritional or special diet needs.

We've done a little digging, and here's what we've learned.

How it works. Most come as subscriptions―you choose 2 to 4 meals per week, and get to choose quantities for 2 or 4 people. Some have vegetarian subscriptions, some let you choose preferred proteins and then send recipes they think you'll like, and most let you choose individual meals.

Ingredients and instructions are shipped to your home, packaged so they'll stay fresh for a few hours or more after delivery. You do the cooking, but it's as if Julia Child is right there with you, cheering you on.

Nutrition. The meal kits we reviewed tend to aim for a range of 500 to 800 calories, and focused on fresh fish and meats, and lots of fresh vegetables. The services we looked into offered vegetarian options and gluten-free menus, and there are all-vegetarian services out there, too.

If you're counting carbs, watching sodium or have ingredient questions, each service offers detailed nutritional information on the recipe cards or on their Web sites.

Cost. Packages tend to run from $8 to $12 per serving, and a quick look around suggests that many providers offer great discounts for first-timers. Shipping is generally included.

Now, your logical self is saying "I can make my own meals or get a pizza here for less than that." And it's true. But there may be more to consider. Because you get premeasured ingredients, there's less waste―you're not paying for a whole bottle of sesame oil when you just need a tablespoon. And, of course, there's the value of saving your time.

And who knows? You may discover a few new favorite flavors along the way.