For the last six months I’ve been trying different meal kits, both in order to avoid getting take out and because I just like reviewing things. Having tried most of the meal kits out there (all of them with promos which brought down the price significantly), I think I’m finally done.
Meal kits fall into 4 price categories, which I’ll call budget (~$40 for 3 2-serving meal kits), mid-range (~$60 for the same), premium (~$70) and super-premium (~$80). In order to compare apples to apples, my reviews are organized by price category and they are listed in my order of preference. Please click on the title of each Meal Kit to see a more comprehensive review.
In all of these months, I haven’t really had any major problems with any of my deliveries – I’ve had no missing ingredients, for example. Once a box didn’t come (which was fine, as I didn’t want it and had forgotten to cancel in time) and another time, the box didn’t come until after 11 PM, but that’s about it. Skipping has been a breeze, as has been cancelling.
Budget Meal Kits
There are two of these meal kit services, both products of mid-range meal kit companies. They offer simpler meals, with fewer ingredients that require the use of more of your staples. The menus tend to be very classic American.
Every Plate is HelloFresh’ budget offering. They currently only have 6 offerings, including a “premium” one that costs $6 more per kit, but they’re moving to 8 offerings in mid-March. That’s good, because I often can’t find 3 dishes I want to eat/make in their weekly menu.
I mostly liked what I got – the premium kit was particularly tasty. I really didn’t feel I was compromising too much by getting these kits.
$39 for 3 kits with 2 servings each. Use this referral link for $20 off your first box (I might get a credit if I’m subscribed at the exact moment you subscribe).
Dinnerly is Martha & Marley Spoon’s budget offering. They offer 8 choices a week, 3 of which are vegetarian. The meals are less refined than those by Every Plate and I enjoyed them less. In all, I wasn’t a fan.
$39 for 3 kits with 2 servings each. Google for promos.
Mid-Range Meal Kits
There are several companies in this category. They tend to have more sophisticated offerings, they may include ingredients that are not as easy to come by (or that you’d have to buy far more than you’d want to) – but they still require that you use some of your staples. Some of these companies offer discounts for larger purchases. Here they are, in my order of preference.
HelloFresh is the service I’ve tried the most, simply because they’ve sent me the most “come back” offers. They offer a variety of plans, and include one weekly “gourmet” recipe, featuring steak or expensive ingredients, for $12 more per kit.
Most of the recipes have surprised me as to how tasty they are – whoever is responsible for creating them does a pretty good job. That said, I don’t always find enough meals I want to cook in a given week, and lately it seems they’re downgrading their ingredients. Still, it’s a company I like to go back to (with a coupon).
$61 for 3 kits with 2 servings each. Use this referral link for $40 off your first box (I might get a credit if I’m subscribed at the exact moment you subscribe).
Blue Apron is actually very similar to HelloFresh, but it offers far fewer discounts. It does seem to have better quality ingredients than HelloFresh, however. The food I had was also tastier than I anticipated, and I would likely re-subscribe if I got another promo – but so far no luck.
$60 for 3 kits with 2 servings each. Google for promos.
Home Chef’s offerings are a more middle American than the other two, and I’ve had gret difficulty finding kits that I really want to make. But the kits I did make were very good. While Home Chef has occasional premium meal kits, they also regularly have steak without a premium price (unlike other companies in this price point).
$60 for 3 kits with 2 servings each. Use this referral link for $30 off your first box (I might get a credit if I’m subscribed at the exact moment you subscribe).
Marley Spoon was the meal kit company that least impressed me at this price-point. Granted, I only got two kits because their promo wasn’t that great, but neither of them was particularly noteworthy. They do have a large menu of choices, including 6 vegetarian ones. In all, I didn’t find a compelling reason to choose it over the other kits.
$61.50 for 3 kits with 2 servings each. Google for promo.
Premium Meal Kits
It’s probably not surprising that as we go up in price, the meal kits get better. They either include more exotic and/or organic ingredients. Some companies offer even more adventurous/sophisticated kits – and some actually send you all the ingredients you need save for oil, salt & pepper. Here they are, in my order of preference.
I love Plated. It’s one of my favorite meal kits and, if I could afford it, it’s the one I would stay subscribed to. The offerings are pretty sophisticated, and they often include ingredients that I wouldn’t want to buy myself. More importantly, they include all the ingredients I need – including butter! I have greatly enjoyed almost every meal I’ve had from them.
Plated is also available at select Safeway supermarkets. The kits there usually vary in price depending on the ingredients, but they’re generally cheaper than with the subscription. They have a much lower selection, however.
$72 for 3 kits with 2 servings each. Google for promo.
Sun Basket distinguishes itself by providing a large variety of meals catering to special diets – from paleo to vegan. Most importantly, they don’t ask you to subscribe to a specific plan, but you can chose from any meal they provide. This is cool for families like mine that have members with very different food preferences. Sun Basket also sends more organic produce than other companies – and they’re probably the most environmentally friendly meal kit service.
Still, I wasn’t awed by their kits and I haven’t felt a compelling reason to re-subscribe.
$72 for 3 kits with 2 servings each. Use this referral link for $40 off your first box.
Purple Carrot is an all-vegan meal kit company. Having a vegan child at home, I gave it a try. Unfortunately, she didn’t like any of the three meal kits I got for her – and would not even eat the leftovers.
$72 for 3 kits with 2 servings each. Google for promo.
Super Premium Meal Kits
In addition to the kits listed below, there are two other meal kits services which fall in this category. As neither offers good promo codes – and their offerings don’t seem particularly enticing – I’ve decided I’m not going to try either. Do comment if you do. Peach Dish – a Georgia based company – specializes in local ingredients and offers both international and classic Southern food. One Potato specializes in family-friendly fare.
Gobble sends out meal kits that can be put together and cooked in 15 minutes. They manage this by sending pre-sliced vegetables, prepared sauces and some pre-cooked sides (like rice, lentils and sweet potatoes). Still, most kits require you to do enough that you do feel like cooking. Their meals are generally pretty good – one, specifically, was great – and I love how quickly they are to put on the table. This is a kit I’d definitely stay subscribed to if I could afford it.
$79 for 3 kits with 2 servings each. Use this referral link for 1 free meal kit in your first box (I might get a credit if I’m subscribed at the exact moment you subscribe).
Green Chef distinguishes itself by offering a variety of plans catering to special diets – everything from keto, to gluten-free to vegan. Unfortunately, they only offer five choices per plan, and you cannot mix and match between plans (though they do have an omnivore plan, still with only five choices). Once upon a time, Green Chef was fully organic, but since being bought by HelloFresh, they now send out non-organic meats.
The dishes I tried were pretty good, though they seemed overpriced for what they were.
$67 to $85 for 3 kits with 2 servings each, depending on plan (omnivore is $79). Use this referral link for 2 free meal kits in your first box
(I might get a credit if I’m subscribed at the exact moment you subscribe).
Ready Made Meals
In addition to meal kits, a number of companies have entered the market offering ready-to-heat, microwavable meals. Basically, an upscale version of your parent’s TV dinners. I’m not sure I’ll try enough of these to merit their own category, but I’ll list the one I’ve tried so far (I will also be getting Thistle next week – use promo code https://www.thistle.co/referral/MARGARI98F for $30 off your first order).
Freshly offers fresh, refrigerated, microwable meals that you can heat up in just 2-4 minutes. Quality wise, they are way above any frozen meal I’ve tried. Indeed, taste wise they are as good as most meal kits. They do suffer a little texture-wise.
The biggest issue is that their menu doesn’t change much from week to week, so if you’re craving variety, you won’t find it here. They also don’t offer vegan meals. Still, it’s a good choice for when you have a busy week and you can’t make time to cook.
$60 for 6 meals (1 serving each). Use this referral link to get $20 off your first and second week (I might get a credit if I’m subscribed at the exact moment you subscribe).
Non-Subscription Meal Kits
In addition to the meal kits above, there are a couple of companies that sell meal kits that don’t require a subscription. I have not yet tried these ones, but I might in the future. Good Eggs, a Bay Area company, delivers 3 and 4 serving meal kits from an extensive set menu and Amazon.com sells kits through their Prime Fresh service (which costs $16/month).
Let me be honest. If Blue Apron had been the first meal kit company I had tried, chances are I would give it a more enthusiastic review. That’s because my expectations for meal kits when I started were very low. But having tried most of the meal kit companies out there, my expectations have risen considerably. Blue Apron delivered, but not enough to compel me to stay subscribed. It’s an OK choice, but not in my top three – though I probably liked it best in this price category. Which is just as well as, unlike other meal kit companies, they haven’t been begging me to come back with enticing promos. 🙂
Blue Apron offers plans for two and four servings. You can order either two or three meal 2-serving meal kits per week. Two will cost you $48 a week ($24 per kit, $12 pp) and three will cost $60 a week ($20 per kit, $10 pp). The 4-serving kits cost $72 for 2 kits ($9 pp), $96 for 3 ($8 pp) or $120 for 4 ($7.50 pp).
In addition to regular plans they have a Weight Watchers “freestyle” plan and a vegetarian plan, both only available for 2 servings, and costing the same as the regular plan.
Blue Apron offers 8 recipes a week, including 3 vegetarian ones – some of which can be turned into vegan. The recipes are mostly modern American food, which incorporates elements from other cuisines. I liked that they included ingredients that are not necessarily in my pantry – and that they didn’t skimp in the quality. I got ghee, rather than having to use my own butter, for instance, and creme fraiche instead of sour cream. Blue Apron doesn’t seem to offer steak, so perhaps that’s how they save money.
The ingredients were high quality and they came and stayed fresh (except for some wobbly carrots). The recipes were easy to put together.
Like other meal kits, Blue Apron comes in a recyclable cardboard box. The ingredients were individually wrapped, but otherwise tossed together inside the box. There were small bags with “knick knacks” for each recipe, however. Still, I prefer to have all the ingredients for each recipe in their own bag, so I can easily take them out of refrigerator rather than having to search for them.
I was happy that I was able to drain the freezer packs – once defrosted – in the sink rather than have to throw them in the garbage. They were a thick gel even when defrosted, but it thinned with hot water. The lining of the box, however, wasn’t recyclable or compostable.
I loved the curry spiced beef and the bread buns.
Good but not remarkable.
Liked the schnitzel, actually loved the kale. Really.
All in all, I had fun cooking these meals and the results were perfectly fine. Blue Apron is priced the same as HelloFresh and HomeChef, and I feel it offers a superior experience to the other two. Cancelling was easy – but that has been true of all the meal kits I’ve ordered.
In general, I like bánh mì sandwiches – they are tasty, they have a little kick (actually a lot of kick, so I am careful to take out any peppers and daikon I find in them) and they are very cheap. However, they also usually have too much bread, too many vegetables and too little meat. So I was looking forward to making this Blue Apron kit for bánh mì-style beef burgers on my own. Alas, I didn’t actually look at the recipe so I didn’t realize the only vegetables they were including were carrots and radishes. Not too big of a deal, but it sort of detracts from the whole “bánh mì” experience.
The protein was ground beef mixed with curry and seasoned with salt and pepper. It was surprisingly tasty. I tend to add curry powder to pretty much anything, but I hadn’t really tried it in a burger. I will again. But what really made the burger – for me – was the bread. The demi baguette was toasted with olive oil and some salt and it just went wonderfully with the meat. I wasn’t impressed with the carrots, so I mostly pushed them up. The meal kit came with mayo and sambal oelek that you are supposed to mix together and then spread on the bread. I added too much sambla oelek, however, and it was too spicy for me so I used plain mayo on my sandwich – it was great. I used the spicy mayo on my husband’s sandwich, and while he didn’t find it spicy, he also didn’t find it particularly tasty. If you make it, skip the sambal. In any case, I really liked my sandwich and my husband liked his less.
He liked the broccoli, however, which was mixed with sesame oil and roasted. My daughter didn’t – so it’s hit and miss.
I got all the ingredients needed for the recipe, and they were all pretty fresh – though the carrots were starting to get wobbly. Still, I got my box on Monday and cooked this on Friday, so I really can’t complain.
My favorite part of the meal was the bread, which is made by Tribeca Oven in New Jersey. The demi-baguette was wider than most, the crust was softer and the center denser. I’m going to have to try to find something similar around here.
I appreciated that the kit included sugar. While I keep that at home, I know a lot of people who don’t.
I paid $12.50, or $6.25 per serving, for this kit with a sign-in promo. It was worth this but not the $20 regular price, as you can get a real bánh mì for less.
This Blue Apron kit for Fontina-Smothered Chicken with Zucchini & Mashed Potatoes was an OK meal, but not at all exciting. Sure, I chose it specifically to eat with my picky younger daughter, so I bear the whole blame for it.
I’ve never had chicken with cheese before, and I was pleasantly surprised. Indeed, I made fish with a cream sauce and cheese a few days ago and that worked too! Cheese seems more flexible than I thought! The piquante peppers were a good choice.
The whole meal was very simple to put together. The chicken sprinkled with Italian seasoning and simply sauteed and then covered with cheese and the peppers for the last couple of minutes. I liked the flavor the seasoning gave the chicken. I did make a mistake and used the chicken breast for my last recipe and the chicken thighs for this one (I had assumed both packages had chicken breasts), but I’m not sure that made a difference. I did cook them for a shorter time as they were far thinner than the breast.
The zucchini was simply sauteed with garlic. I overcooked it some as I was dealing with the mashed potatoes and a stew I was making for my other daughter at the same time, but my daughter ate them. The mashed potatoes were pretty plain, but these ones at least had creme fraiche – a great improvement over the ones in the last kit that only had olive oil. Indeed, I didn’t even add the olive oil to these ones as it wasn’t a good flavor.
The ingredients were all there and all fine. All I had to provide was salt, pepper and olive oil.
I paid $12.50, or $6.25 per serving, for this kit with a sign-in promo. It was worth this but probably not the $20 regular price.
I got this meal kit for to make for Crispy Chicken Schnitzel with Mashed Potatoes & Creamy Mustard-Dressed Kale for my non-vegan daughter and me, but I ended up eating it mostly by myself: my daughter ended up with other plans. No matter, I saved the chicken breast for her for tomorrow and I’ll make her some fresh mashed potatoes with potatoes I had at home.
This is a meal that is more like disparate components than one full meal. The components all work with each other, don’t get me wrong, but you could substitute any of them for something else and the meal would still work. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.
The chicken schnitzel itself was good – but it wasn’t really a schnitzel. The breast pieces were skinless and boneless but they had not been flattened – nor were there any instructions to flatten them. Moreover the cooking times given were for a thick piece of breast. The chicken was fine, but it would have likely been juicier and more enjoyable if it’d been flattened first. The flavor was OK, but not extraordinary given that there was no seasoning beyond salt on the breading. Commenters suggest adding onion and garlic powder to the flour, I’d also add dried oregano or fresh chopped parsley to the egg.
UPDATE: It turns out that the schnitzel part was my fault. Blue Apron had sent me boneless chicken thighs for this recipe, and the chicken breasts for another one. I didn’t look closely and just assumed both were chicken breasts and ended up using the wrong cut.
The apple slaw that accompanied the chicken was also good, but it didn’t really improve the chicken substantially. I also ended up with way too much slaw.
The mashed potatoes, which are simply mixed with olive oil and salt, were below average. The olive oil flavor was too strong. My vegan daughter didn’t like them. Personally, I think the recipe should have had you mix half the ghee with olive oil to fry the schnitzel, and use the rest of the ghee with the mashed potatoes. Commenters also suggest adding a couple of crushed garlic cloves to the potatoes.
The real star of the meal was the kale, however. It was dressed with a “creamy mustard dressing” which is just Dijon mustard and mayo, mixed with honey and salt. It was delicious – I don’t even like kale but I ate the whole thing (my daughter didn’t want to even try it, and I figured it’ll be soggy tomorrow). I’ll definitely try this dressing on other stuff (recipe below).
All the ingredients for this kit were there and they were fresh. I love that Blue Apron includes ghee for cooking rather than relying of you having butter at home (as HelloFresh does). And I also loved the container for the egg.
The only mild inconveniences is that it’s winter, and I don’t keep my house particularly warm, so the honey was crystalized by the time I went to use it. The ghee was also pretty hard. Don’t refrigerate either when you get them – at least in winter.
The meal was all in all satisfying – though I did eat all the kale by myself. It was also relatively quick and easy to prepare. And it’s also easy to recreate at home with your own ingredients.
I paid $12.50, or $6.25 per serving, for this kit with a sign-in promo. It was worth this but probably not the $20 regular price.
Creamy Mustard-Dressed Kale
- 2 oz kale or fresh baby spinach leaves
- 1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- 1 tsp. dijon mustard
- salt to taste
If using Kale, remove central stem from kale leaves, then cut into strips.
in a medium bowl, whisk together the mayo, honey and mustard. Season. Add kale and mix well, using your hands to make sure all the leaves are coated.
My vegan daughter is into zucchini. She only recently discovered it (i.e. was willing to give it a try) and now she can’t get enough. I made her pasta with zucchini the other day, by just winging it, but tonight I decided to actually shop for and follow a recipe. I decided on this Blue Apron recipe for Fusilli Bucati Pasta with Summer Squash, Corn, & Tomatoes because it was simple and easy to “veganize”.
I did, of course, make some changes to the recipe – as you can see by ingredient list below. Instead of fusilli, I used rigattoni pasta. I prefer to give my kids chickpea pasta, rather than wheat pasta, as it has more fiber and protein – and Grocery Outlet, my closest grocery store, didn’t have chickpea fusilli. I used more garlic and more corn than what came in the Blue Apron kit because it was so recommended by the people who commented on the recipe. I used zucchini instead of summer squash as we’re still in winter and cherry tomatoes because they were easy to find. And I used
Romano/Parmesan/Asiago cheese mix because that’s what I had at home – though instead of adding it to the pan, I served it on the side. I did the same with the butter. That way, both my vegan and my non-vegan daughters were happy. Finally, I used basil instead of parsley because several reviewers said basil worked best.
My kids were very happy. My oldest daughter liked it as much as any meal kit I’d ever bought – and while the youngest didn’t like the tomatoes (she’s currently anti-tomato), she just picked them out. The kids particularly liked the corn, which added crunch and sweetness to the dish. Next time I’ll experiment with using other types of tomatoes to see what work best for both girls.
In all, I spent $9 to make this recipe – a significant saving over the $20 it would have cost if I bought it from Blue Apron. This includes the price of the ingredients I had to buy in larger quantity than needed (e.g. the pasta and corn, which they only had packaged by four cobs), but not of the items I had at home.
|Blue Apron Ingredients||My Ingredients||Cost|
|½ lb Fusilli Bucati Pasta||½ lb chickpea rigattoni pasta||$2|
|2 cloves garlic||3 cloves garlic||pantry|
|1 ear corn||2 ears corn||$4|
|1 Summer Squash||1 Zucchini||$1|
|½ lb Heritage Globe Or Cocktail Tomatoes||10 oz cherry tomatoes||$2|
|¼ tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes||skipped||N/A|
|2 Tbsps Butter||2 tsp butter||pantry|
|2 Tbsps Grated Pecorino Cheese||Romano/Parmesan/Asiago cheese mix||pantry|
|1 bunch Parsley||6 basil leaves||garden|
Pasta with Zucchini, Corn, & Tomatoes
This recipe feeds four, it doubles the recipe in the kit.
- 1 lb pasta of your choice
- 4 ears of corn
- 1 lb cherry tomatoes, halved
- salt & pepper
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 Zucchini, cut in 1/3″ thick half moons
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 bunch basil leaves, coarsely chopped
- butter to taste (optional)
- Grated cheese to taste (optional)
Put a pot of salted water to boil. When ready, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
Meanwhile, cut corn kernels off the cob and discard cob and silks. Season halved tomatoes with salt and pepper.
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large saute pan. When hot, add the zucchini slices all in one layer and fry until brown, 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add corn and garlic and stir fry for two minutes. Add the tomatoes, season, and stir fry for another minute. Turn down heat to low. Mix in half of the chopped basil.
Once the pasta is ready, drain, reserving 3/4 cup of cooking liquid. Add pasta to the vegetables and mix. Add the cooking liquid and cook over medium-low heat for a few minutes, or until the water boils off.
Transfer to serving plate(s) and sprinkle remaining basil on top. Served accompanied by butter and cheese.
Tonight’s Oregano Chicken & Fresh Tomato Pan Sauce with Farro & Zucchini meal was pretty good. Not good in the “oh my God, Blue Apron rocks” sense, but more in the “that was a satisfying dinner and I have nothing to complain about” way.
The star of the meal was the chicken – and given that the boneless filets were just sprinkled with salt and oregano and then sauteed on olive oil, I’m not sure I can give Blue Apron that much credit for it. Alas, the chicken was fresh and it had never occurred to me to cook chicken so simply, so they do get some kudos. I would definitely make it again, but with thighs, as the breasts were too dry.
The tomato/caper sauce was OK. It was only needed because chicken breast is so dry in general – it’d been superfluous and not missed if we’d had thighs. The farro with zucchini was actually quite tasty. Alas, I don’t like zucchini so I didn’t actually eat the vegetable, and there was far too much of it – but my zucchini-eating daughter liked it. The farro without the zucchini was good. Again, not in a mind blowing way.
The meal was quick to put together – I’m a slow cook and I don’t think it took me over 40 minutes, and there weren’t too many complicated steps. In all, I was happy to find how easy oregano chicken can be and that farro is another whole grain alternative to rice my family members will eat.
Meal Kit Review: Blue Apron’s Seared Steaks & Roasted Potatoes with Balsamic-Glazed Mushrooms & ShallotPosted: February 18, 2019 | Author: marga | Filed under: Meal Kits | Tags: Blue Apron, kale | Leave a comment »
While some of the meals offered in meal kits are complicated, some are fairly straight forward. This meal kit for Seared Steaks & Roasted Potatoes with Balsamic-Glazed Mushrooms & Shallot was pretty much what it sounds like, though with a couple of extra twists that made it nicer than expected.
First, the good part. My daughter enjoyed the kale very much (recipe below). It was cooked in ghee and mixed with creme fraiche. I guess i’ll have to pick up some of that at the supermarket. I also liked the mushrooms with balsamic vinegar *on their own*. But their sweetness didn’t really compliment the beef or the potatoes.
The roasted potatoes were really the star of the meal. They were absolutely delicious – crunchy on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth soft inside. I think the trick was that I cut them a little bit in advance and put them in a bowl with water and lemon juice. I dried them before putting them on an aluminum-foiled covered baking sheet and sprinkling olive oil and salt on them. I had forgotten to pre-heat the oven, so I cooked them in a cold oven. Again, they were great.
The flank steaks, however, were a huge disappointment. They tasted like cheap, low quality meat. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed subscription kits is that many of them provide higher quality meats than those I can find at my supermarket. That is most definitely not the case here. This may very well be the reason why I wouldn’t stay subscribed to Blue Apron long term. We’ll have to see if their other meats are as disappointing.
I got this meal kit with a discount, so I paid $12 for the kit or $6 per serving. It was an adequate amount of food.
Makes 2 small servings
- 1 Tbsp ghee
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups of chopped & de-veined kale leaves
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup of water
- 1 Tbsp crème fraiche
Heat ghee on a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the kale leaves and season with salt & pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leaves wilt. Add the water, reduce heat to medium, and continue cooking until the leaves are soft and the water has evaporated. Remove to a bowl, taste and adjust seasoning.
I made this kit – my first from Blue Apron – for my vegan daughter. Overall she thought it was OK, but wasn’t overly pleased by it. She feels she can make tastier food by herself (and she’s 16!).
The recipe was fairly straightforward and quick to prepare. The lime wasn’t at all necessary as the curry was sour enough. I appreciated that the aromatics (garlic, ginger, onions, etc.) already came all mushed up so I didn’t have to peel & chop them. I do think that this rice could have benefited from a starch, rice in particular. I can’t say much more about it, other than the portion was sufficient for two meals (though that might have been because she didn’t really like it).
I paid ~$12 for this kit, using a special offer. I think it was worth it at this price, but I’m not sure it would have been at $20.
For years, I had been avoiding meal kits. I’d get coupons for HelloFresh in the boxes of online orders for all sorts of products or hear my friend rave about the cool Blue Apron meal that awaited her at home, and I’d just shake my head. To me, the idea of meal kits made no sense. At a cost of $10-$12 per person, per meal, meal kits rival the cost of take out but you have to go through the trouble of making the meal yourself. Plus unlike take out, meal kits portions are measured so you won’t have leftovers. Financially, I figured, I got more bang from my money from ordering out and with less mess.
Meal kits, moreover, seemed to be the culinary equivalent of painting by numbers: you end up with something that may be nice but you put no creativity into it (though then again, 99% of my cooking means following a recipe, so what creativity do I ever use?). Moreover, I worried the meals would not be that tasty and that the portions would not be large enough to satisfy us.
But I’ve been in a huge cooking rut. I got to the “H” in my international cooking project and I’ve been left with a lot of cuisines that have just not been inspiring me or that require me to hunt for ingredients that are problematic in the first place (pork belly, anyone?). Moreover, I live with four people with very different diets: a vegan, an uber-picky tween, a low-carb eater and me, who hates vegetables. Forget cooking a meal that the four of us can eat, I can rarely cook something that will satisfy three of us! So rather than cook, we’ve been eating a lot of frozen food and take out. Both horrible options for our taste buds and/or our wallet. I was ripe for something else.
A few weeks ago, I was doing an online order for Safeway – our local supermarket – when I came across their listings for Plated meal kits. They had four that I could get as part of my deliver order, with no commitment to a subscription and with no shipping charges. I figured I’d give it a try and wow, it was a revelation. The meal was fun to prepare and I did enough of the work (albeit following detailed instructions) that, at the end, I had the same type of satisfaction as when I cook a meal from a recipe I chose and shopped for myself. The psychology involved reminds me of the story of how boxed cake mixes only took off after marketers began suggesting that cooks add eggs and other elements to make them their own. And the results were great. The portion was perfectly sized, the ingredients seemed high quality (unlike what I’m sure the cheap restaurants I order from use), and the results were very tasty. I wanted more.
And that’s when I remembered those HelloFresh coupons I still had around. I figured I’d start with them and then give other meal kit services a try and see what they really have to offer and how do they compare to one another. Some of these companies also offer their recipes online, I will be cooking some of these both to get a greater sense for what each company offers without breaking the bank and to get a sense of just how good or bad of a deal the kits are versus shopping for the ingredients yourself.
I hope you’ll come along in this journey and leave comments of your own experiences with these services – and these recipes.
Meal Kits Subscriptions Reviewed So Far
How Meal Kit Subscriptions Work
While you can now find individual meal kits at supermarkets (Safeway & Albertson’s sell Plated, Walmart sells their own, Gobble and other ones, Kroger sells Home Chef), most people get meal kits by subscribing to one of many services. Of these, Blue Apron is the largest one in the US, will HelloFresh, a German company that operates in several countries, following it. There are currently dozens of meal kit companies, some specializing in particular diets or regions.
A standard meal kit subscription is for a weekly box containing three meal kits, each for two adults. Some subscription services allow you to order fewer meal kits a week, while others let you order more. Some subscription services also have kits that feed three or four people. When you subscribe, you usually chose the “plan” you prefer.
What are Your Meal Choices? Can You Chose What Meals You Get?
Most meal kit companies offer contemporary American food, though I’ll be exploring the meal choice differences between companies. Some companies offer vegetarian or even vegan options and some even specialize in this fare. Some have specific plans for specific diets such as paleo and keto.
Most subscription services put up a list of the meal kit options you have every week and allow you to select the ones you want. You usually have a deadline of 5 to 7 days before you receive the meal to make your choices. If you don’t make it, many of these services will just send you their own choices.
If you don’t like any meal options for a week or you’ll be out of town, you can simply suspend your shipments for that week – and you can even do that for multiple weeks in advance -, as long as you remember to do it before the deadline.
What Do You Get in a Meal Kit?
Meal kits come with most of the ingredients you need to make the meal you select in the precise amounts called for by the recipe. For example, the HelloFresh meal kit for Sweet ‘N’ Smoky Pork Chops with Apple Carrot Slaw, Mashed Potatoes, and Cherry Sauce came with a sealed package with 2 boneless pork chops, 2 scallions, a handful of small gold potatoes, an apple, little jars with jam and mayo, a little bottle with vinegar, a small plastic packet with a spice mix, a tiny sachet with sour cream and a sealed plastic bag with shredded carrots.
Some meal kits offer fewer ingredients – for example Dinnerly says they keep their meals cheap by only having 5 ingredients in them.
The meals usually call for but do not include staples such as salt/Kosher salt, pepper, butter and oil/olive oil.
The meal kits and recipes I’ve tried so far include a main dish and one or two side dishes – usually a starch and a vegetable.
How Much Do Meal Kits Cost?
Meal kits costs vary by company. At the bottom of the barrel, you have Dinnerly and Every Plate, which offer 3 weekly meals for 2 for $39 ($6.50 per person, per meal) includding shipping costs. Both companies get very iffy reviews, but I will assess them myself later in this project.
Some companies have premiums on special meals (e.g. HelloFresh will charge $12 more for “gourmet” meals) and most of the larger companies have special deals heavily discounting your first week of meals. I will be taking advantage of these discounts in doing my reviews of meal kits.
In addition, companies that offer the two meal kits a week option usually charge more for these, and companies that offer meal kits for more than 2 people have a lower per-person cost in these.
Are Meal Kits A Good Value?
This is one of the questions that I will be exploring in this project. In addition to buying and making meal kits, I’ll be “hacking” meal kit recipes by making them with my own ingredients and comparing how much money I’ve spent on them. Of course, you can’t buy a single celery rib or a tablespoon of sour cream, so in evaluating my cost I will consider the total cost of whatever I had to buy to make the meal – and exclude the cost of any item I already had at home.
So far, I’ve made five meals from meal kit recipes at an out of pocket cost of $2.75 to $7.50 per person/per meal, and total cost of $5.50 to $18.50 per meal (I increased some of these recipes to feed 3 or 4 people).
My costs, however, reflect the actual ingredients I bought. Some may be of lower quality than the ones sent by the meal kit companies. Some of these companies specialize in sending organic produce and free range meats that I may not be able to find at my local discount or regular grocery stores. Moreover, some of these companies send gourmet items such as demi-glace which I’d have to special order (and will in this particular case for future meals).
And the total cost of the meal does not account for the time shopping for the ingredients or correctly portioning them for each meal. Time is money, after all, and most people do not enjoy spending it grocery shopping. Do bear in mind how much you like or dislike to shop and what else you could be doing with your time while evaluating the actual costs of these meal kits.
How Long Does It Take To Prepare a Meal from a Kit?
Meal Kit companies usually give you an estimate of how long it’ll take you to make a meal from their kits, usually ranging from 15 minutes to an hour. While I haven’t done this yet, for future meals I will measure how long it actually takes me. This is more complicated than it sounds, because I seldom *just* make a meal – rather I alternate the steps of making meals with other tasks around the house. But I’ll try.
What Are the Instructions Like?
All kits come with instructions. Cheaper kits require you to download them and either print them or follow them from your internet device. More expensive kits come with printed cards or a magazine with all the recipes for that week’s kits. Most have step by step instructions, some of which are illustrated. I’ve found the illustrations helpful specially when trying to determine how to cut vegetables.
The instructions for these meal kits help you maximize your time by intercepting the steps you need to follow to make the main dish and any accompanying side dishes or sauces. I’ve found this particularly valuable.
What Equipment Do You Need?
The meal kits I’ve used assume that you have a fully stocked kitchen as far a cookware goes, though some provide alternatives in case you don’t (e.g. use a spoon to mash potatoes if you don’t have a masher). Though some of these recipes try to minimize the number of dishes you use, they are not always successful. I’ve found myself having to wash as many pots and implements following these kits as I’d normally have to wash, if not more.
How do Meals Taste?
This is another question that I’ll aim to answer in this project. So far, I’ve cooked eight meals from meal kits and five more from meal kit recipes using my own ingredients. All the meat-based meals have been good to great. The vegan meals I’ve cooked have been merely OK. But it’s early in the project.
What is Good About Meal Kits?
For me, it’s the fact that many of the meal kits I’ve tried include not only a main dish (which is often rather simple), but also one or two side dishes and that the chef behind them has done the required planning so that all you have to do is follow the steps in the recipe.
Moreover, the kits include all the ingredients you need for the meal so you don’t have to worry, when you menu plan, that your local grocery store may be out of one.
Finally, there is no food waste.
What is Bad About Meal Kits?
They generate a lot of garbage. While some of it is recyclable (e.g. the boxes and some of the little bottles and jars), the frozen gel packs are not and they are just being accumulated in landfills. Moreover, many of the veggies come in plastic bags which are not really recyclable either – of course, this is also true of the packaged produce you buy at the supermarket. While the meal kits bought at the supermarket also have a lot of plastic packaging, at least they don’t require these non-recyclable gel packs, so they may be a better option environmentally.
The meal kits are also pretty expensive, specially if you have to feed a whole family. And there are no leftovers – which means that the effort you put into preparing a meal feeds you just once.
Do you have any questions? Leave them below.