Review: Crispy Pork Milanese with Cheesy Potatoes and Blistered Tomatoes

Rating: 7/10

This meal kit was a mixed bag. The pork milanese was sort of bland and it really needed acidity. The blistered tomatoes just didn’t provide enough of it. It was good with lemon juice, but not extraordinary.

I did like the cheesy mashed potatoes a lot – but what’s not to like about cheesy mashed potatoes?

I think my favorite thing about the kit was getting the eggs in their little container. Plus they were cool eggs. I only had to use one, and it had the darkest yolk I’ve ever seen.




Review: Hello Fresh’ Melty Monterey Jack Burgers with Red Onion Jam, Garlic Mayo, and Crispy Breaded Zucchini

Rating: 9/10

I made this kit for my husband and daughter, and they were both very pleased with it. A burger may seem like a trivial thing to make, but making a new and exciting burger and getting the right amount of fat in the meat – and the right quality meat – is not always easy. Given how expensive burgers have become, even at the regular price of $21 per kit this would have been a good meal, but I got the whole kit for $11 with a promo (make sure to always check on the right hand menu for referral links with promo), which was a super bargain.

BTW, keeping the buns in the oven and then toasting them seems tow ork very well.


Meal Kit Hack: HelloFresh’ Singapore-Style Hakka Noodles with Summer Veggies

Rating 8/10

For the first time, I got to cook a recipe that fit within two of my cooking projects. As a Hakka recipe, this meal of Singapore-Style Hakka Noodles with Summer Veggies fits into my International cuisines project. As a recipe from a meal kit, it fits into my meal kit hacks. Plus, it’s a vegan recipe, which I’m guessing will soon become a project of its own.

What’s even better, is that my daughter liked it! It’s one of the very few vegan meals she’s said she’d like me to make again.

It was, I must admit, more complicated than most of the stir fries that she eats so often now – and it used more pans – but hey, it’s all about the results. I tasted the noodles, and they were delicious – very much like the garlic noodles that you get at a variety of Asian restaurants. I’m definitely going to make them again just for me 🙂

Talking about noodles, I waited to make this dish until I could send my husband to the Asian supermarket to pick up some Hakka noodles. We usually shop at 88 Manor Market, where they have a zillion varieties of noodles, maybe more. But I also wanted him to pick up some pork belly for a different recipe and I wasn’t sure they’d have it there – so I asked him to go to Foodnet instead. I hadn’t been there before, however, and apparently Foodnet is the one noodle-free Chinese supermarket. Go figure. They did have a 4 lb box of Imperial Taste Dried Noodle, which turned out to be vermicelli-like noodles. According to the box, they had a “chewing taste!,” and they did prove to be nicely chewy. They worked great in this recipe even if they weren’t what Hakkas in Singapore would use.

I spent $10 to make this recipe, which resulted in two large bowls. That’s half of what the HelloFresh meal kit would cost (though this kit is from England, so you can’t get it anyway :-). As usual, I count the total cost of the ingredients I had to buy to make this meal, but not of the ones I already had at home.

Plated IngredientsMy IngredientsCost
200 g Hakka Noodles4 lbs Taiwanese dried noodle$5
10 g chives1 pckg fresh chives
(used less)
$2.3
30 g ginger1 lb ginger$2.3
1 Tbsp chili garlic sauce2 garlic cloves + 1/8 tsp chili saucepantry
1 Tbsp soy sauce1 Tbsp soy saucepantry
1 tsp mild curry powder1 tsp mild curry powderpantry
113 g julienned carrots1 carrot$0.2
1 zucchini1/2 zucchinipantry
113 g Green Peas1 cup grozen green peaspantry
200 g extra-firm tofu8 oz extra-firm tofupantry

I will link to my version of the recipe once I post it on my International Cuisines site.


Meal Kit Review: HelloFresh’ Sirloin and Horseradish Cream Sauce with Garlic Bread and Roasted Carrots

Rating 5/10

This meal kit for Sirloin and Horseradish Cream Sauce with Garlic Bread and Roasted Carrots may be the first HelloFresh kit that really failed to impress me. It was acceptable dinner fare, but very pedestrian. There were no new flavors here, no tricks, no recipes I’d care to copy and repeat. It was ultimately what it looks like: meat with carrots and garlic bread, with some onions and sour cream. I’ve had it all before (indeed, I had pretty much the same dish concept from EveryPlate – HelloFresh’ cheaper meal kit brand). Moreover, it seems to me that HelloFresh is trying to cut corners and send out cheaper ingredients and ask cooks to include more and more staples of their own to the meals.

The main ingredient of this meal was the sirloin and I was unimpressed with the quality. The meat was tough and wasn’t particularly flavorful. The two steaks sent had very different shapes from each other and, as you can see above, they were partly discolored, which took from their visual appeal (at least before cooking).

The steak was stopped with sliced onions cooked with beef stock which were fine, but unremarkable. I wondered if HelloFresh was cutting corners by not including demi-glace instead of the stock concentrate.

The accompanying horseradish sauce was also disappointing. It was basically sour cream with a few green onions and horseradish powder. I think it might have been better with some prepared horseradish.

The carrots were just carrots – not my thing but my husband happily ate them just like he has every other time a kit has included carrots.

Finally, the garlic bread included the same “semi-baguette” buns that were included in the EveryPlate meal I referenced above. Once again, I really liked the consistency of the buns. I didn’t like that I had to provide my own butter – I understand that from EveryPlate, but I expect more from HelloFresh -, and I specially didn’t like that the kit included garlic powder instead of fresh garlic.

At the end of the day, however, I am likely to blame for choosing this kit. But I’ve noticed that I’m not particularly excited by many of HelloFresh’ kits – I’ll be suspending for several weeks now as I can’t find much in their upcoming menu I actually want to eat.

Update: I have 3 referrals for 1-week free of HelloFresh. E-mail me if you’d like one.


Meal Kit Review: HelloFresh’ Crispy Parmesan Chicken with Garlic Herb Couscous and Lemony Roasted Carrots + Recipe

Rating: 7/10

Believe it or not, in my half century in this earth, I’d never had Parmessan chicken. Indeed, I’ve never though of cheese and chicken as two ingredients that belonged together. Still, this recipe for Crispy Parmesan Chicken with Garlic Herb Couscous and Lemony Roasted Carrots sounded like something my picky younger daughter would eat – after all, the chicken looks like a chicken milanesa, and she loves milanesas.

Once again, this was a pretty simple recipe to put together and it didn’t really have any exotic ingredients (Israeli couscous was exotic once upon a time, but it’s now easily available). You can make it with ingredients easily found at the supermarket. Still, the chicken was moist and tasty – the smokiness of the paprika really came through. I quite enjoyed it.

The couscous, however, lacked flavor. It would have been better if some of the Parmessan for the chicken (there was more than enough) was used for the couscous.

I don’t like carrots, but my husband – who ate mine – thought the lemony carrots were good. All you do is roast carrot sticks for 20 minutes, with a little olive oil and salt, and then sprinkle grated lemon zest and lemon juice on them. My daughter, who also tried them, wasn’t fond of them, however.

For some reason, the recipe for the chicken called to only bread it on one side. It didn’t say why, so I breaded it on both. It was a good call.

I cooked this kit the day after I got it, and all the ingredients were fresh and I felt of good quality.

I paid $14 for this meal after a discount or $7 per serving. I think that was an appropriate price for a home cooked meal, though obviously I could put it together for less than that if I bought the ingredients myself.

The recipe for the chicken is below. While it calls for 2 chicken breasts, there was enough breading for a third one. It serves two.

Crispy Parmesan Chicken

  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup fresh shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (~6 oz each)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp sour cream

Preheat oven to 425F Line a baking sheet.

In a medium to large bowl mix together the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and paprika.

Dry chicken breasts with a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brush sour cream over both sides of the breasts. Transfer them one by one to the breadcrumbs bowl and press breading onto the chicken surface. Transfer them to the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.


Meal Kit Review: Breaded Pork Cutlets with Garlic Bread and an Apple and Sunflower Seed Salad + Recipes

Rating: 8/10

Some times the best meals are the simplest. There is nothing complicated about this HelloFresh meal of Breaded Pork Cutlets with Garlic Bread and an Apple and Sunflower Seed Salad. Nothing exotic. It can be simply put together with supermarket staples that won’t have you searching around up and down the aisles and things you already have in your pantry. And it’s very tasty and very satisfying.

All the ingredients came fresh and stayed that way, even though I cooked the meal four days after it arrived. The pork wasn’t dry and the seasoning was spot on. However, they listed the amount of kosher salt to add, but they neither included it in the kit or listed kosher salt as a needed ingredient. I didn’t have kosher salt around, so I used a smaller amount of table salt. The original recipe called for breading the pork in a plastic bag, but I used a bowl as I didn’t have a gallon ziplock bag around and I’m already using too much plastic by getting these meal kits. A bowl worked just as well.

I very much enjoyed the salad. Mine came with mixed greens – though I see HelloFresh also offers it with just arugula – and a yellow apple (golden delicious?). The dressing was olive oil and lemon juice – I’ve not been fond of this combination in other salads, but it worked here. The star of the show were the sunflower seeds, however, which added crunch and a faint sweetness to the whole thing.

I’m not giving this kit a perfect 10, however, because Hello Fresh did not include the butter needed to make the garlic bread and I didn’t have any at home. I suppose I could have looked at the list of ingredients that I needed to have at hand for this recipe before I chose it, but the whole point of meal kits is to not have to go shopping for the ingredients. Particularly in the case of this meal, where all the ingredients are so easily available, if I’m going shopping for butter, I might as well pick up the rest and cook the meal for a fraction of the cost. I understand that Hello Fresh is trying to save money by not providing the butter, but it’s still not cool.

In any case, I think oven-baked garlic bread is not a good choice for this meal. Both the pork and the salad can be put together rather quickly, but making the garlic bread requires preheating the oven, which is both a waste of energy for such a small meal, and a waste of time. Instead, they could have suggested toasting the bread in the same pan where the pork was cooked.

I’m also dinging the recipe because I was still hungry when I finished – even though I ate a lot of salad (there was plenty of it). Perhaps that’s due to not being able to make & eat the garlic bread.

After the discount, I paid $14 for this kit or $7 per serving (regular price would have been $20/kit or $10/serving).

BREADED PORK CUTLETS

  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 4 pork cutlets
  • 2 Tbsp sour cream
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 1/2 lemon, cut into 2 wedges

In a medium bowl, combine breadcrumbs, salt and spices. In a different bowl or plate, coat pork cutlets with sour cream (you may need to use your fingers to spread it). Transfer the cutlets to the bowl with the breadcrumbs and coat well.

Heat a 1/4″ layer of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, transfer cutlets into the skillet and fry on each side, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels to absorb extra oil. Serve with lemon wedges on the side to squeeze on the cutlets.

APPLE AND SUNFLOWER SEED SALAD

  • 1 apple
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 2 oz spring mix
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 oz sunflower seeds

Core the apple and slice into thin slices. Thinly slice the celery.

Put apple, celery and spring mix into a medium bowl. Dress with olive oil. Squeeze the lemon half on it and mix. Add the sunflower seeds and mix again.


Meal Kit Review: Hello Fresh’ Creamy Dill Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Green Beans + Recipe

Rating: 7/10

This week I went back to Hello Fresh, as I didn’t like the offerings of any of the services I hadn’t yet tried – and I was given a good deal ($20 off each of 4 boxes) for re-activating my account. I got just two meals (which frankly, works better for us, as I’m always rushing to cook all kits before they go bad) and tonight I made the first one for my daughter and I. It was pretty good.

This meal of Creamy Dill Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Green Beans was extremely simple: you cut and bake some potatoes, baked some green beans, sauteed some chicken and then made a quick sour cream-mustard-dill sauce. Still, it was a tasty and satisfying meal and I very much enjoyed the sauce (recipe below). My daughter didn’t have any sauce, but she liked the other elements.

There were some problems, however. The main one is that there wasn’t enough sauce. What they sent was barely enough for one serving (so it was fortunate my daughter didn’t want to try it). They need to double the ingredients for it. Secondly, the chicken breasts were too thin and they cooked in less than the 4-6 minutes per side that they recommended. Also, the portion size was a bit on the small size (or I was particularly hungry).

This is a very easy meal to put together on your own, however. I think I will add dill to the herbs I grow on my window to be able to easily make it again.

After the discount, I paid $14 for this kit or $7 per serving (regular price would have been $20/kit or $10/serving).

Update: it’s spring and this kit now comes with asparagus instead of green beans. I ordered it again – forgetting I’d already had it – and served it to my husband this time. He loved the dill sauce. Once again, there wasn’t enough of it.

Creamy Dill Chicken

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (12 oz)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp sour cream
  • 2 tsp chicken stock concentrate
  • 1 tsp fresh chopped dill
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 2 Tbsp water

Pat dry chicken breasts and season with salt & pepper. Heat oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add chicken breaths and cook until cooked through and golden, 3-6 minutes per side. Turn off heat, remove chicken and keep warm.

Add the sour cream, chicken stock concentrate, dill, mustard and water to the saute pan and mix well, scraping up the brown bits on the pan. Serve chicken with sauce.


Review: HelloFresh Is Worth a Try

HelloFresh is one of the largest meal kit delivery companies and one of the most ubiquitous as far as coupons are concerned.  Indeed, it was the first company I subscribed to as I still had one of the coupons I’d gotten with other online deliveries.   The company is based in Germany and it delivers meals to several markets as well as the US.

In all, I tried four different meal kits over two weeks, for which I paid $30 total (using a coupon).

Update:  Since my original review, I’ve subscribed to HelloFresh several more times – taking advantage of different promos I’ve gotten online or in the mail.  While HelloFresh is by no means my favorite subscription box, it’s solid and I can’t resist promos.  

Crispy Pork Milanese with Cheesy Potatoes and Blistered Tomatoes

Loved the potatoes, the pork needed lemon juice.

Melty Monterey Jack Burgers with Red Onion Jam, Garlic Mayo, and Crispy Breaded Zucchini

This was a great burger.

Sirloin and Horseradish Cream Sauce with Garlic Bread and Roasted Carrots

Uneven meat and pedestrian flavors

Crispy Parmesan Chicken with Garlic Herb Couscous and Lemony Roasted Carrots
Sweet ‘N’ Smoky Pork Chops with Apple Carrot Slaw, Mashed Potatoes, and Cherry Sauce ReviewThis dish had no right being this good.
Very tasty and the kiwi salsa is a killer.
My vegan daughter thought it was “just OK”.
Where I discovered just how amazing demi-glace is
Breaded Pork Cutlets with Garlic Bread and an Apple and Sunflower Seed SaladSometimes simple is best.
Creamy Dill Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Green Beans + RecipeLoved the dill sauce, but there wasn’t enough of it.

And I cooked several different HelloFresh meal kit recipes using my own ingredients. This allowed me to get a broader idea of what HelloFresh offers, without having to spend too much money doing so.

Singapore-Style Hakka Noodles with Summer Veggies

Good vegan recipe from HelloFresh UK

 

Very satisfactory family fare.

 

A vegan choice with an awesome peanut sauce and coconut rice.

 

A restaurant-quality dinner at home. Yum!

These are my general observations.

HelloFresh’s kits taste better than I expected

I subscribed to HelloFresh before taking a look at the actual meals they offered – I had a coupon and I figured, for $15 for two kits, I don’t need to be too picky.  However, I was disappointed by the choices once I saw them. All the kits sounded boring and the photos weren’t too enticing.  Moreover, most of the kits included either pork or chicken breasts, not my favorite proteins.

But so far, almost every Hello Fresh recipe I made was very tasty – far more than I thought it would be.  The one exception was the vegan sweet potato & black bean tacos I made.

I will continue using HelloFresh recipes even if I don’t resubscribe.

HelloFresh’s offerings are not very adventurous

HelloFresh mostly offers updated American food. This can be a plus or minus depending on what sort of food you like to eat.  Living in California, we rarely eat American food at home or in restaurants, but exploring it is not necessarily a bad thing.  Still, I recommend looking at the offerings before subscribing.

They are mid-priced for a meal delivery service

HelloFresh prices their meals from $8 to $12 per person/per week, depending on what plan you choose.  Their classic plan of 3 meal kits for 2 per week costs $60 after shipping costs, or $10 per person-per week.  

You have to pay more for fancier meals.

HelloFresh’s basic plan costs $20 per 2-portion kit.  But if you want something fancier, featuring steak rather than pork or chicken or special ingredients such as balsamic vinegar, you need to pay a $12 premium per kit – making each portion cost $16.  That’s pricier than other services.

Portions are just the right size

So far, the portions we tried were the right size for us for dinner.  We weren’t left full or hungry and there weren’t leftovers.

It’s not environmentally friendly

Like other meal kit subscription services, HelloFresh sends their kits in a large box with freezer gel packs to keep the proteins cold.  While the boxes are recyclable, neither the packing material nor the gel packs are (they claim the bag around the gel packs are, but there is no longer any plastic recycling going on).  Similarly, some of the veggies are in plastic bags that are not recyclable.

The meals take about an hour to make

Maybe it’s just me, but whether cooking from a kit or a recipe, I always need about an hour to make a full meal.

While I’ve been lucky with HelloFresh not everyone has been

I got four kits from HelloFresh and they all contained all the ingredients necessary to make the meals and only one item – cilantro – was spoiled.  However, other people report receiving missing and spoiled ingredients.  HelloFresh’s policy seems to be to refund you 50-cents to $5 for missing items rather than refund you the whole cost of the meal, which is pretty ridiculous.  If you can’t make the meal or have to go shopping for missing ingredients, they should refund you the whole price.

Update: Our first three deliveries were great, but our fourth box did not arrive until 10:15 PM on our designated day for delivery. And only after I contacted the Hello Fresh once and the shipping company twice.  All the ingredients were there, however, and properly cool.

HelloFresh is a subscription service

Many of the negative reviews of HelloFresh come because people sign up for free or discounted meal boxes and don’t realize this enrolls them in a subscription service.  So if you subscribe, make sure you cancel at least five days before your next order is due.  Better yet, skip the following weeks of meals so you have time to cancel after you actually try the kits.

Suspending and cancelling is a breeze

I was able to easily suspend shipments and then cancel my account. Update: I got offers to resubscribe at a discount after I cancelled.

If you want to subscribe to HelloFresh

You can use this link and get $40 off your first box plus free shipping.  Or just go to their website and chose their offer to save $20 off your first three boxes.


What Are the Best Meal Kits Out There? Join Me as I Find Out

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.

In the middle, companies like Blue ApronHelloFreshHome Chef and Marley Spoon charge $60-$65 ($10-11 per person/per meal) for the same 3-meals-for-2-people standard subscription.

And at the top, you have companies like Plated, Sun Basket, Gobble and Green Chef offering the standard 3-kits-for-2-people deal for $72 to $84 ($12-14 per person/per meal).

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.

 


Meal Kit Hacks: HelloFresh Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce & Garlic Bok Choy + PB Sauce Recipe

Rating: 7.5/10

HelloFresh does not have many vegan meals, so I was happy to find this recipe for Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce & Garlic Bok Choy that I could hack for my vegan daughter.  While it wasn’t a complete dinner – we have yet to find a way to make tofu taste like anything but tofu, outside of deep frying it -, my daughter loved the peanut sauce and enjoyed the coconut rice, I’ll be making both of those again (see recipes below).   She hadn’t had bok choy before, and she won’t again – she found this vegetable utterly tasteless, even with the peanut sauce.  Fortunately, there was extra broccoli from our meal for her to eat.   Most importantly, she totally appreciated that I made her food.  Given that she’s the only vegan in the family, she often is on her own as far as cooking goes, so any time I cook for her it’s a treat.

Making this meal at home was rather cheap, as most of the ingredients are those you are likely to have in your pantry (peanut butter, rice, soy and hot sauce, sesame seeds), and those you don’t are cheap to buy.  In all, I spent under $6.50 in this meal for two people.  HelloFresh charges $20-$24 for the same food.

 

HelloFresh Ingredients My Ingredients Cost
1 block tofu 1 lb tofu $2
2 baby bok choy 2 baby bok choy $2.60
1 Tbsp sesame seeds 1 Tbsp sesame seeds pantry
2 Tbsp peanut butter 2 Tbsp peanut butter pantry
1 can Lite Coconut Milk 1 can Lite Coconut Milk $1.25
1 cup basmati rice 1 1/2 cups Jasmine rice pantry
2 cloves garlic 2 cloves garlic pantry
1 lime 1 lime $0.50
1 cup Panko Breadcrumbs 1 cup Panko Breadcrumbs $1 (for 8-cup ox)
1 tsp hot sauce 1 dash siracha pantry
2 Tbsp soy sauce 2 Tbsp soy sauce pantry

If you’d like to subscribe to HelloFresh use this link to save $40 off your first box, and I’ll get a $30 credit – which I probably won’t use as I’ll be unsubscribing form HelloFresh shortly to try a different company.

Coconut Jasmine Rice

  • 1 1/2 cups Jasmine rice
  • 1 1/4 cup light coconut milk
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • dash of salt

Rinse rice.  Put coconut milk, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add rice, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.  Fluff with a fork before serving.

Peanut Butter Sauce

  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • squeeze of lime juice
  • a dash of hot sauce

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.