After a couple of months of not doing almost any cooking, I’ve decided to transition into cooking by going back to meal kits. I started with Home Chef, not only because I had a good “come back” promo, but because they now offer a wider variety of meals, including some that require very little work. None are particular good deals – you can definitely save a lot by buying your own ingredients – and none are particular exciting. But if you want something tasty, familiar and easy to make, they work quite well.
These are the meals I got:
Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli Bolognese with Parmesan
As far as value goes, this may be one of the most overpriced mealkits out there. it included a package of fresh (they say par-cooked) spinach and cheese ravioli (I think the brand was Rana), sauce, cream and Parmesan cheeses, fresh spinach and the tray. You mix them together and put them in a 375F oven for 15 minutes. BUT the great revelation for me here is that you can cook fresh ravioli in the oven in the sauce. I imagine the same would be true of frozen ravioli, albeit for some time longer. I am definitely going to try this some winter night.
BBQ Cheddar Meatballs with Bacon Potatoes
These meatballs were very easy to make and should be easily replicated at home – when I get the craving for something with BBQ sauce. Basically, they involved mixing the raw ground beef with shredded cheddar, seasoned salt and BBQ sauce (the one provided was Sweet Baby Rays, which I like well enough, but I used Everett and Jones’ BBQ sauce instead, as I had some open already that I wanted to use up. Then, I put the meatballs in one side of the prepared tray, and the potatoes and bacon bits on the other. Easy peachy and a tasty enough meal. Then again, this should be super easy and cheap to make with your own ingredients.
Note, Home Chef allows you to substitute impossible meat or ground pork for the ground beef in this meal.
Chicken Thigh Shawarma Wild Rice Bowl with Tzatziki Sauce
This recipe was easy and quick to make, and combined both pre-cooked, pre-made and fresh ingredients:
All I had to do was combine the raw, cubed chicken with the pre-sliced onions and the seasoning and bake – and later add the pre-cooked rice and fresh spinach leaves and bake some more. It came with tzlaki sauce to pour over. I made this for my husband and non-vegan daughter and they both liked it.
Creamy Truffle Steak Penne with Cheese and Garlic Croutons
This was another quick and easy meal that combined fresh and cooked ingredients. It involved sauteing the raw steak, adding peas and seasoning, then adding cream, Parmesan and pre-cooked pasta, and finishing it with truffle butter and crushed croutons. It wasn’t my favorite meal – the flavors sort of melded together – but it was tasty enough and very quick and easy to make.
Steak and Goat Cheese-Pecan Sweet Potatoes with roasted asparagus
While Home Chef seems to be concentrating on very quick meals right now, they do have some more traditional meal kits. For this one, I had to actually peel and cut the sweet potatoes, trim the asparagus and slice the shallot. Then I seared the steak on the stove and finished them, with the asparagus, in the oven. I boiled the sweet potatoes, mashed them and mixed them with the goat cheese and pecans, and made a sauce for the steak by mixing the pan drippings with demi-glace and shallot.
It was a pretty good meal, though I’m not a fan of sweet potatoes. The goat cheese certainly helped them. Note that at $26 per kit, this was a more expensive meal than the other ones (usually $20). This is usually the case for meals that include steak.
Steak Frites and Marsala Sauce with smoked almond and Parmesan salad
I got this meal but didn’t make it, as I ran out of time before the meat had to be used or frozen.
Note, you can use my referral link to save $35 off your first box. If I happen to be subscribed at the time (unlikely), I’ll also get a $35 credit for my next box.
Home Chef sent me a “come back” offer of $25 off per week for four weeks, so I’ve been back using it. The service has grown up a bit since the last time I used it. For one, meals have different prices now. While before they all used to be $10 per serving, they now have a weekly “slow cooker” meal for $7.50, and their more upscale meals (including the one that has steak) are $12/13 per portion). You can now further customize these with more expensive proteins – a meal kit that includes choice boneless ribeye steak will cost you $24 per portion, or the same you can expect to pay at a restaurant. Of course, the choices of these more expensive proteins, including antibiotic-free chicken, does send the message that their regular proteins are pretty crappy.
Home Chef seems to have a greater variety of dishes now, including some with an international flare, but most everything they offer is directed to very standard American tastes. And it’s sending more prepared ingredients, which means that it’s far quicker to put these meals together. They also have almost oven-ready meals, which require very little preparation.
This was a pretty straightforward dish and quick to prepare. The chicken was pre-cubed and the orange sauce pre-made, so there wasn’t too much to do: make the race, roast the broccoli, mix the coating, coat the chicken, fry it and then mix it with the orange sauce. I like that they included the oil, as it took quite a bit to fry it.
It was a fairly tasty dish, not quite restaurant quality but good enough. Still, I wouldn’t eagerly order it again.
This was another fairly easy dish to put together and tasty enough. It did not, however, taste at all like Thai pad thai. That’s because it used oyster sauce, rather than the sauce used for pad thai. I appreciated that the carrots came pre-shredded, that saved me a lot of time. The steak also came pre-cut in paper thin slices, which I couldn’t have done myself manually and made cooking it very fast. While I liked the dish well enough, I wouldn’t order it again if I had better options.
This was one of those almost oven ready meals. It still required washing and seasoning the green beans, cooking them and then adding the chicken, spreading it with tomato pesto and covering with cheese before baking, but it was all rather quick to put together. The pesto came already made. I didn’t actually taste this dish, but my daughter was pleased enough with it.
In all, these meals were fine – not as tasty as the ones I got from Hello Fresh the week before, but far quicker to put together. Though at the end, it seemed like I could do so just as easily with stuff I bought at the supermarket and, was I paying full price, probably for less.
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).
Update 2021: Since my original review, Home Chef has expanded their offerings. They now allow you to choose your protein in many kits, usually at an additional cost, and they offer impossible burger for ground beef dishes. They also now offer a variety of oven dishes that include a tray and call for minimal preparation – these often combine raw and pre-cooked ingredients. Basically, they’ve become a cheaper, less exciting, version of Gobble (see below under super-premium kits).
Starts at $60 for 3 kits with 2 servings each. Use this referral link for $35 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.
Note: Plated has ceased operations since my reviews. I miss it, as it was one my favorite meal kits.
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).
Home Chef is a middle priced meal kit service furnishing easy-to-cook meals catering to all-American tastes. It’s a solid choice for people who want to get something tasty and not overly complicated on the table. It’s reasonably priced and some of the dishes are very good.
I have now tried Home Chef at least three times, and I’ve enjoyed it while I’ve had it. However, the meals are pretty boring all in all. It’s best for easy-to-make meals at a reasonable price. The Plans
Home Chef offers quite a lot of flexibility with their plans. They have kits for 2, 4, 6 or 8 people and you can get from 2 to 6 meals a week. Most meals cost $10 per serving (or $20 per kit), with more premium offerings from $12-16 a serving (and occasionally more). In most cases you can substitute the protein in your kits for an additional cost – needless to say, the default proteins are usually the cheapest.
Meals costs around $10-$13 per person per meal (so 3 meal kits for 2 a week will cost you $60-78), with some more expensive premium offerings. Shipping is now free, but there is a minimum order of $49.95. Home Chef also offers entree salads for around $7, as well as extra proteins for a price.
Home Chef is now selling their kits at some Kroeger supermarkets.
Like other services, Home Chef provides incentives for signing up. Use this link to save $35 off your first box – if I’m subscribed when you order, I might get a credit towards an order. Note that there may be better offers out there.
Home Chef offers up to 15 meal kit choices weekly, including at least 3 vegetarian options. They don’t offer vegan options – unless the vegetarian kits just happen to be vegan. They don’t cater to any specific diet either.
The meals tend to be slightly upscale versions of basic modern American food. They include burgers, pastas, rice bowls, tostadas, flatbreads and baked chicken/salmon/pork chops with vegetable & starchy sides. Few of their recipes have exotic ingredients.
Home Chef is now offering the ability of slightly customizing some recipes by substituting the protein with another choice (for example, getting ground pork instead of beef strips or ground turkey, or getting a smaller amount of antibiotic-free chicken instead of regular chicken). This should give some flexibility to people who simply don’t like some proteins. Note that protein change often incurs an additional charge.
Premium meals, which might include steak, shrimp or other more expensive ingredients, are offered at a higher price.
In addition to traditional meal kits, which include raw ingredients that you cook and combine – Home Chef is now offering kits that include a mixture of raw and prepared ingredients and are easy to put together, many of these are just items you put into an included baking tray and then put in the oven.
The quality of the ingredients I got was pretty good, but Home Chef does not specialize in sending organic ingredients.
While I enjoyed the meals I got from Home Chef, it’s not my choice for a long term service because the choices just don’t seem very exciting to me. Plus as most of their meals don’t usually require exotic ingredients, I can make them at home using my ingredients for less.
The Shipping & Delivery
Home Chef scheduled meals to be delivered at my house on Tuesdays. They can arrive between 8 AM and 9 PM, so you are better off not planning to cook them that night. Personally, I prefer kits that arrive on Monday to give me more flexibility as when I cook them during the week – I don’t like to get to the weekend and feel rushed to cook a meal kit before it goes bad.
Home Chef sends its kits in a standard cardboard box. They have two varieties of liner, one made from PET foam that apparently can be put in the recyclables bin, and the other made of recycled cotton which has to be thrown in the garbage. The ice packs are made from water and salt, and you can throw them in the garbage or open them, put them in some container to evaporate, and then throw the waste in the garbage.
Most of the ingredients for the meals come in zippered plastic bags (though beware that the zippers break easily). The meats, however, are between freezer packs. This is a handy way of keeping all ingredients together – though it does mean either refrigerating them all, or taking the ones that don’t need refrigerator out of the bags.
The oven trays Home Chef uses are recyclable
With your first order, Home Chef sends you a folder and recipe cards come pre-perforated so that you can keep them in it.
This was more like baked chicken with mashed potatoes, mushrooms and wine sauce, but tasty enough
All in all, I’ve been with the service. Cancelling was very easy and quick, it’s done online. Home Chef preserves your account, so that it’s easy to resubscribe again. Home Chef’s offers some incentives to resubscribe. Twice they e-mailed me giving me a $10 credit – which they seem to be adding to the $10 credit I already had (which has not gone away!). More recently, they offered me the same deal they are offering new subscribers: $20 off per week for four weeks. Alas, when I looked at their menu I didn’t find much that excited me, so I decided to re-subscribe to HelloFresh and alternating it with Blue Apron for a month or so. I will make more Home Chef recipes to get a better feel for the service, however.
I didn’t get any meal kits this week, so I decided to hack a Home Chef recipe for dinner. I wanted something with chicken, as I’m trying to eat less beef, and this one seemed simple enough. I love coq au vin (which I haven’t made in a while). and while, obviously, you can’t make coq au vin in an hour, I was willing to give this recipe for Coq au Vin with Bone-In Chicken & Mashed Potatoes a try.
Alas, once I started making it, I realized there wasn’t much to it: you make mashed potatoes, you sear and then bake the chicken, you sautee the mushrooms and pearl onions, you make the 2-two ingredient sauce and voila!
The results were good, but not great – though that may be because I actually used chicken breasts instead of the thighs I prefer and because I didn’t make enough sauce for the massive breasts I got (lord, that sounds dirty!).
The sauce, which was tasty enough, consisted of 2 tsp of chicken demi-glace dissolved in 5 oz of red wine. I used beef demi-glace, as I didn’t have the regular kind.
I also didn’t use pearl onions because Safeway failed to deliver them to me.
In all, I spent $20 to make this meal, which actually fed 3 of us with leftovers (those were really big chicken breasts) – so about 1/3 less of what the meal kit would have cost.
I also went out of my way to look for “antibiotic-free” chicken, only to find out that California passed a law to ban the use of growth-promotion antibiotics in chickens. Antibiotics can only be used if a veterinarian prescribes them to cure a specific ailment. So it would seem that any “antibotic-free” designation on chicken raised in CA is just for advertising purposes. I had wanted to see if antibiotic-free chicken tasted better than regular chicken, and obviously I found out it didn’t.
I did find out, though, that searing the chicken skin-side-down for a couple of minutes and then baking it at 400F, leaves you with a very nice crispy chicken skin.
The key to making this dish of chicken with dauphinoise potatoes and Vichy carrots is to not overcook the chicken. Seriously. The plate I served first was great. The chicken skin was incredibly crispy (it’s nice to finally learn the secret of making crispy chicken!), the chicken itself was moist (I tend to prefer dark meat exactly because breasts are often too dry) and the sauce was just delicious. I only really got to eat my daughter’s leftovers, but I couldn’t help moaning while eating them.
I reserved the second serving for my husband, who was walking the dog while my very hungry daughter ate. I left the chicken breast in the oven (turned off and with the door open), where it dried up and I was reminded of why I hate white meat. My husband, who likes chicken breast, wasn’t impressed either. Once I ate his leftovers, I understood why. So, if you make this kit, make sure to not overcook the chicken and not leave it in the oven to remain warm.
I also really enjoyed the dauphinoise potatoes – and there were enough for the three of us plus leftovers -, but they didn’t keep well. The next day they lacked in flavor. But hey, you are not going to eat them the next day.
Finally, everyone enjoyed the carrots (I didn’t try them as I don’t like carrots).
All in all, this was a much better meal than you would expect. However, it was also more laborious than the other two I got that week, and it took far longer to prepare.
Now, for the secret of having super-crispy oven-baked chicken: first preheat oven to 400F. Then saute the chicken breasts on olive oil over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes per side. Then place on a baking sheet and put in an oven for 24-28 minutes.
I got my first week of Home Chef at a discount, so I paid only about $8 for this meal. Regular price would be $20 – which is a better deal than other home meal kits.
Chicken Demi-Glace Sauce
2 tsp chicken-demi glace
1/3 cup water
1/2 large shallot, minced
On a saute pan, simmer ingredients together until the sauce thickens, 2-3 minutes. Serve.
Of all the Home Chef’s meals I got on my first week, this kit for jerk steak tacos with caramelized pineapple slaw was my least favorite. The biggest issue was that it wasn’t very filling. With no starches to speak of (3 small flour tortillas don’t count for much), 5 ounces of beef won’t take you very far.
I also wasn’t thrilled with the flavor of the jerk sauce. Don’t get wrong, it wasn’t bad – but it wasn’t anything spectacular either.
On the plus side, I did enjoy the pineapple slaw as part of the tacos. By itself, it wasn’t very good, but in the tacos it added crunch and sweetness to the meat and worked very well. The quality of the meat was good and the meal was very quickly put together. It just needed something more.
I paid $8 for this meal as part of a first week deal. Regular price is $20.
First of all, who would have guessed that white bread brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with a tiny bit of salt before baking in the oven would be so tasty? Of course, I’ve made crostini plenty of times, but the white bread seems to incorporate the flavor of the oil and remain soft inside in a way that crostini doesn’t.
The steak itself was better than I would have thought, and I enjoyed the onion sauce very much. Once again, demi-glace showed its power.
I usually make mashed potatoes with large russet potatoes that I peel before boiling. I really enjoyed the convenience of making it out of small red potatoes that I only needed to half before cooking. It was a much faster approach (plus I hate peeling!) and the resulting mashed potatoes were very good. The peel actually included some festive color to them. I’m considering using this recipe to make mashed potatoes for my Christmas Eve dinner, but I’m not sure they’ll keep as well as my regular mashed potatoes.
The meal was simple to cook and the portion was adequate – in particular because mashed potatoes are filling.
I got my first week of Home Chef at a discount, so I paid only about $10 for this meal. Regular price would be $20 – which is a better deal than other home meal kits.
Smashed Red Potatoes
12 oz small red potatoes
2 oz sour cream
1 oz butter
salt & pepper to taste
2 green onions, sliced
Wash potatoes and then cut in half. Place potatoes in a cooking pot and cover with about 1″ of water. Add salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. Mashed them with a potato masher, then add sour cream, butter and salt to taste and mix well. Serve, garnished with the sliced green onions.
I got my first week of Home Chef at a discount, so I paid only about $8 for this meal. Regular price would be $20 – which is a better deal than other home meal kits.
Red Onion Sauce
2 tsp olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp smoked paprila
2 oz red wine
2 tsp beef demi-glace
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until it starts to caramelize, 6-8 minutes. Add paprika and red wine and continue cooking until the red wine has almost evaporated, 2-3 minutes. Mix together the demi-glace and 1/4 cup of water and add to the pan. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it thickens, 2-3 minute. Serve over steak.