As I stood in the middle of my galley kitchen applying a second Band-Aid on my hand and surveying every cutting board (3) I own along with knives (2), bowls (5), and cooking sheets (2) left to clean, I realized I don’t like cooking as much as I thought—at least on weeknights. Then at exactly 9:26 p.m. (after attending a lengthy “happy hour” and then getting home to cook dinner about 8), I sat down to my Summer Pepper & Shakshuka and took my first bite: WOW.
See, that perfectly sums up my personal conundrum after testing three of the most well known (based on a cursory check of family and friends) meal kit delivery services. I haven’t eaten this well and varied in ages. But the recipes take time—and far more ingredients, steps, and resulting clean-up than I would normally tackle on an average weeknight. I don’t blame the physical wounds on the food, but they are a result of the process. When you’re hangry, it’s hard not to rush and lose slight control of sharp kitchen knives.
But ultimately, no meal was even close to a dud. Portions were big enough, and the value was definitely there. All three companies provide ingredients and directions for surprising, delicious meals that made me (in a good way) try new flavors like Za’atan. So what’s a girl to do? Thankfully, I don’t need to decide immediately—though I did pick my winner. Take in this information and decide what’s right for you!
Why You Should Invest in Meal Kits
- You hate meal planning and want someone to do the recipe curating for you.
- You want to learn how to cook better, and try more complex recipes.
- You already love to cook, and try every gadget kitchen stores have to offer.
- You’re looking for a regular activity to accomplish with someone you love.
- You’d love to skip some trips to the grocery store and let someone else shop.
- You want to test new, interesting recipes to impress future guests.
- You want to have insight into what food & seasoning goes into your meals.
Why You Should Skip Meal Kits
- You’re on a diet that prohibits certain foods or limits calories.
- You want to get home from work, school or activities and eat fast!
- You have an unpredictable evening schedule, or often get home late.
- You love good food, but don’t want to prepare it yourself.
- You are serving picky eaters who don’t like trying unfamiliar things.
- You love surfing cookbooks and the grocery store to discover new foods.
- You have a bad habit of leaving dirty dishes in the sink.
The Meal Kit Rankings
Now, on to the test! FYI: Each company offers a great discount for the first box you order, so it’s a great way to try any of these. And none knew they were being reviewed. The meals were eaten for dinner (ranked by taste and cooking complexity), and then the next day for lunch (rated as a leftover). One vegetarian and two meat meals were selected per company.
TASTE KEY: Purple smile = Great! I would make this again. Orange = Good! I would make this again. No “OK” or “bad” taste ratings were awarded.
COOKING KEY: Meals are ranked 1-3, with 1 being the easiest recipe and 3 being the hardest and most time-consuming recipe. Nothing received a 3 simply because there are definitely even more complex recipes out in the world. Non-recipe cooking (which I do on a regular basis) would be a 0 on this scale.
LEFTOVER KEY: Meals are ranked from 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the highest, depending on how well they maintained their original taste ranking (and freshness level) when reheated the next day.
Fresh, pre-measured ingredients to make your meal
Feedback: Easy to set up and adjust your account online. Able to choose exact recipes you want from 6 options a week. Definitely keep an eye on that 24-hour pick-up box rule; I arrived home later than expected and the melting ice got the box partly wet. Includes additional nutritional information per meal, which is nice. Ultimately, canceling also was easy. With a quick click within your profile, it does offer new delivery options to keep you (switch to monthly, bi-weekly or pause delivery) or you can select why you’re leaving and fully deactivate.
|Thai Pork Stir-Fry
Nut, Gluten & Dairy Free
|Their Level: 2
My Level: 2
| 582 calories
|Oven-Baked Corn and Tomato Risotto
Nut & Gluten Free
|Their Level: 1
My Level: 2
| 689 calories
|Crispy Chicken Parmesan Salad
|Their Level: 1
My Level: 1
| 537 calories
Feedback: Holy steps. Really wish I had another set of hands to help with this. I’m more anxious than usual following new directions, even though there are no dinner guests here! Portions seemed small, but definitely ok and enough food once cooked. Note: I’m sauce and dip-dependent, like a classic American, but these recipes would wean me off. 602 average calories.
Fresh, seasonal ingredients from trusted farmers and artisans
Feedback: Easy to set up and adjust your account online. You can choose protein preferences (meat, vegetarian, fish) and then select from 6 exact recipes each week. Could add wine pairings for additional $10 per bottle. Canceling also was easy: Click cancel through your account profile, select a key reason why (with the ability to leave notes), and you’re done. Re-activating is just as quick.
|One serving||Meal|| Cooking
| Summer Pepper & Potato Shakshuka
|My Level: 2||720 calories|
| Pork Chops & Spicy Chow Chow
||My Level: 2||740 calories|
| Seared Chicken & Caramelized Vegetables
||My Level: 2||760 calories|
Feedback: I have never chopped so much in my life! Must buy a few more kitchen tools to make this easier, and improve my skills. Already noticing a bigger sense of fullness, after adding more protein and starches to my diet. Cooked the veggie meal first, so they wouldn’t turn. Found some extra veggies in the box. 740 average calories.
Cook more. Live better. Chef-designed recipes, pre-portioned ingredients
Feedback: Easy to set up and adjust online. Able to choose from 7 meals a week (skipped a few based on certain ingredients in my short “do not like” list). Cost is increased $12-28 for higher-quality chef meals, plus another $8 for dessert. Ultimately very simple to cancel too, with just a couple clicks from account page, and a comment about why. Easy to re-start as well.
|One serving||Meal|| Cooking
| Cuban Chicken Empanadas
||My Level: 1||800 calories|
| Cheesy Butternut Squash Taquitos
||My Level: 1||660 calories|
| Saucy Meatball Sliders
||My Level: 1||760 calories|
Feedback: Like the other boxes, I’m learning good cooking tips and recipes I’ll use again. Portions seem larger here, and box for 2 serves 3. Slightly less impactful flavor, but all still really good and worth the small dip due to faster preparing. 740 average calories.
The Winner [For Me]: Plated!
This was a close race, and the “me” distinction is key. Though I really contemplated the higher calorie counts and what tasted the very best, Plated won out because efficiency is really important to me during the work week (and these still weren’t fast meals), and the food rocked as leftovers. As you can see by the scorecard below, HelloFresh won the packaging and calories game, and Blue Apron won the three-meal taste test, along with price. While I certainly made a few minor mistakes in the preparations, no meals were clunkers or too hard to make, so “the winner” ultimately depends on what you value!
- Cost Winner: Blue Apron
- Packaging Winner: HelloFresh
- Cooking Efficiency Winner: Plated
- Taste Winner: Blue Apron
- Leftovers Winner: Tie
- Calories Winner: HelloFresh
Why services should I try next? There’s got to be a faster option, plus some geared toward healthier eating or singles. Stay tuned.