What You Need to Know About Meal Kit Delivery Services

Meal Kit Delivery Meals

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!

img_5255Why 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.

 

kitchen dishesWhy 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

taste rankingsNow, 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.


HelloFresh

Fresh, pre-measured ingredients to make your meal

 Box  Ingredients  Packaging Cost/Options
HelloFresh box HelloFresh ingredients
  • Meat between ice sheets
  • Rest grouped by meal in boxes
  • Boxes recyclable
  • Reusable ice sheets
  • Classic (2 or 4, $9.90/meal)
  • Veggie (2 or 4, $9.08/meal)
  • Family Plan (For 4, $8.75/meal)
  • Delivery: Any consistent day of the week.

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. 

 One Serving  Meal Cooking
(1-3)
 Taste  Nutrition  Leftovers
Thai Pork Thai Pork Stir-Fry
Nut, Gluten & Dairy Free

  • Eek, meat was leaking! But didn’t get sick.
  • Mint & ginger? Yessss. Delicious combo.
  • Learned to really focus on prep steps.
  • Tiny packets nicely limit soy sauce intake.
Their Level: 2
My Level: 2
 Good face  582 calories

22g Fat
38g Protein
63g Carbs
13g Sugar

 3 stars
 Risotto Oven-Baked Corn and Tomato Risotto
Nut & Gluten Free

  • Faster baked risotto, but not fast enough!
  • Upside: you can clean while baking.
  • Quite a nice meal for kids!
  • Very rich, very good; I want sides & heat though.
Their Level: 1
My Level: 2
 Great face  689 calories

25g Fat
22g Protein
102g Carbs
12g Sugar

4.5 stars
 Parm Chicken Crispy Chicken Parmesan Salad
Nut Free

  • Missed provided garlic powder, used own.
  • Didn’t look ahead; double oven needed.
  • Easiest yet; definitely repeatable on own.
Their Level: 1
My Level: 1
 Good face  537 calories

19g Fat
53g Protein
42g Carbs
5g Sugar

4 stars

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. 


Blue Apron

Fresh, seasonal ingredients from trusted farmers and artisans

 Box  Ingredients  Packaging Cost/Options
Blue Apron box Blue Apron ingredients
  • Meat between ice sheets
  • Rest dropped on top free-style
  • Recycle or return packaging
  • 2-Person Plan ($9.99/meal)
  • 4 Family Plan ($8.74/meal)
  • Could add wine pairings!
  • Delivery: Only Thurs., Fri. or Sat.

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
(1-3)
 Taste  Nutrition  Leftovers
 Shakshuka  Summer Pepper & Potato Shakshuka

  • Many steps; not best for late dinner.
  • Lots and lots of chopping…
  • Great opportunity to try new flavors.
  • Major mess to clean when done.

 

My Level: 2 Great face 720 calories  4 stars
 Pork Chops  Pork Chops & Spicy Chow Chow

  • Can’t tell if tomatillo ripe. Or how to cut?
  • Corn not fresh; skipped some.
  • Once again, chop, chop, chop.
  • Meat needed more cooking, for sure.
  • Amazed pork doesn’t need dipping sauce.
My Level: 2 Good face 740 calories 4 stars
 Chicken  Seared Chicken & Caramelized Vegetables

  • Had to look up cutting fennel.
  • Higher rating due to many overlapping pans.
  • Thyme tricky to break apart; needed help.
  • Bulleted To Do would be easier than big paragraph.
My Level: 2 Great face 760 calories  4 stars

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. 


Plated

Cook more. Live better. Chef-designed recipes, pre-portioned ingredients

 Box  Ingredients  Packaging Cost/Options
Blue Apron Box Plated ingredients
  • Mailman confused “Up”
  • Meat between ice sheets
  • Rest dropped in bags
  • Leaky liquid in all 3 bags
  • Recyclable materials
  • 2 or 3 dinner servings ($12/meal)
  • Can upgrade to chef meals
  • Can add dessert
  • Delivery: Wed. or Sat.

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
(1-3)
 Taste  Nutrition  Leftovers
empanadas  Cuban Chicken Empanadas

  • Thought they might come filled; nope!
  • Avocado on last leg.
  • Easiest so far, but still many steps.
  • Thick dough reduced filling flavor.
My Level: 1  Good face 800 calories 3.5 stars
Squash taquitos  Cheesy Butternut Squash Taquitos

  • Even easier recipe!
  • Least rushed, with fewest dirty dishes.
  • Bright slaw flavor great taquito compliment
My Level: 1  Good face 660 calories  4 stars
Meatball Sliders  Saucy Meatball Sliders

  • Again, fewer cooking steps.
  • Mixed up making garlic paste.
  • Would typically skip anchovy paste.
  • Bread slightly stale next day.
My Level: 1  Great face 760 calories  4.5 stars

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!

SCORECARD

  • 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.

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Kelly Fitzgerald has a BA in Journalism and MA in Creative Writing, and is the Managing Editor of the Anytime Fitness blog. She’s an avid reader, writer, and life-long learner who describes herself as a curious, sporty Twin Citian who is always observing, perpetually tired, and plagued by common sense.