Have you thought about trying one of the many meal kit services? I’ve often wondered if they’re worth the money and what’s the difference between the different dinner prep and delivery services.
I decided to do some research to find out once and for all if the fuss over meal kit services is justified. I frequently see good deals on introductory offers on Groupon, so I bought three Groupons — one for Hello Fresh, one for Home Chef and one for Blue Apron. Each Groupon got me three meals for two people.
I’m going to show you each meal that I made, and tell you my impression of it. Then, I will reveal whether any of these meal kit services is worth your time and money – and whether I chose to subscribe to any of the plans. But first, here is some basic information about the meal prep services (including how they work and how they much they cost) and a look at Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh vs. Home Chef.
Note: I haven’t been compensated by Blue Apron, Home Chef or Hello Fresh. I paid for all the meals. What follows are my experiences and opinions. If you do buy a Groupon here, Living on the Cheap might earn a small commission. If you sign up for one of the meal kit plans through my code, I might earn credits for future meals.
How meal kit services work
Home Chef, Hello Fresh and Blue Apron all work the same way. You sign up for an account and indicate how many people you need to feed (two or four), how many meals you need each week, and how often you want the deliveries.
You can also enter your food preferences and dietary restrictions, to some extent.
Then, about a week before your meal delivery shows up, you can customize the menu. If you’re signed up for three meals, like I was, you are automatically assigned three default meals. Several other meals are available, so you can swap an assigned meal for a more appealing option.
In some cases, you can customize the meal, too. For instance, you might be able to swap out salmon for tilapia, but keep the rest of the ingredients the same.
You can also skip one meal kit delivery or several. You just have to make sure to alert the meal prep service before it’s too late. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with a delivery of three meals that you might not want or be able to use.
There’s no commitment. You can cancel the service at any time. (More on that later.)
Your delivery will arrive in a big box, kept cold with an ice pack. Each of the three meal kit deliveries I got came on time and was still cold. I kept the ice packs, which will come in handy next time I pack a cooler. Although if I keep getting these meals, eventually I’ll have an excess of ice packs.
Inside the box will be all the ingredients you need for each of the three meals, in the exact proportions that you need. They are clearly marked, so you’ll have no trouble figuring out what they are and which meal they’re for. Hello Fresh has the edge on the other two by packing each meal in a separate, labeled bag within the box, but I had no trouble figuring out any of the ingredients for any of the meal prep services.
Also in the box is an easy-to-follow, front-and-back recipe card for each meal. The recipes don’t assume that you have any cooking expertise. The instructions are very clear. A side note: if you want to up your cooking skills, check out these free online cooking classes.
Is a meal kit subscription right for you?
A meal kit subscription is not right for everyone. A meal prep kit might be a good option for you if:
You don’t mind cooking – and cleaning. Some people love to cook, and don’t object to cleaning up after themselves, but don’t enjoy planning meals and grocery shopping for ingredients. Others simply don’t have time to meal plan and prep (though we have great tips on how to get homemade meals on the table every night). If you get overwhelmed looking through recipes, a meal kit subscription makes it simpler.
You love to try new dishes. Meal kits are also great if you like to try new recipes and experience new tastes. After trying a new recipe with a meal kit, if you love it, you will probably be able to figure out how to recreate the recipe with food you buy at the grocery store, saving money. Sometimes the meal kits include spice mixtures or sauces that might be trickier to recreate on your own.
You want controlled portions. One thing that I like about the meal kits is that they are portion-controlled. We have two people living in our house right now, so we got the meals for two, and there weren’t any leftovers. It’s not that I don’t like leftovers; I love them. I love them so much that I sometimes eat them right after I finish the first serving. When I cook with the meal kits, I don’t have to rely on myself to stop eating. The food is gone.
A meal kit is not the right choice for you if:
You hate dinner prep. You still have to chop vegetables and cook the food, so if that is the part of meal preparation that you don’t like, then meal kits are not a good fit for you.
You’re disorganized. A meal kit subscription might not be right for you if you won’t remember to log on every week and choose your meals.
You’re short on time. In general, the recipes took about 30 minutes to prepare and cook, from start to finish. If you don’t have 30 minutes in your day to cook, a meal kit isn’t a good option for you.
How much do meal kits cost?
Meal kits are more expensive than buying the groceries yourself. They are less expensive than going to a restaurant. Several of the meals were restaurant quality.
The price of the meal kits vary based on which meal you choose. Some meal kit companies include shipping in the price, and some don’t. You can expect to pay about $10 per serving, give or take a little. So three meals for two people, including shipping, will cost roughly $60.
There are often Groupons available for new customers, and they will save you about 50% on an introductory offer. As soon as you order your first delivery, make sure to cancel if you don’t want to continue, or you will be charged. See info below on how to cancel.
In addition, all the meal kits seem to offer credits. For reasons I don’t understand, I have a credit of $41.07 for Home Chef after doing nothing but redeeming the Groupon and getting that first delivery.
Most also give you a credit if you refer a friend. Full disclosure: The following codes are for my account, so if you sign up with one of those, I will get a credit. (Thanks!) If you have friends who use these meal kits, ask them for a code instead of using mine!
Home Chef will give your friend a $35 credit and will give you a $35 credit when your friend’s first order ships. Sign up through my code.
Hello Fresh will give your friend $70 off and they’ll give you a $10 credit when your friend signs up. Sign up through my code.
Other available discounts include:
You can get a 10% discount on Home Chef if you’re a military member, a first responder, a doctor, a nurse, a hospital employee or a teacher. You need to verify your status on the payment page.
Hello Fresh offers 50% off the first box, and 15% off all subsequent boxes for medical professionals living in the United States.
What about waste?
The packaging of the meal kits might be concerning. Besides the box the meal kit arrives in, there is packaging for everything except perhaps some produce. If the recipe calls for vinegar, for example, there will be a tiny bottle of vinegar. This adds up.
Most of the packaging is recyclable, at least.
The upside as far as waste is that there is far less food waste than you might otherwise experience. With the vinegar example, if you don’t normally use much vinegar, and you have to buy a bottle of vinegar for a recipe (or sour cream, or mayonnaise, etc.) then you might find yourself wasting food when you don’t use the rest of the container. And you’d still have the big container to get rid of.
There’s no dispute, though, that if you buy a whole bottle of vinegar (or a container of sour cream, etc.) and use it up, that’s better in terms of waste than the tiny bottles in the meal kits.
How to cancel a meal kit service
It’s important to know how to cancel your meal kit service subscription, because if you don’t, you’ll end up paying for meals that you don’t want. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s not always easy to find out how to cancel your subscription.
Home Chef: Click on “Account” on the top right, then “Account Information,” then on “Pause Account.”
Hello Fresh: Click on your account on the top right, then on “Account settings” and then on “Cancel plan.”
Blue Apron: You have to email firstname.lastname@example.org to get instructions to cancel. When you do that, you should immediately receive an email that tells you to go to blueapron.com/cancel_subscription.
After you cancel (or “pause”) your meal delivery, you can easily reactivate your plan. The companies make that part easy. If you really want to delete your account, you can do that as well.
Read on for a look at every meal we tried from the three meal kit services, and then (drum roll…) our final decision!
Salmon and raspberry ginger sauce with broccoli and zucchini stir fry
This Home Chef dish was also available with filet mignon, sirloin steak, boneless chicken and organic boneless chicken. We went with the salmon. It was the first meal from a meal kit that I made, and it was a great start. The salmon dish turned out perfectly. We loved the sauce.
Crispy chicken tenders with sriracha ketchup
What I like about the meal kits is the chance to easily cook something that I don’t normally have in my freezer. But I have chicken tenders and broccoli in my freezer. This Home Chef meal wasn’t anything special. The sauce was basically just ketchup with sriracha and a little garlic added. (Note to self: Add sriracha to ketchup whenever you want!)
I’d pass on this chicken tender dish next time. You always have the option to choose a different meal with Home Chef (and the other meal delivery services), and I should have done that. At the time I didn’t realize that I could choose a different meal. Now I know.
Thai fish cakes with miso slaw and sweet chili sauce
I know this picture of Home Chef’s Thai fish cakes is ugly. I wouldn’t eat this dish if I saw this picture, but trust me: This was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time. The flavors were spectacular.
One thing I learned from making this Home Chef meal is how easy it is to make fish cakes. I don’t know why I thought it would be harder. These particular fish cakes have crushed crackers, a “seasoning blend” which I wish I had paid more attention to, mayo and salt and pepper. The “sweet chili sauce” came already prepared, and went really well with the fish cakes.
Italian chicken & pepper sandos
This chicken dish is one of Hello Fresh’s “Hall of Fame” recipes, meaning that customers have ranked it highly. The sandwich was very good, but messy to eat, as you can see in the picture. I probably wouldn’t make it again.
Beef bulgogi meatballs with roasted carrots, ginger rice and sriracha crema
This Hello Fresh Korean-inspired meal was amazing. Really great flavors!
Cherry balsamic pork chops with green beans & thyme-roasted potatoes
My family didn’t eat pork growing up, and I’ve actually never cooked it, so working with pork chops was new for me. The dish went together really well, and the cherry balsamic sauce was very tasty.
Tilapia and creamy romesco sauce
Full disclosure — I went off book for this one. First of all, it would have taken almost 30 minutes to cook the barley that came with this Blue Apron meal kit, so I made rice instead.
Also, the recipe called for the Brussels sprouts to be sliced and cooked with the other vegetables in the barley, but we really like roasted Brussels sprouts. So I cooked them separately. If they look burnt here in the picture, that’s just how we like them. Blame me, not Blue Apron. My version of the dish was very good.
Steak and tomato chutney pan sauce with mashed potatoes and collard greens
When I checked out the ingredients for this Blue Apron meal, I was surprised that the steak portion seemed small. But it was 8 ounces, so each 4-ounce portion is actually what a steak portion is supposed to be. That was eye-opening, since I do appreciate a big steak!
The steak serving was more than enough with the potatoes and collards. The sauce was very good. Blue Apron offered an option to use cauliflower florets instead of potatoes for people watching their carb intake.
Cajun-spiced shrimp bake with remoulade and pepper rice
This Blue Apron shrimp dish was one of our favorite meals from the meal kits. Really tasty! It had seasoned bread crumbs on top. It includes a LOT of shrimp!
Conclusion: Which meal kit service would we choose again?
The prices of the different meal kits are similar, and each had meals that we loved. They were all very similar in the ease of the recipes. It was hard to base a decision on any of these factors.
One big difference, though, is the number of recipes to choose from every week. It varies a little bit week to week, but Blue Apron offers the choice of about 11 different dishes, Home Chef has about 18 and Hello Fresh has about 23. That was the case for the weeks’ menus that I looked at.
For now, we aren’t receiving more meals through meal kits, but when I do again, I’d probably go with Hello Fresh or Home Chef because there are more choices.
I’m a little bit worried about keeping up with the subscriptions and choosing the meals that I want each week. It would be a bummer to pay $60 for three meals for two when they’re not meals that we want. The safer bet might be to keep the account “paused” or “canceled,” re-activate it to order a delivery, and then pause it again.
A version of this story, I tried three of the most popular meal kit services and here’s the scoop, first appeared on Charlotte on the Cheap. Used here by permission.
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