Have you thought about trying one of the many meal kit services and wondered if they’re worth the money, and, maybe more of a puzzle, what’s the difference between them? Me too!
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, I 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.
There are often 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. Please keep in mind that I’m not a food photographer or a professional food stager. I’ll leave that to the Instagram influencers. These are real, unfiltered pictures that I took right before I dug in.
For each meal I’ll tell you our impressions of it. But first, here is some basic information about the meal prep services.
After the pictures of the meals, I’ll reveal what decision we made!
Please note that this was written in spring of 2020, so the prices and some of the policies might have changed.
How Meal Kit Services Work
Home Chef, Hello Fresh and Blue Apron all work the same way. You sign up for an account, and you indicate how many people you need meals for (2 or 4), how many you need a week, and how often you want the deliveries.
You can also enter your preferences and dietary restrictions, to some extent.
Then, about a week before your meal shows up, you can customize. If you’re signed up for three meals, like I was, there will be three default meals. There will be several other meals, and you can swap them out. In some cases you can customize the meal, too. For instance you might be able to swap out salmon for tilapia.
You can also skip a delivery, or many deliveries. You just have to make sure to skip them before it’s too late, or 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 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 had 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 of 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 might be right for you if you don’t mind cooking (and cleaning up after the meal) but you really don’t enjoy planning a meal and grocery shopping, or you don’t have time for it. If you get overwhelmed looking through recipes, a meal kit subscription makes it simpler.
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 it’s not a good fit for you.
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 mixture or sauces that you’ll have to guess at.
A meal kit subscription might not be right for you if you won’t remember to log on every week and choose your meals.
In general, the recipes took about 30 minutes to prepare and cook, from start to finish. So, if you don’t have 30 minutes in your day to cook, a meal kit isn’t a good option for you.
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. And 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.
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: 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.
Hello Fresh will give your friend $70 off and they’ll give you a $10 credit when your friend signs up.
There are some other discounts available:
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
It’s important to know how to cancel your 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, and then “Account Information,” and then click on “Pause Account.”
Hello Fresh: Click on your account on the top right, and 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”) you can easily reactivate your plan. They 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 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 was a great start. It 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 wasn’t anything special. And 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 one. You always have the option to choose a different meal, and I should have done that, but 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 is ugly. I wouldn’t eat it 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 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 is one of Hello Fresh’s “Hall of Fame” recipes, meaning that customers have ranked it highly. It was very good, but a messy sandwich 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 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 this was new for me. It all went together really well and the cherry balsamic sauce was very tasty.
Tilapia & Creamy Romesco Sauce: Full disclosure — I went off book for this one. First of all, it included barley, and would have taken almost 30 minutes to cook it, so I just 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 Brussel sprouts. So I cooked them separately. If they look burnt here in the picture, that’s just how we like them. Blame me, not the recipe. It was very good.
Steak & Tomato Chutney Pan Sauce with Mashed Potatoes & Collard Greens: When I checked out the ingredients for this meal, it was surprising to me 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! It was more than enough with the potatoes and collards. The sauce was very good. There was an option to use cauliflower florets instead of potatoes.
Cajun-spiced Shrimp Bake with Remoulade and Pepper Rice: This 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!
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. So it is 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 tends to have about 11 to choose from, 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.Subscribe to Charlotte on the Cheap