I originally published this piece in February 2017, and it’s been one of my most-visited posts. Since it’s the new year and many people are trying to cook more at home, I revised the post to include new information and two meal services I’ve sampled in the last year: Home Chef and Marley’s Spoon.
I have tried many different dinner systems over the years — meal planning, once-a-month-cooking, The Fresh 20, Dream Dinners, you name it! I enjoy cooking and we eat at home nearly every night (except for maybe one weekend night). But gone are the days when I had the motivation to do extensive planning and meals.
That being said, it’s still very important to me that we eat healthy meals at home made with fresh ingredients that I prepare (for the most part). So I have given myself the gift of using boxed meal subscription services on a somewhat regular basis. I’ve tried all the big ones over the years — Blue Apron, Plated, Sun Basket, Hello Fresh, Home Chef and Marley’s Spoon. I still supplement our dinners with my own recipes, but these dinners are a nice way to have fresh ingredients sent to my door along with a recipe and a shot of motivation.
I’ve decided to share my thoughts about the meal boxes — their advantages and disadvantages — and which ones I continue to use.
Before I give you my impressions of each service, let me point out a few universal things:
- Most all of these services have an option where you can try the service for free, and then continue.
- All the companies allow you to skip weeks without any penalty, as long as it’s done in the time frame. So if you don’t like the meal choices for a given week, you just pause that week.
- There was a lot of criticism at one point about these services being environmentally wasteful with all the packaging. I believe all of them now offer recycling programs so you can easily donate the boxes and cooling material. But I have to admit, recycling was never an issue for me. We already recycle EVERYTHING. So all the little containers, bottles, cans, etc. went right into our blue recycle bin, along with the broken down cardboard box.
NOTE: This is NOT a sponsored post. None of these are affiliate links and I’m not getting free dinners for sharing this information.
And now, here are my thoughts on all these meal services.
I have been using Blue Apron the longest and we’ve loved nearly all the meals. Even Sophie — who is the pickiest of eaters — will eat a Blue Apron dinner without (or with minimal) complaint. The ingredients are fresh and the dinners are innovative (not ideas I would typically think of), yet they are not complicated recipes. Some of my favorite recipes have been Mexican spiced beef and rice casserole, Za’atar chicken souvlaki, and fresh linguine pasta and heirloom tomato sauce.
I will say that Blue Apron has a lot of extra steps that can be cut from the cooking process. For example, you can cut your prep time considerably by using your own pre-chopped garlic and ginger. And they are big proponents of using lots of olive oil. I don’t use near the amount they suggest. They also have you use multiple bowls for prepping ingredients. I tend to eliminate some of those extra bowls by adding the chopped ingredients straight into the pots/pans when appropriate. Less dishes to clean is always good!
Plated has become our favorite. Their meals are really good! The photo above is the Greek vegetable salad, which was fresh and delicious. We’ve also had meals like turkey chili verde, miso salmon and quinoa bowls, and chipotle chicken pozole with crispy quesadillas.
The recipes have fewer steps than Blue Apron, and the prep work is considerably less. For example, the garlic is sent in pre-pealed cloves and the cheese is already shredded. I also think the amount of protein and ingredients they send are larger than Blue Apron. One of the recipes called for Parmesan cheese and I didn’t even use all that Plated sent. Whereas with Blue Apron, I sometimes supplemented things like Parm with my own stash.
I also like that Plated packages all the ingredients for each recipe in separate bags, which makes it easier to grab what you need for one dinner. Since I originally wrote this post, Plated lowered its prices and is on par with Blue Apron, which I believe, makes it a better value. If you only try one meal service, I’d highly recommend Plated.
I would describe Sun Basket as the more organic, non-GMO, “crunchy” and sustainable option. Many of their meals are paleo or gluten free (even if you don’t select that option). While this is great for a lot of people, my family likes its dairy and carbs. We don’t consume a lot of it, but we do like some cheese with dinner.
The recipes we sampled were Peruvian beef stir-fry, gingered turkey meatballs in lemongrass broth, and spicy chorizo and tomatillo chili with coconut and lime. The Peruvian beef was really good, and a hit with me and Bryan. The other two recipes had too many Thai-based and spicy foods that don’t agree with Bryan or Sophie. And at the time we tried Sun Basket, there weren’t many other non-exotic options. So unfortunately this one didn’t work for our family.
Sun Basket seems like a great option for adults, or families that want an easy way to eat organic, paleo, vegeterian or vegan options. Again, not bad, but we didn’t continue the subscription. That being said, I give Sun Basket the award for cutest packaging — I didn’t want to through the boxes away!
I would recommend Home Chef for someone who doesn’t wants a good dinner, but a pretty “basic” and easy one. Their dinners have fewer “exotic” ingredients with little prep/cooking time. It’s not a bad service, but I’d rather spend my money on Plated or Blue Apron where the meals are a bit more exciting.
One very odd and sometimes confusing thing is the meals are packaged as two servings; but if you order the four-serving, they send two of each pack. So I end up tons of bags of ingredients in my fridge.
Marley’s Spoon is Martha Stewart meal prep service is the latest one we tried. Honestly, I’m not that impressed. Very little ingredients for meals that didn’t have a ton of flavor. The above southwest turkey burgers were good, but the side dish was a broccoli salad that wasn’t too impressive. I also tried the fish fry and spicy tartar sauce with Brussels sprouts Caesar salad. The fish and sauce were good, but the Brussels sprouts required me to shred them all by hand and I had no time for that. So I opted to use lettuce I already had in the fridge for the salad.
We enjoyed the seared steak and crispy potatoes with Sriracha butter. But honestly, all that came in the package were flank steak, potatoes, beans, garlic, butter and Sriracha powder. I could have purchased all that myself and there isn’t anything different about that meal.
It also drove me crazy that Marley’s Spoon required me to provide my own eggs and other ingredients, which they don’t tell you about ahead of time. So if I didn’t have those items at home, too bad for our dinner.
This was my least favorite meal box services. The Hello Fresh meals I tried were bland, had very few ingredients. We tried were shrimp with lemon orzo (a recipe that I have made myself and tasted better) and steak with mango salsa and rice. While the steak was good, the portion was small and fed both me and Sophie. Thank goodness Bryan was not at home for that dinner because had I split it three ways, we would have been looking for more food to supplement dinner.
The Hello Fresh dinners could have used a bit more flavor and/or ingredients. While some of Blue Apron’s recipes are simple too; what makes them stand out are the spice blends used to add flavor. That was lacking with Hello Fresh.
I was also very turned off by the fact that Hello Fresh customer service was constantly calling me after I cancelled the service to find out what happened and persuade me to resubscribe.
So those are my thoughts on Blue Apron, Plated, Sun Basket, Home Chef, Marley’s Spoon, and Hello Fresh. I really want to try One Potato by Weelicious because I like their emphasis on family-friendly meals. But sadly, they don’t service Indiana … yet!
It’s a nice treat to be able to use a meal subscription service once or twice a month. And I like that you can control the ingredients and count calories if you do that. If you’re at all curious, I encourage you to sign up for the free offering and see which ones you like.
Have you used any of these meal subscription services? Which is your favorite (or least favorite)? Is there another one I need to try?