This article is only a little over a year old, but this market is so hot that the last two I tried aren’t even included: Veestro (vegan), Freshly (made up basic meals for one). Who knows how many others there are.
The best and worst at-home meal kit delivery services
To save money and develop healthier eating habits, home and travel editor Hana Alberts tried 15 meal-kit services. Tamara Beckwith/NY Post
I cooked up a delicious plot in 2018. In an effort to clean up my eating habits, I ordered one-week trials from 15 different meal-kit companies. By the end of the year, I had sliced, diced and sometimes microwaved my way to more than 50 different meals.
There were several reasons I wanted to try prepped dishes rather than old-fashioned cooking. Although I was sick of shelling out money on small plates at trendy restaurants — and about $15 per day on mediocre Midtown lunches — I also knew that those habits were driven by convenience. (Many $45 Seamless orders of Sichuan food is a case in point.) Having kits mailed to my apartment, on days I could choose, seemed less daunting than recipe research and grocery shopping.
Another reason is that I had gained weight. Selecting recipes from the various companies, I reasoned, was a way to both control spending and know exactly what was in my meals (from butter, salt, oil and carbs to veggies).
Plus, for a New Yorker with limited fridge and pantry space, the appeal of having exotic spices and ingredients delivered in the exact (small) amounts needed is incredibly appealing. Normally, if I wanted to try a new recipe, I would need to buy entire spice jars. Groceries inevitably go bad, and jars of seasoning and special oils take up precious cabinet room.
I started with the major players — Blue Apron and HelloFresh — and then ventured off into lesser knowns: Plated, Sun Basket, Home Chef and Green Chef. Then came plant-based Hungryroot and Purple Carrot, Martha Stewart-backed Martha & Marley Spoon, southern-inflected PeachDish and rivals in the fewer-ingredients-and-less-prep arena Gobble, Dinnerly and EveryPlate. I even ventured into prepared foods — meals that just needed to be heated up — with GoReadyMade and Epicured.
I emerged on the other side of my great meal-kit experiment with better dicing skills and several takeaways.
One was that the most popular options aren’t always the best. Standbys Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, for example, can be needlessly complex, with their dozen-plus ingredients and at least that many steps. If the point is to make cooking more accessible, easier and faster, there are other companies that do it better — Gobble, Hungryroot and EveryPlate, to name a few.
Another is that these kits can be incredibly affordable if you order them right. I took advantage of the discounts and deals offered for first-time customers. Each company has a different cancellation policy — and they can be difficult to find or buried on the website — so mark down in your calendar when the deadline for week two is so that you’re not charged full price for an additional box. An additional perk: Many services will try to buy back your patronage with coupons and discounts.
As for the excessive packaging that many criticize the meal-kit industry for: Most services make almost everything recyclable or reusable, including ice packs. Prior to this experiment, I was probably creating more waste with spoiled groceries and Seamless containers.
My biggest takeaway, though, was that food always tastes better when cooked from scratch. No matter how many professional chefs collaborated on ready-made meals, the dishes came out sad and disappointing, like airplane food. What you lose in speed when cooking at home, you get back in flavor and satisfaction.
It feels good to have control over my food without toiling for hours in front of a hot stove. And with all the “Hana, we miss you!” deals sitting in my inbox, I’m looking forward to riding this meal-kit carousel into 2019.
The best takeout substitute
Gobble | from $11.99 per serving (plus $6.99 shipping)
The kit: This 2013-founded company specializes in 15-minute dinners you can cook using just one pan, with many of the ingredients pre-prepped. (Translation: much less time chopping.)
Typical dish: Pan-roasted salmon with leek patties, sauteed greens and salsa verde
Why it’s a winner: The meals are easy and fast while still feeling complex and special. The two meals I ordered from Gobble happened to be Mexican — tofu tacos and pork tamales — and turned out great; Gobble has more elevated and ethnic options than EveryPlate. They also threw in a lump of free dough for two chocolate chip cookies. Although it’s a little pricier than its competitors, they wave the shipping fee for first-time customers.
The best healthy pick
Purple Carrot | from $10 per serving
The kit: This 5-year-old company delivers plant-based recipes as well as gluten-free, high-protein “TB12 Performance Meals” in collaboration with Patriots quarterback and clean-eating vigilante Tom Brady.
Typical dish: Cauliflower shawarma with harissa-beet slaw and garlic aioli
Why it’s a winner: As a carnivore, I feared a vegan diet would leave me hungry. But the meals I made — especially the eggplant flatbreads with celery tabbouleh and mango tahini-amba — were filling. Some of that satisfaction probably stemmed from how smug I felt about being healthy.
The best timesaver
Hungryroot | from $11.50 per serving
The kit: These “plant-centric” packages include healthy precut, premixed ingredients that can be combined to make entrees, snacks, breakfast or dessert.
Typical dish: Butternut squash and tofu curry
Why it’s a winner: Hungryroot meals were the fastest to prepare, hands down. Each lunch or dinner recipe includes two to four prepackaged items. Proteins like tofu nuggets, veggie blends like cucumber, corn and black bean salad, and veggie carb substitutes like kohlrabi noodles or cauliflower rice are mixed together with a sauce (say, avocado crema or cashew cheddar) and ready in less than 15 minutes.
The planet-friendly mess
Dinnerly | from $4.49 per serving (plus $8.99 shipping)
Dinnerly’s crispy egg roll with cabbage and sweet Thai chili sauce that I made in September was rubbery — the worst of the year, I’d reckon. Also, the company’s recipe cards are only available online. I’m all for protecting the environment, but it was frustrating to keep pressing on my smartphone or tablet with chili-sauce-covered fingers to unlock the screen.
The saddest portions
Epicured | from $15 per prepared meal (plus shipping starting at $10)
Some people have a hard time digesting FODMAP foods (which include, among many other things, broccoli, beans and asparagus). So while it’s great that Epicured offers a prepared-meal service geared to those food sensitivities, it’s not for those with healthy appetites. I was still hungry after gobbling down soba noodles with sesame ponzu and veggies. And it cost $13.99! For that price, I could go to a Midtown bowl or salad joint — and not end the day famished.
The bland letdown
GoReadyMade | from $11.99 per serving (plus $3.99 shipping)
Positioning itself as a healthier alternative to traditional takeout, GoReadyMade’s claim to fame is that there’s no chopping or mixing required. And while the offerings — cauliflower mac ’n’ cheese with pancetta, and poblano chili with sour cream and cheese — were satisfactory, I found the flavors pretty lackluster overall, and not so different from what I’d get from my local diner.
Blue Apron | from $9.99 per serving
The kit: The only one of these companies to go public, Blue Apron is a market leader in this industry of culinary convenience. As such, it’s able to offer extra flourishes like wine pairings, custom kitchenware and a new collaboration with Weight Watchers.
Typical dish: Seared steak and soy-miso pan sauce with sweet potatoes and kale
Pros: Blue Apron offers high quality for a relatively low per-serving price. Months later, I can still remember how delicious the za’atar-spiced beef pitas I made were.
Cons: Recipes tended to include too many ingredients and took longer than the stated time to make.
HelloFresh | from $7.49 per serving (plus $5.99 shipping)
The kit: Another titan of the industry that’s been around since 2011, HelloFresh draws from a broad swath of culinary influences each week. Currently on offer are options from Korean beef bibimbap to black bean enchiladas.
Typical dish: Shrimp and zucchini ribbons with basil oil over jasmine rice
Pros: This is the meal-kit service I sent as a gift to a friend having a baby. The new mom, an occupational therapist, liked it so much that she, her nurse husband and her now-17-month-old still order Hello Fresh regularly to streamline their home-cooking efforts, given their busy work schedules.
Cons: For a two-serving steak dish with roasted potatoes, HelloFresh sent me some nine Yukon Gold potatoes. Nine! That’s a lot of potatoes, guys.
Sun Basket | from $10.99 per serving
The kit: A rival to mightier titans Blue Apron and HelloFresh, Sun Basket also offers wide-ranging and frequently rotating slates of recipes, with options to sort the week’s options by cook time (under 20 minutes), calories (under 600) and cuisine (paleo, soy-free, diabetes-friendly, gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan).
Typical dish: Flaked cod and chicory salad over white bean puree
Pros: The meals available are a great mix between meat-and-potatoes classics and more exotic options, and the portions are generous. (I had more than enough to take to work for lunch the next day.)
Cons: Some recipes didn’t hit the spot the way others did. I tended to enjoy the seafood, vegetarian, pork and turkey dishes more than the ones with beef and chicken.
PeachDish | from $12.50 per serving
The kit: A Southern-style service that supports farmers, 80 percent of whom are based within 40 miles of PeachDish’s Atlanta distribution center.
Typical dish: Cajun-style chicken and sausage gumbo
Pros: As a native New Yorker, I had never before dared to make, say, shrimp and grits at home. But these recipes were easy and the end products delicious.
Cons: While there are lighter options, some of the meals — e.g., mozzarella-stuffed meatloaf — are on the heavy side.
EveryPlate | from $4.99 per serving (plus $8.99 shipping)
The kit: Last year, the folks behind HelloFresh launched EveryPlate, which offers just five weekly options with fewer ingredients per meal.
Typical dish: Smoky-sweet pork chops with roasted potatoes and carrots
Pros: The meals are simple and tasty, ideal for busy New Yorkers. I had never attempted risotto before, but EveryPlate’s easy-to-follow recipe resulted in a creamy dish with roasted bell pepper, sausage, lemon and Parmesan — in about 45 minutes. And that was the longest prep time of any meal.
Cons: Although the five choices change weekly, they tend to be formulaic: a protein with one carb-y side and one veggie side.
Martha & Marley Spoon | from $15 per serving (plus $8.99 shipping)
The kit: Unflappable domestic goddess Martha Stewart endorses this service — and provided 18,000 recipes to boot. Each week, about a dozen, with six steps each, are up for the choosing.
Typical dish: Brown butter cheese ravioli with spinach and pine nut dressing
Pros: The variety was impressive: My week of feasts with this service included everything from asparagus-and-noodle stir-fry with leeks and red chili sauce to pork banh mi tacos with spicy chili mayo and mint.
Cons: Get used to advance planning: You have to pick your recipes 10 days before the delivery date. If not, you’ll get the grab bag they pick for you.
Green Chef | from $9.99 per serving (plus $6.99 shipping)
The kit: While other companies provide some organic ingredients, this outfit prides itself on being fully USDA-certified organic.
Typical dish: Maple-mustard pork with feta in walnut sauce, with a side of black lentils with orange and turnips
Pros: Meatless meals sometimes leave me wanting, but Green Chef’s vegetarian farro salad with sweet potato, endive, apple, chard and candied pecans ended up being one of my favorites. Making a meatless dish filling enough for dinner and the next day’s lunch is an admirable feat!
Cons: Because they’re veggie-heavy, chopping and prepping can take longer than the estimated time.
Plated | from $9.95 per serving
The kit: Plated, which makes an effort to source ingredients from small farms and small-batch producers, lets you sort its 20 weekly offerings by a roster of filters, including stovetop-only and spicy. It also has a way to search for recipes according to the type of person you are: “world traveler,” “over-scheduler,” “food blogger,” “farm-stand regular” and more.
Typical dish: Feta-stuffed meatballs with herbed bulgur and tzatziki
Pros: “World traveler” over here! Last January, I enjoyed coconut-crusted flounder with curried rice and sweet chili-lime sauce as well as peanut Thai chili-chicken with crunchy slaw and brown rice. Comfort food reigns: I recall the turkey shepherd’s pie with sweet potato and peas as especially fulfilling.
Cons: The recipes often include a dozen or more ingredients, which leads to a more sophisticated end result but takes extra time to prepare.
Home Chef | from $6.99 per serving
The kit: With 15 straightforward-yet-inventive recipes a week, Home Chef is a solid option. In addition to traditional entrees, the company sells five-minute lunches, like a blackened chicken grain bowl.
Typical dish: Pork tenderloin with roasted pears, green beans and garlic-thyme sauce
Pros: It’s on the affordable end of the spectrum while still producing quality grub; the turkey-and-avocado tostadas were my favorite.
Cons: Maybe I’m just a slow dicer, but my total cooking times exceeded Home Chef’s estimations.