Meal Subscription Service Final Verdicts

Starting back in February, I began testing the different meal subscription services available in my area.  For all of these services, the subscriber signs up on the site, chooses which meals they’d like to cook, and the service sends a refrigerated box full of all of the ingredients needed to cook those meals.  Depending on how much the services cost, I tried them for one or two weeks with the exception of Home Chef which I tried for three weeks.  For the most part, I did take advantage of introductory offers available to new subscribers, but I did pay the full price when I tried a second week of a service.  Overall, I was quite impressed by most of the services, and I’ve actually incorporated a few of the dishes into my cooking repertoire.

Below are my summarized reviews for each of the services.  Click on the picture or the link next to the picture to see that week’s complete review.


Home Chef 

http://www.homechef.com

1-home-chef-bulgar-wheat-salad

Home Chef – Week 1  (2.25.2017)
Dish 1: Bulgar, Sweet Potato, and Pomegranate Grain Bowl with blood orange and shallot vinaigrette
Dish 2: Cremini Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tarts with red onion, dried cranberries, and balsamic vinaigrette
Dish 3: Lasagna Bianca with cremini mushrooms and spinach

 

img_2916

Home Chef – Week 2  (3.7.2017)
Dish 1: Black Bean Tortilla Soup with avocado, lime, and homemade tortilla strips
Dish 2: Teriyaki Ginger-Glazed Salmon with stir-fried bok choy and carrots
Dish 3: Penne Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream

 

IMG_3438Home Chef – Week 3 (5.29.2017)

Dish 1: Baja Fish Tacos with Sriracha slaw and pickled onion
Dish 2: Chicken Chopped Salad with creamy avocado dressing, blue cheese, and smoked almonds
Dish 3: Neapolitan Pizza Margherita with fresh mozzarella, basil, and balsamic dressed arugula

Price: $59 (2 serving, 3 meal plan) *Accepts PayPal and major credit cards.

When setting up a subscription, users can choose to receive 2-8 meals per week with servings for 2, 4, or 6 people.  Each serving costs $9.95, so the cost can grow quite considerably.  They also have available a weekly smoothie and a seasonal fruit basket for an additional cost.  Shipping is free for orders over $45.

The first box came with a small binder and a pamphlet with pictures and descriptions of common kitchen tools, knife cuts, and cooking tips. This was something that the other boxes didn’t include and would be helpful for people who don’t have a lot of experience cooking.

When setting up the subscription, I was able to choose my dietary preferences: meat, seafood, or vegetables.  They also allowed me to choose which foods I avoid.  The list included pork, soy, red meat, nuts, gluten, dairy, mushrooms, and shellfish.  Based on my preferences, they made recommendations.  For my first two weeks, I just went with their recommendations for a pescatarian, but they make it very easy to customize the menus.

The packaging wasn’t excessive, and the ingredients were always fresh.  I appreciated that they bundled all of the ingredients for each dish together which made them easier to store in the fridge and prepare the ingredients.

The food itself was easy to prepare, homey, and consistently delicious.  The instructions were the most clearly written of all of the services that I tried; however, the vegetarian options were a bit carb-heavy.  The food wasn’t particularly adventurous, especially when compared to some of the other services, but it tasted lovely.

When it came time to suspend my subscription, the process was extremely easy.  It was just a matter of going into my account and clicking a button.  Reactivation was equally convenient.  They also make it easy to skip weeks which can be done a few weeks in advance.  Changes to the menus, skipped weeks, subscription cancellation, and subscription reactivation had to be completed by the Friday preceding the week of the delivery – a completely reasonable amount of time.  Deliveries could be scheduled for Tuesday-Friday.

In short, Home Chef was just great.

Final Score: A


Plated

http://www.plated.com

IMG_3011

Plated – Week 1  (3.28.2017)
Dish 1: Thai Fish Curry with Kaffir Lime and Jasmine Rice
Dish 2: Teriyaki Salmon Tacos with Seaweed Salad
Dish 3: Shakshuka with Roasted Eggplant, Bell Peppers, and Feta

 

IMG_3125

Plated – Week 2  (4.9.2017)
Dish 1: Ruby Red Trout with Creamy Dill Sauce, Sautéed Chard, and Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
Dish 2: Cheesy Sweet Onion Panini with Truffle Fries

Price: $72 (2 serving, 3 meal plan)

Just based on the food, Plated was my favorite.  Everything was delicious, easy to make, and for the most part, quite quick to prepare.  Plated makes it very easy to customize the box, and they have a pretty good selection to choose from.   The meals were much more globally inspired than the other services, and I could easily see myself incorporating these dishes into my regular rotation.  The ingredients were great quality; although, I had to supply my own eggs for one of the dishes which might not seem like a big deal, but since it was a vegetarian dish, I essentially had to supply my own protein.  I’m sure they don’t think of it that way and are only concerned that the eggs would break in transit.

I also appreciate that I could customize how many meals and dishes I received in each box.  The options were 2-4 nights with 2-4 servings, so it is flexible enough for a single person or a family of two or three.  I tried three meals my first week, and two my second week.  This service is more expensive than most of the others, so reducing the number of meals made it a little more affordable for my tight budget.  Plated also offers the option of including a dessert in box.

They made it very easy to unsubscribe and skip weeks, so I could easily see myself rotating between Plated and Home Chef, if I had the money.  The downside is that skipping weeks, cancellation, and menu changes had to be made six days before delivery which is a little longer than some of the other services.

They used a courier service that I never heard of, but everything was delivered just fine.

Final score: A


Purple Carrot

https://www.purplecarrot.com/

IMG_3320Purple Carrot  (5.18.2017)
Dish 1: Miso-Chili Meatballs
Dish 2: Zucchini Lasagna
Dish 3: Persian Stuffed Peppers

 

Purple Carrot specializes in “Plant-driven,” vegan menus. They have three meal plans to choose from

  • 1-2 person ($68)
  • 3-4 person ($74)
  • TB Performance Meals ($78 – The TB stands for Tom Brady)

For the 1-2 person and TB Performance plans, subscribers receive the ingredients for three meals, and subscribers to the 3-4 person plan receive the ingredients for two meals. The TB Performance Meals were developed in partnership with Tom Brady and are high protein, limited in soy, and gluten free. They are also $10 more expensive than the regular 1-2 person plan.  Aside from choosing a meal plan, subscribers cannot customize the menu at all.  There is no mixing and matching between the meal plans.

Overall, I loved Purple Carrot. The food was amazing, flavorful, and diverse, and I was happy to incorporate some new vegan dishes into my cooking repertoire. It was a little bit more expensive than the other meal services, but all of the meals were so good that I didn’t mind.  It really felt like these meals were being created by vegans; they felt like complete meals and not just oversized side dishes, and they were all high in protein.

One of the neat things about Purple Carrot is that it’s possible to view and share the recipes without subscribing, so if something tickles your fancy, you can easily access the recipe through their online menus.

Overall rating: A


Blue Apron

https://www.blueapron.com/

1-blue-apron-samosasBlue Apron – Week 1  (2.5.2017)
Dish 1: Potato & Broccolini Samosas with Coconut Lentils & Yogurt sauce
Dish 2: Warm Cauliflower & Kale Salad with Soft-Boiled Eggs & Sauce Meuniere
Dish 3: Sunchoke & Egg Noodle Casserole with Kale and Mornay Sauce

Blu6-blue-apron-fresh-basil-fettuccinee Apron – Week 2  (2.12.2017)
Dish 1: Crispy Barramundi with Melted Leek & Roasted Vegetables
Dish 2: Sicilian Cauliflower Pizza
Dish 3: Fresh Basil Fettuccine with Datterini Tomatoes & Goat Cheese

Blue Apron was the first meal subscription service that I tried, and it set the bar pretty high.  The food was delicious and varied, and I could easily customize my menu.

They offer three different subscription plans.

  • 2-Person plan (3 meals, 2 servings per meal) for $9.99/serving
  • Family plan #1 (2 meals, 4 servings per meal) for $8.99 per serving
  • Family plan #2 (4 meals, 4 servings per meal) for $8.99 per serving

Overall, I really liked my time with Blue Apron.  The meals were easy to make; however, the meals took much longer than estimated.  I loved that each box offered a variety of cuisines: Indian, French, Italian, etc.  I generally don’t eat a lot of pasta, but both of the pasta dishes were delicious.  There were tons of veggies in the dishes, and I was reminded that I should really be eating more cauliflower.  It is so versatile.

Cancellation and reactivation was very easy, as is skipping weeks.  The subscriber just has to make sure they make changes to their account by Friday of the week before the scheduled delivery.  I could easily see myself rotating between Blue Apron, Home Chef, and Plated depending on the menus available.

Final Score: A-


Terra’s Kitchen

Dish 1: Fisherman’s Cod Stew in fennel-tomato broth, olives, spinach, and tender cod
Dish 2: Vegan Power Bowl with sweet potatoes, kale, onion, spicy chickpeas, and cannellini bean dressing
Dish 3: Curried Chickpea and Spinach Bowl with wilted spinach, chickpeas, cucumber crunch, cilantro, *jasmine rice, and rich curry-flavored sauce

The business model for TK is a little different than the other subscription meal services. They give a menu of about 50 individually-priced meals and subscribers then get to choose whatever meals they want want. Shipping is free, but there’s a $62.99 order minimum. The meals start at $10 per portion and go up to $18, and subscribers have to order two portions of each meal, so costs add up quickly. It’s also possible to order snacks, fixings for smoothies, juices, and side salads.  It is possible to keep the box to the $62.99 minimum order, and depending on one’s needs for the week, a subscriber can order anywhere from 2-5 meals in the box.

Visitors to the site can peruse, save, and share the recipe cards without signing up.  So if you’re looking for menu ideas, it would be a great place to visit.

Another neat thing about Terra’s Kitchen is that the shipping materials are reusable. The package is delivered through FedEx. The box itself is made out of plastic and has a strong latch on it. When the box is opened, it reveals a plastic cooler with drawers that pull out to reveal the ingredients. The chiller packs, drawers, cooler, and box can all be returned to TK for free. I didn’t even have to print out a new shipping label. I just had to pull of the old one and the return label was underneath. As per the directions, I left the box down in the mailroom for FedEx to whisk away the next day.

When I opened the cooler, it seemed a bit warmer than the other subscription boxes. The chiller packs were completely defrosted. Everything seemed cool, but not quite refrigerator cool which was a little concerning since there was fish in the package.

All of the ingredients were washed and prepped, so there were a lot of plastic containers in the package (there were eight containers, not counting the tiny portion containers, just for the first dish).  Fortunately, the majority of the containers are recyclable in my area.

I was very happy with Terra’s Kitchen.  They made customization very easy.  For the most part, the meals were delicious, and the quality of the ingredients was superb, even if they had a lengthy vacation in the refrigerator before I had the time to cook them.

For the most part, everything was prepped in advance, so the time estimations were pretty accurate.

Final Score: A-

 


Peach Dish

https://www.peachdish.com/

IMG_3376Peach Dish  (5.24.2017)
Dish 1: Rainbow Bowl with Brown Rice Noodles & Sriracha Nuts
Dish 2: Whole Wheat Couscous with Cucumber, Walnuts, and Dates

The model for Peach Dish is a little different than other services. With Peach Dish, you can either check out as a guest or become a subscriber. The same foods are available for guests and subscribers, but subscribers aren’t charged for shipping. The number of dishes and servings that you can choose from are also a little different than the other services. You can choose

  • 2 dishes with 2 servings each (standard package)
  • 1 dish with 4 servings
  • 3 dishes with 2 servings
  • 1 dish with 6 servings
  • 4 dishes with 2 servings.

The standard package is $50, making it one of the more expensive services at $12.50 per serving.

When subscribing, you can choose from four different menus: omnivore, omnivore – no pork, vegetarian, and pescatarian. I went with the pescatarian menu, but both dishes this week were vegetarian.

The box also had a couple of added treats: a perfect little parcel with two single servings of dark chocolate, a food magazine, and two postcards with an adorable crocodile eating a peach.  All of the ingredients for each dish were bundled in a colorful mesh bag which can be reused.  I’m going to use them as reusable produce bags at the grocery store.

The first dish was great. The second dish ok.  The ingredients were high quality, but compared to the other services, the recipes were a little more difficult to read.  Most of the other services make the ingredients in the preparation section bold so they’re easier to see.  I didn’t realize how helpful this was until trying to follow the directions for this service.

My main issue with this service, however, was the perceived value.  I really didn’t feel like either dish was worth the $12.50 price tag, especially if I’m doing the cooking myself.

Final Score B+


Hello Fresh

https://www.hellofresh.com/tasty/

IMG_3180

Hello Fresh  (4.26.2017)
Dish 1: Harissa Sweet Potato Pita Pockets with Cucumber Dill Salad
Dish 2: Risotto alla Tex-Mex with Corn, Charred Bell Pepper, and Pepitas
Dish 3: Pesto Tortelloni Bake with Asparagus and Parmesan

When signing up for Hello Fresh, I could choose from three different boxes: the Classic Box ($9.99/serving), the Veggie Box ($9.99/serving), or the Family Box ($8.74/serving).  I could also choose the number of portions (2 or 4).  The Classic and Family Boxes also allowed me to choose how many meals I would like delivered; 3-5 for the Classic box and 2-3 for the Family Box.  There was no overlap between the Classic Box and the Veggie Box, so by choosing the veggie option, I couldn’t choose any of the meals from the Classic Box or vice versa.

The insulation for the box was completely recyclable.  Unlike the other packages, it was made from honey-comb cardboard, rather than a natural or synthetic fiber batting.  The cooling packs were filled with a biodegradable slurry and are reusable (except that my freezer is now full of freezer packs because every subscription box comes with them and they really hurt when they fall out of the freezer onto your toe).  There was nothing in the box that had to be kept ultra cold, but it seemed like the box was a little warmer than the other subscription boxes.

All of the ingredients for each meal were parceled together into their own paperboard boxes which was both convenient and more environmentally friendly than the services that used plastic bags to parcel the ingredients.  Inside the boxes, the sturdier ingredients were left unwrapped, and some of the packaging was reusable or recyclable.

Overall, this box was pretty good.  I was a little disappointed that there were limited options for customizing the box, so I couldn’t add a fish or lighter option to my veggie box.

I also felt that the vegetarian options were a bit lackluster.  The only dish that felt like a full meal was the pita pockets, and for a box called the “Veggie box,” two of the meals weren’t particularly veggie-driven.  This is a trend I’ve noticed with vegetarian options at a lot of restaurants.  Rather than coming up with solid, dynamic vegetarian entrees, a lot of restaurants just throw a bunch of veggies on the plate or do a double-portion of something that would usually be a side dish for meat.  I was disappointed that none of these dishes utilized complete vegetarian proteins such as soy or quinoa, instead relying on dairy or combined starchy proteins (corn and rice).  My ideal combination would have been the pita pockets, the tortellini or risotto, and some kind of bean/quinoa dish.  Having two heavy starchy dishes was a misstep.

Final Score: B+


Sunbasket

https://sunbasket.com/

IMG_3264Sunbasket  (5.11.2017)
Dish 1: Chipotle Chilaquiles with Black Beans
Dish 2: Fattoush Salad with Soft-Cooked Egg and Spiced Chickpeas
Dish 3: Tuscan Vegetable Soup with ciabatta croutons

 

Sun Basket offers specialized meal plans including vegetarian, Paleo, gluten sensitive, and breakfast.  At $11.49 per serving ($69 for the base package), this subscription service is about $10 more expensive than Blue Apron, Home Chef, and Hello Fresh.  They do offer a less expensive family option at $9.99 per serving which comes with either 2 or 4 recipes.

The recipe cards were half the size of the recipe cards for other meal services and were made out of a thinner card stock.  They made great use of color in the instructions to differentiate between prep steps and cooking steps, which I appreciated because it made the instructions easier to parse, but there were no pictures to illustrate the steps, and the steps were organized poorly for multi-tasking.

Overall, the food was great.  The vegetarian options were vegetable driven, light, and filling.  These were probably the best vegetarian options that I’ve received from any of these subscription boxes; however, there was something inadequate with every single dish in this box.  An egg for the first dish was broken, the cucumber in the second dish was rotten, and the parsley was missing for the third dish.  Hell, I would have excused the broken egg if everything else had been ok.  At least they attempted to send an egg, unlike some of the other services.  But all together, it just speaks to a lack of care being taken when preparing the boxes, and at this price point, I expect more.  I contacted the company to provide feedback, and they sent a charming response apologizing for the inconvenience and reimbursed me $10.  I didn’t ask for a reimbursement, so it was a nice surprise.

In short, this service has great promise if they can get their quality control up to snuff.  I even made the Fattoush Salad for my parents a couple of weeks ago, and it was just as delicious as I remembered.

Final Score: B


 

Martha and Marley Spoon

https://marleyspoon.com/

IMG_2948Martha and Marley Spoon – Week 1  (3.13.2017)
Dish 1: Chili-Spiced Chickpeas with Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Dish 2: Sesame-Mustard Cod with Miso Cabbage Slaw
Dish 3: Farro Stir-Fry with Broccoli and Mushrooms

 

IMG_2962Martha and Marley Spoon – Week 2  (3.19.2017)
Dish 1: Pan-Seared Cod & Greens with Garlicky Potato Puree
Dish 2: Warm Vegetable Pan Roast with Feta & Arugula-Pepita Salad
Dish 3: Black Bean Burgers with Sriracha Mayonnaise and a side of radishes and lightly marinated cucumbers

Cost: $62 (3 meals, 2 servings per meal)

When signing up, subscribers can choose between boxes with meals for 2 ($10.25/serving) or 4 ($8.90/serving).  Subscribers can also choose how many meals they wish to receive 2-4.  It was also easy to customize the box to include vegetarian, fish, or meat dishes.

The ingredients for each meal were packaged together in paper bags, and the recipes were easy to follow.  I also liked that the list of ingredients was on the same side of the recipe card as the procedure for cooking, so I didn’t have to keep flipping back and forth.  The other thing that I liked was that I could get the package delivered on Tuesday which worked better for my schedule.

The quality of the ingredients was disappointing.  For one dish, the mint was missing and the fish was quite sub-par (mealy and tasteless).  For another dish, the mushrooms were bruised and mushy, and one was even a bit moldy.  The red pepper for that dish was also a bit soft and wrinkly.  For the second week, the radishes for one of the dishes were very soft.

The thing that bothered me most, however, was that I had to supply the egg for one of the dishes.  Part of the appeal of these boxes is that everything is supplied.  I had to make a special trip to the grocery store in order to make one of the recipes and that’s just not cool.  Aside from the fish, the recipes were also surprisingly high in calories with the salad coming in at 810 calories and the veggie burger 740 calories.

I was expecting very good things from Martha and Marley, but I was quite disappointed.  For the most part, the meals were fairly tasty, but definitely not the best meals I received from these services, and the quality of the ingredients was not the greatest.

Final Score: C


Green Chef

https://greenchef.com/home

2-green-chef-black-bean-gorditasGreen Chef  (2.21.2017)
Dish 1: Barbecue Tempeh with Maple-Roasted Squash and vegan broccoli gratin
Dish 2: Black Bean Gorditas with homemade masa cakes and sautéed potatoes & poblano
Dish 3: Red Curry Tofu with Black-Rice Ramen, broccoli & cauliflower, peanuts

When I signed up for Green Chef, I chose the vegan option. Each dish is about 600 calories, and they are very veggie driven.

They offer a variety of specialized meals, each with different costs associated with them.

  • Vegetarian (3 meals, 2 servings per meal): $10.49/serving
  • Omnivore (3 meals, 2 servings per meal): $11.88/serving
  • Vegan (3 meals, 2 servings per meal): $11.99/serving
  • Carnivore (3 meals, 2 servings per meal): $13.49/serving
  • Gluten-free (3 meals, 2 servings per meal): $13.49/serving
  • Paleo (3 meals, 2 servings per meal): $14.99
  • Family plan, Omnivore (2 meals, 4 servings per meal): $11.99/serving
  • Family plan, Carnivore (2 meals, 4 servings per meal): $12.99/serving

A lot of the ingredients for Green Chef came prepped in advance.  The garlic was pre-minced, onion pre-diced, etc.  The advantage was that the time spent on prep was negligible.  The downside was that the box was full of little sample containers that I couldn’t recycle, and the ingredients had to be cooked quickly so they didn’t lose their potency.

The food itself was mediocre.  I loved that most of the dishes had an entree and two sides, but in some cases, the components of the dish did not sing harmoniously.  The only dish of the three that I would make again is the gordita dish.

The other downside to Green Chef was the cancellation process.  I had to cancel the subscription the Wednesday before the next delivery.  Since my first delivery arrived on Wednesday, I pretty much had to cancel the next order before the first had even arrived.  The cancellation was also a multi-step process.  I had to e-mail the company through the website and then click a link in an email to complete the process.  The cancellation process for most of the other services was much easier.

Final score: C-


 

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