|Fri, 10 Dec 2021 18:21:09 +0000
Meal Kits In Review
We’ve tried quite a few different meal kits now (Blue Apron, Dinnerly, Every Plate, Hello Fresh, Home Chef, Gobble), and I think I have enough information to give a reasonable review of most of them?
One important thing to note: We eat a lot, so many of the “four person” meal kits for us are actually two or three servings (so one or 1.5 meals for the two of us), and many of the “two person” meals are a (small) one serving, so we augment the kits with additional things or just expect they’ll make fewer servings than they say. That also increases the per-serving cost for us a lot (by 50% to 100%), which has a large effect on our cost/benefit analysis.
Let’s do them in order that we tried them in.
This was the original kit we tried, years ago, and it had the effect of turning us off meal kits for a very long time. (Necessary caveat following from that: it may also be different now.)
I’d generally describe it as “time consuming, wasteful, small, and expensive”. Every ingredient came in the package, but often in small containers (like a tiny bottle with a little squeeze of oil), and the recipes involved a ton of chopping and mixing and generally took way too long to cook. Cleanup was also a mess because preparation involved just about every pan we had (and more than a few plates and bowls). And the ultimate result was tasty enough, but really small for us.
Blue Apron looks like it costs $8.99/serving now, which for us actually means $17.98/person (and we’re still hungry afterward). If we want small and expensive and gourmet, we’d probably do Gobble instead.
This is basically the exact opposite of Blue Apron. Its recipes are significantly simpler to make (often involving only one pan and a bowl or two), and their veggie meals seem to actually be four (or sometimes five!) servings. (Their meat dishes are still somewhat small, but the side portions are generous, so I think a four-serving meat meal actually made three servings for us, which is better than the other kits.)
It’s also the cheapest of the kits at $4.69/serving (so somewhere between $3.75/serving and $6.25/serving for us), but that comes at a cost: more at-home ingredients required (vinegar, eggs, milk) and also no printed recipe cards. The recipes also tend to involve fewer ingredients overall, and also generally be more “standard” fare that you could make yourself by just hitting up the grocery store. However, another plus: They don’t nickle and dime you with “premium” recipes: everything is the same price.
Packaging-wise, everything comes together in the box and you have to pick out which ingredients go with which meal, which is maybe a little more complicated by the lack of recipe cards. But that’s also not a big deal for me.
They have a lot of variety in their menu, but no veggie substitutions, so you’re stuck with the vegetarian options they have. (Or you substitute for yourself; for one of the meals, we got the beef and just made it with tofu from the store instead.) Some of the recipes also seem to not be too well thought through: A recent veggie option was Tandoori Cauliflower that was intriguing on paper, but a little weird in practice with the ginger/garlic rice and cranberry chutney, plus the recommended preparation (mix tandoori spice with oil and toss with the cauliflower) fell apart in practice (managed to coat less than half the cauliflower before running out of oil/spice mix).
This is probably the one I would recommend the most, from both a price and serving size standpoint, and it helps that it’s one of the easiest kits to prepare, too.
This was not quite on the level of complexity of Blue Apron, but getting there. They have a few substitution options for vegetarians, but that comes at a cost: $9.99/serving to start, and an additional $5.99 to $7.99/serving for “premium” options that honestly don’t feel that premium.
In general, Hello Fresh meals tended to involve more preparation and more ingredients than the other kits, but they also sent almost everything needed (including the milk, for things like cream sauce pasta). I appreciated that the meals felt less like things I would normally make anyway, and that it required having less stuff “on hand”.
That said, the servings were small. These were very solidly in the “two servings is actually one serving for us” column, making a meal $19.98/serving for us, which is definitely not worth the price.
Packaging-wise, everything for a kit came together in one labelled brown paper bag, which you throw in the fridge (dry pastas and all), and the meats came separate from the kits. It was convenient for pulling out everything required for a meal, so that was nice. The recipe cards come separately on top of the bags.
We joke that this is the “zest a lemon” meal service, because just about every meal involves zesting a lemon, even the ones that don’t actually come with lemons. That said, this is a strong contender for #2 for us as its price ($4.99/serving) is reasonable and its servings (a solid 3 meals per 4-serving kit, for a price of $6.65/serving for us) are also reasonably sized.
The recipes tend to be slightly more complicated than Dinnerly, but still not involve unreasonable amounts of preparation. But that also means they’re a little more unusual, which is nice. They’re also consistently tasty: they always seem to have a veggie option that involves roasted chickpeas, and I love them so much I’ve started making variations of them on my own (canned chickpeas cooked with chili powder, roasted carrots with paprica, pearl couscous, sour cream, grape tomatoes, and spinach = delicious).
Like Dinnerly, they also tend to not do substitutions (although I think I’ve seen a couple options, but none of which were veggie substitutions for meat dishes), but that’s not a huge deal when they have such great veggie options.
Also like Dinnerly, everything comes together in the box without being separated by recipe, although they have better separation between veggies, dry ingredients, and proteins than Dinnerly does (with a separate paper tray for the veggies). However, these separations are just layers of paper, and one of the boxes we got had a leaky bag of chicken that got its juice over some of the veggies, so that wasn’t great, but otherwise this lack of meal separation also hasn’t been a problem. The recipe cards come separately on top of the bags.
In general, I’d say Dinnerly has slightly bigger servings but is simpler dishes, and Every Plate is more interesting but (slightly) more expensive, but they’re the two most similar of the kits, and I’m happy with both of them.
This is probably the best option for vegetarians, as basically every dish can be substituted. Their meals also have a much wider range of complexity than other companies, ranging from super simple to fairly involved. So flexibility wise, you can’t really beat them.
That said, we found Home Chef to suffer from the same problem as Hello Fresh: Small servings and expensive, especially because they have premium options and substitution of protein often costs more. They start at $6.99/serving (which for us is solidly $13.98/person), but very quickly and easily goes up in price.
I think I’d be more interested in them at half the price (or at least 25% less), because they do have some interesting recipes.
Packaging-wise, everything comes in separate large plastic ziploc bags by meal, with the proteins separated out, so these were very easy to pull out of the fridge to make. The recipe cards are 3-hole-punched and come separately on top of the bags (and they included a binder for the cards with my first shipment, which I thought was a nice touch).
Gobble was by far the most “gourmet” of the meal kits we tried, even more so than Blue Apron. But we were pleasantly surprised by how easy the meals were to make. Most of the sauces come pre-made, and complicated things (like polenta) come pre-formed and ready to cook. The meals are also the most unusual and things I would never be able to make myself without visiting specialty stores. (We had chicken in a wine sauce with polenta cake and broccolini, barramundi with cauliflower rice and beans, and a really nice vegetarian bi bim bap with mushrooms and shisito peppers.)
However, all of this comes at a steep cost: $12.99/serving with premium options costing even more. Worse still, the servings are among the smallest of the kits we received, so that’s actually $25.98/person if we ate just the kit. (For example, in the meal below, the potatoes and tortellini are not part of the kit and are things we added ourselves to augment to a reasonable serving size, but the kit contents of fish and cauliflower rice and beans were delicious.)
Packaging-wise, everything came in large sealed plastic bags divided by meal, with the exception of the proteins that came separately. The bags were also well-cushioned with paper inserts both inside the bags and outside, and the recipe cards were inside the sealed bags. So the packaging was a little excessive, but helpful.
I really want to like this kit, because it’s definitely the most unusual and has the most “free” premium options (like unusual fishes and beef), but that price is simply not justifiable for us when we could go to a nice restaurant and pay less than that per person after tax and tip.
Edit 12/29: We’ve also now tried the Martha Stewart/Marley Spoon kit. It feels like it’s trying to be gourmet, with “fancier” meals than any of the kits other than Gobble, but also with more prep work than Gobble. The ingredients themselves seem to be sourced from the same company as Dinnerly (and the Dinnerly website also loads many assets, like the PDF recipe cards, from Marley Spoon, so they’re really combined), but its recipes are significantly fancier than Dinnerly.
However, it’s also one of the most expensive list prices. Depending on how many servings you get, it’ll cost between $9 and $11/serving. Their servings are between 1.5 and 2 servings per 2-serving kit for us, so the cost to us is actually something like $9 to $15/serving, which I think is not worth it unless you have discounts.
The box packaging is similar to Every Plate, in that they have a divider for the meat and veggies, but also include an extra bag for the “dry” ingredients, but they don’t otherwise split up the meals, so you’re on your own for locating components for each meal. The recipe cards are between the insulated bag and the box (on the side, in my box, as opposed to on the top with other meal kits).
If price is of no importance to you, I’d recommend Gobble. Its meals are delicious and varied and feel really premium but are still very accessible in terms of cooking complexity. However, they may leave you hungry.
If you’re vegetarian or need lots of substitution options, go with Home Chef for its flexibility, although expect to pay for the flexibility.
If you’re like us and care a lot about serving size and cost, go with either Dinnerly (simpler) or Every Plate (slightly more interesting but slightly more work).
Edit 12/29: We’ve also tried Martha Stewart now. It’s too expensive for me to recommend, otherwise it would probably come third after Every Plate. If you’re able to get discounts, I think the three I’d recommend (in order) is Dinnerly, Every Plate, and Martha Stewart, growing in fanciness but also price as you go.
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