A lot of people think that, because I write about restaurants, I don’t cook. False. Actually, I don’t think you can write about restaurants (or any sort of food) if you don’t cook. I’ve been cooking since I was kid, and haven’t stopped. Sometimes, though, even though I work from home, the cooking isn’t the problem– it’s often the planning to cook, including grocery shopping, meal planning, and everything that goes into 5 meals on the table a week. A friend of mine, who prior to a few months ago didn’t cook at all, talked at length to me about Blue Apron. “I love it! The portions are perfect and they teach you how to do everything!” I didn’t think I needed something like that– I mean, I already know how to braise and supreme and all sorts of other techniques, right? At a recent conference in New York, part of our swag bag was 2 free meals from meal delivery service Plated. Okay, sure. I shouldn’t let free food go to waste, right? Then my friend provided me with 3 free meals from Blue Apron, and I decided to do a little research to see if there were any other services, and there was one more: Hello, Fresh. I plunked down $20 (their promotional special) and spent a week trying all of them. I’m pretty sure the FedEx guy hates me now.
The idea is this: meals for two, with all of the ingredients (except water, oil, salt and pepper) included in a box, in correct proportion, along with a step-by-step recipe. I’m a fairly experienced cook, so I figured these would help me by taking away the problems that I have when making dinner: creativity and grocery shopping. Despite working from home, I have very little time to shop, and I really despise wasting ingredients– like the half-dozen springs of cilantro you need for salsa, and end up throwing out the rest, or those last two pieces of lasagna that no one wants, because they’ve already eaten it for three other meals in three days. It makes sense, really, and the price — averaging around $10 per person, per meal– is much less expensive than eating out (though more expensive than shopping yourself– you do pay for convenience). All of the services FedEx you a box filled with ice packs, cushioning and your food. Everything is individually packaged, so you can pick out your ingredients for each recipe as you make them. I followed all of the directions exactly, because your average customer would do the same.
Hello Fresh! ($10.75 per person) really pushes the healthiness of their recipes. They give exact calorie counts, and offer both vegetarian and omnivore boxes, and you can pick from a few recipes each week as well as a few delivery dates. The recipes were a bit poorly written– missing steps, for example, or vague directions and even several typos and grammatical errors– so I was glad that I was an experienced cook; were I a beginner, I might’ve been confused. They forgot one of the tuna steaks for one meal, and provided a $20 credit immediately (very nice), so their customer service is good. They also grouped the ingredients in a bag per recipe– unfortunately, this led to some smushed and bruised herbs. The meals overall weren’t terribly exciting: turkish lamb meatballs, a flank steak and sesame crusted tuna. Though they sounded good, they were a bit bland.
Plated: ($12-15 per person) I was really excited about Plated. The dishes looked beautiful (they have an excellent photographer), they allow you to choose which recipes you’d like, so you don’t need to pick a vegetarian or omnivore box: you customize it to your own tastes. You can also order for 2, 4 or 6 plates– ideal if you have a family or are having a dinner party. Their prices are higher: they charge a monthly, $10 fee for membership, and then pay $12 per serving; if you don’t want a membership, each serving is $15. With my promotion from Social Media Week, I got four free plates. The thyme chicken was a keeper– roasting chicken thighs with a fresh herb crust was delicious, and putting it on parchment paper was a nice trick– but the pork and pineapple stirfry was seriously lacking pineapple (5 pieces in the entire dish) and bland, as the pork was stir-fried with no seasoning, nor was it marinated. The recipes were a little inaccurate as well– the vegetables served with the thyme chicken weren’t braised as the recipe stated (they were good, however). That’s just me being picky. Fun thing: their soy sauce came in little plastic fish. For some reason, this made my day.
Blue Apron: (9.99 per person) is my favorite of the three, though it’s not quite as flexible as either Plated or Hello Fresh, as far as choosing recipes. You can choose the foods you will eat (for example, you can exclude chicken, pork, beef, shellfish or seafood), but you can’t choose specific recipes. For example, if I don’t like the fish recipe one week, I can check “no fish” and it will substitute a vegetarian meal– but I can’t choose which one. Many of the recipes are, however, naturally gluten-free if that is a concern. They also are far more than two servings: if something involves pasta or grains, I can usually make the meal easily stretch to leftovers for the next day, making the per-meal cost lower. In fact, most of the meals easily make 3 servings, which makes the $9.99 per person cost even lower. I like that they use interesting ingredients and are a little more adventurous, flavor-wise: they’ve gotten me addicted to quinoa pilaf and cauliflower “couscous,” for example. The packaging is also all recyclable. Ultimately, this is the one I subscribe to once a week.
After this: you’re thinking about buying a subscription to one of these services, right? Here’s my advice: think about what your goals are in ordering. Do you want to be able to feed more than just two people? Try Plated. Do you want to be able to pick every meal you have delivered? Plated is your best bet, too. Want precise nutritional information, or want everything to be organic? Hello, Fresh is your best bet. Do you want really creative, interesting meals for a low price? Blue Apron is your best bet.
Interested in trying any of these products? I can help you out (disclosure: two of these provide me with referral credit; coincidentally they are not the ones I subscribe to!):
Hello Fresh! gives you a $20 credit, so you get two meals free. Use this code: YH8X5P .
Plated gives you two free dishes for two, and a month’s membership fee is waived. Use this link to try it:
Blue Apron allows me to provide 5 people with three free dishes for two. If you’d like a Blue Apron referral, I’ll do a quick drawing for them: just enter here!
Have you tried any of these meal delivery services? What’s your favorite?