I’m not a very good cook.
I can make an ok spaghetti marinara or mashed potatoes, but intricate meals have always intimidated me.
And while this means my dinners are sometimes inedible, it also makes me the perfect candidate to review recipe services that send customers meals to cook with perfectly portioned and packaged ingredients.
Keep reading to see how each company performed, or simply scroll to the bottom for my verdict.
PACKAGING AND INGREDIENTS
Each of the Plated meals came in individually wrapped bags within an insulated package, though some of the larger ingredients were kept loose within the refrigerated bag. I liked that there were clear labels stating the recipe each ingredient belonged to. This made grouping all the correct ingredients together super easy.
The meals from Plated are designed to stay fresh for up to 24 hours after expected delivery in the refrigerated bag, according to the company. The ingredients should also stay fresh for four to five days in the fridge after delivery.
Hello Fresh packages came in their own individualized bags, and it was very easy to see which foods went with each recipe. This was the only service where I received canned items (beans and artichoke hearts for a casserole dish), which was surprising because I expected everything to be fresh produce.
This was also the only box that arrived to me slightly damaged. The ice bags were leaking and the entire bag smelled like fish because one of the recipes included shrimp. Still, all the produce had remained fresh in transit and the weird smell didn’t affect any of the ingredients.
There was no info I could find about how long the food would stay fresh in the insulated packaging without refrigeration. This might pose a problem for someone who works late and is unable to receive packages during the day. With refrigeration, though, the website says the ingredients are designed to be good for the entire week. Hello Fresh also helpfully tells you which of the recipes you should make first depending on the ingredients.
All of the Blue Apron ingredients came wrapped in the same refrigerated bag with descriptive labels of what they were, but not the meal they belonged to. There were some smaller items — think spices and bottles of oil — wrapped in brown paper bags with a clear label that listed the corresponding meal, and I wished all of the produce had come with similar labels.
The packaging is designed to keep ingredients fresh for “several hours” after the delivery, according to the company, and the ingredients will stay fresh for up to a week after the delivery date.
Plated costs $US12 per meal, making it the most expensive of the three delivery services. However, even though it was the most expensive, it was also the most flexible, allowing customers to order recipes to cook for two, four or six people, making the service perfect for families or people who love dinner parties. They also were the only service to offer desserts.
The company requires a minimum of “four plates” for $US48, which could include four servings of one recipe or two recipes for two people. Customers choose which recipe they want online from seven to nine menu options.
It’s also worth noting that for some specialty dishes including steak or other upscale ingredients, the prices could reach as high as $US30. Only boxes over $US50 get free shipping.
Hello Fresh also offered a two-person and four-person subscription with a solid three meals per week. The plan was more expensive than Blue Apron at $US69 for two people ($US11.50 per person per meal) and $US129 for the family plan ($US10.75 per person per meal). Shipping is free.
However, Hello Fresh offered a separate and cheaper vegetarian box. The two-person subscriptions cost $US59 ($US9.83 per person) and the family plan started at $US109 ($US9.08 per person).
In total, Hello Fresh had the least recipe choices with three to five recipe options to choose from each week.
Blue Apron offers either a two-person or a four-person subscription and a flat three meals per week. The two-person plan is about $US60 per week or $US9.99 per person, while the family plan is roughly $US140 per week or $US8.74 per person (nationwide shipping is free). That makes it the cheapest of the three meal services.
Online, Blue Apron offers different recipe options for two-person plans than it does for the four-person family plan (instead of allowing customers to order more servings of a single recipe like Plated). The two-person menu had more options, averaging around six recipes, compared to four recipes for the family plan.
CAN YOU SKIP A WEEK?
Yes. The company requires customers to skip before Monday 8 pm EST on the week prior to delivery. They also have the option for customers to order biweekly shipments.
Yes. The company requires customers to skip before 11:59 pm EST on Wednesday before the following week’s delivery.
Yes. Blue Apron requires customers to give six to seven days of advance notice before their delivery.
Because all of the Plated ingredients came in separate bags, it was really easy to pull out everything I needed right away. I also thought the instructions were clear and had great pictures that helped me visualise what each step should look like.
The main drawback was that while the recipe was easy enough to follow, I was working with a few ingredients I’ve never cooked with before and found I kept having to look up instructions on YouTube. For instance, I had no idea how to peel the stems of artichokes or how hard it would be to cut a sweet potato. I wished that there were more detailed instructions or tips to accompany some of these more difficult cooking steps. Plus, the recipe was supposed to take 35 to 45 minutes, but the added difficulty tacked on an extra half hour for me.
All of Hello Fresh’s recipes were very simple and came out looking nearly identical to how they were supposed to on the recipe cards, which users are allowed to keep so they can replicate the dishes later on. I also liked how each recipe included the level of difficulty, cooking time, the tools needed, and any allergens that could be found in the dish for future reference.
And while the meals were very manageable, my only complaint was that the presentation was lacking. All of the meals I was sent were throw-it-all-together types of meals, and that made the end result look a little less fancy than the other services. With Blue Apron and Plated, serving a meal that looked like it came from a professional chef was part of the appeal.
The Blue Apron recipes sounded like they would be the most difficult to master, but I found these instructions to be the most clear. The instructions were laid out so that I never felt rushed when cooking either meal. Each recipe yielded nearly perfect results with appealing presentation.
I think part of what made it so easy was the link on each recipe card to an online tips page where I found helpful how-to videos for that specific recipe from Blue Apron chefs. This is something each service should consider having. It made the meals even easier than they would have been otherwise.
The only thing that was really annoying was the fact that I had to double-check that I had all the right ingredients for each recipe, since the meals didn’t come in individualized bags like the other two services.
Plated claims the average calorie count per meal is typically around 600 to 800 calories. My meals were 480 calories per serving for “Fresh Spaghetti with Pan Roasted Artichokes” and 640 calories per serving for “Ginger Trout en Papillote.”
Hello Fresh claims its meals average between 500 and 800 calories per serving. My meals were 608 calories per serving for “Shrimp Fra Diavolo” and 734 calories per serving for “Chicken and Artichoke Cassoulet.”
Blue Apron says its meals typically range from 500 to 700 calories per serving. My meals were 555 calories per serving for “Chile-Blackened Cod” and 690 calories per serving for “Pan-Seared Chicken Verjus.”
WHAT SETS IT APART FROM THE COMPETITION?
The company really focuses on making sure all the products it uses are sustainable, that the ingredients come in non-toxic and non-hazardous bags or bottles, and that they deliver from a local facility closest to your home. It made me trust that what I was eating was not only good for me, but good for the environment.
While all of the meal services had a vegetarian option, only Hello Fresh had a specific, vegetarian-only subscription that even cost less than the standard box. I also liked how the meal cards included helpful details like recipe difficulty, spice level, and any allergens that were in the dish.
Blue Apron puts an emphasis on cooking tutorials and instructions that you can find sorted by individual recipe as well as general cooking knowledge online. This made me feel like I was actually learning to improve my cooking skills and not just painting by numbers, so to speak. I was also impressed by the end result — dishes that took me about 40 minutes to prepare looked like they had taken hours.
If I were a vegetarian, I would choose to go with Hello Fresh since it offers an entirely separate subscription that is cheaper than the omnivore counterpart. For omnivores, these meals were comparatively quick and easy with minimal intense chopping and preparation required. The presentation for Hello Fresh meals made it easy to spoon out seconds. If I were a busy parent, I would choose Hello Fresh.
However, Plated definitely had the most flexibility and choices, making it optimal for people who like a lot of variation or have dietary restrictions. I was really impressed by the subscription options (biweekly!), meal choices (dessert!), and packaging, which was not only sustainable, but could also keep ingredients fresh for up to 24 hours without refrigeration.
I would have to say Blue Apron was my favourite. It had the best meal presentation outcome and was also the most affordable option of the three. The recipe-specific online tips also made me feel like I was really improving my culinary skills. This service is great for people like me who are not accomplished cooks, but want a simple and low-cost way to create visually appealing dishes that also taste great.
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