Blue Apron. Hello Fresh. Sun Basket. Home Chef.
It seems you can’t load a webpage around here without running into an ad for one of these meal delivery kit services. It might make one wonder, is there any truth to the hype? Kyle and I have been curious about these things for a while, so when a family member gifted us a free week of meals following an enthusiastic recommendation, we couldn’t resist at least trying them out. We were surprised at how much fun we had with the first box, which sent us down a path of trying ALL THE MEAL KITS (okay, maybe just four). We discovered that the idea and execution is similar for each company, but we did find that there are some significant differences and this is definitely not a “one size fits all” situation, so we decided to jot our observations down for y’all.
So, what exactly are these things?
Simply put, these kits are this on-demand age’s answer to yet another of life’s mundane daily tasks – cooking meals. For a price, these kits take the guesswork out of cooking, providing you with recipes and the pre-measured and perfectly portioned fresh ingredients you’ll need to fix them, all conveniently delivered to your doorstep in a chilly, insulated box. It’s almost as convenient as takeout, while still allowing you to control exactly how your meal comes together.
Why would someone want to use a service like this?
Convenience, mostly. It also reduces the pesky problem of wasted ingredients – we’ve all prepared a fun meal that requires certain ingredients we don’t use very often, only to end up with veggies hanging out in the fridge forever and then eventually going to waste. Meal kits portion the exact amounts you’ll need for your recipes so that doesn’t happen (aside from spice mixes and herbs, which you may have a small surplus of if you’re light-handed with such things.) We’d also recommend these to anybody who is new to cooking but wants to expand their horizons – the recipes are typically easy to follow (some kits even have step-by-step pictures!) while still being exciting. Even for kitchen veterans, they’re a great way to learn new recipes and become more adventurous in the kitchen. Who knew braised fennel and leeks were so tasty? I didn’t, and would’ve been afraid to try them if it wasn’t included with one of our kits!
So, do the meal kit delivery services… well, deliver? We checked some out and here’s what we found:
*A few notes: This article will be an honest take on the services we’ve tried — we won’t rank them as there are pros and cons to all of them and one’s favorite definitely will depend on what they’re looking for in a meal kit service. Most of our meals are pictured in to-go containers because we stored many of them for quick work-time lunches! So please, forgive the plating. And as far as the plans we used to get our price points – we went with the average 3 meals for a 2 person household, though each service does offer additional plan options.
**IMPORTANT NOTE: All of these services will ask for credit card/PayPal info when you place your first order – it is an automatic subscription/weekly charge unless you choose to opt out for the week/pause, or cancel your plan. There is no fee for skipping, but you have to remember to do it before the deadline or you’ll be charged and they will send you whatever the default meals are for that week.).
We started with Hello Fresh, and this one definitely left a good taste in our mouths (har har). Ordering was as simple as a quick trip to their website to start an account (standard procedure for that). Navigating their site was easy, which is important when you’re trying to pick a menu or skip weeks. We picked our meals from their weekly menu of 7 regular and 1 premium meals (Premium is $5 upcharge/serving) directly from the site and adjusted the delivery date to our preferred day of the week. The prices were reasonable for meal kits – not the cheapest, but not the most expensive, either (These ended up being around $10/serving for our plan.) All in all it was a very smooth process.
So, then came delivery day! The meals arrived on our doorstep on time in a nicely packaged and insulated box, with each recipe’s ingredients bagged together (aside from the meats, which chill at the bottom of the box surrounded by ice packs to keep them fresh.) The packaging was mostly recyclable.
The ingredients were fresh, the meals tasted great, and they were easy to prepare. Time-wise, they seemed to take a little longer than stated on the recipes (this applies to all the kits we tried), but they all still could be whipped together in less than an hour. We really liked the recipe cards for Hello Fresh – they break down the major steps and provide pictures which is super helpful when you’re attempting to cook an unfamiliar meat or veggie to the perfect level of done-ness. They also include a card with nutrition info for each recipe – super cool to have that info – no weighing ingredients or guesswork involved! Most HF recipes come with two sides, which added a nice variety to each meal. It seemed unique to Hello Fresh – the other companies seemed to only provide one side per meal.
The biggest issue we found with them may not even be an issue for many – we thought the menu was a little bit limited; there were some weeks that didn’t have many meals that appealed to us. Still, all in all it was a great experience.
Great for no-nonsense, fun recipes. This one is a good value and you’ll expand your cooking repertoire without going too nuts with the exotic ingredients. For us, the biggest downside was the limited choices – there were some weeks where we just didn’t see 3 recipes we were dying to try.
Sun Basket was the second kit we tried, They are pricier than Hello Fresh (about $11/serving plus a delivery fee), but their menu offers a lot of recipes with fairly uncommon ingredients. This one is great if you have special dietary needs (gluten free, veg, paleo, etc) and the menu selection is huge (18 recipes each week!) You can even enter your diet preferences when you sign up, and SB will put those recipes at the forefront of your ordering screen. Their menu is a bit more adventurous/exotic than most, so cooking these meals was especially exciting, albeit a bit of a gamble. Almost every recipe we ordered with this one was new to us – and we loved more than we didn’t – but there were a couple of duds. (Definitely a personal taste thing, though)
Other notes: The way the meals were packaged was very similar to Hello Fresh, with the most notable difference being that Sun Basket includes all the weekly recipes in a magazine that they send with your order. Depending on what you prefer, this could be a good thing or a bad thing. We tend to like the recipe cards a little better since they are easier to save without taking up too much space, but the magazine included bonus articles and had the recipes in more of a traditional format, so that definitely will be more appealing to some of you.
Also, we have to note that we did end up with missing ingredients twice, so that was a bummer. We were still able to put together the meals, but they were a bit lacking without the missing pieces. Ahh, well. All in all, we still really enjoyed Sun Basket.
Sun Basket is great for an adventure in the kitchen, and great for those who enjoy plenty of options, organic ingredients, or for those who may be looking for a meal kit service that makes it easy to stick to a diet. Their price point is a bit higher than the others, but that may be worth it to you if they have what you’re looking for. Also, I would say that some of their techniques and/or equipment seemed more involved/advanced than that of the other kits. Nothing too complicated, but definitely a smidgen higher than the others… so if you’re brand spankin’ new to cooking, you might want to start with one of the other services to get your sea legs, so to speak.
All in all, we loved expanding our horizons with Sun Basket, and continued our subscription even after we had plenty of material for the blog.
For Home Chef, the order process was pretty much the same as the others, though the options for a delivery day seemed to be limited more than HF & SB. Home Chef gives you the option to order anywhere from 2 to all of their weekly recipes, plus the option to add on side items like smoothies or fresh fruit. Their price is one of the more affordable at roughly $10/portion,
The delivery arrived much like Hello Fresh and Sun Basket – a well-organized, insulated box on the doorstep with our meals labeled and conveniently separated, with the only major difference being that the recipe ingredients were separated into labeled plastic pouches instead of paper bags. Our hipster selves missed the look of the paper bags, but our practical selves were happy with the packaging – the Home Chef bags fit much better in the refrigerator. All of the recipes were tasty and the ingredients were fresh! Home Chef also provides the nifty recipe cards – theirs are even pre-punched for easy storage if you care to save your recipes to try again later!
Home Chef is great for those looking for an affordable price point similar to Hello Fresh with more options to choose from. You also aren’t restricted to set number of recipes you can order (over 2) so if that sortof flexibility is important to you, go with Home Chef. One small disadvantage they seemed to have was with scheduling delivery – we were limited to choosing from a couple of pre-determined weekdays instead of having the box delivered on whatever day of the week we chose. This may have been just specific to our area – let us know in the comments if you’ve experienced something different!
Okay, so we said we weren’t really going to rank these boxes… and we aren’t… but we have to be honest, and to be honest, we must say, Blue Apron was our least favorite. This was a bit of a disappointment since we knew this was one of the more popular meal kit services so we expected it to be pretty good. Our first impression was rough, as the menu on the site seemed kind of unappetizing and boring for the first week we glanced at. Their site was somewhat inconvenient to navigate, and customer service left something to be desired when we had an issue with our order. Nevertheless, we found an appetizing week and placed our order!
Our delivery arrived in an insulated box like the other meal kits, and the ingredients looked fresh and yummy… but they weren’t sorted into bags by recipe (aside from the seasonings/sauces, which were in these cute “knick knack” pouches along with nutrition info for each recipe. That was one of the things we really liked about BA.) I suppose some might like being able to put all their meal kit veggies in one place, their sauces in another, breads in another, etc etc… but we liked the convenience of having all the ingredients in one convenient bag that we could pull out of the ‘fridge, slap it on the counter, and go to town on it.
The recipes came on the nice, convenient cards like Hello Fresh and Home Chef, though the format was more of a checklist which was a neat take. The knick-knack pouches with sauces and seasonings were great and nutritional info for each recipe was located inside, which was super cool.
There were some pretty neat aspects to Blue Apron, but unfortunately we had a few big negatives, too. We probably won’t order from them again, but our negatives may be positives for some of you – if so, def don’t let us discourage you from giving them a go!
Where does this leave us?
As you can see, it’s been a bit of a process trying out these things – a fun one! For us, meal kit services are definitely worth it. We enjoyed certain aspects of all of them, but at the end of the day, it looks like we’ll alternate between Hello Fresh and Sun Basket for our meal kit needs. That is, until we find a new one to try and fall in love with it.
Got any recommendations? Was your experience with these services the same? Totally different? Let us know in the comments!