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My Meal Kit Experiment

Submitted by Amy Sercel MS RD CD

Edited by Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD

Meal kits definitely take the guesswork out of cooking dinner.  Signing up for a subscription to a meal kit means that every week, you’ll receive a box with all the ingredients you’ll need to make 2-6 meals that serve 2-4 people.  There are lots of different meal kit services available.  After writing this blog, which breaks down the features of some (not all) popular meal kit options, I decided to try some of them out for myself.  Here are my impressions of each one.

Green Chef – $26.98 for the first week, $71.94 – 98.94 for subsequent weeks of 3 meals for 2 people

Recipes Made:

  •        Spanish Egg ‘n’ Hash with Saffron-Porcini Spices, Potato, Carrots, and Arugula
  •        Tamari-Glazed Salmon with Wasabi Edamame, Rice and Pickled Ginger, and Bok Choy
  •        Italian Mushroom Bowl with Lentils, Tomatoes, Kale, Basil Pesto, and Parmesan Fricos

Green Chef was the first meal kit I tried, and it was certainly impressive.  The ingredients were familiar but prepared in ways that I had never tried before, so the recipes felt novel.  Even so, the cooking techniques required were not difficult.  None of the recipes took more than about 45 minutes to make and they were easy to follow.  Many of the vegetables were also sent pre-cut, which helped reduce the cooking time even more.

The three recipes were very filling, averaging about 600 calories per serving.  Additionally, some of the plastic containers used for packaging were re-useable, so it didn’t feel like the meal kit generated a lot of waste.

The most significant downside to Green Chef is the cost.  After the introductory rate, the omnivore plan is about $80 per week.  The vegetarian plan is the least expensive option at about $72 per week.  It’s also important to note that Green Chef does not allow you to choose the specific recipes you’ll receive each week, although you can change your dietary preferences to exclude a certain ingredient if you don’t like one of the recipes you’re scheduled to get that week.

Sun Basket – $33.94 for the first week, $71.94 for subsequent weeks of 3 meals for 2 people

Recipes Made:

  •        Salmon in Parchment with Shiitakes and Mango-Cucumber Salad
  •        Miso Ramen Bowls with Braised Tofu and Bok Choy
  •        Quinoa and Kale Fritters with Sweet Potato-Mushroom Hash

Sun Basket did not disappoint with the variety and flavor of their recipes.  The number of ingredients each recipe called for felt manageable, and every meal was delicious.  Pre-made spice blends, sauces, and marinades helped to add an interesting dimension to each meal.  Out of all the meal kits I tried, Sun Basket introduced me to the widest range of new flavors.  A third bonus of this service is that Sun Basket sends you the recipes for all of the week’s possible recipes, so you could potentially re-create them on your own if you feel inspired.

These recipes were also very satisfying, averaging about 550 calories per serving.  I easily shared one among three people and did not feel like I had under-eaten.  The meals were also relatively high in protein, ranging from 16-44 grams per serving.

Some of the recipes I made with Sun Basket were rather challenging.  The recipes required a lot of steps that were not always the easiest to follow.  One recipe in particular took almost two hours to finish.  For this reason, Sun Basket would probably be best for two people cooking together, or for someone who has more time to spend perfecting a meal.

Blue Apron – $24.94 for the first week, $59.94 for subsequent weeks of 3 meals for 2 people

Recipes Made:

  •        Spiced Cauliflower and Jasmine Rice with Poblano Pepper and Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce
  •        Crispy Buttermilk Catfish with Roasted Delicata Squash
  •         Spicy Poblano and Mushroom Quesadillas with Baby Romaine and Avocado Salad
  •         Penne Pasta and Beef Bolognese with Pecorino Cheese

Although I only ordered one box for my introductory week with Blue Apron, I arrived home to find that the meal kit service had mailed me three!  The customer service representative who answered my confused phone call was highly amused by the situation and told me that I could keep all three boxes for no additional charge.  I later received a handwritten card thanking me for being a Blue Apron customer.

These meals were all very straightforward, with the recipes broken down into simple steps that included photos to follow along with.  It took between 30 and 45 minutes to make these meals, and they were easy to complete by myself.

Similar to the other meal kit services, these meals averaged about 630 calories per serving.  Unfortunately, I didn’t feel that any of these recipes introduced me to any new spices, ingredients, or cooking techniques.  The recipes also seemed to be lacking in whole grains, which was reflected in their relatively low fiber content of 7-12 grams per serving.  I was also surprised by the number of times the recipes stated to “season with salt and pepper.”  This direction appeared between four and seven times in each of the recipes I was sent, and I would have preferred to see the recipes flavored with herbs or spices instead.

Plated – $31.85 for the first week, $71.70 for subsequent weeks of 3 meals for 2 people

Recipes Made:

  •        Roasted Vegetable Tikka with Toasted Naan, Sautéed Spinach, and Coconut Chutney
  •        Fish Tacos with Avocado Sauce and Crunchy Slaw
  •       Maple-Roasted Delicata Squash with Burrata and Quinoa-Arugula Salad

Of all the meal kit recipes I tried, the Roasted Vegetable Tikka ended up being my favorite because of the delicious blend of spices and the variety of vegetables it included.  I found that each recipe contained a pleasant balance of flavors and textures, and I appreciated the combination of raw and cooked vegetables in each meal.

Overall, the recipes were relatively easy to follow.  The directions were broken down into six steps, and each step was accompanied by a photo.  It took about an hour to finish cooking each meal.

The dinners Plated provided could easily have made leftovers or been divided among three people, averaging about 830 calories per serving.  This would be important to keep in mind if you are working to reduce your calorie intake.  Aside from this, the most significant downside of Plated is that the majority of the ingredients are sent in plastic bags.  These can be recycled at most grocery stores, however, it would be ideal if they could provide some reusable containers instead.

Purple Carrot – about $45 for the first week, $72 – 78 for subsequent weeks of 3 meals for 2 people

Recipes Made:

  •        Refried Butternut Tacos
  •        Fall Vegetable Hash
  •        Loaded Burritos

Purple Carrot is an entirely vegan meal kit service.  When I signed up, I immediately skipped the first week of delivery and didn’t get the introductory discount they offer, which would be important to keep in mind if you’d like to try this service.

Without knowing ahead of time, it would have been difficult to identify that these recipes were all vegan.  The recipes were unique and required me to use ingredients in ways I would never have considered before.  For example, the tacos were topped with roasted grapes, adding an element of sweetness that nicely complemented the butternut squash.  That recipe also led me to try plantains for the first time.

The recipes were broken down into six manageable steps and were fun to cook.  I really enjoyed the combinations of ingredients they put together, especially because the result was that I tried many new vegetables that I wouldn’t usually have cooked with.  This meal kit would be an excellent introduction to vegan cooking for someone who is typically a meat-eater.  As an added bonus, almost all of the containers Purple Carrot sends are re-useable, so this meal kit feels less wasteful than some of the others.

These meals could easily serve more than two people, averaging about 800 calories per serving.  It was surprising to see that the recipes’ protein content ranged from 8 – 39 grams per serving.  I had expected that a vegan meal kit service would make an effort to provide high-protein meals each night rather than allowing such a wide discrepancy.

Hello Fresh – About $20 for the first week, $59.94 for subsequent weeks of 3 meals for 2 people

Recipes Made:

  •        Shepherd’s Pie with Mushrooms, Peas, and Roasted Carrots
  •        Bell Pepper and Black Bean Quesadillas with an Arugula and Heirloom Tomato Salad
  •        Butternut Squash Agnolotti with Kale in a Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Hello Fresh’s recipes were fun to make, taking about 45 minutes each.  The recipes were not complicated, and it was easy to follow the six-step directions.  Overall, the meals I made with Hello Fresh felt like familiar comfort foods, and it would probably be impossible not to find something you like in their recipe database.

This meal kit service advertises that their recipes are approved by a Registered Dietitian, and this is reflected in the meals’ nutrient facts.  The recipes average about 600 calories per serving and contain a variety of vegetables.  Hello Fresh would be a great choice for someone looking for quick, delicious dinners.  I was a little disappointed that the recipes didn’t include a wider variety of herbs, spices, or unusual ingredients, as it felt like the recipes sent by the meal kit were very similar to the types of dinners I would prepare on my own.

Final Impressions

My meal kit experiment was a lot of fun.  Meal kits definitely make dinner preparation a lot easier by reducing the amount of time you will spend planning meals, shopping for ingredients, and actually cooking.  For the most part, the recipes are all broken down into simple steps, which can really help increase your confidence if you don’t always feel comfortable cooking new things.  Best of all, meal kits offer a low-risk opportunity to try unfamiliar foods.

Each meal kit service offers its own variety of positives and drawbacks, and the service that works for one person may not be ideal for someone else.  If you’d like to try a meal kit, think about the amount you’re willing to spend each week and the types of recipes you want to make.  If you’re having trouble making up your mind, pick a few you’d like to try and make up your mind after you’ve sampled some.  Just make sure you skip one meal kit on the weeks that you’re getting the other one delivered.  If you’re not sure about keeping the meal kit, it’s also a good idea to skip the next few weeks after you order the introductory box.  You can always go back and “un-skip” them later, but this way you will have time to cancel the service before you’re locked-in and charged for the next week’s box.

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