There are several companies now that send you what I call “dinners in a box.” They send you original recipes that include step-by-
A Blue Apron boxed shipment.
step instructions, plus all the ingredients you need to create each recipe. You supply salt, pepper, oil, and the prescribed pots, pans and utensils. I’ve tried three of these services and I want to share my experience with them here.
The concept behind this is to let you make fresh, healthy meals at home. Skip take-out, avoid trips to the grocery store, and just enjoy your chilled box of fresh meat, seafood, vegetables and condiments that arrives at your door each week. The services I have tried all had certain things in common.
- They sell meals in two-portion servings. If you’re cooking for one this probably isn’t practical. But, for a family of two or four, the portions make sense.
- You receive three unique meals for three different days of the week. Typically you get a beef, a fish, and a poultry.
- If you’re vegetarian, they have options for you, too.
- If there’s a particular type of protein you dislike, you can specify that.
- There’s little or no waste because you get exactly the amount of food you need to prepare the servings you’ve purchased. If you need one stalk of celery that’s what you receive (rather than entire bunch).
- The calorie count for each meal is included, and is typically under 600 or 700 calories.
- The food is shipped in an insulated box with ice packs that will keep food fresh and cold for at least two days. So, for instance, they can ship (either FedEx or UPS) on Wednesday and your box arrives on Friday. The food is still cold when it gets there (I live in the south and found it to stay cold even during our hot summer months). Meanwhile the company didn’t pay for super expensive overnight shipping, which in turn keeps the prices reasonable.
- You can skip any shipment if you don’t like the recipes being offered. You typically have to make that decision 7 days in advance, otherwise they ship you the box automatically.
- The cost per meal is usually $10 to $15. So, while it is more expensive than buying the food fresh, it’s still cheaper than a restaurant, plus there’s no tax and no tip to pay. I also think it saves money if you tend to impulse buy at the grocery store, since you can avoid that place completely as long as you have oil, salt and pepper in the house.
An actual Blue Apron shipment I received.
As I mentioned, I have tried three of these services: Blue Apron, Plated, and Hello Fresh. I’ll tell you a little bit about each of them.
Blue Apron is the first one I tried. I have been a subscriber for about 9 months now. They ship in a cardboard box that has an insulated liner. Those boxes make awesome disposable travel coolers when you need to keep food or beverages cold, so I save them all in my garage. The food is generally loose in the box, with meat and fish on the bottom, then vegetables and other ingredients on top. Each recipe has a little brown paper bag of “knick-knacks” you’ll need, such as vinegar, a special herb or spice, etc. When it’s time to cook, choose one of your three recipe cards (which are very well-written, and have nice big photographs on them to guide you), pull your ingredients, listed on the card, grab the bag of knick-knacks, and follow the instructions step-by-step.
The one drawback of Blue Apron is you do not get any choice of recipes each week. They have three offerings, and you either take the whole box or you skip that week’s shipment.
I then tried Plated. The beauty of Plated is you get to choose meals from a selection of offerings. You can specify that you want one steak entree (which, again, is going to feed two people), but two of the chicken entrees for that week. Their packaging system is very similar to Blue Apron’s, though they bag the ingredients by recipe. That is super convenient! I confess, though, that I just didn’t care for their recipes. I watched them for weeks until they offered something I wanted, and the recipes were good, but not great. They just weren’t as flavorful as what we had gotten used to from Blue Apron. Also, they have a membership fee you have to pay to get the meals for $12 each. Otherwise, they are $15 each. Kind of steep, if you ask me.
You may recognize Plated from the ABC show “Shark Tank.”
Hello, Fresh is the latest one that I tried. I tried it because they had a special offer on Zulily for discounted vouchers. I was able to the four-person box for $51. That box contains 12 individual meals (three recipes, four services of each), and normally sells for $129. I couldn’t pass up that deal–less than $5 per meal sounded great!
I have since received two of their boxes and am very impressed with the packaging. Everything ships in a styrofoam cooler packed inside a cardboard box. Everything is bagged according to recipe and
My “layout” of an actual Blue Apron recipe. I get out all the ingredients before starting to prep the dish.
very clearly labelled. If you are ordering for four people the ingredients are packaged in units of two. So, you can make all four servings at once, or, you can make two servings tonight, and save the other two for another night. The recipe cards are not quite as big and easy to read as the ones from Blue Apron, but, the recipes were flavorful and very good (except for the turkey burgers, but then again I’ve never had a decent turkey burger anywhere that I can recall.)
They also give you five recipes to choose your three from. If you don’t choose they select for you, but, at least you have some options in case one of them doesn’t sound appetizing.
Should You Subscribe?
A chef friend of mine told me, after I kept posting pictures of my food boxes and the finished meals on Facebook, that I needed to “take off the training wheels” and start cooking for myself. But, I enjoy trying new recipes and ingredients that I otherwise wouldn’t try (who knew I would love “forbidden rice?”) I also enjoy not going to the grocery store, and that admittedly is one of the main reasons I continue to get a box of food (from either Blue Apron or Hello, Fresh) almost every week as long as the recipes look promising.
One thing you can do if you aren’t sure is try them out–none of these services require long-term commitments. Some have free or cheap trial offers. (I currently have five free boxes of food I can send out to friends. If you want to try one, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you an e-mail invite.) Give it a try to see what you think. You can cancel any of these services after just one or two boxes, if that’s what you decide you want to do.