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Family-Tested: 8 Meal-Kit Delivery Services



Meal-kit delivery services send all the ingredients to make meals at home.

Photo courtesy of Martha & Marley Spoon

We all know the importance of family dinners. But between soccer practice, music lessons, homework, and everything in between, time is short. Enter meal-kit delivery services, a young industry that’s gone from start-up novelty to household staple in just a few years. These kits reinvent how we think about dinner, cutting back on grocery shopping, and offering fresh ideas to shake up your meal repertoire.
 
Each box contains everything you need to make a chosen number of meals for the week, from proteins to produce to pantry items. Experienced cooks might find the process, with its exact instructions and pre-measured ingredients, a bit stifling, and the excessive packaging is certainly less than ideal for the environment. But as an alternative to fast food or frozen meals, or just as a break from meal-planning, these kits provide a relatively easy way for busy parents to feed their kids a balanced, home-cooked meal.

 

As this industry continues to flourish, it seems a new service crops up every other month. To help you navigate the crowded field, my family of five tested a number of meals from each of the major services, comparing everything from packaging to final product. Here are the results.

 

Blue Apron

Blue Apron (named after the blue aprons worn by chefs-in-training) was the first meal-kit delivery service when it started in 2012. Smaller households can choose the seasonally inspired two-person plan while the larger plan offers family-friendly meals for four. Recipes cards include fun facts about the ingredients, and suggest wine pairings. Gift subscriptions are available for up to four weeks — a thoughtful present for, among others, expectant parents.

Pros:

  • One of the more affordable plans on the market

  • Offers an intuitive, user-friendly website, complete with instructional videos (great for cooks lacking in experience or confidence)

  • Currently the only service offering a wine delivery program, shipping six bottles each month, complete with tasting notes

Cons:

  • Meal choices for the family plan are somewhat limited: There are only four options to choose from during any given week and if you choose the four-meal option, then those are the meals you will get.

  • The packaging is excessive, with lots of plastic containers. There is a “How to Recycle” link on their website, but it’s definitely one of the least environmentally friendly options.

  • All ingredients for all meals are mixed together in one box, requiring some sorting for each recipe.

  • These were my least favorite recipes of all the services I tested, lacking in originality and often in flavor.

Fine print: Free shipping; flexible subscription-based plan, with the option to skip or cancel without penalty; gift subscriptions available

Prices: Four-person family plan: two meals per week/$69.92 ($8.74/plate); four meals per week/ $139.84 ($8.74/plate).

Bonus: $30 off first order

Sample recipe: Summer vegetable gnocchi with peppers, corn and basil

 

Hello Fresh

Another front-runner in the industry, Hello Fresh delivers all across the US, Europe, and Australia. The company recently partnered with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and feature at least one of his recipes every week. Hello Fresh offers a family option with kid-friendly recipes that hold back on the spice without skimping on flavor or nutrition. Recipes are presented in a small booklet, complete with storage tips. Hello Fresh also offers a vegetarian plan, as well as a classic plan that allows you to choose your meals, but features recipes that might be trickier for picky eaters.

Pros:

  • Utilizes more thoughtful packaging: most of the waste is paper or cardboard

  • Portions are generous and quality of ingredients high

  • Ingredients boxed according to recipe, leading to convenient storage and efficient locating of ingredients

Cons:

  • The Family box is limited in that you can’t choose your meals

Fine Print: Free shipping; flexible subscription-based plan, with the ability to skip or cancel without penalty; gift cards available

Pricing: Four-person family plan: two meals per week/ $79.95 ($9.99/plate); three meals per week/$105.00 ($8.75/plate).

Bonus: $15 off first order

Sample recipe: Barbecue pork burgers with tangy slaw and sweet potato fries

 

Plated

Plated offers a customizable plan, with nine meals each week to choose from. Its recipes range from 20-minute dinners to “full culinary adventures.” An easy phone app lets you place and modify your orders on-the-go.

Pros:

  • High-quality ingredients that are antibiotic- and hormone-free, sustainable, and organic where possible

  • Dessert options available

  • Ingredients bagged by recipe

Cons:

  • Currently only offer meals for two people

  • One of the more expensive plans on the market

Fine Print: Shipping is $6 for the two-meal plan, free for the others; flexible subscription-based plan, with the ability to skip or cancel without penalty; gift cards available

Pricing: Two-person box: two meals per week/$48 ($12/plate); three meals per week/$72 ($12/plate); four meals per week/$96 ($12/plate)

Bonus: Free dinner for two with first delivery

Sample recipe: Orecchiette with Italian sausage, summer squash and brown butter sage sauce

 

The Purple Carrot

With ties to popular cookbook author and former New York Times food writer Mark Bittman, The Purple Carrot is the front-runner vegan meal kit delivery service.

Pros:

  • A great ecologically conscious, sustainable option, both due to the vegan cuisine and the thoughtful restraint on packaging

  • All ingredients non-GMO, and organic where possible

  • Quality of ingredients is incredibly high. In my experience, the vegetables are as fresh as can be.

  • Ingredients bagged by recipe

Cons:

  • No customization: meals are chosen for you each week

  • Many meals include unusual ingredients, which is great for adventurous kiddos, but might be a harder sell for picky eaters.

Fine Print: Free shipping; flexible subscription-based plan, with the ability to skip or cancel without penalty; gift cards available (but recipient will have to set up an account and then cancel to avoid recurring charges)

Pricing: Four person family box: two meals per week/ $74 ($9.25/plate).

Bonus: $20 off first delivery

Sample recipe: Vegetable Thai red curry with brown rice vermicelli

 

Martha & Marley Spoon

The new darling of the industry, Marley Spoon recently partnered with Martha Stewart. The result combines high-quality ingredients with Martha’s recipes and cooking know-how. The family box includes more kid-friendly meals, though you can switch recipes out from their other plan.

Pros:

  • Family plan is customizable, allowing parents to choose from five meal options

  • Some of the tastiest recipes of all the services I tried, for kids and parents alike.

  • High quality ingredients, including some from local, artisanal producers

  • Generous portions

  • Ingredients are bagged by recipe

Cons:

  • The two-person plan is slightly pricier than other options

Fine Print: Free delivery; flexible subscription-based plan, with the ability to skip or cancel without penalty; gift cards available

Pricing: Two person box: Three meals per week/$61.50 ($10.25/plate). Four person family box: Three meals per week/$106.80 ($8.90/plate).

Bonus: Enter code SEATTLESCHILD30 for $30 off first order (expires October 31, 2016)

Sample recipe: Mini meatloaf with crispy potatoes and green beans

 

Sun Basket

Sun Basket prides itself on being the farm-to-table option, and offers healthy, delicious meals, most of which can be made in 30 minutes or less. It partners with local and sustainable farms, ranchers and fishermen, and provides very high-quality ingredients. Meals are fully customizable with gluten-free, vegetarian and paleo plans available. Recipes are created by the company's own chef and approved by a nutritionist.  

Pros:

  • Sun Basket uses all certified organic, non-GMO ingredients

  • One of the more environmentally-friendly options as all packaging is 100% recyclable or compostable

  • In my delivery, the recipes were thoughtful and exciting yet still palatable to families.

  • If you’re not 100% happy with the quality and freshness of your ingredients, they will offer a full refund Ingredients are bagged by recipe

Cons:

  • You pay for shipping

  • One of the pricier options

  • The recipe cards are small and, unlike other options, include no instructional step-by-step photos

Fine Print: Shipping is $5.99/week; flexible subscription-based plan, with the ability to skip or cancel without penalty; gift cards available for one to four weekly deliveries; a refer-a-friend program gives your friend three free meals and you $25 when that person sign up

Pricing: Four person box: Three meals per week/$143.87 ($11.49/meal)

Bonus: Shipping is free on the first order

Sample recipe: Mushroom-smothered steaks with an arugula and walnut salad

 

Chef’D

Arriving in a bright orange box with a logo that looks straight out of The Food Network, Chef’d offers high quality fare with possibly the most customizable service out there. Chef’d has partnered with celebrity chefs, popular restaurants, and culinary brands around the world to bring you a choice of hundreds of tasty meals. Browse by chef, by ingredient, by dietary restriction, or just head straight to their “family friendly” section. It even offers a “back to school” area specializing in quick and easy weeknight meals.

Pros:

  • No subscription required, just order as you go

  • Incredible variety of meals

  • Very high quality ingredients and generous portions

  • Ingredients are bagged by recipe

Cons:

  • Some recipes are more complicated than those of the other services: Great for aspiring chefs, but could be more than the average parent wants to tackle on a school night.

  • Pricier than some of the other services

Fine Print: Shipping is free for orders over $40, otherwise it’s $10; no subscription required; gift cards available

Pricing: Dinners for two average around $25-$40; dinners for four average around $40-$60

Bonus: My delivery included two complimentary bottles of sparkling Smart Water.

Sample recipe: Chicken tikka masala with basmati rice, cucumber raita, and naan bread

 

Home Chef

Another good customizable option, Home Chef offers a selection of ten meals to choose from each week, as well as breakfast, fruit and smoothie options. It offers plans for up to six people, making it a good choice for larger families. Their very user-friendly website also has an online marketplace selling a selection of knives, pans, kitchen accessories and more.

Pros:

  • Another more environmentally friendly option: most packaging can be recycled, and if you’re not reusing the gel packs, the contents are water-based and can be sent down the drain, then the liners recycled.

  • Good variety of plans for two, four or six people, from two to six nights per week

  • First delivery includes a binder so you can save your recipe cards and create your own “Home Chef Cookbook”

  • Ingredients are bagged by recipe

Cons:

  • The quality of ingredients was high, but the recipes in my delivery were some of the least compelling of all the services I tried.

Fine Print: Shipping is $10 for orders under $45; flexible subscription-based plan, with the ability to skip or cancel without penalty; gift cards available; refer-a-friend program gives them $30 off their order and you a $30 credit

Pricing: Two person box: Three meals per week/$59.70 ($9.95/plate); four person box: three meals per week/ $119.40 ($9.95/plate); six person box: three meals per week/$179.10 ($9.95/plate)

Bonus: $30 off your first order

Sample recipe: Bone-in pork chop with honey mustard cream, miso-roasted fingerling potatoes, and asparagus

 

If you’re looking to sign up for a meal-kit service, these days you’re spoiled for choice. Of the ones my family and I tested, Martha & Marley Spoon came out on top for solid, family-friendly dinners. For aspiring chefs or families with adventurous eaters, we loved the thoughtful recipes that Sun Basket delivered, as well as the amazing choice and quality from Chef’d. There are certainly pros and cons to all of these services, but all are giving us more dinnertime solutions and, hopefully, getting more families eating around the table together. Bon appetit!



 

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