That Time I Tried 5 Meal Delivery Boxes…

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Who hates grocery shopping? I do, I do!

I really like being in the kitchen cooking and sharing a lovingly prepared meal with my family, but gracious how I loathe going to the grocery store! I hate all the options and the thinking involved, and “oh, did I get everything” and “crap I have to go back in for lemons.” I know. Real heavy problems here, but we all have our pet peeves.

Meal delivery boxes aren’t a new thing, and I realize I’m a little late to the meal delivery party here, but I was excited to finally test some out and see what I thought…and NOT GO TO THE STORE. Best part.

Because I’m a little late to the game here, I had many options from which to choose when it came to trying out these boxes. I tried five different brands and was able to compare each in price, quality of recipes, quality of food and packaging. I tried out Hello Fresh, Acme Farms, Plated, Blue Apron and Sun Basket. Let’s check out the findings:

Hello Fresh

For Hello Fresh we did the family of 4, 2 meals a week ($69 but had a shopping code for $39.92). They have the same packaging problem as Blue Apron (below), though. We liked the meals just fine. But the Blue Apron sauces were more interesting. The regular, non-coupon prices for Hello Fresh seem expensive and our tomatoes came damaged. Overall, it was just OK.

Acme Farms

Acme Farms was one of my favorites, but sadly it’s local only to the Northwest. They assume you have some of the more common spices and condiments so they eliminate packaging that way and, of course, they don’t have to ship this one across the country. They source local ingredients to the Pacific Northwest major cities of Portland, Seattle and the Bellingham area. But if you’re in these areas, the meals are delicious. The Asian Pork burger recipe we tried was so good.

We only did the trial box of 1 meal for 4 at $25.00, but they offer a Locavore box with options like Surf, Turf, Vegan, Grain-Free, Quick Meals and more. My friends who had a busy winter and are super-picky foodies love it and started using Acme Farms regularly over the last few months. They did say you have to be prepared for a little more intense cooking knowledge with this box, but they offer some great add-ons with extra proteins and veggies, and pantry items like eggs and bread. I’ll definitely be trying them out again.

Plated

Plated had delicious recipes and the amount of packaging was mid-level, I’d say. It’s probably my favorite of the nationally available boxes. One reason is because they offer a 3 servings/meal option. Everyone else only offers 2 or 4 servings per meal…annoying for a family of 3! We tried the Browned Butter Sausage Orecchiette, Avocado Chicken Burgers, the Za’atar Chicken Flatbread, and Seared Steak and Papas Bravas. YUM. All the recipes we made were amazing, and due to a weird email error, I wound up getting an extra box one week. Their customer service was pretty great to work with on that, and they credited my account for another box, so needless to say we tried a lot of Plated meals and were happy each time. Watch the salt levels though; I’d suggest mostly salting dishes at the end (see my notes below).

Blue Apron

Spring Pea & Mushroom Ramen with a Soft-Boiled Egg

(Image source: Blue Apron)

Blue Apron‘s meals were delicious, but there was way too much packaging, and I thought it was fairly pricey for what you got. Granted, Sun Basket is more per serving, but you get high quality/organic ingredients. I don’t think Blue Apron focuses on organic items since I didn’t see any mention of it.

We did 2 meals/week for 2 people (not a family box) and it was almost enough food for the 3 of us, but not quite. I had to supplement some for Sienna since she’s a pretty good eater. I also love having leftovers for lunch and that didn’t happen here. I had a coupon for the first month off Blue Apron, too. Definitely search for those if you want to try it out. The sauces in this one were amazing, but I won’t try them again because of the insane packaging.

Sun Basket

I loved Sun Basket’s recyclable packaging — even the insulation in the box was fully recyclable. We did the 3 meals for 2 people with the Mediterranean diet and loved the food, but the portions are a little small to divide among 3. I would definitely order again if they offered a 3-serving option. If you’re trying to eat a certain limited diet, this one is probably the way to go for you. They have great healthy options like Paleo, Gluten-Free, Pescatarian, Vegan, etc.

I believe most all of their food is organic, which is a big plus for me, too, but it does make the servings pricier at $12.99/person if you only do 2 meals a week. They have a handy app, too, for editing your deliveries and sending reminders. A few of my friends really love Sun Basket best! They do have great options, especially if you’re set on organic eating like we are.

Overall Pros of Meal Delivery Boxes

ConvenienceThe convenience here is by far the best reason to try these out.

No grocery shopping extrasHaving these meal boxes with everything you need for dinners keeps you out of the stores buying all those extra things you don’t need…like snacks. Haha.

Less food waste. You only get what you need for the recipes, so you don’t have extra cilantro or lettuce wasting in the fridge.

Adds variety to your menu. I love cooking but tend to make a lot of the same things again and again, so this is really great for mixing it up. Some of the recipes and sauces in particular I would have never thought to make. I love them for that reason. I plan to try some of these every few months to help our variety, or order them during weeks I know will be busy.

Overall Cons of Meal Delivery Boxes

PACKAGING and shipping/delivery impact on the environment. The packaging you guys. For most of the boxes, it’s just too much to keep me from doing this more regularly. Yes, our typical food has packaging, too, but because they divide these out by number of servings, we’re talking mini plastic bottles for soy sauce, multiple pats of butter wrapped individually, etc., OMG. Too much. It made it SUPER-easy, but the Portlander in me Just. Can’t.

Cost. It wound up being at least $10/serving for most of these meals. I don’t think it’s totally unreasonable, but it’s also about the same as going out to eat, but without someone else cleaning up and cooking and whatnot. If this was your plan to keep you from going out to eat as often, I could see it saving you a little per meal. Otherwise, don’t count on this for a huge break in savings, unless you’re a true over-shopper when you go to the store or you typically have a lot of food waste because it goes bad in the fridge. I could see these being a great option for people who may spend part of their time in a second home, like my parents who travel between Florida and Arkansas regularly. My mom is excited to try these during shorter trips in one location, so that she doesn’t have to buy a ton of groceries to have some great at-home meals.

Cooking learning curve. I love to cook and do so often. Most of these had good instructions, but you still need to know how to cook, so I wouldn’t rely on these as instructional or to actually teach you how to cook. There are great ideas though, and I’m saving all the recipes to make on my own again. I’ve already reused one of the oven potato recipes because it’s so good!

Salt. The majority of our dishes turned out far too salty. In only one of the early ones, I didn’t follow the instructions very specifically and just added my typical amount of salt…hence, that one was my bad. But the rest I followed to a T and whoa, so salty! Some of the sauces and whatnot that are already prepared seem to have a lot of salt. Taste as you go with these, and beware you may need to use much less salt along the way and/or just add it at the end.

My Conclusion About Meal Delivery Boxes

So, I said it above, but my overall takeaway from trying all these meal boxes is…they’re great for every once in a while.

If you know you have a busy week or if you want to try something new in the kitchen, check them out. If you want to send a gift to a busy family who likes to cook or if you want to fix a nice meal for visiting family, but don’t want the pressure of shopping and figuring out all the details, this may be for you.

Definitely search for a coupon or ask a friend for a referral when trying out any of these. Most all of them offer deals on your first box, and your friend will get a credit, as well. With Plated, when you’ve ordered a certain number of meals, they allow you to send a free box to a friend. Pretty cool.

If you do any of these meals regularly, I’d love to hear what works for you! I really enjoyed this little test and now have some great new recipes to make again on my own. If you’re in a cooking rut like I was, this is a fun, yummy way to break out of that.

Happy Cooking!

xo

L

Be sure to follow me on Instagram @elletrain to see daily outfits, what I’m currently whipping up in the kitchen, and of course, Sienna’s dance moves.

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Meet Laura! She's a reader turned contributor and we couldn't be happier to have her as part of the team. Her fun, creative style is, as she says, "somewhere between Madewell and Joan Jett" (YES.) and she delivers some mean dressing room selfies so keep an eye out for those. Fun fact? She loves getting her hair cut and we love to see what she has up her sleeve.  

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16 Comments

  1. So I’ve tried 3 different services: Acme, Green Chef, and Sun Basket, all paleo options. My problem with Acme was that the meal prep took FOREVER. Nothing arrives ready to cook and for someone with crappy knife skills (me) that means add *at least* 20 minutes to the recipe, some of which already had total times of 90 minutes or more. Fine for a weekend maybe, but not for a weeknight. And maybe they’ve gotten better (this was a few years ago) but we had a lot of food waste, because they’d send a whole onion when you only needed half and that sort of thing. And the food tended to be a little too heavily spiced for my littles (not that they were eating much at that point.) Still, I have very fond memories of the chorizo-stuffed acorn squash and am wishing I’d saved that recipe card.

    Green Chef did a much better job with the recipe cards and instructions and the amount of stuff that arrived pre-chopped and ready to go. But, as you said, OMG THE PACKAGING. And the 2 or 4 servings, which although there are 4 of us, the kids are still small enough that 4 servings would be a lot of extra food. I would usually get the 2 person plan and sub in extra protein and rice. What was also a bummer was that they included proprietary spice blends, so you would have the recipe, but to replicate it you’d have to guess on the spices. And in the months and months that we used them, we never got the same recipe twice. Great if you’re super into variety, but not so great if you get novelty fatigue or have a favorite you’d really like to have again.

    SunBasket (Seattleite here) had a lot going for it. I liked that you could choose your meals (and they repeated!), that they had a family plan and that the ingredients for each meal all came packaged together (instead of hunting down which little jar of whatever had the appropriate color coded sticker ala Green Chef). And especially with the paleo option, it was great for when I was doing Whole30 or the Whole Life Challenge. In the end I think I just started to get tired of cooking more complicated things or things that take longer than 30 minutes. (Generally I am a “meat under the broiler, sautee some veggies, Done!” kind of girl.)

    What I’ve been doing for the last 8 months or so is ButcherBox. They don’t include veg or recipes, although you can look on their website for all sorts of recipes and cooking suggestions. So every month we get our shipment of steaks, burgers, chicken breasts, bacon and pork, and then all I have to do is thaw it out and hit Trader Joe’s to get produce to go with. The meat is incredible quality, all grass-fed, organic, and free-range. It does tend to max out our tiny little freezer, and there have been times when the box ended up arriving while we were out of town and I had to frantically call my housesitter and ask them to unload the box, but generally it’s been a win.

    • We tried out Butcher Box and I did love it, too! The packaging/styrofoam was a little more than I wanted to deal with, but I agree the selections were great quality and tasty. We’ve recently added Fish Fixe to our freezer every few months (a seafood subscription box) and I am loving it. I only do it every few months, but it gets us to eat more seafood which is great. I think if I can find a good balance between the meat delivery boxes and the Imperfect Produce or a CSA I’ll be mostly set and won’t have to schlepp into the grocery store hardly at all! Thanks for all your great info!

  2. Thank you for this, Laura! Your post represents a lot of time and money investment. I’ve been wondering about these. I tried Blue Apron, but only once. By the time I scheduled it, remembered I scheduled it, unwrapped, untaped, unzipped, and disposed of all the packaging, read everything, and finally got to cooking, it seemed about as much trouble as my normal meal prep. But I’m single — I can see how it might be different for a family.

    • Thanks, Maria! It was super fun for the most part, but yes, time consuming! And a bit of investment. I did get some great recipes out of the deal though and some good meals! I’m glad to be able to provide some info for y’all!

  3. Based on your cons, I suggest trying a CSA, or community supported agriculture. We get a box delivered weekly that we can customize. We choose veggies and fruits, sometimes even adding on fabulous eggs and meats. The box is seasonally based, organic, supports local (California) farmers, and often the newsletter recipes are super simple, unusual, and makeable based on what I get in the box and have already in the house. I NEVER knew potatoes and carrots could be so deliciously sweet and my cooking greens repertoire is pleasantly large now. Packaging is almost nill (a single bag we reuse for garbage) and it’s delivered to our house at no extra charge. It’s slightly more than a grocery store but just as much as a high end organic store that would take time, energy, and over shopping. The pros have led us and multiple friends to go the CSA route for years now. I just can’t quit it!

    • We used to do a CSA but it wasn’t very customizable, so we tended to have waste. We currently do Imperfect Produce which we like ok, but the add-ons are limited. I might keep shopping around for a CSA that has a few more options! Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Merab-Michal Favorite on

    Thank you! I’m so glad someone commented on the waste…I have tried several meal delivery services too…and loved them, but I just felt so guilty about all that waste that I had to quit. Publix is now offering dinner “kits” for those nights when you want something different or are too busy to do the full shop.

  5. This was great! I, too, really dislike going to the grocery store. When I was pregnant, my husband would go for me (he’s the best) but inevitably he would arrive home with the wrong stuff. Every time. Even when given photos of important items. I think it was intentional so he wouldn’t be stuck with the job in the future. Haha.

    Anyway, I’m in the SF Bay Area and my go-to is Good Eggs which is an SF company. They have high quality groceries and easy meal kits. Cost can be on the higher side, but many basics are less expensive than our local grocery store and the produce is usually less than our farmers market (but equally fresh), so I feel like we come out even. I really appreciate that they pick up all their packaging (ice packs, boxes) the next time they deliver.

    I’ve also tried One Potato meal kits. They had some tasty, family-friendly meals but my major issue was that many of them were extra “fiddly” and required cutting and skewering lots of meat to make kebabs or shaping and filling a bunch of dumplings. I realize that kids sometimes are more likely to eat new things when the presentation is appealing, but they were usually so hangry by the time dinner was ready they refused to eat anything but a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Sigh.

  6. I also have tried a bunch of meal kits services because we were eating take out far too often–kids were STARVING couldn’t wait the 30 minutes to an hour before I got food on the table after we all got home at 6:30 or 7pm! All of the services had a number of meals that were too adventurous for my family, unfortunately. Freshly is like TV dinners (ugh), One Potato was too complicated or took far too long to prep plus the dishes were too spicy for my family. Hello Fresh was the same problem–took too long to prep. The one we tried for quite awhile was Gobble. I would recommend these delicious meals with relatively large portions and very short prep time. Gobble pre-cooks or chops some items, or makes ahead the risotto part, for example. But they weren’t inexpensive and it started to add up. My husband loves to eat out, so he wasn’t a fan either. Sigh–I’ve gone back to the crockpot, make-ahead, pasta or eat out version of dinner. So if others have bright ideas, let ’em rip!

  7. I despised the excess packaging, too!! BIG reason why I didn’t subscribe to Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. No Bueno!!

    In Houston Texas, we have a place called Dream Dinners where I can go once a month to make my meals there. I get 14-16 meals done in the span of 90 minutes, and there’s no packaging issues that way plus no wasted ingredients since it’s all there laid out in stations to use as you need. Anyone interested in this option can look them up to see if there is a franchise near you. You have to go there to make the meals, but then you have them in your freezer for the whole month to pull out as you need. I love it!

    • I’ve heard of this before! I think we had it in Nashville, but I wasn’t ever able to go try it. That sounds like more fun than doing this at home which we did last year and it’s so much work. Thanks!!

  8. Just throwing something out there. We have used Nuture Life which is literally meal delivery for kids. Meals are already prepared, you just heat and serve. The food is fantastic, nutritious, organic when possible, just adventurous enough for kids…and the best part is they portion it according to age. So my 3 kids, ages 4, 6 and 9, all get an appropriate portion. Amazing!

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