A friend of mine posted on Facebook if any of her friends used services like Blue Apron. I had been considering it for sometime, but just never took the next step of committing to an order. With some renewed curiosity, I decided now was the time to look into a meal delivery service.
What I found immediately is how competitive the market is with a ton of companies trying to provide prep-ready uncooked meals for our busy lives. Since this blog and our decisions at home involve cooking with organic and mostly sustainable ingredients, I narrowed down the services I would try. All of the services here have a focus on local ingredients, though that is very loosely defined in some cases. Few services offer only organic and some dabble by occasionally including an organic ingredient.
I wanted to try a wide range of companies. I included the big ones: Blue Apron and Plated. Part of the experience included a vegan only service (The Purple Carrot) and an organic only service (Green Chef.)
Because the market is so competitive, you can get some amazing deals, at least for your first week of meals. The lowest I paid was only $9.95 for shipping only and 3 meals for 2 for free from Green Chef. Most give you the first two meals free.
Before this endeavor I read several reviews with most of them focusing on one service and every blogger I read had received meals for free. This review is not influenced by free food. The following is a review from someone who actually bought the food with his own money.
Here we go!
What I Paid: $38.94
Offer: $30 off the first order.
Sun Basket and Green Chef were the two I was most interested in since they both focus on organic and small farm producers, but of the two I found Sun Basket’s meal choices to be slightly better.
The box arrived with instructions on how to recycle and return reusable items back to the company. Each meal was packed in its own bag to make it easy to pull from the refrigerator.
A stack of recipe cards arrived in the box with a full ingredients list and portions making it useful in case you want to make the dish again. I really like how they had another card focusing on one of the farmers they work with. The personal story, aka “supermarket pastoral” as author Michael Pollan calls it, is a nice touch since I have no personal connection to the source of the ingredients like I do when going to a farmers’ market.
Sun Basket offers seven options each week. It’s a good mix of vegetarian and meat plus they share if it is Paleo, Gluten Free or Soy Free. I found the Sun Basket meals to be more to our family’s taste and all three of the recipes we tried tasted great. Not one was a disappointment.
My only issue is I wish they shared more about their ingredient sources. Green Chef offers more details on their website about suppliers and I would like to see the same from Sun Basket.
UPDATE: They have since added vegan and vegetarian box options. However, I highly do not recommend them as they do not send out notifications to check your weekly selections, so you may get a surprise box like I did without any notice. Others like Sun Basket, Hello Fresh and Purple Carrot all send out weekly emails asking to review the coming week selections before sending you anything.
What I Paid: $9.95 (shipping only)
Offer: Initially Order 2 Meals and get 4 Free Meals free. When checking out on the website they offered all 6 meals to me for free since I was in a geographic area where others are using their service.
After an impressive first week of meal delivery with Sun Basket, I was a bit surprised by how mediocre the next week was with Green Chef. The meal arrived in a box that was better packed with cold packs than Sun Basket, but the ingredients were put in the box without grouping them for each recipe. So every time I went to make something, I was looking throughout the refrigerator like any normal night cooking at home. I was a bit spoiled by Sun Basket who put each meal’s ingredients in a brown paper bag.
The sheets Green Chef provided for cooking the meal had simple step-by-step photos making it really easy for new home cooks. Unfortunately, they didn’t give you the recipe so you could make the meal again; though, it wasn’t difficult to figure out the recipe with the ingredients all measured out.
I made three meals and all of them were okay, but nothing I’d ever make again. Perhaps it was a weak week or I picked wrong. My wife kept telling me “when is this week over. None of these meals are good.”
The other issue we had with Green Chef were the portions. We didn’t really mind as I don’t make big meals, but I would guess most Americans wouldn’t be too happy getting a steak dinner for two with half a steak. Or a meal that was a vegetable soup with a French sandwich roll to split. None of the meals really felt big enough for dinner, more like lunch portions.
I did however like how Green Chef is focused on organic ingredients and their website was the best at showing the source of the foods. Unfortunately, nothing looked that great recipe wise and I decided to cancel my membership.
If you are Paleo, they do offer it as an option and you may also be happier with their recipe selection than I was. So give them a try, just know portions are small.
What I Paid: $68.00
Offer: I was supposed to receive $20 off but the discount was never applied to my order. They are still offering a discount off your first order, but please make sure you get the discount when checking your bill.
My wife and I were really excited about receiving our order from The Purple Carrot, since there was a recipe for a black bean burger my wife had been eying since she made me aware of this service.
I should note that The Purple Carrot is a vegan only service. What also caught our attention was the recent collaboration with New York Times columnist Mark Bittman. A lot of my personal food changes came about from a combination of the documentary Food Inc. and Bittman’s 2008 article titled Rethinking The Meat Guzzler.
Unfortunately, our first meal kind of crumbled to pieces, literally. The black bean burger was just too wet and became quite the mess in the pan and was almost inedible, but we decided to not toss it and order pizza. In the end, it didn’t taste too bad, but was not a positive experience and has the unfortunate conclusion of being the only failed meal during this whole endeavor.
It was a good thing the next two meals ended up being big hits. The other was a roasted vegetable and quinoa dish and an Indian spiced tofu dish that we both really liked.
The black bean burger situation aside, I really liked The Purple Carrot and they provided beautiful recipe cards along with detailed instructions on how to prepare each recipe. They also used a good amount of organic ingredients. I’m watching to see how Mark Bittman’s influence continues to impact the recipes they offer.
What I Paid: $48
Offer: Get to 2 free plates with purchase of 4. So basically you pay for 2 of the 3 meals they send with each meal serving two people.
Plated’s website talked about local producers and sustainably sourced ingredients. Like most of the food services they knew the right buzzwords and brought together home cooking with the other trend of farm-to-table.
The meals we received were pretty good. Not one was a miss and I really liked some of their vegetarian options, which were better than other services. The Tuscan Ribollita Vegetable Stew with White Beans and Kale and Squash Tartines were both delicious.
The Plated box did arrive with one minor issue. The butternut squash bag had a slit in it and several cubed squash pieces were roaming freely in the box. I contacted their help team and they made note of the issue. I said I was fine replacing it myself since it was $2 in product and I needed it the next evening. Considering all the food sent to our home over 7 weeks, one bag of cut squash was a minor casualty. The rest of the ingredients from Plated arrived fine.
Overall, I liked Plated but it didn’t make my list of ones to keep. I would love to see them do an all-organic offering, as I do like their meal selection. They also are the only other one with a mobile app making it easy to select meals or skip weeks (Blue Apron also has a mobile app, but there are limitations I didn’t care for regarding meal selection that are mentioned below.)
What I Paid: $23.90
Offer: First four meals free. You pay for one of the meals in a three meals for two people plan.
Similar to Green Chef, Gooble doesn’t share the recipe details for the dishes you make. They also provided the least amount of information about each recipe. For example, there was a cream sauce for Chicken Carbonara and some salsa for a fajita dish that came in containers with no information about what was in them. If you like the recipes, you’re out of luck with replicating them yourself without some guess work.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), the recipes were okay but nothing spectacular so I didn’t feel like I was missing out with recipe details. It’s not that the meals were bad. They just were not good enough to bother making again.
The recipes come packed in separate ingredient baggies and each recipes is bagged in its own separate large bag, making it easy to grab a recipe for cooking each night after work.
Gobble used the least amount of packaging material of all the services; though, it was enough to keep everything fresh and ready to put in the refrigerator when it arrived on our doorstep.
What I Paid: $39.96
Offer: Two free meals on your first week’s order. You pay for two meals for two people. They give you the third meal for two people for free.
I almost didn’t order from Blue Apron for this review. I figured they were big and enough had been written about them already. Plus they didn’t fit my initial criteria, meal delivery services focusing on organic and/or sustainable small farm sources. Plated and Gobble both moved me away from that criteria too, so I opened up to see how the largest company in this segment does things.
There was a small carton of milk labeled organic. To be fair they don’t focus on organic, but it was nice to see at least a solitary attempt was made. All of the ingredients were in good shape with nothing damaged or bruised.
Blue Apron’s recipe sheets are full back-and-front pages showing the full recipe details and photographed step-by-step instructions are easy to follow along. Every recipe I made came out flawlessly.
The food all tasted great and they were really adventurous with one meal, a squash and onion pizza. That one took some work and more time than most delivery service meals. I found most meals take 30-minutes or less. The pizza from Blue Apron took almost a hour. Fortunately, I have a pizza oven that did the cooking faster at a 700-degree heat.
My main gripe with Blue Apron was during the meal selection process. Every service gives you around 4-8 meals to select from. Blue Apron was the only one that excluded certain meals after selecting other meals. They group your combinations and this forces you to select more of a group of recipes than say your three favorite recipes.
Meal delivery cook at-home service is a great trend and one I hope survives the eventual Silicon Valley investment bubble. There are a lot of competitors in the market today offering very similar experiences, including some I didn’t get to review like Freshly and Hello Fresh.
It is definitely a luxury service. You have to have the luxury of paying for the convenience and the luxury of having time to cook at home. However, if you already do a lot of home cooking and don’t mind the additional $20-$35 fee each week that gets you meal planning, shopping, and delivery right at your doorstep then you won’t mind the cost of cooking this way.
You’ll also need to have some kitchen equipment like pans, knives, oils and on occasion a food processor.
Overall, I found I really like what meal delivery has to offer. I cook at home five to six nights a week already and having a service or two I love to select from on occasion makes planning considerably easier. In the end, I kept Sun Basket and The Purple Carrot active. Their recipe selection, quality and ingredients fit our family best. I’ll continue to watch how the industry matures and I definitely recommend trying a few services out since you get some great introductory week deals that work to your benefit.
Enjoy! Please share in the comments below any experiences you had or plan to have.