A Cooking Novice Reviews the Top Meal-Prep Kits
Up until a couple of years ago, all I could cook was a concoction I called “Chicken Spaghetti.” Then I got married, and my wife insisted I carry some of the cooking burden during the week. Luckily, she is an extreme planner, so she set me up on a rotation of some of the top meal prep kits. What is a meal prep kit? Generally, they arrive once a week in a box, containing a recipe, the ingredients to make it, and a generous amount of ice packets to keep them fresh until you can get them refrigerated (as needed).
Below, I have noted my experiences with three of the top meal prep kits, and tried to show the differences between each one, from an absolute beginner’s view. If you are also a newbie, my best advice is, “take time to avoid cutting yourself.” Starting out, the speed chopping that master chefs do is just not something that is safe for beginners. My second piece of advice is to invest in some small, shallow, Tupperware containers. When cooking you can never have too many receptacles to hold your washed and cut ingredients.
Make sure you have plenty of spoons, spatulas, pots, pans, and a measuring cup. Don’t forget to preheat the oven a few minutes before you start, and always keep potholders at the ready. Hack: I keep a roll of Scotch tape in a kitchen drawer and tape the recipe up on the cabinet right at my eye level in front of where I’m preparing ingredients.
Let’s get started with one of the most common names when it comes to meal kits:
One of the first meal kit services I tried was the pioneering Blue Apron, a company operated out of New York that was founded in 2012. Blue Apron had shipped 8 million meals by 2016, and went public in June of 2017.
The Blue Apron meals have the advantage of being well-balanced and a “nice class” of meal. The spices and sauces come packed nicely together in one big bag filled with little bags of “knick-knacks,” with the vegetables on the side.
Pros: Recipes of more exotic origin are available, things that adventurous foodies are going to enjoy.
Cons: The way the vegetables are delivered feels a bit “loose,” perhaps they could be incorporated into the rest of the package more closely.
Price: Just over $20 for a nice dinner for two, or roughly $11 per serving.
This Chicago-based company delivers 3 million meal kits a month. Home Chef was purchased by The Kroger Company a couple of years ago, so their meals are actually available in some Kroger stores. Home Chef delivers to 48 states, and boasts the highest customer satisfaction rating of the top 3 services.
These Ready-to-serve meals often come with their own pan, a very nice touch. They also offer more salad options than the rest, which can be nice if you’re looking to keep it light. All of the ingredients come self-contained in their own bag.
Pros: Versatile, choose from ready-to-cook meals/salads, and EASE is a big plus. When we did have a shipping mishap, they quickly refunded our money with great customer service.
Cons: The pre-portioned vegetables don’t have much of a shelf life, they must be used fairly quickly.
Price: $6.99 (dinner salad), $9.95 (avg meal, per serving), $13.95/serving-nicer meals ‘Culinary Collections” which encompass more steak and shrimp.
Hello Fresh originated in Berlin, Germany, and operates internationally, they are one of the longest running of all meal prep kit companies. The first 10 meals were made and personally delivered by hand, until a German startup company decided to buy in. Years later, in 2018, Hellow Fresh would actually exceed sales of the mega popular Blue Apron in America.
I just want to make a special mention that Hello Fresh meals come in a crisp paper bag, that makes everything seem more deal-able, and easier to store in your fridge.
Pros: Perhaps the widest variety of meal options available. $5.99 upgrades to a Family, International, or Gourmet selection, allowing for more enticing options. Many side items are available, including: Quick sandwiches, salad packs, and ravioli. Extra proteins can be added for $4.99, allowing meats to be delivered and used for whatever you want at a pretty reasonable price. Almost all pieces are recyclable. Great sortable user interface online.
Cons: The vegetables are not as tightly packaged as the other meal kits, this can sometimes resulting bruising. Unfortunately, when using a meal kit, losing a vital ingredient can be a deal breaker for the meal. We have personally experienced a bit of delay in their shipping, admittedly, shipping isn’t at the top of it’s game in 2020, but the same delays haven’t really been noticed with the others.
Price: The average meal is around $9.99 per person, with the aforementioned upgrades, allowing you to adjust size and portion.
It looks like Home Chef is the winner is you are looking for ease, with meals practically ready to pop in the over when they arrive, they even supply the pan! I’m going to give Blue Apron the win if you are looking mostly at price, their prices are comparable, but you really would want to upgrade the other to reach the level of a Blue Apron meal. If you like to be challenged and taken out of your comfort zone at times, I would also suggest Blue Apron, allowing for some pretty high class meals. If variety is what you are looking for then it will have to be Hello Fresh, their menu of side items is unparalleled and includes categories completely unavailable from the others.
So, get out there and learn to cook, with these meal prep kits you can get a good handle on what it’s like to create a multi-faceted dinner while learning all the way. Don’t forget to wash all of your vegetables and taste EVERYTHING!