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I Tried Three Recipe Boxes To See If They Were Any Good

Dinner is served.

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Tim Lane/ BuzzFeed

Hiya! Like most people, I could do better when it comes to cooking dinner.

My default dinner mode? "Put an egg on it."
Ailbhe Malone

My default dinner mode? "Put an egg on it."

I love to cook, but typically eat dinner late (between 8:30 and 9pm) so don't have time to try out new things.

Look, don't @ me, those are the facts. This oxtail stew with chard (above) was delicious, but a weekend affair. I generally stick to healthy meals with lots of vegetables – miso salmon and greens is a constant in my life. I'd love to find new vegetarian recipes, but in reality, I rely on my old faves (shoutout Minimalist Baker).
Ailbhe Malone

Look, don't @ me, those are the facts. This oxtail stew with chard (above) was delicious, but a weekend affair. I generally stick to healthy meals with lots of vegetables – miso salmon and greens is a constant in my life. I'd love to find new vegetarian recipes, but in reality, I rely on my old faves (shoutout Minimalist Baker).

I wanted to find new, healthy dinners that wouldn't take a million years to make. So I decided to try out three different recipe boxes.

There are plenty of recipe boxes out there, so I researched the most popular options online, and decided on Riverford Organic, Gousto, and Mindful Chef. I received press samples of each of the boxes, but was under no obligation to give the boxes coverage, or to be positive about them.I chose boxes based on three criteria: 1. The meals had to take less than 30 minutes to prepare.2. They had to have a focus on fresh, healthy dinners – with lots of vegetables. 3. Each box would supply meals for two people.
Ailbhe Malone/BuzzFeed

There are plenty of recipe boxes out there, so I researched the most popular options online, and decided on Riverford Organic, Gousto, and Mindful Chef. I received press samples of each of the boxes, but was under no obligation to give the boxes coverage, or to be positive about them.

I chose boxes based on three criteria:

1. The meals had to take less than 30 minutes to prepare.

2. They had to have a focus on fresh, healthy dinners – with lots of vegetables.

3. Each box would supply meals for two people.

First up was the Riverford Organic Vegetarian Quick.

Cost: £33.95 for three meals, for two people.

Cost to buy ingredients in the supermarket: £50.78 (But remember that in the supermarket you'll get larger quantities – 1kg of rice, compared with the 200g you get in the recipe box.)

Benefits: Based on seasonal vegetables, low on packaging. You can also add on groceries like fresh eggs or seasonal fruit.

Downsides: No substitutions available – if you don't like the veg on offer you're out of luck.

What I cooked:

Laura Gallant/ BuzzFeed

Shiitake & Spring Greens Stir-Fry

I haven't cooked with tofu much, and this was easy and super-nourishing. There was approximately one head of cabbage per person, and several giant mushrooms too, as well as rice and cashews – which meant that it was more filing than a normal stir-fry. The bad news is that I accidentally used all the ginger in the box for this dish – I didn't know I was supposed to leave some for the next recipe. The good news is that the sticky rice with cinnamon and star anise was so delicious that I've already bought some star anise to make it again.
Ailbhe Malone/ BuzzFeed

I haven't cooked with tofu much, and this was easy and super-nourishing. There was approximately one head of cabbage per person, and several giant mushrooms too, as well as rice and cashews – which meant that it was more filing than a normal stir-fry.

The bad news is that I accidentally used all the ginger in the box for this dish – I didn't know I was supposed to leave some for the next recipe. The good news is that the sticky rice with cinnamon and star anise was so delicious that I've already bought some star anise to make it again.

Beetroot & Apple Quinoa

I'm not a big quinoa fan, and I'm not really into beetroot – but this was bloody delicious. HOWEVER, the recipe for this dish wasn't the most clear. "It's a salad, Ailbhe, how hard can it be?" you ask. For example, I didn't know that I had to save the ginger from dish one, so I made this with no ginger. I also didn't know that I had to save the orange zest for the top, so accidentally mixed it in at the start. Finally, I would have preferred to add the dressing at the end, rather than at the start – when I brought the salad into work for lunch, the dressing leaked all over my tote bag. I would make this again, but as a side salad. The portion size was a bit small for a dinner, and I was peckish after eating it for lunch.
Ailbhe Malone/ BuzzFeed

I'm not a big quinoa fan, and I'm not really into beetroot – but this was bloody delicious. HOWEVER, the recipe for this dish wasn't the most clear. "It's a salad, Ailbhe, how hard can it be?" you ask. For example, I didn't know that I had to save the ginger from dish one, so I made this with no ginger. I also didn't know that I had to save the orange zest for the top, so accidentally mixed it in at the start. Finally, I would have preferred to add the dressing at the end, rather than at the start – when I brought the salad into work for lunch, the dressing leaked all over my tote bag.

I would make this again, but as a side salad. The portion size was a bit small for a dinner, and I was peckish after eating it for lunch.

Sicilian-style Cauliflower Pasta

The only way I like to eat cauliflower is smothered in béchamel sauce and cheese, so I was dreading this dish. And I'm sorry to say that my fears were not unfounded. There was no real sauce for this pasta – only a squeeze of lemon, and it was so dry. We're talking pine nuts, pasta, raisins, cauliflower, and a nudge of red wine vinegar. The fresh basil didn't really help much, and it was only through some leftover pesto in my fridge that I managed to eat this for dinner. 0/10, would not eat again.
Ailbhe Malone/ BuzzFeed

The only way I like to eat cauliflower is smothered in béchamel sauce and cheese, so I was dreading this dish. And I'm sorry to say that my fears were not unfounded. There was no real sauce for this pasta – only a squeeze of lemon, and it was so dry. We're talking pine nuts, pasta, raisins, cauliflower, and a nudge of red wine vinegar. The fresh basil didn't really help much, and it was only through some leftover pesto in my fridge that I managed to eat this for dinner. 0/10, would not eat again.

Overall impressions:

I liked the seasonal element to this box, but it meant that I had to accept some veg that I really don't enjoy eating. The tofu dish was fantastic, though, and overall the portion sizes were accurate. I loved how all the packaging is recyclable, and the quality of the vegetables was brilliant – and the quantity very generous. For example, you get a whole bulb of garlic when you only need a few cloves.

Would I buy it again? If I could filter the vegetables a bit more, then yeah. The recipes were interesting and varied, and not a stuffed pepper in sight.

Next, Gousto Quick and Easy.

Cost: £34.99 for three meals, for two people.

Cost to buy ingredients at the supermarket: £38.29

Benefits: There's a wide range of recipes to choose from, and plenty that take less than 20 minutes to cook.

Downsides: They're all a bit low on vegetables. And there's loads more packaging than with Riverford.

What I cooked:

Laura Gallant/ BuzzFeed

Blackened Haddock Tacos

First things first, please notice how I have made an effort with my plating. This is specifically for you, beloved readers, as we have five more dishes to go. My boyfriend was not impressed at the delay to our dinner, but that's life, isn't it? On to the tacos. This was super easy, and really really yummy. I will definitely cook it again – with a few adjustments.I just wish there had been a little more vegetables – if I was cooking this normally, I would have had a salad on the side, as well as some guacamole. I wasn't keen on using two packets of mayo for the dressing; normally I would use natural yoghurt. Also, the portions were a bit off: A haddock fillet and some salsa isn't really enough for dinner.
Ailbhe Malone/ BuzzFeed

First things first, please notice how I have made an effort with my plating. This is specifically for you, beloved readers, as we have five more dishes to go. My boyfriend was not impressed at the delay to our dinner, but that's life, isn't it? On to the tacos. This was super easy, and really really yummy. I will definitely cook it again – with a few adjustments.

I just wish there had been a little more vegetables – if I was cooking this normally, I would have had a salad on the side, as well as some guacamole. I wasn't keen on using two packets of mayo for the dressing; normally I would use natural yoghurt. Also, the portions were a bit off: A haddock fillet and some salsa isn't really enough for dinner.

Beef, Apricot, and Harissa Meatballs

The plating effort continues! This dish was fantastic – spicy, crunchy, and super easy to make. The portioning was perfect too: I felt full afterwards but not stuffed. One big benefit of the Gousto box is that the presentation style is really straightforward – each recipe comes with step-by-step photos, so it's hard to go wrong. I'm a confident cook, but this would be really helpful for somebody who was just starting out. Again, there's a lack of greenery here – we supplemented with a salad.
Ailbhe Malone/ BuzzFeed

The plating effort continues! This dish was fantastic – spicy, crunchy, and super easy to make. The portioning was perfect too: I felt full afterwards but not stuffed. One big benefit of the Gousto box is that the presentation style is really straightforward – each recipe comes with step-by-step photos, so it's hard to go wrong. I'm a confident cook, but this would be really helpful for somebody who was just starting out.

Again, there's a lack of greenery here – we supplemented with a salad.

Warm, Lemony Lamb Tabbouleh

My plating hubris has been my downfall. We ate this at 10pm (a gym class ran late, my life is imperfect, here we are), and I just could not be bothered to take any more photos before we ate. So, this looks like a bowl of slop, but it was fantastic. Perfectly cooked bulgur wheat with bites of tomato and lamb, with an earthy and warm spice blend. I would never have thought to add lamb to bulgur wheat (I don't really cook with mince) and this was so easy and delicious. I'm keeping the recipe card handy.
Ailbhe Malone/ BuzzFeed

My plating hubris has been my downfall. We ate this at 10pm (a gym class ran late, my life is imperfect, here we are), and I just could not be bothered to take any more photos before we ate. So, this looks like a bowl of slop, but it was fantastic. Perfectly cooked bulgur wheat with bites of tomato and lamb, with an earthy and warm spice blend.

I would never have thought to add lamb to bulgur wheat (I don't really cook with mince) and this was so easy and delicious. I'm keeping the recipe card handy.

Overall impressions:

I was really impressed by the Gousto recipes – they didn't stint on flavour, and the layout of the recipe cards was super helpful for rookie chefs.

In comparison with Riverford, the portion sizes were quite small, and the meals could have used some extra vegetables. But overall, I really enjoyed the dishes – and I would definitely buy this as a gift for someone who was pressed for time (perhaps a new parent!).

Finally, The Mindful Chef

Cost: £28 for two meals, for two people.

Cost to buy ingredients at the supermarket: £25.36

Benefits: They're one of the few boxes to offer gluten-free recipes and ingredients. There's very little packaging, and the vegetables are from small British farms.

Downsides: There's only two meals, not three.

What I cooked:

Laura Gallant/ BuzzFeed

Porcini Mushroom and Sweet Potato Risotto

Firstly, this is risotto made with quinoa. What is it with these boxes and quinoa? Arborio rice, which is used for risotto, is gluten-free – so there's no reason not to include it. This dish was big-time bland. There's no depth of flavours, and no vegetable cooking tips to speak of. In comparison to the Riverford box, there are no spices or flavourings in this risotto – the only seasoning is the water I soaked the porcini mushrooms in. Poor show.
Ailbhe Malone/ BuzzFeed

Firstly, this is risotto made with quinoa. What is it with these boxes and quinoa? Arborio rice, which is used for risotto, is gluten-free – so there's no reason not to include it.

This dish was big-time bland. There's no depth of flavours, and no vegetable cooking tips to speak of. In comparison to the Riverford box, there are no spices or flavourings in this risotto – the only seasoning is the water I soaked the porcini mushrooms in. Poor show.

Spiced Beetroot Fritters, Avocado, and Rocket

I was ready to be cranky with this meal – based on the quinoa bowl I wasn't expecting much. But I was pleasantly surprised: The fritters were delicious, the tahini dressing was tangy, and the avocado salad was creamy and crunchy. Some notes: These had a tablespoon and a half of coconut oil, which is just too much for a "healthy" meal. I also added extra salad and spinach, as originally there was just some rocket. I'd definitely make these again, just with less oil.
Ailbhe Malone/ BuzzFeed

I was ready to be cranky with this meal – based on the quinoa bowl I wasn't expecting much. But I was pleasantly surprised: The fritters were delicious, the tahini dressing was tangy, and the avocado salad was creamy and crunchy.

Some notes: These had a tablespoon and a half of coconut oil, which is just too much for a "healthy" meal. I also added extra salad and spinach, as originally there was just some rocket. I'd definitely make these again, just with less oil.

Overall impressions:

This was the box that I was looking forward to the most, but the results were pretty hit-and-miss. The portions were a good size, but considering the recipes came in at £7 per portion, I was expecting much more. I was hoping to learn more about vegan cooking, but didn't really come away with any new information. Maybe this box is better if you're looking for gluten-free options – as I learned how to cook with chickpea flour, for example.

Conclusions:

Well, you're not going to save money with a recipe box. It's always going to be more cost-effective to buy the items in the supermarket. But as a way of finding new recipes, or as a way to eat healthily during a stressful week, they are pretty useful.

For example, if a parent is unwell, or if your work life is really erratic, a recipe box would be a nice way to eat a regular meal without having to think about shopping for ingredients. I'm thinking of a close friend who's a nurse, and who struggles to find the time to food-prep when she's on night shifts, for example.

I'd certainly recommend the Gousto box – on average it had my favourite recipes and the clearest instructions. If I could swap out certain vegetables, then the Riverford box would come a close second.

CORRECTION

Coconut Oil is included in the Mindful Chef box. An earlier version of this post said it wasn't.