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Food

Here's What It's Like To Actually Cook All The Meal Delivery Kits

From Blue Apron to Plated to Purple Carrot, here's how all those kits stack up against one another.

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Meal delivery kits are EVERYWHERE these days.

Even if you haven't ordered one yourself, you probably know someone who has. (Or you've at least seen the ads on the subway, on Facebook and Instagram, or on TV.)

And while there's a ton of different services out there, most pretty much offer the same thing.

Alison Roman / Via Instagram: @alisoneroman

Starting at about $60 per week, a magical box will be delivered to your doorstep, full of every single ingredient you need to cook three meals that week. (Though most will require you provide oil, salt, and pepper.)

And that convenience is key. Lots of people love to cook but lack the energy — or desire, or time — to go to the grocery store. Having pre-measured ingredients delivered right to your home definitely hits the spot of being convenient without having to settle for a frozen burrito.

I wanted to find out. So I ordered, received, cooked and tested eight of the most popular meal delivery services on the market. Then I based my judgements on four things:

• How did the delivery arrive?

What kind of shape were the ingredients in? How did they package stuff? Was everything accounted for?

• How were the recipes?

Did they look good on paper? Did they work IRL? Did they actually taste good? What was the quality of ingredients?

• What steps did they take to reduce unnecessary packaging?

How much of the material was recyclable? Did they use packing materials appropriately?

• Would I recommend this to someone looking to start a meal delivery service?

The results were all over the map.

Some recipes were better than others, some excelled in packaging mindfulness (since yes, in all cases, there is a LOT of packaging), and some just flat out...weren't great at all.

Sunbasket is a relative newcomer on the list. They use all-organic, non-GMO ingredients with an emphasis on sourcing sustainable proteins. They provide gluten-free, vegetarian and paleo options.

Butter Bean Ragout With Pesto and Fregola — Left: Their version / Right: My version

Head to their site to find out exactly where they deliver.

THE GOOD:

The recipes sounded, looked, and tasted great. All the dishes offered were things I wanted to eat, which made me excited to cook them. The instructions were straightforward and easy to execute. While there were a few ingredients in plastic containers, they were things I could potentially re-use (i.e., plastic containers to store leftovers), which I appreciated.

THE BAD:

• Honestly, there wasn't anything really bad about this service. They kinda nailed it.

RECOMMENDED FOR:

• People who love cooking and are looking to expand their recipe and ingredient repertoire.

RATING: 10/10

Marley Spoon offers boxes for omnivores, pescetarians, and vegetarians and frequently feature guest chefs for a diverse recipe line-up.

Soba With Bok Choy, Snow Peas, and Tofu — Left: Their version / Right: My version

Head to their site to find out exactly where they deliver.

THE GOOD:

• The recipes all sounded, looked, and tasted amazing. Plus, they WORK! Meaning, when I followed the instructions, they were spot-on (which is not always the case for recipes). Everything seemed to have a healthy-ish vibe, but still really satisfying and crazy delicious.

• All the ingredients, from the proteins to the produce were *super* high quality. I would order the box again just to get the feta they sent (it was from Murray's Cheese, the holy grail of cheese in NYC). Plus, the packaging was smart and less wasteful than others. I liked how things came in a paper bag (like a bagged lunch!) and used recyclable materials as much as possible.

THE BAD:

The tofu from the soba dish was missing.

•The images on their recipe cards don't always represent the instructions given (you see whole snow peas in the picture, but they tell you to chop them), which could be confusing for some people looking to replicate the image.

RECOMMENDED FOR:

• The home cook who's already comfortable in the kitchen looking for new, fresh ideas for dinner.

RATING: 9/10

Purple Carrot is a "plant-based" service, which means all meals are vegan. They are hoping to appeal to vegans and omnivores alike, with the hopes of promoting a healthier, more environmentally conscious lifestyle.

Yuba Cakes With Soy Dipping Sauce and Spring Vegetables — Left: Their version / Right: My version

Head to their site to find out exactly where they deliver.

THE GOOD:

Even though they were ~vegan~, these dishes were some of the best things I cooked . Some of the ingredients were a little strange/unusual (yuba skin??) but everything tasted great and was super satisfying, even as an omnivore.

• I ended up with the least amount of trash with this one, which soothed some of my "holy shit I am creating so much trash" guilt.

THE BAD:
• The aforementioned "strange/unusual" ingredients might be a little alienating for some.

RECOMMENDED FOR:
• Anyone (omnivores and vegans alike) looking to eat a little healthier and expand their horizons.

RATING: 9/10

Hello Fresh offers vegetarian boxes as well as a box specifically designed to feed families. One of the only brands to have celebrity involvement, they've recently started featuring recipes by Jamie Oliver.

Bone-In Pork Chop With Roasted Pear, Collards and Shallot Cream Sauce — Left: Their version / Right: My version

Head to their site to find out exactly where they deliver.

THE GOOD:

• The recipes were very simple, and written with fun, helpful tips throughout.

Most everything was packaged in recyclable materials, like paper and cardboard.

THE BAD:

• The food itself was pretty boring. The recipe instructions weren't super clear, and they didn't have you seasoning the food as you cook. Also pretty different photo vs. reality (see: chicken).

• More than a few times, the recipe calls for a different amount given (i.e., they send you 1 teaspoon. of ground cumin, but only call for 1/4 teaspoon.), requiring measuring utensils.

RECOMMENDED FOR:

• Someone who enjoys cooking simple food who doesn't mind riffing on a recipe.

RATING: 7/10

Plated provides many different options to totally customize what you receive. They've got vegetarian options as well as *dessert*.

Lamb Kofta With Herb Salad Over Charred Naan — Left: Their version / Right: I was unable to make the dish, since they forgot my lamb.

Head to their site to find out exactly where they deliver.

THE GOOD:

The recipes sound pretty good, they have nice photography and the website is very easy to use.

THE BAD:
• Of the three options, I was most looking forward to the lamb, which I never got to cook because they forgot to pack the lamb. The other two recipes were just OK, looking much better than they tasted. The recipes themselves did not work very well — meaning I followed instructions and things did not work out as intended.

Lots of trash. Like, packing a tablespoon of peanut butter inside a plastic container and then putting it in ~another~ plastic container.

RECOMMENDED FOR:
• A more experienced cook who is comfortable adapting a recipe rather than following it.

RATING: 7/10

Blue Apron is probably the most recognizable meal kit delivery service on the market, and for good reason: They hit the market first.

Spicy Shrimp Spaghetti With Cabbage and Toasted Breadcrumbs — Left: Their version / Right: My version

THE GOOD:

• For the most part, the recipes worked, which means when followed exactly, the instructions lead to the intended result. They are also the only subscription service to offer WINE.

THE BAD:
• The chicken came with punctured packaging and got raw chicken juice all over the place.

• The recipes were totally "fine," which is a word I like to use when something is actually not great. The combinations were a little strange, and they were a little fussy for a weeknight. I'd better be having sex with you if I'm going to fry individual sage leaves to garnish your risotto. Maybe not even then.

• The packaging was super wasteful.

RECOMMENDED FOR:
• A person looking to try a meal delivery service who has literally heard of only Blue Apron.

RATING: 6/10

Terra's Kitchen is a newcomer to the scene. They pride themselves on "plant-strong and nutrient-dense" meals.

Pan Seared Chicken + Crisp Haricot Verts in a Sweet + Sour Bacon Sauce — Left: Their version / Right: My version

Head to their site to find out exactly where they deliver.

THE GOOD:

• The box the ingredients come in is to be returned when your next box gets delivered, which in theory cuts back on waste. The recipes are EXTREMELY easy to execute.

• The recipes seem pretty good from the website.

THE BAD:
• Said box is too heavy to lift or move, you have to empty it and place the contents in your refrigerator, which are comically large, clunky, and poorly packaged. I could barely fit everything in my refrigerator at once.

• The recipes are so easy to execute because there is barely any preparation involved. Nearly everything comes pre-made or pre-cut, but depending on how much you actually enjoy cooking this could be a good or bad thing.

• The ingredients weren't fresh. The pre-cut squash looked and smelled like it had been cut months ago, the pico de gallo seemed like it had been made with the worst tomatoes they could find, and the steak had a gray-ish color and funky smell to it.

RECOMMENDED FOR:
• I would not recommend this service.

RATING: 2/10

Another newcomer, Home Chef is a service offering gluten-free, low-carb, vegetarian, soy-free and nut-free options. They are designed to be prepared in 30 minutes or less.

Tomato Risotto With Wilted Spinach and Parmesan Crisp — Left: Their version/ Right: My version

Head to their site to find out exactly where they deliver.

THE GOOD:

The delivery arrived.

THE BAD:

• Basically everything. The food didn't look or sound good from the start, (boring dishes, poor photos) so my expectations were already pretty low. What they gave me IRL though was worse than I could imagine. The recipes were poorly written, did not work, and tasted bad. You could make a better fried rice with the contents of your pantry and no recipe, trust me.

• The packaging was a nightmare and supremely wasteful (half a teaspoon of sambal came in a 2-ounce plastic jar). The pesto they sent was basically brown and tasted so old, I couldn't bring myself to eat it, and the pre-grated ginger tasted like it had been grated weeks ago. Also, that liquid egg in a bottle is a true abomination.

RECOMMENDED FOR:

• I would not recommend this service.

RATING: 1/10 (I give it a "1" because it exists and I have to give them credit for that.)

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