I love grocery shopping. It relaxes me to wander the produce aisles, hand-picking tomatoes and looking for dinner inspiration. If I didn’t have a job and a family I would probably do that 3 times a week.
But in reality, when dinner time rolls around I’m usually running low on both ingredients and motivation. So I default to one of the staple meals I always have the components for, or I order takeout from our usual roster of restaurants. When it comes to midweek dinners, I’m literally dialing it in.
That’s why a meal kit makes sense for me.
Others have their reasons - maybe to eat healthier, improve their confidence in the kitchen or expand their recipe repertoire.
But for me, the convenience of not having to think about dinner is worth its weight in gold. I know I’ve preselected the recipes, everything I need is in the fridge, and I can have food on the table in the time it takes to watch an episode of The Mindy Project.
I tried 2 of the most popular kits on the market - Home Chef and HelloFresh - to get a feel for what’s available. Here’s how the week went.
Price: $9.95 per serving
Shipping: Free for orders over $45
Good for: Less experienced cooks.
Pros: Lots of menu choice, cancel any time
HOW IT WORKS
I chose how many meals I wanted per week (between 2 and 6), how many portions per meal (2, 4 or 6), and when I wanted them delivered (Tuesday to Friday).
Home Chef has an 8am-8pm delivery window and will leave your box on your doorstep if you’re not home to receive it. The insulation and cooling pack kept everything chilled until I managed to get it into the fridge.
At signup I was also asked to create a taste profile with my dietary requirements. You can get really specific here if you want to, like saying you prefer chicken over seafood, that you want to avoid pork or dairy, or are interested in low-carb recipes.
The best thing about Home Chef is the large number of recipe choices. Each week there are a dozen meals to choose from plus several add-ons like smoothie kits, which cost extra.
Home Chef uses your taste profile to preselect which recipes you’ll get, but you can easily change them online. I ended up swapping mine because they were too similar to what I would cook myself, and besides—choosing the meals is the fun part.
The recipes are mostly elevated comfort food: tacos and quesadillas, pasta and risotto, stir fries, and proteins and sides. There are usually 3 vegetarian and 2 seafood options per week, and there’s always a steak dish; HelloFresh often charges extra for steak so that’s a real bonus point for Home Chef if you love red meat.
A helpful feature is the “quick and easy” label denoting short cook times and simple preparations—perfect for busy weeknights or beginner cooks. I went with Asian-inspired pork burgers and a one skillet vegetarian lasagna.
The 5-step recipe cards were well-illustrated and beginner-friendly, even including an explanation of what certain cooking techniques are - like a rolling boil. What I liked the most was the “at a glance” information like cook time, difficulty level, spice level (really useful if you’re cooking for kids) as well as how long the ingredients would last. No more guilt while the lettuce wilts in the fridge
The pork burgers were seriously delicious and marinating the meat in ponzu was a new trick for me that I’ll keep in my arsenal. The side dishes in both recipes were a bit basic but were easily improved by adding a few fridge and pantry ingredients. The portions were satisfying, and my husband was even able to bring leftovers to work the next day.
Overall, I think it was a fun kitchen experiment that I’ll definitely be repeating again in the future.
Price: $8.74 - $9.99 per serving
Shipping: $7.99, free for orders of 6 or more servings
Good for: More adventurous cooks
Pros: Well-sourced ingredients, unique recipes.
HOW IT WORKS
HelloFresh offers 3 plans: vegetarian (3 meals per week; 2 or 4 servings per meal), classic (2-4 meals; 2 or 4 servings) and family (2-3 meals; 4 servings).
I went with the classic which is the most popular plan and again was asked to set up a taste profile which was used to preselect my recipes.
HelloFresh requires menu changes to be made a full 5 days before delivery, so if you get your box on Monday, you need to finalize your choices by the Wednesday before. As with Home Chef, if you’re not home during the 8am-8pm delivery window, the insulated box will be left on your doorstep.
The number of menu choices available to you depends on your plan, but overall there are a lot fewer than Home Chef.
The vegetarian has 3 options, the family plan has 5, and the classic has 7 plus a “premium” recipe (such as rib-eye steak or duck) that costs an extra $5 per serving. I was disappointed to find that there were no vegetarian recipes available on the classic plan whereas with Home Chef I was able to mix and match vegetarian and meat meal
Many of the recipes were similar to Home Chef’s but were slightly more interesting and gourmet.
There were more international flavors, more variety in the cuts of meat, and some yummy-sounding side dishes like cauliflower mash and apple-and-sunflower-seed salad. I liked that the website clearly displayed cooking times for each recipe. I selected cajun pulled pork over rice and mole spiced beef tacos, both labelled as quick 20-minute meals.
EXTRA KUDOS: THE BOX
Thank you HelloFresh for using eco-friendly paper and cardboard packaging. And according to the website, the company buys sustainable seafood and organic produce where possible. I was also impressed with the sheet of nutritional information that states the origins of all the ingredients. The majority came from the USA and Mexico, including a box of fancy heirloom cherry tomatoes. Occasionally the box included more of an ingredient than the recipe called for, so I got to stock my pantry as a bonus.
The 6-step recipe cards were simple and clear, and included useful cooking tips like what to do if you don’t have a microwave to warm your tortillas. Portion-wise, the tacos were on the lighter side but the pork was super filling and we even had leftovers. Both recipes relied on packets of premade spice mix and some of the main ingredients were precooked, including the pulled pork and steamed rice. While these were huge time-savers, they made the meals feel a little bit “instant” and harder to replicate on my own. The heavy seasoning also made the food taste slightly more like takeout food than wholesome home cooki
Overall, the dishes were more exciting than my regular home cooking and I got a huge sense of satisfaction from how good they looked.
So, What’s the Bottom Line?
After a week of cooking and eating, it’s clear that both of these meal delivery providers are popular for a reason. And on my end—I’ve been doing a lot more cooking at home as a result of the experiment.
To sum up: with Home Chef, the food was approachable and crowd-pleasing, but may be a little basic for experienced home cooks. If you have more adventurous tastes, HelloFresh is an easy way to shake up your recipe repertoire without requiring much time or effort.