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In the last two months, we’ve probably spent more time in our little Manhattan kitchens than we ever thought possible. And, until the bars, restaurants, and theaters reopen, it’s a space we’ll be getting used to for some time to come.
Back in January 2018, we painstakingly tested some of the best meal kits on the market. Our stoves didn’t know what to make of all the unexpected activity, and the poor people at Seamless thought we’ve died. Here are the results, updated for 2020, rated by cost, simplicity, taste, and health, courtesy of our all-knowing in-house nutritionist, Samina Kalloo. Read it and eat!
MARLEY SPOON (tested by Ruth Walker)
We made: Smoky spice-rubbed steak with mixed bean spinach salad.
Cost per person: From $7.49.
Minimum order: Two meals a week for two people.
Options: Veggie boxes available, and you can also pick recipes based on allergies (gluten and dairy free).
Flexibility: You can skip a week or pause your subscription. You can also change delivery frequency, recipes, and the number of portions you’d like to receive.
What’s cooking: Food goddess Martha Stewart really should deliver the best in meal kits, and she doesn’t disappoint. We managed to cook this beautiful cut of steak to absolute perfection, despite being inept amateurs! It felt like restaurant-quality food – great tasting ingredients with little touches we’d never have thought of if left to our own devices.
And, since variety is the spice of life, you get to choose from ten new recipes every week, so you’re unlikely to get bored anytime soon. Martha has even done the math, claiming her kits cost less than buying the groceries at your local grocery store.
Samina says: You can expect fresh fruits and vegetables and grass-fed, antibiotic-free meats, and meal kits meet dietary preferences such as gluten-free, vegetarian, meat, and fish. If you’re being mindful of calories, some are tagged as “low calorie” – however, one of these options was over 650 calories, which isn’t exactly on the low side. Also, there is no information noted on how the nutrition info is analyzed or whether or not the recipes are nutritionist-approved. So be sure to keep an eye on the nutrition facts posted within each recipe, and you can also cut back on the salt if you choose.
HELLO FRESH (tested by Phil O’Brien)
We made: Sizzling hoi sin shrimp with ginger scallion rice and crispy green beans.
Cost per person: $7.49.
Minimum order: Three meals a week for two people.
Options: Veggie boxes available, and you can pick recipes based on things like calorie count.
Flexibility: Skip a week or cancel at no extra cost.
What’s cooking: OK, we have to be completely honest here: our finished dish didn’t look quite like the example in the picture. And we may have overcooked the rice. But blame the cook rather than the ingredients. The shrimp were deliciously tender and it was all a beautiful combination of oriental flavors. The site is updated with 15 new recipes every week, and Hello Fresh has a commitment to being environmentally friendly and sustainable, working with small, family-owned farms.
Samina says: With several meal plan options including vegetarian, Hello Fresh offers easy-to-prepare meals made with farm-fresh ingredients. It works alongside a team of chefs and dietitians and each recipe includes detailed nutritional info. If you’re looking to pick up new cooking techniques, this may not be the meal kit for you, but if you have a kitchen and have been living off frozen meals, it can really help you gain confidence in the kitchen and eat fresher, healthier food.
DINNERLY (tested by Ruth Walker)
We made: Honey mustard drumsticks with green beans and carrots.
Cost per person: $4.29.
Minimum order: Three meals a week for two people.
Options: While the menu changes weekly, the three meals are set, so, while there are veggie options, there is no dedicated box for non meat-eaters.
Flexibility: You can skip weeks when you need to.
What’s cooking: Billed as the most affordable meal kit service in town, this is a pretty damned tasty deal. Six ingredients per recipe means it’s super simple, and everything can be cooked in 30 minutes or less. Don’t expect dinner party-standard fare – this is cheap, cheerful, hearty food with no frills.
Additional extras: Nutritional info and allergens are included, along with notes like wine suggestions and recipe hacks. And the recipes are all digital, saving on waste.
Samina says: Simple, affordable meals delivered to my door? I’m in! Dinnerly prides itself on having the same quality ingredients as other meal kits but at a cheaper price. How, you ask? They cut down on costs such as packaging, marketing, and use less ingredients, hence the unfussy meals. Different meals are provided weekly and include tags such as kid-friendly, gluten-free, and dairy-free. Allergens are noted on each recipe in addition to nutrition information per serving. Based on some of Dinnerly’s current recipes, those tagged as “low calorie” range from 320 to around 500 calories and other recipes provide anywhere from 600-1,200 calories. Overall, this is a great choice for those looking to prepare home-made meals and spend minimal time in the kitchen. They’re also great for encouraging little helpers in the kitchen.
FRESH DIRECT (tested by Matt d’Silva – before he went veggie!)
We made: Steak au poivre with roasted rosemary potatoes and green beans.
Cost per person: From around $7 (each dish serves two).
Minimum order: $50.
Options: There are around 50 meal kits to choose from, including veggie varieties.
Flexibility: Order once and never return, or come back whenever you feel like it. This is a service for commitment phobes.
What’s cooking: I have to admit to taking some creative liberties when making this meal. It says to preheat the oven … well, I didn’t want to wait, so I simply partially boiled the potatoes. Also, I was very liberal when applying olive oil and salt and pepper – who doesn’t love golden brown crisp roast potatoes?
The instructions advised to bake the beans with the potatoes, but they are different sizes so was worried I’d end up with burned beans and undercooked potatoes. So I fried the beans in olive oil and garlic after I’d cooked the steak.
Anyway, it was a delicious and very easy meal, taking around 35-40 minutes to cook. The size was on the small side and there definitely wasn’t enough to seconds. But who wants a heavy meal in the evening?
Samina says: One of the major advantages to the Fresh Direct meal kits is that the ingredients are pre-chopped, making for a fast and easy meal minus the knife skills. Calories range widely from 440 to over 1,000 calories per serving. Each meal kit includes a complete nutrition label, ingredient list, and allergen list. Consumers can choose from beef, pork, poultry, vegetarian and seafood, however there was no option for gluten-free or any other specific dietary preferences (low carb, etc). There are, however, Smart and Simple meal kits which appear to be geared toward the health conscious (but sadly, there were only three kits to choose from). These are made with sustainable fish and poultry raised without antibiotics, and include claims such as low fat, low calorie, nutritionist recommended, high fiber and sodium-conscious. However, it is limited to poultry and fish without any gluten-free or vegetarian options. Overall, I was a bit disappointed at the selection of meal kits and was hoping to see a wider variety of healthy options.
HOME CHEF (tested by Phil O’Brien)
We made: Salmon with brown-butter tomato relish and wild rice.
Cost per person: $6.99.
Minimum order: Two meals per week for two people.
Shipping: $10, or free over $45.
Options: The menu includes calorie-conscious (less than 625 calories per serving), carb-conscious (less than 35 grams per serving), and vegetarian options. You can also customize each dish, doubling up or swapping protein on certain dishes.
Flexibility: You can change delivery dates or cancel your account at no extra cost.
What’s cooking: Menus are planned five weeks in advance, giving you plenty of time to get organized. And you get to choose from a hefty 11 recipes, along with add-on extras like smoothies and fruit. Each dish is designed to take just 30 minutes of prep time (a big whoop from this reluctant chef), and each ingredient arrives perfectly portioned (even the garlic cloves were peeled, bagged, and ready for chopping).
The two delicious fillets of salmon were simply cooked (giving us confidence we could totally do this again on our own). In fact, the whole thing was super-easy, and the tomato relish was out-of-this-world tasty (for the one diner who loves tomatoes … the fussy eater was less keen). This dish in particular was perfect for a quick week night dinner. The steak bourguignon we also ordered was more special, dinner party fare.
Samina says: Home Chef stands out from other meal kits in that it provides step-by-step instructions right on their website – without a subscription. So you basically get to see what you’re getting in the meal kit and how to make it in advance. Can it get any easier? The meals are designed to meet a variety of food preferences, with allergen information listed on each. For many recipes, the sodium content exceeds 1,000mg per serving. However since salt is “to taste,” you can keep it light or skip it altogether. And, aside from providing delectable meal kits, Home Chef has partnered with Feeding American to help provide meals for the hungry.
The emphasis is on 100% vegan, gluten-free, nutritious food. Our tester said the black bean brownie butter was like crack! A starter pack includes three meals (two servings each) plus four sides, snacks, or sweets for $59.
Blue Apron claims it cuts out the middle man to deliver the best possible quality (no GMO, sustainable seafood, etc). Plans start at $7.49 per person.
Plant-based recipes including things like spicy jackfruit and bell pepper fajitas and fresh herbs, and sesame crusted tofu steaks. Three meals a week for two cost $72 (currently the first week’s order is discounted to $51.94).
Organic and sustainable, with nutritionist-approved recipes including paleo, lean and clean, gluten-free, vegetarian, and family options, at $10.99 per serving.
Choose from three certified gluten-free menus (paleo, keto, and gluten-free), from $11.49 a serving. If you’re an omnivore or a carnivore, fear not, they cater for you too.
A month’s subscription costs from $7.50 a serving, with a focus on global cuisine.
Samina Kalloo is a registered and certified dietitian and mother of two. She is a nutrition consultant for food brands and companies. Connect with her on Instagram (@mindfulmomnutrition).
A version of this article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of W42ST magazine. Stay in touch with W42ST and be first to read stories like this when you join our daily newsletter at w42st.com.