In the past year or so, meal delivery services have flourished online. Aimed toward the “busy cook” these services send you the ingredients for a certain number of pre-designated meals. This is an attractive proposition for those of us living in the mountains, since it can be daunting to drive to town just to get a couple of missing ingredients.
I was curious about these meal plans and decided to test five of the more popular services, one after another. Some of the services are subscription-based, and some let you order meals a la carte (pay as you go). For testing purposes, I purchased a meal for two from five of the more popular services.
The first service I tried was PurpleCarrot.com. It specializes in plant-based (vegan) fare. I ate purely vegan for about a year and actually enjoyed it so I was able to test this service with no problem.
Meal Plan: The Perfect Pair – 3 meals x 2 servings
Promotions: $20 Coupon for first order, Earn $25 credit each person you refer to the service
Regular Price: $68 per week ($11.33 per meal)
Recipes Online: Yes
Website Experience: Easy to follow. Has a plant-based eating blog with more recipes and articles on health, wellness and nutrition.
Meals Ordered: Chana Masala, Kale Waldorf Salad, Portobello & Arugula Pesto Panini, Apricot Wheatberry Bowl, Viet Carmelized Tofu, and White Bean Poblano Chili
- These are probably vegan meals I would not have made myself
- Arrived fresh and on-time
- Filling and tasty
- Portions were acceptable, definitely 2 servings each meal
- No choice in meals. When I asked how to set taste preference, dietary restrictions or allergies, they said they don’t have those options at this time. Felt more like a beta program to see if the service will succeed
- More prep work than I’m used to
- Every recipe used a lot of oil!
Support: Took over 24 hours to respond.
- A lot of plastic waste
- They assume you have a blender and food processor, which I do, so this was neither a pro nor a con
- Recipe cards are large, 8×5 by 11 with nice color photos of the final product along with 6 step-by-step photos, but the text itself is small. Couldn’t read the fractions without my glasses. Would have liked to see the text larger and in a sans-serif font.
- You can put your account on “PAUSE” but you cannot close it without contacting support
Chef’d specializes in meals prepared by celebrity chefs (Top Chef contestants, Food Network hosts, food bloggers). These meals were by far my favorite, but this service is pricier than the others. What I did like is that meals are priced a la carte. You don’t have to sign up for a subscription plan.
Promotions: 10% off if you sign up for their mailing list. 5% off on ongoing orders of one and two meals, free shipping on ongoing orders over $40, 10% off + free shipping on ongoing orders of three or more meals, $10 off if you refer a friend
Meals Ordered: Chicken Lettuce Wraps ($26), Weeknight Chicken Pad Thai ($25), Southern Shrimp Scampi ($34)
Regular Price: Average $25-$35 for 2 meals ($17.50/per meal)
Recipes Online: No. They give ingredients, wine pairings, tools needed, but not the actual steps.
Website experience: Filtered search is non-intuitive. When filling in the address for delivery, it defaults to “Province” (no state field) making me wonder if they even shipped to the U.S. (they do).
Nice big slideshows on how to prep the meal. Related videos like “how to chop garlic.”
Nutrition information is misleading – sometimes it lists 2 servings per, sometimes 2.5, 4, or 6.
Rating system is convoluted: you have to confirm via email (even though logged into my account) then it sends you to another site to confirm your identity (yotpo.com). And ultimately my rating/review never showed up. Discouraged me from rating any more meals.
Blog articles are mostly promotions for their meal subscription plan.
Support: Chat took about 5 minutes total to connect and respond to my inquiry.
- Did not sign up for a “plan” so there was no need to close my account
- Integrated Meal Plans including Weight Watchers, New York Times, and American Diabetes Association
- Ratings and reviews of recipes
- Nutrition Facts of meal posted
- Choice of meals is great, especially because you can buy them a la cart
- They can deliver in as quickly as 2 days
- Offers desserts, too.
- Easy directions, but many steps (disguised to look like one)
- Overage of ingredients that didn’t go into the recipe
- Unnecessary extras – high gloss color catalog, welcome card
- Smaller portions per serving, didn’t seem like it was quite 2 meals
- High priced: averages $15-$20/meal. More like restaurant prices rather than home-cooking prices.
SunBasket.com specilizes in healthy ingredients and offers plans that are organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, paleo and vegetarian.
Meal Plan Tested: Chef’s Choice – 3 meals x 2 servings
Promotions: $30 Coupon for first order + free shipping, $25 credit for each person you refer to the service
Regular Price: $74.93 per week for 6 meals ($12.48 per meal)
Recipes Online: Yes
Website Experience: Easy to follow
Meals Ordered: Steaks with red pepper sauce and rosemary-roasted vegetables, Coriander-crusted tuna Niçoise, Thai turkey lettuce cups
- Ratings and reviews of meals online
- Easy to follow instructional cards
- Not whole foods. Mystery sauces without ingredients (bad for those with food allergies like me)
- Cucumbers were soft and slimy
- Could not close my account without CHATTING or CALLING with rep asking why. They said they would cancel the subscription, but keep my account “open” with $20 credit. I explained that that was not really canceling my account.
Support: Called phone support to see if I was going to receive package on time. 5 minutes of hold time, 10 minutes total call time. Package was delivered as we were on the phone! Rep was courteous and professional. Total chat support to close account 6:15 and rep said they cannot close it, but they can X-out all delivery and payment information.
Overall Notes: Underwhelming and simplistic, these recipes were nothing I couldn’t have made at home. I would like to receive whole ingredients, not sauce already made, since I had no idea what was in them.
BlueApron.com is probably one of the most popular meal delivery services as they advertise all over the place — especially in my favorite podcasts! So I was excited to try it. Unfortunately it didn’t meet expectations and ended up being my least favorite in the five that I tested.
Meal Plan: 2 person plan: 3 meals x 2 servings
Promotions: $0 first meal if you’re referred by an existing BlueApron customer.
Regular Price: $59.94 for 6 meals ($9.99 per meal)
Meals Ordered: Spicy Chicken & Carrots, Seared Salmon & Fall Vegetables, Baked Whole Wheat Rigatoni
Recipes Online: Yes, complete with instructional videos, directions and their “market” promotions for kitchen supplies.
Website Experience: Easy to follow, but would prefer not to have to put in CC for free promotional meal. They also have an online “market” offering kitchen wares, if you want to spend $25 for a strainer.
- Can set dietary preference
- Box was about 1/3 smaller than the others
- They also offer a wine club as an add-on for $10 per bottle – 2/3 standard-sized wine bottle “sized for two”
- No meal choice, they choose the meals for you
- Ingredients do not come separated into meals – this was my biggest complaint, since all of the other meal plans separated the ingredients
- MANY steps to one.
- Meal arrived late
- Taste mushy and underwhelming
Support: Friendly support, no problem stopping service or closing account.
The box ended up arriving at 5:40pm, so I couldn’t use it for that night’s meal. The seared salmon and fall vegetables was–how can I put this? Ugly when cooked. I couldn’t tell the apples from the potatoes. The rigatoni meal came out bland and chewy. As for the instructional cards, they were misleading separating the prep into “six steps.” One step really had 14 steps in it.
When I found out Martha Stewart had her own meal delivery plan, I jumped on the chance to include it in my evaluation. MarleySpoon.com specializes in using Martha’s own recipes and is one of the more affordable plans I tested.
Meal Plan: 2 meals, 2 servings.
Promotional Price: $30 OFF first order = $31.50
Regular Price: $61.50 for 6 meals = $10.25 per meal per person
Recipes Online: Yes
Colorful and intuitive, but it really won’t let you do anything until you choose a meal plan.
Received an email every time I added or removed a meal. Being indecisive, it ended up being way too many.
Meals Ordered: Jamaican Jerk-Spiced Chicken with Coconut Rice and Cucumber Salad, Chorizo and Black Bean Tortas, Chana Masala
- Can set dietary preferences
- Meals were tasty and appropriately portioned
- Lots of plastic waste
Support: Friendly phone support, helpful.
After evaluating five meal delivery services I was pretty “boxed out” and discontinued all plans. Most importantly, they created way too much plastic waste. Every single ingredient down to a half of a tablespoon of spice was in its own plastic container. Even though most of it was recyclable or reusable, it still leaves a huge carbon footprint and I couldn’t bring myself to participate in the consumption.
Since most of the services had the recipes online, I would prefer to buy the foods myself. It still expands my recipe horizons and introduces me to meals I would not have ordinarily made.
My recommendation for all meal delivery services would be to give the subscriber a list of staples and let them stock them: spices, eggs, vinegar, brown sugar, etc. That would cut down on all the tiny plastic waste included in the meal services. I’m sure it would be a huge savings for the provider, which they could then pass on to the consumer.
Recommendations for all providers:
- Ship free
- Allow subscriber to stock staples (spices, eggs, vinegar, brown sugar, etc) and ship “Just the basics.” Could charge less and have less of a waste footprint.
- Use whole foods and ingredients. No “mystery” sauces!
- Don’t put multiple steps under one step on the cards. It’s irritating and misleading.
- Less plastic waste
Jennifer Moss is a local author and web developer. For more information and her favorite recipes, visit her website JenniferMoss.com