Products + Test-drives

Blue Apron, Plated, Quinciple, HelloFresh, Munchery: Which meal-kit service is right for you?

By The Editors | July 28, 2015 - 8:59AM

Many of us aspire to culinary greatness, but with too-tight kitchens and too-little time, it's hard to figure out how to cook not to mention what. No wonder meal-kit deliveries have grown popular as of late—they take the planning out of mealtimes and the grocery-shopping, too.

Which ones should you try out? Read on for our testers' experiences with five of the city's best:

Blue Apron

Price: $59.95 for three meals a week for two; $69.95 for two meals a week for four

The lowdown: Choose from a handful of meals from Blue Apron's website (they're all technically whip-able in about a half hour), which also offers tips for how best to cook a meal, helpful how-to videos, plus calorie counts. You can customize your menu based on dietary preferences, and hold deliveries some weeks for when you're away. 

The experience: Like craft kits from childhood — Make your own bracelet! Create your own clock! — Blue Apron provides everything you need, pre-measured, labeled and separated into containers, to make a gourmet dish. It comes in a box lined with reusable cooler packs that keep items fresh for a half-day, which is handy if you're not there to receive delivery. And the variety! Witness next week's menu items: summer ciambotta stew, Korean bulgogi-style lamb & beef. In short, options not usually found in your repertoire (unless you're a trained chef, in which case, why are you reading this?). Each box arrives with a placard with clear step-by-step directions on how to put the meal together, complete with pictures for visual types. 

Bottom line: Though Blue Apron simplifies the cooking process — it's as if you're in your own cooking show, with each ingredient in its own holder (two tablespoons of rice vinegar may come in a cute, tiny bottle), ready for its closeup — the cooking itself may not be simple, especially in a small kitchen. One recipe had our tester toggling between two hot plates at the oven and transferring ingredients from one pan to the other and, since she was handling meats, trying to wash her hands in between steps to make sure she was hygienic about it all. This isn't an easy ballet to perform in tight city cooking quarters. But the food is delicious, albeit heavily reliant on olive oil (which, interestingly, isn't included), at least for our tester's recipes.

Number of stars (out of 5): * * * *


Price: $49.90 per box for home delivery; $42.90 per box for pickup

The lowdown: This one’s a weekly grocery delivery box with “meat, fish, cheese, bread, produce, eggs, and pantry staples” all sourced from New York-area farms that champion sustainable farming practices—you can even browse a full list of their farmers and producers here. While all the items can be incorporated into a typical grocery routine (i.e. there are no single-recipe-sized samples of a specific spice, for instance), the box also comes with tips and recipe suggestions for everything they send to ensure nothing goes to waste. You can also take recipe inspiration from Sift, their online lifestyle magazine.

The experience: The delivery person, who arrived by bike, was friendly and the goods were tasty. (Our tester loved the fresh, locally-made loaf of bread that came with the box.) Having seen friends bumble around trying to use, for instance, an onslaught of beets that came with their latest CSA box, we also appreciated the recipes that accompanied the goods, though found them to be a little advanced for an entry-level home chef. (Current recipes on the site include "pan-seared nectarines with basil tarragon syrup.") That said, provided you actually know what to do with some of their fancier ingredients, the company's claim that its goods can be used as normal groceries rings true. And any excuse to try a new kind of cheese is always welcome. 

Bottom line: While it’s a little on the pricey side (depending on your grocery budget), we’d definitely use Quinciple again. One caveat: we loved everything we got, but picky eaters — or parents of picky eaters — should be prepared to encounter (slightly) unusual ingredients like monkfish.

Number of stars (out of 5): * * * *


Price:  $12 per plate per person, with plans available for two, four, and six people.

The lowdown: Plated delivers a weekly box of pre-portioned ingredients that make up three different recipes. Their packaging is all carbon neutral, the produce is seasonal, the seafood sustainable, and the meat antibiotic- and hormone-free. You can tweak your meals and delivery options depending on dietary preference; when filling out your taste profile, you can specify whether you eat poultry, pork, beef, fish, lamb, shellfish, or are a full vegetarian.

The experience: For the non-chef on our staff who tried this, the recipes were fun and fairly simple, and actually inspired ideas for future home cooking experiments. (The large, splash-proof recipe cards are also blissfully easy to prop up in a messy kitchen.) Many of the meals are diet-friendly but filling (and often just consisted of a protein and a large green salad), and the recipe cards include a calorie count so you know what you’re getting into. A couple small kinks in the process: Though everything was well wrapped in a refrigerator bag with freezer packs, we found it odd that the delivery person just left the box on our porch in the pouring rain without trying to buzz up or even call to let us know they were waiting outside. Also, the produce for each recipe all seemed just a few days away from going bad, so we felt rushed to make everything ASAP even though we theoretically had a week.

Bottom line: Once we figure out a better system for getting this box delivered, we’d absolutely use this one again. At $12 a meal, it’s cheaper than Seamless, and healthier, too.

Number of stars (out of 5): * * * * *

Hello Fresh

Price: Three "classic meal boxes" for two, $69; three boxes for four, $129; three vegetarian meal boxes for two, $59; three vegetarian meal box for four, $109

The lowdown: This subscription meal service includes three meals per week, with a recipe book that includes step-by-step instructions, with photos. Everything but salt (and recipes call for a generous hand with salt), pepper, butter and oil are included. Meals are generally around 500-800 calories, and you can have them arrive any day of the week in most locations (we liked having ours come on Monday).The ingredients are separated by meal and delivered in a styrofoam cooler with reusable ice packs.

The experience: The food is really tasty (we went for vegetarian option), and it helped us get out of our same-menu-every week rut. Plus, it provided inspiration for future non-Hello Fresh meals. Highlight: The squash boats stuffed with quinoa and topped with parmesan cheese and the seitan and sundried tomato wraps. But we’d say some familiarity with cooking is key. Plus, we found ourselves using a lot more pots and pans than we usually do for a typical weekday meal, and the meals took, on average, about 10 minutes more than usual weekday dinner prep takes. That said, it was usually worth it.

Note: If you want to take a hiatus for the next week, you need to inform the service by the Wednesday before. We didn’t (the reminder went in to our Gmail Promotions folder), but customer service was very helpful (as we find is often the case with these online-only companies) and was quick to offer a cancellation. We decided not to cancel after all. We’re kind of hooked.

Bottom line: We’ve recommended this to friends, and ordered the meal boxes several times since, so that should tell you something. It's great to expand your culinary horizons with exotic pre-measured recipes, though we recommend taking breaks occasionally and just doing it when you feel like mixing things up a bit. After all, there's something slightly daunting about having to cook something new and unfamiliar every night after a long day.

Number of stars (out of 5): * * * *


Price: Dishes can run from $2.95 for a biscuit (cheddar chive) to $16.95 for chirashi (on the day we checked the menu for our zip code). 

The lowdown: The service has a crew of chefs who share their culinary vision by offering up a slew of meals (including appetizers, mains, sides and desserts)

The experience: For starters, the website is easy to use and mouth-watering to peruse, and an accompanying app makes it even easier. There's a new menu every day, accompanied by reviews, which is key. Food is delivered chilled, and packaged beautifully; open the containers and, after a quick reheat (for many dishes, though not all), a sit-down meal awaits. Or, keep it all chilled till lunch the next day. There's a small window for delivery — only an hour — which is very helpful if you don't have a doorman and can't really afford to stay home all day to pick up your box. It's wonderful for picky eaters, and for filling out a meal you've already prepared — you can just order a dessert or a side dish —  and our tester, an avowed choosy diner, says she thought it hit or miss, though it veers more to the former. Insider tip: Stick to well-reviewed items. 

Bottom line: Bespoke but pricey. It makes sense in a way since you're ordering from different chefs and prep is low-key (perhaps some reheating), and some meals don't require any prep at all. But the line between Munchery and your local restaurant's delivery service is very thin, and sometimes one wonders what the point is. That said, with all its choices, you're bound to get a better, more varied order-in dining experience than from your neighborhood eatery.  And being able to read reviews of dishes beforehand is a big plus. As is Munchery's policy to make a donation to a local food bank every time you order. 

Number of stars (out of 5): * * *


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