I’ve always loved to cook.
But then life happened. Suddenly, between kids and work, I didn’t have a lot of time for cooking.
It wasn’t actually cooking I didn’t have time for—it was grocery shopping. Come dinner time, I was ready to start chopping vegetables and seasoning meat. But none of those things were ever in my refrigerator.
So the busier I got, the more I ordered take-out.
But eating out all the time isn’t good—for your health or your wallet. One study found that restaurant food has more fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories than home-cooked meals. Another study found the equivalent of a $22 take-out meal costs $12 to make at home.
Years ago, I started to notice ads on my Facebook feed for companies like Home Chef and HelloFresh that would deliver boxes of fresh, pre-portioned ingredients and restaurant-quality recipes to my doorstep.
Of course, I immediately worried about the cost. They sort of seemed like businesses for rich people, not someone like me.
But since they all offered discounts for first-time customers, I decided to give several of them a try. What I found was pleasantly surprising. All of these services offer fresh ingredients and delicious recipes. The work involved to prepare a meal varies. And while these services are not inexpensive, they may not be as expensive as you think.
Quickly compare: Home Chef vs. HelloFresh vs. Blue Apron vs. Freshly vs. EveryPlate vs. Sun Basket
*We’ve got a great table for you here; be sure to scroll right to view the entire table!
|Home Chef||Freshly||EveryPlate||HelloFresh||Blue Apron||SunBasket|
|Best For||Weekly recipe rotations for all skill levels and dietary preferences.||Chef prepared meals that are ready without any extra preparation or clean-up.||Affordable and delicious weekly meals delivered right to your door.||Flexible plans, offering the greatest variety of recipes and meals.||Chef-designed recipes include balanced Mediterranean meals and quick one-pan dinners.||Certified organic and sustainable meals made with antibiotic- and hormone-free meats and seafood.|
|Price per meal||$8.99||$8.99||$4.99||$8.99||$9.99||$10.99|
|Minimum order||2 meals / 2 plates||12 meals||3 meals / 2 plates||2 meals / 2 plates||3 meals / 2 plates||4 recipes for 2 people|
|Delivery Cost||Starts at $6.99 per order||Applicable shipping charges will appear upon checkout||$8.99||$6.99||Free||$6.99 per order|
|Vegetarian plans||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes, 2 - person plan only||Yes|
|Promotion||$80 in total over your 5 deliveries, including free shipping on the first box!||$60 off your first 4 orders||Get 1 week worth of meals at $2.99 each + 20% off on your next two boxes with EveryPlate||GET $80 OFF your first 5 deliveries including Free Shipping on your 1st Box||$80 off your first 4 boxes||$35 off plus 4 FREE gifts ($60 value)|
How meal subscriptions work
All services – BlueApron, HelloFresh, Home Chef, SunBasket, EveryPlate, and Freshly – work similarly. Their chefs create delicious, balanced, and healthy recipes. The service does the grocery shopping for you and ships you everything you need to cook the meal.
All deliver to most US zip codes and use packaging that keeps ingredients fresh for up to 24 hours after delivery (in case you’re not home) and between four and five days in the fridge.
One downside to consider, however, is the environmental impact of packaging. Meals ship with ice packs and some with foam liners. The foam may or may not be accepted by your local recycling facility. As for the ice packs, you can certainly reuse them, but once you accumulate more than a dozen you’ll be wondering what to do with them. When contacted, the companies here recommend thawing the packs, clipping the corner and placing the water-soluble, non-toxic gel in the trash, then recycling the plastic.
Each service offers different subscription options, but all offer the choice of between two and four weekly meals for two or more people.
Let’s take a closer look at each company.
Note that due to current events and higher than normal order volumes, Home Chef might experience delays in delivery.
Home Chef kindly sent us a complimentary package of three meals for two, including:
- Crispy Dijon Chicken With Parmesan Cauliflower Mash
- Spaghetti Carbonara Frittata
- Mozzarella and Red Pepper Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
All meals were very tasty, and easy to prepare. (Home Chef categorizes its meals by difficulty, from easy to expert.) The crispy chicken was an easy meal to prepare, much appreciated on a busy weeknight. The stuffed pork tenderloin, on the other hand, qualified as expert level because of the need to filet the pork tenderloin, stuff it, then tie it for cooking—I’ll admit, that was tricky, but the results were delicious.
Above: Getting ready to prep Mozzarella and Red Pepper Stuffed Pork Tenderloin from Home Chef.
Fairly priced at $8.99+ per serving plus shipping, Home Chef is attractive because they offer 10 or more meal choices each week, with a good variety to meet dietary needs. There are vegetarian options, as well as soy-free, gluten-free and low-calorie meals. Home Chef also thinks beyond dinners with breakfast offerings (like the frittata we ordered, though it was just as tasty for dinner) and other optional “sides” like a margarita smoothie the week of Cinco de Mayo or a spring fruit basket.
The quality of most of our Home Chef Ingredients was good, although arugula intended for a side salad with the frittata was a bit wilted. I should point out that we appreciated Home Chef’s entrees included a lot of green veggies (green beans, arugula salad, and brussels sprouts), but these ingredients can be understandably fragile.
In sum, Home Chef definitely delivered three fun-to-prepare and delicious meals. We’d use them again.
The only thing we didn’t love about Home Chef is that it seemed like they used even more packaging than some competitors. But this is a problem with all meal delivery services, to be honest.
While most of the packing is recyclable (cardboard boxes, small plastic containers for liquids and plastic and or brown paper bags for dry ingredients), everything is individually wrapped. And all meals come sandwiched between two or more gigantic ice packs. These can, of course, be reused, but you only need so many ice packs–after a week or two, you’ll need to throw them out. (According to the companies, these ice packs can be defrosted, the non-toxic contents either thrown away or washed down the drain, and the plastic exterior recycled.) Maybe so, but it’s still a lot of packing materials.
Above: Chicken & Rice Pilaf from Freshly.
Want to get balanced meals delivered each week, but you don’t want to cook? Check out Freshly.
Freshly ships single-serving meals that are “healthy, delicious and convenient”, So convenient, in fact, that you just stick ’em in the microwave for about three minutes.
Freshly was nice enough to send us a number of meals to check out including chicken parm, southern-style BBQ pork, and pene bolognese.
Freshly’s meals were tasty. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite get past the fact I was pulling the meal out of a plastic tray and putting it in the microwave. The food was infinitely better than a Lean Cuisine, but it was still microwaved.
Ultimately, Freshly meals are the ultimate convenience. If I were single or simply had NO time to cook or shop, Freshly would be immensely appealing.
And Freshly’s price reflects that. Plans start at $49.99 per week for four meals; delivery is not included. That’s $12.50 per meal. The cost drops to $9.99 per meal if you order six meals per week for $59.99. If you get 12 meals per week for $107.99 the price-per-meal drops to $8.99. Plus shipping!
Again, with Freshly, it’s all about the convenience of getting a nutritious non-frozen meal.
Note that due to current events and higher than normal order volumes, EveryPlate might experience delays in delivery.
If the cost of meal delivery services gives you sticker shock, take a look at EveryPlate.
With prices starting at $4.99 a meal, you don’t have to compare this one to dining out. For many households, it will actually be cheaper than all the ingredients that go into a typical home-cooked meal.
Each week, you choose from 10 meal options, which is a smaller selection than with other services. They also throw in the occasional premium meal, with a per-serving price that’s a couple of dollars higher than their regular meals.
I liked the variety in each week’s options. Here are the meals I tried:
- Pork tacos
- Sausage penne
- Glazed pork chops with potatoes and green beans
Each meal came with easy-to-follow recipe cards that included pictures, making cooking accessible even for a novice chef like me. The meals were delicious, with juicy meat and fresh vegetables.
The only bad thing about EveryPlate is its small selection. But the fact that it’s half the price of most other meal delivery services makes it well worth it to me.
As someone who’s environmentally conscious, I loved the fact that all of EveryPlate’s packaging is recyclable. Just break down the box, empty the ice packs, and toss the bags in the recycle bin when you’re finished cooking.
Note that due to current events and higher than normal order volumes, HelloFresh might experience delays in delivery.
A big player worth checking out is HelloFresh.
HelloFresh touts its farm-fresh ingredients, acclaimed chefs, and fun recipe cards that teach you how to cook as you go.
Meals start at $8.99 per person.
Of all the services here, we liked HelloFresh’s packaging the best. Many ingredients came pre-chopped or already combined, saving time.
We tried HelloFresh’s family plan for a few weeks and enjoyed meals like cauliflower pancetta mac and cheese. HelloFresh’s take on the kid-friendly classic was delicious, but the hidden cauliflower didn’t fool our six-year old.
Meal prep with HelloFresh was the easiest of the bunch. With HelloFresh, broccoli and cauliflower arrived pre-cut, for example.
One gripe with HelloFresh were the recipe cards. The text was small and close together, making the steps a bit hard to follow.
HelloFresh’s account management was also easy to use—you can easily update your subscription preferences or pause delivery for any week.
- HelloFresh promotion: GET $80 OFF your first 5 deliveries including Free Shipping on your 1st Box.
There’s a reason they’re popular. They’re pretty darn good and cost the least.
Sign up online and Blue Apron will bring you weekly boxes packed with just enough ingredients and step-by-step recipes for three meals for two, four, or six people.
You can select your dietary preferences to ensure that you don’t receive anything you don’t eat, like red meat, fish, or shellfish, but you’ll have less control over individual meals (you can, however, often choose three of six, for example). Blue Apron has even teamed up with Weight Watchers, so you can choose easy-to-cook recipes for a healthy lifestyle.
With Blue Apron, expect to cook with and eat ingredients you might find at your local grocery store. I eat anything, so my box contained everything needed for chicken hiyashi chukka, seared cod piperade, and Turkish lamb burgers.
The first meals took just the right amount of time to prepare — under 45 minutes from box to plate. After weeks of Blue Apron meals, however, we found some to take longer than indicated — up to an hour an a half. While many meals can be prepared in under an hour, we wouldn’t recommend Blue Apron to anyone looking for fast weeknight meals.
For two people, meals are $9.99 per meal per person and if you order three recipes a week, shipping is free. Otherwise, shipping is an extra $7.99.
For four people, meals are $8.99 for two meals, $7.99 for three meals, and $7.49 for four recipes per week.
At first, that seemed like a lot. But then I looked over some of my recent orders from ordering food to take in, and saw I was spending about $40 for two meals. Six meals would cost me $120. Sure, maybe I’d have more leftovers from ordering out, but the food wouldn’t have been as good.
Here are some more numbers: Blue Apron conducted an extensive survey on the costs of ordering meals through their service versus shopping for the ingredients for the same meals yourself. They found that customers who produced the same dinners in the exact same portions — while doing their own shopping — spent 60% more than they would have if they’d just ordered through Blue Apron.
Note that due to current events and higher than normal order volumes, Sun Basket might experience delays in delivery.
Sun Basket is a meal delivery service that caters to people valuing sustainable business practices and healthy, organic food. At $10.99 per serving, you’ll be getting access to some pretty fresh, high-quality ingredients.
An added plus is that all the packaging is compostable and recyclable. The meals come in small paper bags so the large box they shipped in seemed a tad excessive but the cooling packs probably added to the extra space needed.
Sun Basket has family-friendly menu options and even includes suggestions for how kids can help in their recipe instructions. Depending on the meal plan you choose, there’s plenty of fresh greens and herbs to make your dishes stand out and feel light on the palate.
I tried the carb-conscious plan and there was always an opportunity to eat things like kale, stone fruit, shallots, etc. To me, it just felt like a nice, fresh touch to common things like turkey burgers that I would not have expected in a regular, home-cooked meal.
Also, the meals were super easy to prepare and took about 20-30 minutes from start to finish. In fact, my kids, 10 and 14 years old, prepared one entire meal themselves. So you can count on the meals to be easy-to-prepare and quick.
My only gripe was that the kale was used for all three of the meals and I got a little tired of it. We used a nectarine for a couple of the meals and it was a nice treat but was repetitive as well. I liked the variety in the meal but some ingredients were often and I was hoping for someone variety. This is not a deal-breaker but it’s worth noting.
Overall Sun Basket’s food is fresh, creative and lends itself to gourmet-quality flavor combinations. Home chefs will enjoy fresh, flavorful herbs and unique ingredients.
If you want to eat well, but don’t have the time to plan and shop for every meal, meal subscription companies offer a solution. You’ll pay a hefty premium over doing your own shopping, but these services will likely save you money (and be better for you) than getting lots of take-out.
You can’t go wrong with the food from any of these companies. We tried them all, and each sent along some tasty meals. Each service, however, has its own quirks that will appeal to different tastes.
HelloFresh offers exclusively vegetarian plans as well as family plans that are quick to cook and kid-friendly. (Your mileage may vary.) In our experience, HelloFresh meals were the fastest to prepare.
Sun Basket is also for the vegetarians, vegans, and anyone looking for a plant-based diet that still wants an affordable meal delivery service
Home Chef would win our “all-around” award. We really liked it. The meals were simple but flavorful. I learned a few new techniques preparing them, but didn’t roll my eyes at extraneous steps.
Finally, Freshly is in a league of its own, offering fully-prepared meals ready for the microwave. Don’t expect a five-star meal. But Freshly is a good option if you need decent food, really fast.