The Deal On Boxed Meals

In Health and Beauty, Kathy Spurlock, Lola Shreveport by Lola Magazine

By Kathy Spurlock

No doubt your inbox is as full as mine with offers for boxed meals. My husband and I, who love to cook, had hit not only a very busy time in our lives, but also a level of boredom with our dinner preparations. So we decided to test some of these meal plans and decide if anything was worth keeping up with to order regularly.

We tested Home Chef, Plated, Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. We ordered a minimum of two weeks’ plans from each service. Here are our thoughts:All of these meal plans cost about the same — $10-$12 per plate. Some are generous enough to leave a few leftovers, others are not. Some offer upsells for special items, like higher-end steak or seafood. Some sell other meals. Some sell wine. It’s a little scary when you look at that $60 per week for three meals. But when you break it down per meal, per person, you realize you’re probably spending that much for fast food, and definitely more when you’re ordering from a delivery service that picks up a restaurant meal and drives it to your door.

All of these plans require you to have basic kitchen pans and cookie sheets, aluminum foil, olive oil, salt and pepper. But if you select meals that feature ingredients you don’t often use, and you aren’t sure you want to keep in your pantry, they’re a great bargain. And, if you just want to test drive some new recipes – you’ve got that, too.

All of the plans offer full color, illustrated recipe cards with step-by-step instructions. We had one “fail” on ours – a recipe for Greek meatballs with orzo from Plated didn’t tell us how to cook the orzo and we had never cooked it. Had to go to the Internet for that one!

Home Chef was by far our favorite because of the restaurant quality of the meals we selected and ease of preparation. They really looked just like the pictures on the recipe cards! But each meal plan we tried had at least one dish that we loved, and in talking to local residents about the meal plans they’ve tried, I found people who have stuck with these services have become fiercely loyal to the plan of their choice. Others, like Terrie Roberts of Monroe, were just excited to try something new. “Oh, my goodness!” she said. “Just had my first Hello Fresh meal at my mom’s tonight. Chicken fajitas, delish. She loved the ease of preparation, no waste. Ideal for a single person.”

Ramona Caldwell of Monroe is a confirmed Blue Apron fan. “Still lovin’ Blue Apron after 16 months,” she said. “Great meals, great flavors and now they have Whole 30-approved meals.” But Paula Burgess of Monroe loves a different service. “We are avid Hello Fresh fans,” she said. “I have learned so much about cooking. Jimmy doesn’t want us to stop.” And some, like busy mom Emma Heatherly Loyless of Monroe, have tried them all and gone to Freshly, a service that provides already prepared meals.

Here are some notes about all of the services we tried:

PACKAGING All of these boxes arrived in good condition with the food still cold and ingredients still fresh. Granted, we were ordering during the winter and none of them had to withstand a hot afternoon sitting on my sunny front porch. One box actually remained outside overnight during freezing temperatures because we did not have space in our refrigerators!

HARDEST THING TO REMEMBER Ordering in time. I missed a deadline with Hello Fresh and the selected items were not what I would have chosen.

BIGGEST SURPRISE Plated’s Beef Bolognese over roasted spaghetti squash. Three days later we were still talking about how good that was!

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT Hello Fresh’s chicken sausage pizzas.

Trying a meal plan to spice up your dinners is a great idea, especially if you’re in the “if this is Monday, we must have red beans and rice” rut. You learn some new cooking techniques, try some new ingredients and keep the recipe cards to prepare these meals again.

Plated’s Chicken Shawarma with tomatoes, cucumber and tahini tastes great, but the recipe has a lot of steps and ingredients that make this a somewhat difficult meal to throw together after work.

Blue Apron’s Thai Curry Chicken carries a warning about the curry paste. We like heat. We only used a little of the paste because we know you can always add heat, but…. it was still too hot.

Home Chef’s Fig-Glazed Pork Tenderloin with feta-topped roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots. This very easy dish only has a few steps and is prepared in less than an hour.