Tag Archives: Meal Kit Services

Freshly Arrived

TRAVEL HERE: THE FINAL MEAL KIT CONTENDER

Here we are at Meal Kit Service #5 and for this particularly homemaker, the final contender.  Freshly’s box arrived pretty early on a Friday morning and I felt a deep sense of relief.  I’ll tell you why.

Juggling the Vendors

I didn’t exhaust the list of possible vendors, but I saw enough to feel as if I could make a reasonable decision.  If you’re the type who pursues bargains over and above everything I have an idea for you.  Pretty much every meal kit company will give you a bargain on your first week or two.  You could take all of them up on their offers and save lots of grocery money, but I’m warning you, as soon as the bargain week(s) are over, cancel the service.  Juggling them all until you pick the one(s) you want will make you feel like you’re chasing a three ring circus.  It’s a game of we’ll-send-it-unless-you-say-no and you have to say no on a week-by-week basis.  There’s no going to the site and clicking “hold.”

I’ll also say this.  If you’d like to try any of these, let me know.  By referring you to them, I can get discount on a week of food and after all this work, I think I deserve it!  In some cases, you’ll get a free box or a deeper discount, too.  It will also be nice to know that someone is benefiting from my ramblings.

Freshly’s Arrival

“Your food is here,” Bill called up the stairwell.  His office overlooks the front porch, so he’s always the first to know about deliveries.  When I opened the front door, the box was sitting there on it’s side.  Would it kill those delivery guys to set the box upright?  I know it’s a small thing, but it shows a level of pride that just doesn’t seem to be a part of today’s reality.  They could also lean over and ring the doorbell.  They have to know that a Freshly box contains food and if my husband didn’t see them, it would be nice to know food had been delivered – but I digress.

I like the Freshly box. It’s very simple as you can see from the photo, but there’s an elegance about simplicity I appreciate.  As I began to unpack, Bill strolled in to observe.  He’s almost as curious about packaging as I am.  Instead of throwing the insulation materials into the recycle bin, he’s actually recycling them in our attic.  He says we’ll end up with the best insulated house in the neighborhood! 

The items inside the insulating materials were pretty boring.  Six microwave meals in individual cardboard sleeves, printed with the name of the entree.  Blue Apron is still my favorite delivery.  Classy box, attractive packaging and a wonderful assortment of ingredients to marvel at as you unpack the box.

Since Freshly food is already pre-cooked and all you have to do is nuke it, there’s no recipe card to pore over.  I’ll confess, I don’t think this is going to work.  I’ve really enjoyed cooking with meal kits, so this pre-made stuff is probably not going to fly, but we’ll see.  Come back next week for the Freshly reveal.

 

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Dining with Home Chef

Jane Sadek Made Yorkshire Pudding

TRAVEL HERE: THE YORKSHIRE PUDDING MIRACLE

I lost my mom four years ago, but she is so much a part of my life, every day, that you might think she actually lives in my house.  She was my friend, my confidante and the biggest challenge of my life.  In her later years, when preparing holiday feasts had become too difficult for her, one of her favorite things to do in the whole world, was to gather the family for a holiday meal at Lawry’s.  This tradition was not a favorite with my husband, for several reasons.  This is just one of the many situations where I was caught between the two most important people in my life.  Sometimes I sided with Bill, but when it came to Lawry’s, Mom had an edge – Yorkshire Pudding! 

Home Chef Has Yorkshire Pudding?

So, here I am on my tour of meal kit companies and it’s Home Chef’s turn.  One of their choices was Sunday Supper English Roast Steak with Yorkshire Pudding.  I was amazed it was even an option and I doubted it would meet my expectations, but I couldn’t resist it.  Lawry’s isn’t the only place I’ve eaten Yorkshire Pudding, but they certainly did a good job with it.  I confess that as much as I love the dish, I never tried to make it.  I’d looked at recipes and I couldn’t imagine how those instructions could end up being the dish I loved so much.  So here was an excuse to give it a whirl.

Cook Within X 

A little bonus on the Home Chef Recipe Cards is a note to cook a dish within X days of delivery.  I’m food savvy enough to know it’s fish first, then chicken or pork and finally beef, but the little notes on the card remind me – otherwise I would have probably cut right to the Yorkshire Pudding, in spite of what I knew.

Within three days, we were supposed to consume the Parmesan Crusted Salmon, so I made it the first day and was not wowed.  The meal was fine and Bill was content with it, but not me.  I would have enjoyed a little less salad and a little more protein.  Edible, but marginal in my book.  Next up was Seared Chicken with Tzatziki Sauce and Harissa-Roasted Cauliflower and I loved it.  I can’t say it made it to the top of the list, but it was a lot more delicious, in my book, than the salmon. 

Time for Yorkshire Pudding

It was a Saturday night and I recruited Bill to help me with the meal.  He just does steak better than I do, on the stove or on the grill.  Besides, I had my hands full with the Yorkshire Pudding.  I was a little intimidated to see that Home Chef rated this as an “Expert” meal (another little addition to their cards I had not seen elsewhere), but I was determined to conquer it.

Making the Yorkshire Pudding was not as difficult as I thought it might be.  The card warned me of all the possible pitfalls, like not having the pan hot enough or opening the oven door.  I just did what they told me to and voila!  The meal looked so good I pulled out the good china!!

The meal tasted as delicious as it looked.  The beef was sirloin, not Lawry’s prime rib, but otherwise I could have fooled myself into thinking I was back at Thanksgiving dinner with my family.

So, cooking with Home Chef was a lot of fun.  Of the three meals, one was below par in my opinion, one was fine and the third – REMARKABLE!  Next on the list Freshly.  They actually prepare the meal to be micro-waved, so I doubt they will be my final choice, but Bill wanted to give them a try.  Come back next week and see how it went.

 

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Home Chef Arrives at My House

Welcome to Our House!

TRAVEL HERE: HOME CHEF STARTS OUT ON THE RIGHT FOOT

Well, here we are, trying out meal kit company number four.  A blogging friend told me to give it up and go to the grocery store, but obviously he’s got a better grocer than I’ve got out here in the boonies.  Hubby thought it was good advice, but I’m not giving up yet.

The Home Chef Vibes are Good

The proof might be in the pudding, but I have to admit, my scrutiny begins when my box of groceries arrives on the front porch.  Home Chef (HC)arrived before 11 AM.  That put it on par with Blue Apron (BA) and Sun Basket (SB).  I even liked the box.  Nothing fancy, just a logo and line drawings of fresh produce.  A box isn’t everything, but it’s something.  So far, my least favorite box is Hello Fresh (HF).  It seemed as if if were trying to hard to be happy and fresh.

Opening the HC box, I was glad to see someone had thought it through.  On top were recipe cards, my preferred format, just like with BA and HF.  SB’s recipe magazine was not my friend.  What’s more they provided a binder for the recipes and hole-punched the cards.  You’d think they already knew me.  Their packaging materials were customized and attractive.

Comparing the HC recipe cards to BA and HF, put HC somewhere in the middle.  BA has remained my favorite recipe card and one reason is their pictures of the finished plates.  Each photo is a mini-masterpiece with an attention to every item in the shot.  Without resorting to fine china, a unique place-setting is created for each meal.  I appreciate that.  These’s really nothing fancy in the photos, but someone with an imagination set them up and they use a variety of table accouterments.

HF has unique shots for each plate, but the settings don’t inspire me.  The only tables HF seems to have are distressed wood, which might be in vogue, but are a bit depressing to me.  When plates, cutlery and linens are in the shot, they aren’t to my taste, either.  Chances are the millennials out there might approve of the sleek minimalism, but it just looks boring to me – and careless.  The picture of my favorite HF meal featured a wrinkled napkin, but at least it had a napkin!  When HF has sandwiches they forego a plate altogether and set the sandwich right on the counter.  Maybe they’ll add a napkin or some white butcher paper – or maybe they won’t.

HC uses the same depressed wood table and plain white plate in every shot.  Talk about boring.  But they have other things on the recipe card that keeps them out of last place.  They have the nutrition information right on the card, rather than sending you a separate card with the weeks nutrition information all in the same place as HF does.  HC’s pans and utensils are a little more upscale than the HF choices.  If I can get past the same boring plate every day, I might end up enjoying the service.

Perfect Packaging

Move over BA, you have some competition.  The ingredients for each HC meal are packed together in their own clear bag, stamped with the name of the meal.  The clear bag gives you an exciting peek at what’s in store, unlike the brown paper bags of SB and HF.  I can already tell the ingredients provided do not have the quality and uniqueness of BA, but that uniqueness is what got me in trouble with my husband.  The crisp, clear packaging doesn’t put HC ahead of BA, but it puts them ahead of SB and HF.

So how was it to cook and eat their meals?  Come back next week and I’ll tell you.

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Sun Basket Arrives

TRAVEL HERE: AND SO DOES HELLO FRESH

Trying out all the available meal kit plans does not come without some challenges.  While they are basically all doing the same thing, trying to juggle several of them at once can trip you up.  That’s how I ended up with two boxes of food in one week.  We’d skipped a week to go out of town and somehow, though I meant to just get Sun Basket, I also got Hello Fresh. See what I go through for you guys!

A Color Change

I guess it would be no surprise that Sun Basket’s (SB) color theme is yellow.  Right away I thought their pictorial box was more engaging than the text heavy Hello Fresh (HF) box, but something about that crisp Blue Apron (BA) box still gets the points in my book.

Opening Up the Box

SB used the same grocery bag packing method as Hello Fresh, however, their bags were smaller and I was able to put them in the refrigerator.  That put them ahead of Hello Fresh, but behind Blue Apron.

In the box were several pieces of literature.  A nice welcome brochure topped the pile.  Next I realized SB sent a magazine-like booklet instead of the cards I had gotten from the other two.  Since I had already started a binder to hold my recipe cards for future reference, SB was bucking the system.  I’m calling it a tie between HF and BA, with SB making a foul.

The magazine is attractive, but it has all the recipes SB offers for the week, so in my opinion they are wasting paper.  I only needed the recipes I had ordered.  What’s more, they assumed I already know how to cook, so they completely did away with the how-to pictures I found so helpful with the other two services.  I do know how to cook, but it was nice to have a picture to refer to when I was following the directions.  Since I liked BA’s recipe card better than HF’s, BA steps into the lead.

No one else would probably even notice this, but there’s a difference in all the boxes’ insulating materials, too.  SB uses some generic foam insulation they have cut-to-size inside the box.  They tell you to roll it up and send you tape to keep it rolled up.  It was such nice sheets of foam that we put them in the attic in case we needed something like that.  HF uses a different style of foam covered in a shiny material that is designed to fit the box, rather than generic stuff cut-to-size.  My friends at BA have wonderfully customized pieces that have all kinds of wonderful BA messages on them.  Points to BA.

Preparing the Meal

SB follows HF’s method of preparation, instead of BA’s, which means you prep the ingredients for each portion of the meal as you work through them, rather than getting all that out of the way ahead of time.  However, they also print that part of the instructions in a different color ink, so that people like me, who want to do all the peeling, chopping and stuff at first, can follow their inclination.  So points to BA.  SB is only slightly less desirable and HF loses this point.

To me, the SB instructions were easy to follow, because they were specific about times and not so dependent on do-this-until-that-happens, as HF had been.  However, I had that whole magazine thing to move around the kitchen with me and there are no pictures with the instructions.  By the end of the preparation, the book was a mess, just like the cards, but I still had two more meals to prepare out of the messy book.  Taking all that into consideration, Blue Apron is still winning in the preparation portion of the meal.

SB edged close to BA when it came to the items they expect you to provide. Olive Oil, salt and pepper are the only things they require you to keep on hand.  HF expects you to also keep butter on hand for them.  So SB and BA should be in a tie, except that I’m a real fan of butter and in my opinion, BA has better butter than SB and the packaging is superior.  BA butter comes in a little round foil covered package.  Both the consistency and the flavor are excellent.  SB butter is in a small plastic tub and looks like it was cut off the same stick of butter as is in my refrigerator.  Points to BA and HF loses a point.

The biggest SB fail was in fulfillment quality.  On day one, there was a frozen (read that useless) cucumber, a lemon with a big spot on it and an iffy shallot.  The salmon was disappointing, too.  It said it was Wild Yukon River Wild-caught Salmon., but you could have fooled me.  Looked run-of-the-mill.  Pretty much the same fish I reject in Kroger’s seafood department.  The following SF day there was no paprika packet in bag for the paprika butter.

I’m not giving any points here and it’s one of the most important categories.  BA has the highest quality, but they regularly leave stuff out.  There’s usually at least one failed ingredient a week and their steaks are gristly.  HF gets everything in the box, but it falls short on being the quality I expect.  If I wanted their ingredient quality, I could get it at Kroger.  I’d still have to do the planning and shopping, of course, but part of what I want in the service is superior ingredients.

So how was the food.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you.

 

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Cooking with Hello Fresh

TRAVEL TALK: THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING

So, by the time I had unpacked my box from Hello Fresh, they were already way behind the Blue Apron Experience.  However, we’d changed services for the benefit of my hubby.  Did things get any better?

Time to Cook

In spite of all my little disappointments, the proof is in the pudding – not the packaging.  If I could have a happy husband, I could live without the Blue Apron knick knacks bag.  Only cooking wasn’t quite as much fun either.

At first glance, the recipe cards for Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are very similar.  One is formatted in Portrait and the other in Landscape, but that is irrelevant to the outcome of the meal.  For the most part, both cards contain the same information, but Hello Fresh completely missed the opportunity to tell me how delicious the recipe was going to be and what delightful ingredients I had received.  Aesthetically Blue Apron is more attractive to me.  Every item in every picture is upscale and pristine, just as you would expect in a gourmet kitchen.  Hello Fresh has more mundane accouterments in their photographs, including a stained cooking sheet.  Bad form Hello Fresh.  Points to Blue Apron.

Then I started cooking and the points went to Blue Apron – AGAIN.  The instructions are so much easier to follow on Blue Apron.  For one thing, Blue Apron has you prep all the items before you start cooking, so everything is ready before you actually start the tricky stuff.  Hello Fresh intersperses the prep work in with the cooking, so you have to stop all the way along to prep something else.  On my third meal, I went through the recipe and underlined all the prep work and did it before I started the rest of it, but that was a hassle.

Also, Blue Apron is virtually foolproof.  It gave simple instructions and then told you how long to do whatever it was you were supposed to do to the food – roast for 10 minutes, turning over halfway; cook over medium high heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly – that sort of thing.  With Hello Fresh there was a whole lot more do-this-until-that-happens, which leaves a whole lot up to chance. Yep, points to Blue Apron.

With Blue Apron, all you add from your own kitchen is olive oil, salt and pepper.  Hello Fresh also asks for butter and sugar in addition.  Points to Blue Apron.

Hello Fresh also sent more stuff than you needed – which defeated part of the reason I wanted a meal kit in the first place.  Like sending a can of tomato paste, when I only needed a tablespoon.  They pretend it’s a bonus, but the last thing I want at the end of a meal is a partial can of something.  Points to Blue Apron again.

Hello Fresh and Blue Apron also handle calorie counts differently and as you might guess, I liked Blue Apron’s methodology better.  Blue Apron packs a small pamphlet in their knick knack sack with the calories and all the nutritional information.  I never saw any meal with more than 800 calories and it was usually much lower, averaging in the mid-600’s to the mid-700’s.  Hello Fresh puts all the nutritional information for the whole week on one card – which includes all those meals I didn’t order.  It’s my job to keep up with the card all week and I saw a meal with 950 calories.  Points to Blue Apron.

There was one thing Hello Fresh did that I really liked.  Every week Blue Apron sends you a head of garlic.  Almost every recipe has the peeling and chopping of garlic in it.  We never used an entire head, so I was giving out garlic to whoever would take it.  In addition, peeling garlic is not one of my favorite things to do.  So surprise, points to Hello Fresh.

Dinner on the Table

Visually, I thought Blue Apron meals looked more inviting than Hello Fresh and my husband would probably agree, but as soon as he started eating, he’d turn up his nose at something.  Hello Fresh’s Parmesan Crusted Fish came with potatoes so everything was pretty much the same color, except for a sprinkling of carrots.  Same with the Pork Chop and Sweet Potatoes – monochromatic, except for a few green beans.  Hello Fresh’s finished product just didn’t have the sizzle of a Blue Apron plate, so you know who got the points.

But was Hello Fresh delicious?  With the small exception of tasteless sweet potatoes, hubby gave the week an unqualified thumbs up.  He was ready to go for the second week.  Anything except Blue Apron for him, I guess.

I wasn’t as happy and it had to do with the quality of the food.  The Parmesan Crusted Fish?  Tilapia!  Something I never saw with Blue Apron.  The potatoes sent with the fish were common white potatoes, not the fingerlings and Yukon Golds Blue Apron had gotten me to fall in love with.  To me, the Hello Fresh meals were OK, but pretty much what I could accomplish on my own, so kind of a yawn.  The good news, I guess is that even though my cooking is sort of boring, my husband likes it.

Will we continue with Hello Fresh?  Well, I was bored.  So I used a coupon Bill had found for Sun Basket.  Come back next week and see how that went.

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Hello, Hello Fresh

TRAVEL HERE: AND NOW FOR CONTESTANT NUMBER TWO

When your husband is not happy at the dinner table, it’s time to try out something different.  We both loved Blue Apron in the beginning, but as time went on, the level of satisfaction sank – especially for Mr. Bill.  Bill was tired of Blue Apron’s flavor of gourmet.  He wanted less adventure and more plain food.  I could feel his pain, but I didn’t want to go back to the days before delivered meal-kit came along.  So, a survey of the available services suggested Hello Fresh would solve my problems and give Bill a steady diet of good, but un-gourmet choices.

Choices and Ordering

When it came to the nuts and bolts of ordering meals, Hello Fresh seemed a lot like Blue Apron.  One new opportunity was the chance to upgrade one of your meals to a premium choice.  I just missed the lobster!  It had been available on the previous week.  I decided on my first order to stick with the regularly priced choices.

The selections were more like my mother used to make without the gourmet frills.  While that lowered the fun factor for me, a happy hubby was the goal, so I went with it.  We got an Italian Ciabatta Burger, Parmesan Crusted Fish and some Glazed Pork Chops.

Here Comes the Box

The box arrived as scheduled and from the outside it looked pretty much like the Blue Apron box, but with green as the primary color instead of blue.  When I opened the box, the story changed.

Inside the box were three huge grocery bags of food, each with a sticker announcing the meal they contained.  I’m not sure exactly what they thought I was supposed to do with that, because the sacks were too big for my frig.  It’s probably very convenient for them from a picking and packing standpoint, but I had to unpack the bags to get the items into the frig.  Blue Apron’s box came loaded with individually packaged items, not mystery grab bags.

As I unloaded the bags I sorted the ingredients into Ziplocks.  I discovered some of the items didn’t need refrigeration and some like the maple syrup would be better without it.  So each grocery bag of food was offloaded into one large Ziplock of refrigerated items and one small Ziplock of pantry items.  Points to Blue Apron!

Hello Fresh packaging wasn’t much fun either.  While unloading my Blue Apron box, there were elaborate packaging solutions, like individual cartons for eggs and plums, and I’m a sucker for great packaging.  There were other interesting items in Blue Apron, like unusual vegetables or breads or intriguing descriptions on labels, while there was nothing at all exciting in the Hello Fresh box.  The biggest thrill was some artwork on the bag of shredded mozzarella, but I do graphics and could have whipped it out myself in moments with a better vocabulary.  Points to Blue Apron.

The best part of unpacking Blue Apron was small brown bags of what they called “knick knacks.” It was like a present for every meal – spices, bottles of vinegar, sauces, crazy mushrooms, beautifully packaged rounds of butter and on and on and on.  I would load the small bags in the refrigerator and not open them until I cooked the meal.  Home-run for Blue Apron.  Nothing for Hello Fresh.

So, we hadn’t even started cooking yet and Blue Apron was way ahead.  Did Hello Fresh come from behind at mealtime?  Come back next week and find out!

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Blue Apron Is My Friend

TRAVEL HERE: WHY I LOVE BLUE APRON

Even though I knew immediately that I wanted to try out one of these meal services, it took me a while to convince my husband that he was interested in it, too.  When I finally convinced him a meal service would be the answer to all my prayers, I then had to prove the financial viability of it.  I found a consumer site comparing the available services and they said Blue Apron was the most cost effective.  Then we found a deal at Costco and that sealed it.  I really think he was just tired of hearing about it and he assumed that after a week or two I’d get tired of it.  Au contrare!

Heaven in a Box

I confess, I loved everything about Blue Apron.  It was easy to order.  I loved unpacking the box it came in.  It solved every problem I ever had with cooking.  It gave me easy-to-follow, step-by-step, illustrated instructions.  I did what they said and with only a very few exceptions, the results were amazing – at least to me.

I loved “shopping” on the website to pick my meals.  I loved getting ingredients I didn’t normally have access to.  I loved the way the items in the box were packaged.  I loved following the instructions.  I liked the quality of the meats.  I loved rating the food and making comments on the website.  I loved sharing my experience on Facebook.  I loved giving my friends a free week of food.  I loved how responsive their customer service team was.  I was having a grand time.

So, It Wasn’t Perfect

Really, my one and only complaint about Blue Apron was the limited selection.  I could have easily found what I wanted out of the six choices they offered, but as soon as I started making selections, things became unavailable.  By the time I got to my third choice, there was no choice.  I just had to take whatever was left.  I’m sure that had to do with food cost, but it was irritating.  Otherwise I was a happy camper.

Then They Improved the Selection Process

Then they improved things and that’s always dangerous.  We’d been on Blue Apron for about six weeks when they announced, not only were they expanding the number of choices available, they were also doing away with limiting selections as you made choices.  Sounded like all my dreams were coming true.

The switch coincided with our vacation.  I left all excited, because when I came home, the new process would be in place.  The selection process was great when I got home, but suddenly, the food was not as good.  It was small things.  Like there seemed to be more in the way of steaks, but the steaks were tough and gristly.  We were getting good vegetables, but the combinations seemed weird to my husband.  I was ready to trade my new options in on the way it used to be.

In the beginning, Bill had been as happy as a clam, but suddenly, his level of satisfaction was going down, down, down.  Now, I was not as dissatisfied as he was.  Those odd combinations were fine with me.  The steaks bothered me, but I could choose around the beef.  I’ll be honest with you.  I didn’t think the food was quite as good as it had been before the improvements, but it was good enough and it beat the heck out of going back to the pre-Blue Apron system.

Let’s Try Something Else

After some pretty tense conversations about it, because I loved the easiness of the program, we finally decided that we’d try out some other services.  Bill had offered to “help” if I’d go back to just doing it myself, but I didn’t need help with the cooking or cleaning up and he didn’t want to take over the planning.  So it was time to give Hello Fresh a try.  Come back next week and see how that went.

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