Tag Archives: Meal Kit Services

Is Variety the Spice of Life?

TRAVEL HERE: AND THE WINNERS ARE…

We give up.  Perhaps the perfect meal kit service doesn’t exist, but we’ve identified some dogs.  He likes Hello Fresh for this and that, but if Home Chef is going to continue to delight me with dishes like Yorkshire Pudding, well I want it, too. Blue Apron, finally fell off the wagon for a variety of reasons. So for now, I’ll be juggling two services and hopefully I’ll figure out a system to insure that we don’t end up with two boxes of food for any particular week as I did a few weeks ago.  Perhaps someday down the road, one of the services will pull ahead of the others, but for now, I’ll just claim variety is the spice of life.

Why Not Blue Apron?

This journey began with several months of Blue Apron.  I’d done my research and read from several sources they were the best value – not the cheapest, but the one who provided the best product for the greatest value.  I loved it so much.  It wasn’t perfect, but it beat my own meal planning and food management, for a while.  Then Bill demanded a change of pace and did he ever get it!  He’s dizzy from the carousel of meal kit services.

As we sat down to discuss who would win the brass ring, I recounted all the reasons I used to love Blue Apron:

  • Interesting gourmet touches with every meal and lots of variety
  • Unique ingredients never available at the local grocery store
  • Usually the highest quality in meats, fish and vegetables – with some uneveness in the beef department and the occasional vegetable fail
  • Clever packaging that was fun to open and unload
  • Cute knick knack bags for their special ingredients
  • Great recipe cards with easy to follow instructions, helpful upscale photos of the cooking process and finally the best pictures of the plated meals
  • They’d made me feel like an accomplished chef

Even with all these pluses, I had to admit they couldn’t be THE meal kit service, because quite frankly, for the last few months, every time we used them all we had were problems and the food wasn’t as good as it used to be.  All the great recipe cards in the world can’t make up for food we don’t want to eat.

Why Hello Fresh?

Can you say Chicken Under a Zucchini Blanket?  Of all the meals we had from any service, this was Bill’s favorite meal – and I have to admit it was a winner.  Their other strengths were:

  • Not a single packaging or quality issue in six meals (something that no other besides Blue Apron can claim)
  • User friendly recipe cards that did the job (if not as well as Blue Apron)
  • Ingredients that were as least as good as what I would pick out for myself at the store
  • Good healthy food that Bill and I both enjoyed (but nothing in the least exotic)

I didn’t want them to be THE meal kit service because:

  • Unpacking my meal was just not as much fun
  • I don’t like the big brown bag per meal or their graphics
  • A little too main-stream-all-the-time for my palate
  • They said Parmesan Crusted Fish and it turned out to be tilapia
  • While the recipe cards did their job, they were less than excellent
    • less than pristine utensils used in cooking photos
    • a downgrade in overall ambiance
    • instructions were good, but not a s good as others
    • finished plate photos are not inspiring

Why Home Chef?

They had me at Yorkshire Pudding!  Not merely the fact that they offered Yorkshire Pudding, but because the dish was easy to make from scratch and it turned out perfect.  Their other two dishes for the week were quite tasty.  Here’s the other reasons they made the cut:

  • While not as adventurous as my friends at Blue Apron, Home Chef does get creative and almost exotic.
  • None of the ingredients were particularly unusual, but they came up with some unique dishes nonetheless
  • Great quality and no ooops yet
  • Clear plastic bags hold most of the ingredients together for each meal.  While this is not as exciting as obsessing over all the separate items in a Blue Apron Box, it beat the big brown grocery bags from Hello Fresh
  •   The recipe cards are great.  They actually offer a few items of information not provided by Blue Apron, but no points for plated dish inspiration.  They use the same distressed wood table for each shot and the same boring white plate.  (YAWN!)
  • I feel more like a chef with Home Chef than I do with Hello Fresh.

Some day they may actually pull ahead and be THE meal kit service, but till then, I’ll keep juggling.

And there you have it.  Wondering what I’ll come up with next week?  Come back and find out!

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Freshly Disappointed

TRAVEL HERE: BYE-BYE FRESHLY AND SUN BASKET

Well, I’m on the decision end of my journey.  I’ve tried these meal kit companies, in this order: Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Sun Basket, Home Chef and Freshly.  Two are now out of the running for my on-going business.  Let me tell you why.

Bland, Blah, Boring!

I was skeptical of Freshly from the moment Bill suggested it.  I wanted to be out of the meal planning and food management business, but I like cooking.  Freshly seemed like a pretentious form of frozen food to me, but since he’s the one I’m trying to please, I gave it a shot.

Our first meal was Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Zucchini & Potato Cakes.  These are three of my favorite foods, so it should have been a shoo-in for delicious.  NOT!  Last night we had Chicken Provencal with Roasted Pepper Cauliflower Mash.  Lots of reasons we should have enjoyed it, but we didn’t.  Peppercorn Steak with Carrots and Green Beans is still in the refrigerator, but after choking down two disappointments we’ve already made up our mind.  We’re even going to forfeit the discount on the second week’s delivery.

If you read their packaging, they do warn you they go easy on the seasonings and suggest ways to spice up your meals.  Well thanks, but there is only so much ground pepper and lemon juice can do. If your pork, potatoes and zucchini all taste the same to begin with, just adding condiments is not going to fix them.  The items may then have more flavor, but they don’t taste like pork, potatoes and zucchini with pepper and lemon, they taste like mush you are trying to doctor up with pepper and lemon.  Freshly prepares the meals, flash freezes them and then they defrost on their way to you.  What’s more, that’s exactly what they taste like.

A Basket of Mistakes

Sun Basket’s meals were actually pretty good, but they were fired for cause – two causes, in fact.  First, I hate their recipe book.  It’s a waste of paper for one thing, for another it gets all yucky in the cooking process and finally, their book is bereft of helpful photos and clear instructions.  Instead they have chatty blogs and vague do-this-until-that suggestions.

My second beef with them was the unreliability of their produce and packing.  You may or may not get your seasoning packages.  Your cucumber might have been frozen and rendered useless.  Your lemon might have a big spot on it.  We had six meals and had a least six oops.  I don’t want a weekly $10 refund.  I just want all the ingredients to arrive and for them to be top quality.

Their packaging was of the brown paper bag sort, like Hello Fresh, but while it’s not my preferred method of receiving my stuff, it wasn’t the reason I abandoned them.  With the other two complaints, it was just one more thing I didn’t like.

So, that leaves Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Home Chef.  There are pros and cons to all of them.  So who wins the Meal Kit Challenge?  Come back next week and find out.

 

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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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