Eat

In Which I Test-Run Bunches Of Meal Delivery Plans

New year, new table (Pictured: Noritake’s Blue Hammock collection)

Blazer | Dress | Vintage necklace (similar)

Let’s talk about meal delivery services.

For years, I saw ads for Blue Apron on my social media feeds, and for years I resisted the call of perfectly plated, beautifully garnished, root vegetable-inclusive meals. Then I tried Blue Apron on a whim, and I was sold: it got me out of a major cooking rut that mostly involved pasta, and taught me tons of new techniques…but mostly it was fun. Three nights a week I put my kids in front of the TV, poured myself a glass of wine, put on my headphones, and spent the better part of an hour chopping and mixing and pouring to the sound of Stephen Colbert’s lovely, sane voice.

And then I got really, really bored. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they grew tired of Blue Apron over time, but I’m not sure whether that’s because the company actually does do a lot of repetitive stuff (does every side dish have to include kale? Like, all of them?), or whether all meal delivery services kind of feel like they’re doing the same old thing when you’ve been using them for months. So I set out to do some highly scientific meal delivery service testing, which involved me ordering a box from three new companies, and making unilateral declarations about their relative benefits and weaknesses based on all that extremely comprehensive experience.

noritake china blue and white hammock collection available at macysnoritake china blue and white hammock collection available at macys

Before I get into the services I tried, let’s please take a moment to gaze upon the beauty of these dishes. My collection of Noritake dinnerware is pretty considerable, given that I’ve worked with the brand for going on six years now (!), and I love how these dishes mix so easily into the white, gold and blue patterns I already own, but make the whole tablescape feel fresh and bright. In the photos you see here, I styled the collection two different ways – for the first (with the Hello Fresh pork chops), I wanted a textured, cozy look with dark navy accents that’s simple and casual, and for the second (with the Sunbasket falafel) I went for a romantic, whimsical vibe by pulling in some pale pinks and lacy accents (even the wine goblets have subtle swirls on them).

Check out my curated collection for Noritake here.

OK, now let’s talk food. I’m going to be judgy here, so if you object to my assessments of these services, please feel free to let me know.

BLUE APRON

Blue Apron is the service I have the most experience with by far, and I honestly do love it – but after several months I started to feel like a lot of the ingredients and techniques were being repeated. Not that they were bad; I just wanted something new. I also felt like Blue Apron was better for myself and Kendrick than it was for the kids: the recipes are often interesting and visually cool, but sometimes just a hair too adult-y – I found myself doing a lot of meal-fluffing with extra carbohydrates.

  • Pros: Delicious, highly Instagrammable, interesting flavors.
  • Cons: Not terribly family-friendly, don’t love the packaging (all the ingredients are loose in the box, so you have to divide them up yourself, and there seems to be a lot of waste).

noritake china blue and white hammock collection available at macysreview comparison of hello fresh sun basket and blue apronwhich meal delivery service is the most family friendly

(Full disclosure: That happy face is about the sugar, not the pork chops.)

noritake china blue and white hammock collection available at macys

(See? This is the subsequent Mom Won’t Let Me Eat All The Sugar shot.)

HELLO FRESH

The big pro of Hello Fresh, to me, is also the big con: It’s just really simple. The meals are quick to make (20-30 minutes, tops) and extremely kid-friendly (think BBQ chicken, mashed potatoes, etc)…but they’re also recipes that I’d be likely to make on my own. Like, without a meal delivery service. Yes, they’re fancied-up versions of what I’d make, but the impressiveness factor is low here; to me, these are practical recipes that make cooking easier, but don’t necessarily teach more experienced home chefs a whole lot.

  • Pros: Family-friendly, fast, simple, ideal for beginners.
  • Cons: Fairly ordinary recipes, not great for those who want to learn new techniques.

review comparison of hello fresh sun basket and blue aproncomparison of different meal preparation delivery services

SUN BASKET

I’ve heard consistently great things about Sun Basket from friends who’ve tried it, and it totally lived up to the hype. The recipes offer a ton of variety and international options, and the menu felt the most customizable of the services I’ve tried. I decided to order a couple of meals that I wouldn’t typically choose – the falafel pictured here, for example – and oh my god, so delicious. And fast. And easy.

  • Pros: Diverse menu, fast, easy.
  • Cons: None so far.

MARLEY SPOON

The two Marley Spoon meals that I tried struck me more than anything as kids’ meals that had reached adulthood. The first – Meatball and Orzo Stew with Baby Spinach – was sort of like Chef Boyardeeyour  For Grownups, and the second – Fried Shrimp with Broccoli Slaw – was like something you remember eating on the beach with your parents…except the tartar sauce had gouchang  …and I mean that as a very big compliment. My kids were obsessed (“Can I have more spinach, Mom?”), and so were we. Definitely planning on giving this another go in the future.

  • Pros: Interesting recipes, family-friendly.
  • Cons: Sort of weird.

Any other services you think I should try? (Gobble and Good Eggs aren’t available in my area yet, alas, but I think most of the other major ones are.)

Dinnerware by RG sponsor Noritake. Photography by Kim Ebbets. 

  • Maria

    This was a fun post to read, because for the past few weeks I have been testing all these meal delivery plans myself and taking advantage of the first box discounts.
    I agree with Blue Apron, I ordered then several times and got so bored. Most of my meals were blah.
    Hello Fresh: hit and miss. Not my favorite
    Sun basket: I liked that it was organic. The meals were pretty good.
    Plated: so far, so good! they have so many options to choose from. Last night was fish and chips and wow.
    Home chef: did. not. like. it. Meals were not flavorful

    I’m right there with you. I love cooking, and I dont want a meal delivery kit that has meals I can do myself. I want to learn new techniques, I want to be surprised. My last blue apron was all about salt, pepper and oil… nothankyou

    • jordanreid

      I’m glad it was helpful!!! I’ve been taking advantage of those discounts too 🙂

    • CJ

      I liked the variety in plated as well but we had soooooo many packaging issues. Once they even sent us the meat for one meal but the bag of ingredients for another. After a couple months we had to cancel because the mistakes were ridiculous.

  • Brian Wallace

    I have been using Home Chef for the last 6 weeks. I think they are actually quite good. I’ve only had 2 meals that were not very good in my opinion. What I really like are the meals are packaged separate and directions are detailed with plenty of pictures. Also their fresh fruit which I get every week is simply outstanding.

  • Emily

    I have an ongoing rotation of Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and Plated. My experiences align perfectly with those already stated (Blue Apron = repetitive; Hello Fresh = simple/hit or miss; Plated = delish but with occasional errors). I like the variety/number of options and the international cuisine that Plated offers, so 3/4 weeks a month I opt for that service. This post is prompting me to finally cancel Blue Apron and try out Sun Basket – my curiosity is piqued!