My husband and I first considered using meal kit delivery services last year when we realized we were in a menu rut. I found myself making the same few meals repeatedly. It was boring. Cooking wasn’t fun anymore. Plus, we were trying to eat healthier. We’d seen advertisements for companies like Blue Apron–plus pictures from friends and family members on Instagram and Facebook of their Blue Apron meals. So we figured, what the heck, let’s give these meal kits a try.
And try we did. Not only did we try companies like Blue Apron, we tried Blue Apron itself. The meals were delicious but high in calories and expensive. So we didn’t stick with it and that’s why it is not in this review.
Here is what I have included: three companies we tried that allowed us to make fresh meals conveniently and affordably. They are HelloFresh, Sun Basket and Peapod. Yes, Peapod, the grocery delivery service now offers meal kits. I mentioned this in my Peapod review. In this post I’m expanding on my experience. I believe this review will explain why I think that these meal kit companies can be a smart way to get the most value for your time and money.
Overview of Meal Kit Delivery Services
If you’ve never tried a meal kit service, let me go over the basics of how most work. When you sign up with a meal kit service, you make a few selections upfront.
- How many meals a week you want
- How many people you’ll be serving
- What your dietary preferences are
- What your preferred delivery day is
With all the services we tried, we had to provide a credit card. However, we were not roped into any long-term agreements. You could sign up for one week and cancel the next. All let you pause your service if you were traveling.
When your service is active, you can go in and choose your menu up to three weeks in advance, and you can change your menu selections or even the number of meals you were receiving up to a week before your next delivery. This latter convenience was super helpful when our daughters came home for spring break and we wanted to up our delivery from two meals per day to four meals. Then, when they went back to college, we went back to two meals per day.
Most meal delivery services are designed to give you dinner options for two to three nights per week. Many of the ones we tried have also added breakfast options. Sun Basket had an overnight oats options. HelloFresh has had egg dishes, pancakes and a bacon flatbread that I actually made for dinner one night. Yeah, breakfast for dinner!
Whether you choose two meals a week or five, meal kit delivery services deliver that week’s box in one delivery. That means you have to ensure you have room in refrigerator so when you unbox your ingredients, you have somewhere you can put them so they stay fresh.
Since starting using meal kit delivery services, I’ve noticed how many of these boxes are showing up on my neighbors’ doorsteps throughout the week. Or, frankly, how many of the boxes are flattened and put out on recycling day. Bottom line: meal kits are hugely popular. Inc.com says that in the next 10 years, the meal kit industry could grow to $5 billion.
Our family has been cooking with HelloFresh meal kits since January and we love them. We get three meals a week, which is the right amount–enough to make dinner interesting a couple nights a week but not too much to be overwhelming. HelloFresh got us out of our meal rut and into eating a healthier menu. My husband, who tends to avoid anything green, has chowed down on arugula salad and roasted Brussels sprouts–something I’d never witnessed in 25 years of marriage.
Combined with a stepped up exercise program, eating HelloFresh meals three times a week has helped my husband to lose weight. Most recently he told me he was in three belt notches. His better health is all the more reason for us to continue ordering, cooking and serving HelloFresh meals.
Each box filled with HelloFresh meal kits comes with 8X10 recipe cards. On the front is a picture of the meal, plated and finished. On the back are step-by-step instructions. I’ve taken to using a cookbook stand to hold the recipe card up on the counter when cooking. It’s so easy to see. (That was not the case with Blue Apron. When we tried it, briefly, the recipe cards were more like little pamphlets like what you might get with your prescription medicine. They were not easy to work with at all.)
Each recipe card includes the prep time, the cooking time, and the number of calories per portion. I have never had a HelloFresh meal that took more than 40 minutes to prepare and cook.
Like other meal kit services HelloFresh ingredients are pre-portioned so there is no food waste. Also, the packaging itself is small and not wasteful. The garlic comes pre-peeled, a nice convenience. Many veggies do, too.
HelloFresh does a good job of presenting meals with at least three main ingredients. It might be a meat, a cooked vegetable of some kind and a salad. With a former football player husband, there would be no way I could present a dinner that barely fills the plate. In nearly every instance HelloFresh meals did not disappoint.
In a few months of using HelloFresh, we’ve already determined some favorite recipes, which we’ve made again. That’s the great thing about these recipe cards. You can keep them on hand–maybe even put them in a loose-leaf notebook–and use them in the future, with ingredients you purchase at the supermarket.
With HelloFresh delivery is always free. I like that.
If you like wine with your meals, you’ll love HelloFresh’s latest offering–the HelloFresh wine club, a wine delivery service. It’s a monthly commitment of six bottles, and each one is paired to the menu you’ve chosen in advance. You can get all white wine, all red wine or a combination of both. Like the meal kits, you can cancel at any time.
Over six months of using HelloFresh, we’ve had only one or two problems with our deliveries. One time the delivery service that dropped off the box on our front step must have heaved it from the street. I’m guessing this, because when I got to it, all the meal packages had split open. Pork, chicken and beef juice dripped from the bottom of the box before I realized what was going on. (My dogs loved licking up the mess.)
Another time we were too busy to cook the night the boxes arrive. When we finally got to making a meal kit, some five days after delivery, the vegetables weren’t good anymore.
In both instances I called HelloFresh customer service. The customer service reps, who picked up the phone right away, immediately credited us for the meal or, in the case of the meat packages that had opened, the entire week. Plus, they offered a discount on the next week’s delivery. No questions asked. So even though this part is listed in the “cons” section, the top-notch customer service is definitely a “pro.”
Also, when choosing my menu in advance, we tend to like chicken. However, the menu doesn’t tell you if you’ll be cooking with chicken breasts or chicken thighs. I have an issue with chicken thighs (it’s a texture thing) so when I would get a box with thighs when I thought it would be breasts, I was unhappy.
It would be great if HelloFresh was more descriptive so I could know if I’m getting chicken thighs or chicken breasts. When HelloFresh describes steak dishes, it will say if it skirt or sirloin. Same thing with porkchops or tenderloin, for example. Maybe no one else has an issue with chicken like I do. Still I wish that option existed. Nonetheless, it hasn’t stopped me from selecting chicken dishes. In fact, just tonight we made a Rachael Ray Buffalo Chicken dinner.
Sun Basket Review
What sets Sun Basket apart from companies like Blue Apron, HelloFresh and others is that its ingredients are USDA certified organic, making it an organic meal delivery. When you sign up for Sun Basket, you can also opt to make it a vegetarian meal delivery service. Bonus: when we had a vegan friend visit, he confirmed that some of the Sun Basket vegetarian options were, in fact, vegan.
Sun Basket Pros
We tried Sun Basket during a time when both of our daughters were home from college and they had friends visiting. Some of these friends are vegetarian and vegan so it was great to have the vegetarian meal delivery option. In fact, at one point I had four twentysomethings in my kitchen, cooking a vegan Sun Basket meal.
Unlike some meal kit services which portions are so small you leave the dinner table hungry, this was not the case with Sun Basket. The meal the kids made was supposed to feed just four people, but there were seven people sitting down to dinner that night. While we did add a salad to the menu, the bulgur vegan stew from Sun Basket served us all. It was delicious and filling. The vegan and vegetarian friends loved it and asked to take a picture of the recipe card so they could make it again when they went back to college.
Another pro for Sun Basket–the fact that everything is USDA certified organic. That’s a huge deal if you’re trying to eat clean. I know it’s important to my own daughters, who have asked that we buy only organic meat and produce when shopping in person at the grocery store.
Right now you can get $35 off Sun Basket meals!
Sun Basket Cons
Sun Basket charges for delivery. $5.99 each time. The meals per person are also more expensive than any other meal kit delivery service. However, for people who want to eat certified organic food, the price is probably worth it. And if you’re vegan and want to use a meal kit service, Sun Basket is likely your only option so you pay more for it. So as you can see there aren’t that many “cons” for Sun Basket.
Peapod Meal Kit Delivery Services Review
As you know from this popular review of Peapod grocery delivery service, I have been a Peapod customer for years now. I find it a convenient way to go grocery shopping and, as the review points out, I’ve saved tremendously when buying meat. Now I’ve discovered that I can use Peapod to save tremendously on meal kit delivery.
I didn’t even realize that Peapod was offering meal kits until one day last year I logged in to do my grocery shopping and there it was–an offer for a meal kit. This was around the same time that our family was thinking of trying services like Blue Apron. Blue Apron meals cost about $9 per person (less than that if ordering a meal kit for four, more if you’re ordering a meal kit for two). Peapod meal kit are half of services like Blue Apron. HelloFresh comes in closely at around $9 and Sun Basket is close to $11 per person.
So I ordered a meal kit. It was for chicken cacciatore. What attracted me to it was the fact that it was a meal kit designed to be cooked in a slow cooker. None of the other meal kit services I’ve tried offered a Crock Pot option. Even better than the price was the fact that this meal kit served six. Neither Sun Basket nor HelloFresh ever offered a meal kit that served more than four people.
Peapod Meal Kits Pros
Like I said earlier the meal kit for chicken cacciatore that I chose from Peapod was designed to be cooked in the Crock Pot. That’s a huge convenience. You know what else was convenient? When the meal kit arrived, all the vegetables were pre cut and pre chopped. That meant even less prep time for me.
While the directions suggested I cook the chicken in a pan first and then add to the slow cooker, I never do that when using my Crock Pot. Everything goes in at once–raw meat included–so that’s exactly what I did with this recipe. I opened all of the Peapod meal kit containers, dumped it in my slow cooker, set it on low for eight hours, and went about my business.
Around six hours from the time I started cooking, the meal smelled done. I checked the meat; it was fully cooked. So I called everyone in for an earlier-than-expected dinner. That’s wasn’t a problem as everyone’s tummies were grumbling, having spent the last few hours smelling this delicious meal cooking away in the slow cooker.
One of the fun experiences about using meal kit services like HelloFresh is the plating process. If you’re a Food Network nerd, you get it. You want your food to look pretty. Not so with the Peapod meal kit. The picture below is from another Peapod meal kit for Steak Au Poivre.
So yeah, not so pretty. Not very exciting ingredients. However, it was a delicious, filling, affordable meal. I’m not so upset about the esthetic to put it in the “con” column. It’s just a fact–a Peapod meal kit doesn’t come out as pretty as other meal kit services.
What it does come out as is delicious. Even my daughters who are notorious about not liking most tomato-based sauces (save for pizza) dug into the chicken cacciatore, cleaned their plates and asked for more. My husband, who grew up in a household with Italian immigrant grandparents, praised the dish as well. My mother, who was visiting at the time, wanted the recipe so she could make it the next time her girlfriends had a potluck dinner.
Peapod Meal Kits Cons
Unlike traditional meal kit delivery services, the only way to get a Peapod meal kit is to order it with your regular groceries. That’s not a big deal, if you’re already using Peapod over a trip to the supermarket. But Peapod does have a delivery charge–orders of $60 to $100 cost $9.95 for delivery. Orders over $100 get a discounted delivery rate–$6.95.
Special Peapod offer just for my blog readers! Get $20 Off Your First Order of $90+ at Peapod.com with code SFRUGAL20.
Knowing this delivery charge, I always try to choose a Peapod delivery time that comes with a $3 discount. That is, if you’re more flexible about your delivery window, Peapod will give you a discount.
I try to save in other ways, such as using any coupon codes that arrive in my inbox. Even so I do tip the Peapod driver $5 for each trip, so right there the delivery charge for a Peapod meal kit is more expensive. However, overall, the cost for the food and the amount of food you get is cheaper than any other service I’ve reviewed.
Overall Thoughts on Meal Kit Delivery Services
What I have loved about using meal kit delivery services is getting back to the act of cooking from scratch. It’s something I haven’t done in a long time, beyond making a salad or creating a dish in my Crock Pot. For me cooking everything from scratch is flexing a muscle that has gone lax. It feels good to use my brain this way. HelloFresh, Sun Basket and Peapod meal kits all allowed me to do this.
I realize that I could be using cooking app or recipe in a magazine to cook from scratch. But cooking that ways requires a trip to the supermarket, measuring out ingredients and more. That’s not always a good use of my time and money.
In the past I’ve had good intentions of cooking from ingredients I bought. However, sometimes life got in the way, and I ended up not using or forgetting about at least one ingredient. And suddenly it’s become a mystery liquid in the vegetable crisper.
With a meal kit delivery service, yes, I’m paying for the convenience of someone else getting me my ingredients, but I’m also avoiding wasting money on ingredients that, well, go to waste. To me that’s a smart way to spend my time and money.