HelloFresh, Blue Apron, Home Chef… Lots of services promise everything we need to cook fresh, amazing meals on a budget — without setting foot in a grocery store. But how well do they work IRL? Judy Gotwald sums up her experience, and shares a new favorite recipe.
Ever since my nest emptied, I’ve been foundering in the meal management seas. As sure as I plan a week worth of healthy meals, I suddenly have multiple business lunches or family parties and good food goes to waste. Fresh produce for one is also expensive — most deals are on big bags of fruit and vegetables.
Could a home meal delivery service that’s catered to my needs provide a solution?
I looked at three — Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and Home Chef — but many others also share the same basic formula: each supplier provides fresh food in measured proportions. Menus are planned by experienced chefs.
The cost is about the same for each, just under $10 per meal. The differences are in the menu and delivery options.
The meal kits include all the spices and special ingredients. Directions are provided. You provide the salt, pepper and olive oil (not a staple in my Pa Dutch kitchen, but butter and cooking oil substitute well). Follow the directions provided and you are assured a meal cooked from scratch from fresh ingredients in about 30 minutes.
I chose Home Chef for two reasons:
- They have more meal options available per week.
- The menu options are a combination of trendy and familiar that appeal to me. In other words, I know what most of the ingredients are.
If you order three two-person meals, the shipping is free. That’s encouraging an order of three menu offerings as the third option is a better value when you take advantage of the free shipping. I’d rather pay for food than shipping!
I ordered $59 worth of meals—three meals for two or six meals. This first order came to $19 with the free shipping and a $30 trial offer coupon. These were my first choices:
- Salmon Cakes and Spinach/Carrot Salad
- Acapulco Steak Tacos and Cilantro-Lime Rice
- Grilled Pork Chops with Dijon Sauce with Green Beans and Red Potatoes
The food arrived at my door on Friday afternoon in a well-insulated box with plenty of ice bags. The food would have been safely chilled overnight.
The meat is wrapped separately from the vegetable packs. Spices and condiments are in little jars like travel cosmetic containers.
The directions are printed step by step on card stock that is three-hole punched. I can sort and save favorite recipes to make the meals on my own. Each food packet has a “Cook By” notation clearly marked on the recipe card: the salmon should be used within three days.
I made the Salmon Cakes and Spinach Salad dinner first.
SALMON CAKES & SPINACH SALAD
In addition to all the ingredients, specific instructions break the whole meal down into steps. The salad was especially easy to make — the spinach was ready to go, all I had to do was shave a hefty carrot (provided) into ribbons with a vegetable peeler. A dressing easily came together with supplied ingredients of rice vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, etc.
I’ve never made fish cakes before! Once, though, I attempted crab cakes (don’t ask), and I remember they called for bread crumbs as binder. These directions, however, explained that if you chop the salmon fine enough, no eggs or bread crumbs are needed to bind the cakes into patties.
So I chopped away. Two cloves of garlic, next. The recipe calls for fresh cilantro in both the cakes and the salad dressing. I do not like cilantro. The cilantro will go to waste (I substituted a favorite spice blend, instead).
What’s this? A flavoring new to me was provided: Sriracha. According to Wikipedia, “sriracha” is a type of hot sauce or chili sauce made from a paste of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt. It was not hot at all and provided a good tang.
Now I strayed a bit. I had a small thumb of ginger sitting on the cutting board from making tea earlier in the day. I chopped up some ginger and added it to the cakes. I also chopped up the stub from the shaved carrot.
I shaped the mixture into four even balls, which I flattened to make roughly 3-inch patties, about 3/4 inch thick. And wow, they really did hold their shape very well—even with several turns in the frying pan.
Two minutes per side was perfect. The recipe called for sriracha-mayo dressing for the cakes made from supplied mayonnaise, cilantro (which I omitted) and more of the sriracha sauce, of course.
The salmon was so delicious that I went out to buy some salmon to make again next week. The ginger was a nice touch. I know now that they will work for lunches for several days.
The service relies on customers ordering weekly. One down side is that you are asked to order a second set of meals before you’ve had a chance to try the first shipment. Luckily I was satisfied and looked forward to the delivery of my next meal choices: Mojito Pork Chops, Steak Marsala and Thai Coconut Yellow Curry and Rice.
You can skip a week. You can order a few weeks ahead. Most of the services have mobile apps. There are incentives for referrals.
This meal service is convenient, engaging, and definitely cuts down trips to the grocery store. I can imagine it being especially helpful as the winter months near. No more rush for milk, bread and eggs at the suggestion of snow when meals magically appear on my doorstep in all weather.
If you like following directions, these recipes are fool-proof — but they also allow for variation, in case you dislike an ingredient (I’m looking at you, cilantro) or feel like getting creative.
The cost for a restaurant-quality meal is less than dining out even without the tips! Grocery store savings? I don’t have to purchase full bottles of gourmet sauces & spices, which definitely cuts down on cost and clutter.