Recipe boxes are designed to take the hard work out of cooking. Forget grocery lists and lines. For an average of $10 per serving, and in between 30-45 minutes, you can have a meal made fresh at home.
Some services will even do the chopping for you. Shipped to your door, they are like the Ikea furniture of food, compactly packed and containing everything you need for the final product, but fortunately easier to assemble.
Dinnerly - only $5 per serving
A very easy recipe box, with recipes that truly come together start to finish in the prescribed time. Recipes are digital, for less paper waste and include fewer ingredients for minimal prep-work on weeknights. The service pre-selects recipes for you, which can be limiting, especially if you have dietary restrictions. We tried the creamy linguine with greens and Thai curry chicken soup, both had generous portions with enough for leftovers the next day. Even at a lower price point, they offered the same name brand ingredients found in other kits, however a few produce items did not match the high-quality promise. The peas for the soup were chalky and the garlic arrived smashed in the box.
Plated - from $9.95 per serving
Plated is for people already passionate about cooking and are also not in a hurry. Harissa lamb sliders were delicious, but required a lot of dishes and around a full hour to make. They offer over 20 recipes per subscription cycle and the option to add dessert; more than any other service. They also provide additional recipes and tips on their accompanying blog Morsel, which is helpful for people looking for a service to potentially improve their cooking skills long term. Subscriptions are flexible, as are the number of servings, making it possible to order enough for a small dinner party instead of just for two. However, some recipes like the sliders were generous in portioning, while the cod en papillote was delicious but comprised of very small cod fillets that left us hungry.
Martha & Marley Spoon - from $18 (two meals, for two people)
These kits required the least clean-up. Recipes like the roasted harissa shrimp or the Kashmiri-chili roasted chicken only required a single sheet pan or pot. The real advantage being that once the preparation was done, everything gets put into the oven or onto the stove-top and can left alone while you attend to other things. The recipes delivered on flavor, with spices like the harissa and Kashmiri chili pronounced in the dish. Some of the instructions were vague however, like what to look for when toasting whole coriander seeds—something a beginning cook might not know and could use more detailed photos to explain.
Takeout Kit - from $30 (four servings)
Unlike other meal kits, nothing in the box has to be refrigerated and each have a two-month shelf-life. The chicken tikka masala kit came with key ingredients like ghee and garam masala that can be hard to find in the average American grocery if you were trying to make it on your own. It came with the option to use the shelf stable protein provided or add fresh product when ready. We recommend using fresh product, as the shelf-stable chicken in the pouch was dry and stringy.
Green Chef - from $10.49 per serving
Green Chef accommodates the most dietary restrictions of any service including vegan, gluten-free, Paleo, and even Keto diets. We were especially impressed with the gluten-free options like shitake xo salmon and the paleo-friendly BBQ beef mini-loaves that left no one missing dairy or wheat. The BBQ beef recipe did require an extra fifteen minutes for the accompanying sweet-potatoes, which were still raw after the 15 minutes specified to boil. Veggies do come pre-chopped, which made meals prep faster and easier than the competitors. Ingredients are color-coded with stickers to their respective recipe cards to keep everything organized in your fridge and pantry. However, everything packaged in individual plastic bags creates a lot of waste, even if the insulation packaging is compostable.
Home Chef - $9.95 per serving
Home Chef offers recipes ranging in expert to easy, making it customizable to different levels of comfort in the kitchen. Ingredients are conveniently packaged separately by recipe and their subscription services allows you to plan orders up to five weeks in advance. Recipes also come with a binder to store them in, so you can easily save your favorites for a round two. Crispy onion chicken and white turkey chili were two of the recipes we tried. Both were filling, yet under 600 calories, while most of the other services averaged more than 100 calories higher per meal. The chili however had a very thin consistency, despite allowing it to sit and simmer as instructed and the sauce for crispy onion chicken similarly took a very long time to reduce before coming to the right consistency.
Purple Carrot - from $9.25 per serving
Most recipe boxes are designed for meat-lovers, but Purple Carrot’s are all plant-based, vegan recipes. Recipes are generally hearty, like Greek-style cauliflower steaks and tomato gratin. Although, some meals, like the Dosa Lettuce Wraps felt too light to be a meal on their own and required an after-dinner snack to feel full. Some of the vegan substitutes like the dairy-free yogurt were quite runny which was off-putting even if fine in taste. Additionally, the meals required quite a few dishes to pull-off. Their price point was also high, as for the same price you could get recipes from other services that included pricier ingredients like meat and dairy.
HelloFresh - $9.99 per serving
HelloFresh offers straightforward, individually packaged meal kits that keep things simple and stress-free. Recipe choices felt limited in comparison to other services, but straightforward and tasty nonetheless. Turkey chili rellenos had a nice, spicy kick and stayed true to being a thirty-minute meal. The amount of filling the recipe created was nearly double the amount that could fit into the relatively small poblano peppers provided. This burdened us with figuring out how to use the leftover ground turkey filling on our own before it went bad.
Recipe boxes are great for expanding your food horizons with recipes and ingredients you may not otherwise try. Boxes are best for people looking to save on time, not so much money, as aside from one service, $9 or more per serving is a premium for the convenience of not grocery shopping or meal planning. Most services are meant for beginners and clearly outline steps, but do not necessarily teach you how to be a better cook, so much as how to follow directions. The kits are a novelty best for people stuck in a recipe rut or looking to experiment with home cooking.
With the most interesting recipes, at the best price, and most generous portions, Dinnerly is the overall best choice. For the same price as your morning latte, Dinnerly creates meals that go from door to plate in 30 minutes and taste great while being simple. They come together start to finish in under 45 minutes, if not less. Plated was a close runner-up, as it offered the most interesting and numerous recipe options, and was similarly one of the best in taste. Neither meal kit was too difficult, but Plated was more technical than Dinnerly and retails at a higher price point. It’s perhaps best for the already avid home cook and someone with more time to spend cooking.
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