Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve likely noticed a bunch of ads for home meal delivery services cropping up. These companies offer you everything you need to assemble several meals, along with recipe cards, conveniently delivered to your door in insulated packages.
As someone who is very much invested in helping readers find smart ways to save time and money, particularly when it comes to food, I was curious. Is using a service like this a time saver? Does it manage to help save the average family in any way? Are the ingredients good quality, and importantly, will my family enjoy the meals?
What bothered me is that most of the reviews had titles like “honest review” but felt slanted and read like ads. Why? Because the bloggers and companies posting about them are 1) receiving free meals in exchange for reviews and 2) using their sign-up links in hopes of earning credit and/or cash. While these aren’t necessarily bad methods in and of themselves (I’ve used them before), I really questioned if these services were worth it and if those reviewing were giving the honest, full picture. Because of this, I’ve decided to post a review of two notable companies in the home meal delivery space – Hello Fresh and Blue Apron without alerting the companies that I was a blogger doing a review and if necessary, pay out of pocket to do so. I’ve got no dog in the fight, so to speak, and I’m hoping to present everything as objectively as possible – something I feel has been woefully lacking with the “honest” reviews I’ve stumbled across, particularly give some of the other opinions from everyday customers I’ve seen expressed on social media.
I had initially thought about reviewing 3 or more companies, but I’m confident after trying out these 2 that I’ve seen enough to provide some thoughts and opinions.
I’ve decided to talk about different parts of the process as opposed to reviewing the companies separately. I’m hoping this will arm you with the best information to make a decision if one (or more!) of these companies is something you’d like to try.
Ease of Ordering
The most important thing you should note about these companies is that they are a subscription service. In most cases, you’re agreeing to receive meals each week. I was able to locate a coupon code for Hello Fresh (they are abundant), and I used it on a Family Plan of 2 meals per week. Ordinarily, this would cost you $69.92 (or $104.88 for 3 meals per week). I believe with my coupon code, the price was right around $44 with free shipping, so roughly $22 per meal with the discount. Blue Apron’s pricing is slightly spendier, at $71.92 for 2 meals for a family of 4. They also offer 4 meals at $143.84.
However, thanks to a friend who had signed up with Blue Apron, I was able to try it for free. I noticed that when I signed up for Hello Fresh, I was given 5 free boxes to give to friends to try, too. (So if you’re interested to try one of these services, maybe ask your friends and see if they have any promo codes to share.)
I was a bit disappointed to discover that I was extremely limited in my meal choices. For instance, Hello Fresh gives you three options to choose your two meals from per week. This might not be the best if you’ve got picky eaters in the house or you like a wide variety of foods to choose from. They do rotate the selections each week.
Delivery & Packaging
I really didn’t have any issues with delivery of any of my boxes (except a very minor hiccup, which I discuss in the Customer Service section below). I was concerned how in the world these companies would manage to ship ingredients such as raw chicken and have them stay fresh, but they did, thanks to the packaging. Which leads me to the next item of conversation: packaging.
This is something I’ve not seen discussed previously, and I’d like to raise the issue. The volume of packaging bothered me. A lot. Both Hello Fresh and Blue Apron talk a big talk about how you can recycle their products, yet, it still all felt so wasteful to me for just two meals.
Hello Fresh’s meals all come boxed within a box. Both companies had really sturdy, larger boxes that the meals came in and both had lots of insulating material used to keep the foods cold and safe. Not to mention the delivery and hassle involved and smaller packaging of ingredients you likely already have in your pantry (like honey, sour cream, and sesame oil).
The whole thing made me feel a bit lazy and guilty. I mean, did I really need UPS to drive me a huge box of easily-accessible ingredients so I could make my family dinner for two nights that week?
Incidentally, check out what a couple of my friends said about the packaging. (Note that my question was simply – what did you think of Hello Fresh? I did not prompt them to speak on this particular issue.)
There was an enormous amount of packaging that had to be disposed of!
I liked that all of the ingredients were included in their proper amounts, but there was *so* much packaging.
Prepping & Cooking
Ok, let’s get down to the actual meals. Pictured above is all the ingredients for a Hello Fresh meal (Honey Sesame Chicken with Roasted Broccoli). Everything is pretty much pre-measured, and you receive a very pretty recipe card that gives you step-by-step instructions on creating the dish.
This particular meal came with a very generous portion of broccoli.
My daughter in particular gravitated to the home meal delivery services because she’s been learning to cook. She liked seeing all the “cute” packages and the instructions were very easy for her to follow. In that regard, I think it could be something fun for families. My friend Susan pointed out that it could also be useful for a new couple or someone learning to cook for the first time.
Here is what was inside my Blue Apron box. They also included easy to follow recipe cards.
I will say that overall, I found Blue Apron to include slightly more sophisticated meals than Hello Fresh.
All the meals I received took roughly 30 – 45 minutes to cook and each had a side, which meant there were multiple pans involved. Laura, who tried a Hello Fresh box, noted that she felt the cooking time and difficulty was a bit more than stated on the instructions.
This might sound silly, but I found myself growing strangely resentful as I dirtied up multiple plates and pans and spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen cooking. If I was paying so much money to make dinner “easier,” then why make me cook and clean too? Food for thought. (All puns intended.)
My Family’s Responses – Taste, Quality, Portions
One of the aspects I felt most skeptical reading about on other reviews were portion sizes. Just how did the food measure up? I have a family of 4 with two growing kids (ages 9 and 11) who sometimes can have large appetites. The package of chicken on the right is one I purchased from our local grocery store and represents the kind of portion I’d buy to use in a family meal (just under 1 1/2 pounds). The chicken on the left was from Hello Fresh and totaled 24 ounces (so 1 1/2 pounds for those doing the math).
This pasta bake from Hello Fresh was one of our family’s favorites and it easily all fed us (and then some).
While the portions were OK for our family, Nina found them to be too small for her family of 6. If you have a large family, enjoy lots of leftovers, or have voracious teenagers, I’d hesitate to recommend this service to you.
As for the quality, everything we tried was good, and a couple of the meals were very good (particularly the ones from Blue Apron). However, both my husband and I felt that they weren’t any better than meals I normally cook for our family at home and my husband additionally felt that the meals lacked depth of flavor. The three friends that tried Hello Fresh all said they enjoyed the flavor of the meals, even using words like “delicious.” One friend noted that her kids did not like the food.
Cost and Budget Considerations
I’m just going to come out and say it. I don’t think these services make any good sense for the frugal shopper or chef. They just don’t. I have seen all these ridiculous claims that they will save you so much money over grocery store prices, but the math doesn’t add up for me.
Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
These are the figures based on a 2-meal per week plan serving 4 people. Now the meals I received, while nice, were certainly not super fancy. We had pasta, burgers, chicken stir fry, etc. I think any frugal and sensible shopper could easily best these prices. Heck, even a shopper that’s not overly frugal could likely best them! Take a look:
In this scenario, I’ve even thrown in a fresh salad and a loaf of French bread and still come in under half the price of any of these meal plans.
The only instance where these meals will be cheaper than store-bought is if you can snag a free trial box or use a promotional code that will provide a deep discount. However, these are usually only good for the first box or two.
Also, I think it’s worth pointing out that these services are not going to provide all the meals or dinners your family will need in a given week. Not even close! You will still need to go to the grocery store to shop and spend additional dollars to round out your menu for the week.
Customer Service & Cancellations
I ended up having two separate situations where I needed help from customer service.
On the day my first box was supposed to arrive from Hello, Fresh, I saw that it had been marked “delivered,” but I hadn’t actually received it. Even more frustrating, I couldn’t find any place in my account where there was a tracking number listed. I decided to use the chat option, and was quickly connected to a rep. She provided me the tracking number and told me it was actually out for delivery. She also answered another question I had about my payment. I liked how reachable customer service was for Hello Fresh. One of my friends also had reason to reach out to Hello Fresh for a customer service issue. She felt they were friendly, but pushy.
In the other instance, I realized all too late that a second order had processed for Blue Apron, and on a day we’d be out of town. While they did not have a chat option, they did respond to my email within minutes, and told me they’d make an exception and remove my order for the week.
One of the most important things to understand about these services is that they will continue to charge you weekly for meals unless you postpone or cancel your subscription. If you choose to cancel, how hard would that be? Hello Fresh was extremely easy to cancel, and you could do so through your account. As you might imagine, there were several screens involved asking you “are you sure you want to deactivate?” but nothing too cumbersome. It was an easy process. Blue Apron required me to email customer service, which I did, and it was also a snap.
At any rate, I was relieved I didn’t have to get on the phone.
In all honesty, I was surprised at how enjoyable using these companies turned out to be. I think what I appreciated the most was taking the decision making out of “what’s for dinner?” a couple times a week. The flavors, quality, and portion sizes seemed alright for my family of 4. However, I don’t think any of this is a strong enough reason for me to stick with a home meal delivery service. If I’m paying $70 a week for a couple of meals, don’t make me cook too, OK?
As emphasized earlier in my post, my other primary issue with these services is the amount of waste involved. The boxes and recyclable packaging took up considerable space in my recycle bin. Some of the smaller ingredients, though cute, were also unnecessary as I already had larger versions in the pantry. This added to the waste issue as well.
I wondered if the time I spent setting up my account, ordering my meals, and disposing of the packaging could have been better spent perusing Pinterest for a new recipe or two and writing a grocery list.
In the next couple weeks, I’d like to share a few budget-friendly alternatives I came up with to these home meal delivery service companies. If you like saving both money and time, I hope you’ll stay tuned.
Now it’s your turn: if you’ve used a company like this before, I’d love to hear your experience. Was it worth it to you? What was the biggest benefit you found? Was there anything you disliked? I’d love to hear your stories: leave a comment below!