As much as I love cooking dinner, I'd rather order takeout than brave the busy grocery stores on weekends. That's why I decided to try Hello Fresh, one of the many meal kit delivery services that promise to handle all of the menu planning and food shopping for me.
Overzealous Hello Fresh ads have interrupted my podcasts for some time, making me skeptical about the honest value and quality of its boxes. After getting them delivered to my door for a few weeks, though, I think anyone who enjoys cooking, appreciates fresh ingredients and values convenience will agree that Hello Fresh lives up to the hype.
But beware: Meal preparation isn't as simple as it seems. Hello Fresh assumes you have certain culinary staples accessible and that know your way around the kitchen. Or, at the very least, you've minced garlic before.
Here's what else I learned during my first month with Hello Fresh, why I'm mostly sold on its service and answers to other questions you might have before subscribing.
Hello Fresh cost: Is it worth the money?
The cost of a Hello Fresh box varies depending on how many recipes you want and for how many people you order. I've been spending $96.87 for four portions of three meals per week, meaning each of my meals costs $32.29 and each portion costs $8.07.
For my family, this is significantly less expensive than eating in a restaurant or ordering takeout. We'd spend about the same at the store, if one of us had the time to shop. And with Hello Fresh's preportioned ingredients, we haven't lost money on spoiled groceries.
If you're cooking for two, however, the price of a three-meal box is $70.92. Each portion comes out to $11.82, which is probably less than you'd spend at a restaurant but might not justify eschewing the supermarket.
If you add a fourth meal, the price per portion drops to $9.86. For comparison, Blue Apron's three-meal, four-serving plan costs about the same as Hello Fresh's, but the same two-serving plan costs just $60.
Hello Fresh menu: What are the meal choices?
Hello Fresh's menu and meal choices vary from week to week. I subscribed to the Chef's Menu, which features a variety of cuisines and caters to those with flexible diets. If you are a vegetarian, avoid beef or are trying to be calorie conscious, you can alter your plan accordingly.
One week, my menu consisted of Pork and Veggie Bibimbap, Melty Monterey Jack Burgers and Parmesan-Crusted Chicken. Another featured Pork and Poblano Tacos, Apricot Ginger Chicken and a Stuffed Meatball Rigatoni Bake. And if I wanted to change my menu, I could add or drop any of these dishes as long as I did so before my order processed.
The growing Hello Fresh recipe archive has more than 2,500 meals spanning 18 cuisines. In other words, your tastebuds shouldn't tire quickly. Blue Apron doesn't specify how many total recipes are in its catalog but says it rarely offers the same meal twice.
Hello Fresh delivery: What's in the box?
When I got my first box on a Monday afternoon, it came packed with recipe cards and three large lunch baggies with ingredients for each meal. For sanitary purposes, the meat was kept separate from the grains and produce within the box, and a massive ice pack kept my food cool during shipment.
A third-party shipment service will deliver your box on the same day every week within a certain time window. You probably want to pick a delivery day when you, another household member or a doorman are available to receive your box.
As with anything that's shipped, Hello Fresh's meal kits are prone to damage. Most of my ingredients arrived unharmed, but I did face an icky sour cream explosion in my taco bag. But a quick call to customer service rewarded me with an account credit in exchange for the mishap.
Hello Fresh in the kitchen: Let's get cooking!
Each Hello Fresh meal came with most, but not all, of the necessary ingredients for preparation. HelloFresh expects you to have salt, pepper, oil and butter handy. Plus, you'll need utensils like pots, pans, a strainer and sharp knives before getting started.
The recipe cards were easy to follow and took into consideration the different times separate meal elements take to cook. They even offered some neat kitchen tricks.
For example, I challenged myself one night by making bibimbap, a Korean rice dish I had never heard of before, let alone tasted. I began slicing zucchini and ribboning carrots. I didn't know I could use a peeler to make a carrot look like pappardelle, but Hello Fresh's large images instructed me to rotate the root for a ribbon effect.
Because the rice took the longest to prepare, Hello Fresh instructed me to begin boiling the grains before sautéing the veggies in a skillet. After the carrots softened, I swapped them out of the pan for ground pork and stirred in packets of spices and sauces. A sugary vinegar aroma wafted through my apartment, letting my family know dinner would be ready shortly.
Hello Fresh is a bit optimistic when it comes to prep time, though. The entire process took nearly an hour, while the recipe card said it should require only 30 minutes.
But the wait was worth it. After one bite, we looked up and shared chef's kisses and nods of approval. There were plenty of flavors and textures swirling around our bibimbap bowls, like sweet carrot, juicy zucchini, and savory pork tossed with garlic, ginger and soy sauce.
The four-portion size proved plenty for my family of three that evening. I even had leftovers for lunch the next day.
Each meal I made during my month with Hello Fresh dripped with flavors I would normally be intimidated to incorporate in my cooking. I even picked up a few new skills: Now I know how to core a poblano, throw together kiwi salsa and top a beef patty with sweet onion jam.
As someone with a full-time job and hour-long commute each way, Hello Fresh has transformed my relationship with food and my kitchen. I still have a hand in planning my meals, but I don't have to worry about the shopping and delivery. Hello Fresh's meal kits have expanded my household's palate while taking the pressure off of making it to the grocery store every week. I wish the prep work took a little less time, though. I still had to commit an hour of my evenings to making dinner, even when HelloFresh suggested a shorter meal time.
If you use a first-time-user promotion, Hello Fresh will send you a three-meal box at a discount. Try it when you're home for a week. Enlist a sous chef to make cooking less of a chore and more of an activity.
Or, don't tell anyone your secret, and let them believe you have your life together enough to put culinary masterpieces on the table all week. Bon appétit!