The rapidly growing popularity of ingredient delivery services points to our need for hassle-free meal planning and our desire to waste fewer groceries. By having a recipe and all of the items needed to make it delivered to your door, you eliminate the need to seek out a recipe, draw up a shopping list, and trek to the store. Online delivery services present a solution for time-pressed home cooks who still want home-cooked meals.
These delivery services to have their pros and cons, which we detailed here last week. Now, we’re comparing the services themselves. For the sake of this article, I narrowed it down to three—Blue Apron, Plated, and Hello Fresh—all of which deliver to 48 states, to most or all addresses. Here’s what we found.
Blue Apron is one of the most successful companies in the recipe and ingredient delivery service category. They deliver to pretty much everywhere in the U.S. Tuesday-Friday, plus Saturdays in some places. Accounts can be set up as vegetarian or with meat preferences, and you can choose what meals you prefer from a list of six every week. They like to use seasonal, fresh produce, and pull recipe inspiration from around the world. Customer service is excellent. Example dishes include: Pork Dan Dan noodles, Chicken Mulligatawny Soup, Pistachio-Crusted Catfish.
Quality: The recipes are high quality, and I’ve only had one I wasn’t crazy about (out of 9). They are well-structured and easy to follow. One recipe was pretty far off on the cooking time for something, making the dish take a lot longer to make than I’d planned. Otherwise, the instructions seem to be well-tested. The food is packed well, and I’ve only had a minor problem with the quality of one piece of produce. Blue Apron wins for items arriving in the best condition. The vegetarian options are good, but can be a bit heavy on the pasta.
Convenience: My boxes always arrived on time, and were relatively easy to unpack. They only expect you to have oil and salt and pepper on hand, so you’re all set once the box arrives. Recipes call for a couple of pans or dishes and no special equipment, so you won’t have a huge clean-up job. They typically come together entirely on the stovetop. The dishes themselves take less than 45 minutes to prepare, the average being about 35 minutes.
Ease: Because the recipes are usually well-written, they tend to be relatively easy to execute as long as you’re good at following directions. Recipes tend to call for mise en place, or “putting in place,” which has you prep and chop all ingredients at the start. This makes it feel like there’s lots of chopping, but it’s all done at the beginning. These recipe were also easy for my husband and I to split up duties and divide and conquer.
Affordability: Blue Apron is one of the most affordable options at $9.99 per person for a standard two person, three meal plan ($59.94 total). Because the quality is high, it feels worth it. However, if I’m being thrifty, I can go a full two weeks and spend $60 on my groceries for the two of us, so it’s still an indulgence. And honestly, I’d rather spend $60 a week at a good restaurant.
Bottom Line: Relatively good value, good quality recipes and ingredients. Great for a foodie couple who are not great cooks and are short on time, but don’t want to eat out all the time. The reusable cooler bag is nice, but I don’t need three of them, so it’s still wasteful.
Plated is another big contender in the food delivery world, and feels like a slightly hipper, fancier meal service. They offer nine meals to choose from every week with veggie and fish options. Dishes include Breakfast Pizza, Asian Duck Tacos, and Chicken Under a Brick. They source some of their items locally, and paste a list on the delivery box telling you what nearby farms items came from. They also offer desserts for $4 per serving.
Quality: Local ingredients are always a nice touch, and the produce and meats were good quality. The recipes were interesting but not stunning, and a little more variety in each meal would have been welcome. The recipe cards have clear enough instructions, but the step-by-step images are not great.
Convenience: Plated provides everything (beyond salt, pepper, and oil) and it’s all well-labeled. The recipes were a little more complicated than I wanted from a weeknight meal, and I ended up using more pans and dishes than I was happy with. Recipes are supposed to take under 45 minutes, but one took me closer to 50 minutes from start to finish. Another recipe called for a pretty specific couple of pans that I didn’t have, but I made do.
Ease: The recipes are written for you to multi-task—chop veggies while something boils, or cook one thing on the stove while another cooks in the oven. This works well for more experienced home cooks, but might be a bit challenging for novice cooks, which will make preparation take longer. It also meant more clean up. If you have a dishwasher (lucky), then this might not matter much to you.
Affordability: Meals are $12 per person, and you can order as few as four servings at time if you’re willing to pay $6 in shipping. Shipping is free for orders over $50. It’s the most expensive of the services we reviewed, but not by much. If you order enough meals, the value is fair.
Bottom Line: Plated’s quality, especially in terms of ingredients, is high, but the recipes are a bit too complicated and the price a little too high compared to other services to make it a good deal.
HelloFresh is more family-oriented, with a discounted price offered for meals to feed four people and a bright, happy aesthetic. They ship nationwide Wed-Fri, plus Monday and Tuesday in some areas. When signing up, you choose between a “classic” box or a vegetarian box, with five meals to choose from if you picked classic. Some recent dishes include Bloody Mary Chicken, Smoky Black Bean Cakes, and Lebanese Beef Skewers.
Quality: My box arrived in decent condition, but didn’t feel quite as well-packed as the others. Their site claims that meals will stay fresh in the fridge for about a week, but I had to throw out some salad greens after just a few days. HelloFresh wouldn’t be good option if you wanted to spread your meals out over the week. That said, they did manage to get a perfectly ripe avocado to me in the mail, so kudos for that.
Convenience: The box arrived on time with no problems. After initially signing up, the site wouldn’t let me pick my meal preferences, so I had to contact customer service. They fixed everything right away, but the site isn’t as easy to use as others. Meals are supposed to be finished in under 45 minutes, and I found this to be accurate.
Ease: The recipes divide up the tasks to be the most time efficient, but they often left me scrambling around the kitchen. Sometimes you didn’t use all of the spice provided, so that was confusing. I also used a fair amount of dishes and pans (for example, one recipe called for: two bowls, peeler, pan, baking sheet, whisk, strainer, plus serving ware and utensils). One recipe in particular—the black bean cakes—just didn’t quite work. The mixture wouldn’t hold together, and ended up taking more energy and time than advertised (even though it tasted good).
Affordability: Three meals for two people costs $69 ($11.50 per person), three meals for four people costs $129, and a veggie box of three meals costs $59. Cheaper prices for families and for vegetarians is good, but the standard three meal, two person cost isn’t the best deal of the services I tried for this artilce.
Bottom Line: The recipes are fine and the ingredients are fine, but who wants to pay $11.50 a person for just fine? You can probably do better, unless you’re really lazy. HelloFresh could be a good option for vegetarians. Packaging isn’t the best and can be wasteful—they’re the ones that sent me a single celery rib in a zip-top bag.
Laurel Randolph is a food and lifestyle writer hailing from Tennessee and living in Los Angeles. She enjoys cooking, baking and candlestick making. Tweet at her face: @laurelrandy.