As most busy millennials with a full-time job, I definitely have days where meal prepping is the last thing on my mind. After a long day, the idea of cooking can feel inconvenient at the least and burdensome at the most. And in the end, giving in to the siren call of Seamless or Caviar seems like a much better option than having popcorn for dinner.
This is probably enabled by the fact that I love food. Ask anyone who knows me. On any given day, the first thing I ask on Slack is what people are eating for lunch. And while I’m eating lunch, I’m also already thinking about dinner. To be fair, I also lived in New York City for five years and have learned a thing or two about eating great food, but also paying for convenience.
Ordering takeout all the time, however, is obviously not economically sustainable. Thankfully, these days there are tons of meal subscription services where you can get fresh ingredients with recipes tailored to your dining preferences.
But of course, as a project manager at an agency that loves marketing food brands, I had to consider multiple factors from the ordering process to the price point when discovering if a specific brand would be right for me. Here’s what I found when I tried three subscription services this past year.
Branding: I loved the simplicity of the packaging and it seemed like they really tried to marry the taste appeal with the convenience factor. They also provided a binder to start storing my recipes with my first box, which was a nice touch. Rating: 7/10
Website: The website was pretty robust, but I felt like it was too busy and not as user-friendly as the other ones. Rating: 6/10
Delivery: Their website says they send deliveries Tuesday through Friday, but that options vary according to where you live. So when I ordered my first box, I found that for me I could only order Wednesday through Saturday. Not being able to order in the beginning of the week definitely felt ironically enough inconvenient since I typically like to meal prep earlier in the week. Rating: 4/10
Ease of Use: This was the easiest service I tried in terms of making the meals. The amount of ingredients involved with each recipe were minimal and the effort and time it took to cook was quick! Rating: 10/10
Waste: Overall, the boxes included a lot more packaging than others, so in some ways, it was more wasteful. However, I loved reusing the containers since they came in different sizes and were spill-resistant. Rating: 8/10
Taste: The recipes were always delicious and more on the level of “home cooking” in my book. Rating: 7/10
Menu: Home Chef provided the most options to choose from. However, I felt like there weren’t as many low-calorie/healthy-focused options and most of the recipes felt almost too basic. Rating: 7/10
Value: In the end, I felt like I was paying more for the convenience and portioning because a lot of the recipes were easy to the point where I could have thought of them myself with a little more effort. In effect, I think I wanted the brand to push the envelope more when it came to options so it felt more worth it. Rating: 6/10
Total: 55/80 = 68.75%
Branding: This brand was the most eye-catching for me and felt cohesive throughout the experience. Rating: 9/10
Website: Their website was very straightforward to use and it was a pretty easy process to pick my meals and skip a week if needed. I liked the look and feel, too. Rating: 9/10
Delivery: I liked the delivery day options and it was always prompt. Rating: 9/10
Ease of Use: The meals I ended up making were a little more difficult and time-consuming compared to those of the other subscription services. Rating: 7/10
Waste: The packaging was minimal where it could be, but there was overall a fair amount of plastic. However, they do have a guide to recycle the packaging. Rating: 8/10
Tastiness: Each meal was either pretty good or great. Overall, everything was very tasty. Rating: 9/10
Menu: Their menu didn’t give me as many options or combinations to choose from. However, they did inspire me to try foods I wouldn’t think to buy for myself and I always enjoyed each option even when I thought I might not. Rating: 9/10
Value: Overall I felt I got the most bang for my buck with Blue Apron. They provided interesting recipes and items I would never think to buy myself. Rating: 9/10
Total: 69/80 = 86.25%
Branding: Hello Fresh didn’t have as strong of a cohesive brand to me. Rating: 6/10
Website: The website was easy to use and I didn’t have any issues figuring out how to skip to the next week and change my menu items. Rating: 8/10
Delivery: Overall, the process was easy; I got to pick the day I wanted and it was always on time. Rating: 9/10
Ease of Use: The recipes were pretty easy to follow. Rating: 8/10
Waste: The waste was relatively the same as that of Home Chef, but I did like being able to use the bag that the food items came in per recipe to use as a mini garbage bag. Rating: 8/10
Tastiness: Each meal came out pretty well and I was generally satisfied. Rating: 7/10
Menu: I liked being able to choose the three meals and felt like there was a wider variety each week to choose from. However, I felt like recipes were repeated more often and not as different week to week. Rating: 7/10
Value: The meals were good and some of the items they gave me I wouldn’t have bought for myself. Rating: 7/10
Total: 60/80 = 75%
As you can see, the differences in the ultimate ratings weren’t that significant and each had their own points of value. After using each of these subscriptions off and on, I actually ended up being inspired to actually cook for myself and reuse some of the recipes I enjoyed most. Overall, I think the idea of the subscription boxes are great, especially for people who just don’t have the time or energy to meal plan. And since I was cooking only for myself, I got to have each meal twice since each dish came with two portions.
However, from a cost perspective, it’s definitely true that the cheapest option is to buy the ingredients yourself and meal plan on your own. But I do think that if you’re looking to kickstart your meal planning and possibly expand your horizons in recipes, it’s definitely worth a try.
What meal plan subscription service have you tried?