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So, I am conflicted.  Here is the tale:  my husband has a friend who was raving about Hello Fresh, a service that delivers you precise amounts of ingredients for three meals for 2 people once a week for $69.  The friend had a coupon so we could try it for free, and husband wanted to try it out.

He approached me with trepidation, as I do all the grocery shopping and cooking, and really enjoy sitting down on Saturdays to go through my cookbooks and plan meals for the week.  I am also a good cook, who is adventurous.  (That said, I usually make a big to-do dinner on Sunday, plan on something else for another weeknight, and, because there are nights I am too tired/late from work, we end up ordering 1-2 times a week.)  We probably spend $50-70 a week on take out/delivery.

At first I was horrified as I thought this would be a lowest-common-denominator thing, with sysco foods, and recipes geared toward midwestern unadventurous housewives.  But, I figured it was free, and why not.   We got a box delivered on Tuesday with the makings for three meals - a shrimp cake with arugula, chicken tostadas, and, because it was super bowl week, a southwestern meat chili.  Everything came in a Styrofoam cooler, and was waiting at home fresh.  Each meal had the component ingredients in a bag, and the proteins were individually sealed.   For example, for the tostadas the bag had four tortillas, a can of kidney beans, organic raw chicken breasts, individual portions of the spices, peeled garlic, an avocado, a tomato, etc.  Each meal was supposedly between 400-700 calories per person.  

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of all the ingredients (except the tomato, but they all suck at this time of year).  The box also came with recipe cards with photos for each meal.  

We cooked all three during the following 7 days, and I have to say I kind of liked it.  For those nights I would have foraged in the cupboard or ordered Thai it was nice to know that there was something already decided to cook, and that I didn't have to go to the store.  I also liked that everything was portioned, i.e. we got exactly as much cilantro as we needed, etc. so there was less waste than if I had gone to the grocery store and bought a whole bunch of cilantro/celery/sour cream.  I think the box really got me to cook rather than order out.

The recipes were not basic, but not challenging, which was kind of perfect for a weeknight, and, while the chili was a little bland, I was able to doctor it up with some spices I had.  For the tostadas, again, you actually cooked.  You poached the breasts in broth, baked the tortillas crispy, made an avocado, tomato, garlic salsa, cooked the beans in bloomed spices and mashed them, and assembled everything with a dollop of sour cream on top.

I guess I am seeking absolution.... What do people think?  Is there a place for these kind of services in the home of good cooks, who like to shop, etc?  Am I going to foodie hell if I sign up for this once a week for a while?  I mean, I can still make interesting/fancy/more difficult dinners on weekends, and I think it is actually saving me money over my usual grocery bill.  Should I feel guilty given that with some more planning and more strategic shopping I could try to achieve the same results (but would inevitably end up with waste of ingredients?)

Let's get a discussion going here....

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This is interesting. Like you, we cook about three times each week. And, we do an okay job of cooking extra and using meal-sized containers for freezing casseroles, stews, soups and the like. Not as good (yet) at preserving (canning or jarring) as some seriously admirable cooks here do. And, relying more on dried than fresh herbs in winter, there's of course a huge difference between getting dried parsley or curry at the local Safeway vs Penzeys or specialty spots.

I start with all that because I think it very plausible to cook or reheat or reassemble excellent meals at home even when working busy schedules 5 or 6 days each week. That said, like you, we're not quite that committed. Yet it is an aspiration but I think you really need the extra freezer capacity to pull it off through winter.

On the service you tried, really interesting in terms of you being impressed by the quality and, at the usual price of $70 for 3 meals for two, it does make economic sense for professional city dwellers.

Whether to use such a service regularly is a pretty personal decision I think. It depends on how much people in a household really enjoy cooking to go beyond shopping and meal preparation into the many cool and useful types of preserving. And, beyond enjoyment there is also the requisite equipment, supplies and skill.

Personally, I think we probably wouldn't do a service like that anytime soon but not because it's wrong or bad. We'd have had the same biases you had prior but clearly the company doing this anticipated those and is emphasizing quality at a reasonable price. For us, it's more about enjoying restaurants too much at all price levels along with the excellent occasional takeout options available to us living in a major city.

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Sounds to me like the main potential drawback is the same as with a CSA- sometimes you may get stuff you either don't like or aren't in the mood for. (I am assuming there is no choice on your part in what is delivered.)

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Let's review:

1. You thought the quality was good

2. You thought it was a good value

3. You liked the idea that you could cook without having to meal plan or shop during a busy week

4. You liked that you weren't wasting food because the portions were sized correctly

5. You liked cooking rather than ordering out

What's the problem?!  Oh, that someone else, some unnamed foodie God, might look disdainfully upon you.  This is unnecessary suffering.  Go forth and enjoy your Hello Fresh without guilt or shame!

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Well said, LauraB.  :D

This is very timely, since I got an unexpected free week of Plated last week, and then a friend gifted me a week of Blue Apron this week.  After spending a whole weekend prepping and cooking from scratch for our housewarming/Superbowl party, it was really nice not to have to go immediately back to the store and start recipe planning again.  I don't think I'd do this every week, but given the quality of the ingredients and the fact that there is little to no waste, it's a great option for busier times and/or before or after travel when the fridge is emptier.

Last night was the first meal from Blue Apron, which was a pan-roasted salmon over ramen noodles and broth.  The salmon was really high quality and tasted delicious, and the noodles and broth were surprisingly tasty, especially given the relatively short cooking time.  So far, I think I'd give Blue Apron the edge in terms of creativity and variety of recipes, but the services really are virtually identical except for cost (Plated is a bit more expensive).

You can skip weeks whenever, and you can also vary your meal selections if you don't like what they automatically set up for you (which they do based on your stated ingredient preferences).  No need for guilt and shame - it's real food, you're really cooking it, and if it works for you, go for it!

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This is interesting.  I probably was exaggerating when I was saying I felt guilty, but I was questioning things.  We decided to sign up for a few weeks to see what we think.  We did not get it this week, and we resorted to take out one night already :(

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I have had two weeks of Blue Apron deliveries since my post above, and I remain really pleased with the recipes/products.  Last night was a really tasty chicken pot pie with sage drop biscuits - so satisfying on a cold February evening.  Tuesday night was shrimp po'boys, in honor of Mardi Gras - not as good as the real thing, but way easier and faster to prepare (and healthier).

My only minor quibbles are that portion sizes seem to really vary - some meals create two reasonable portions, and others have way more left over.  Also, some of the recipes require a LOT of pots and pans (with numerous components cooking at once) - not the worst thing in terms of efficiency, but no fun in terms of clean-up!

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I have a friend who has been getting Blue Apron deliveries since 2013. It's great for her as she can't stand going to the grocery store, and often uses Giant's "Peapod" delivery service. I have been the benificiary of several meals made from these "kits" and have made them myself on occasion when she goes out of town but hasn't cancelled a delivery in time. The ingredients are of good quality, and whoever designs the meals has come up with some very nice flavor combinations.

We found that even though the quantity of food is intended for 2 people per meal, there is enough to feed 3 people adequately.

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After a kind of "dud" week of Blue Apron, there were two dishes in my most recent delivery that were awesome - roasted poblano chilaquiles and miso-yuzu-glazed black cod with black rice.  I even kept the recipe card for the chilaquiles, because it would be super simple to recreate it from "regular" ingredients (and I could eat chilaquiles every day of the week).  The cod was really tasty, and my husband marveled at the black rice - again, I think one of the benefits of the service is to try out new ingredients (grains, produce, whatever) in a less wasteful (and idiot-proof) way.

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I am intrigued by these delivery services and have a friend who has become a regular user of Blue Apron.  He loves it!  

Has anyone tried The Purple Carrot?  (same concept as Blue Apron and others, but provides only "plant based" meals).

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Timely. I got a discounted Hello Fresh box recently. I have very mixed feelings. I had a bit of a rocky start. I'll spare you the details, but with a little more time to sit on it (I've now cooked through most of my second box), I will say there are a lot of things I like, but it's not for me right now. Things I like - the convenience. The meals are easy to prepare (most have a time of about 35 minutes and the times seem accurate) and clean up is relatively easy (not lots of pots and pans like the above experience with Blue Apron, at least so far). I really appreciate not having to think much or spend much time to make nutritious meals. Most of the meals have been very tasty with some exceptions and I will actually save a few of the recipe cards because they gave me new ideas. They do also give you a few meal choices (there are 5 each week, you pick 3 - if you forget, they just send you the default 3). There is a vegetarian box option as well, but right now you don't get meal choices.

On the downside, Hello Fresh at least seems to be very stingy with the veg. The protein portions seem appropriate (it's generally 3/4 lb of protein for one meal for 2 people), but then the rest of the meal is either stingy or very carb heavy. For example, a chicken breast with panko-parm crust was paired with potato salad that was made from one very small white potato and one scallion per person and I kid you not, 5 1/2 roasted tiny grape tomatoes. Also, the packaging is of course very wasteful (every single thing is individually wrapped, so for instance the 2 scallions that came with the chicken weren't just in that meals larger bag, they were also in their own individual bag). I also think the cost to value ratio is a bit off. Finally, the lead out time to make your meal choices is a lot - it depends on which delivery day you pick apparently, but mine was 9 days out. I had thought I would actually have the chance to try my first box before making decisions about the next one, but that unfortunately was not the case so I got stuck with a box with meals I would not have chosen (including one that was predominately pasta, which meant a lot of waste for me since pasta makes me sick :( ).

Bottom line, it's not for me right now because of how I eat. If they starting offering a primal or even better paleo option (the meals seem to always have a dairy component), I would definitely use it on weeks where I knew I wouldn't have much time or energy for cooking.

If it works for you, I say enjoy it guilt free! I sort of wish it did work better for me. Frankly I have really enjoyed the convenience and I still have the weekends to do something on my own.

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On 3/16/2015 at 6:15 PM, Choirgirl21 said:

Bottom line, it's not for me right now because of how I eat. If they starting offering a primal or even better paleo option (the meals seem to always have a dairy component), I would definitely use it on weeks where I knew I wouldn't have much time or energy for cooking....

Have you ever tried Power Supply? Popular at cF boxes.

 

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On 3/22/2015 at 11:12 PM, darkstar965 said:

Have you ever tried Power Supply? Popular at cF boxes.

Yeah, I've had some of their dishes and have ordered occasionally from CustomFit, which is a similar company but drops off closer to me. Different concept because they do the cooking for you and you just reheat, which means they tend to be even more expensive and you have to pick up somewhere.

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We just switched from Hello Fresh to Blue Apron to see if we like the variety and recipes more at BA. Hello Fresh was good but the recipes slanted a little middle American for me. BA seems to be a little more adventurous. We will see.

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On 3/23/2015 at 0:59 PM, Rieux said:

We just switched from Hello Fresh to Blue Apron to see if we like the variety and recipes more at BA. Hello Fresh was good but the recipes slanted a little middle American for me. BA seems to be a little more adventurous. We will see.

Report back. :)

I am becoming more underwhelmed with Hello Fresh as I go (finishing the last book I was committed to). One thing I have noticed, they are garlic lovers. Garlic in every dish and I often use only half of what's provided and still think in some cases I could have used less. 

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This week's Blue Apron dishes have been particularly good - fish tacos with fresh pea and avocado guacamole were REALLY tasty (and other than shelling the peas, quick and easy to prepare), and a quick pork pozole had tons of flavor for something so fast.  The third meal of the week is chicken mole quesadillas, which I will prepare for lunch today.  I loved the Cinco de Mayo theme.

I've gotten to the point where I cancel the weekly delivery if I don't love the menu/ingredients, which usually gives me a good mix of both Blue Apron and my own recipes.

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Good to hear, I get my box tomorrow.  I have been doing it similarly, taking only the boxes it looks like I will like (which is most of them).  I've only had about 2 or 3 meals I really didn't like in all my boxes so far from Blue Apron.

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On 3/22/2015 at 11:12 PM, darkstar965 said:

Have you ever tried these guys? Popular at cF boxes.

https://www.mypowersupply.com

I'm actually on my first week of Power Supply - after 4-5 months of CrossFit and NO weight loss progress at all, I decided to try some new things.  Also, Jason is now traveling Monday through Thursday most weeks, and cooking for one is no fun at all - so the time was definitely right to give it a go.

So far, I'm relatively pleased.  There was one meal - beef and mushroom bolognese over spaghetti squash - that I just did NOT like at all (not seasoned properly, and the squash did not reheat well), but overall the meals have been tasty and satisfying.  I particularly liked a chicken salad with pineapple vinaigrette and today's lunch of scotch eggs with warm brussels sprouts salad/slaw.  The standard portions are pretty large - I couldn't finish the last two I ate.  I heard from a friend that they tend to repeat meals every 2-3 weeks or so, which would be fine with me as long as I can swap out the ones I know I don't enjoy.  I think it's a good way to stay on track on weekdays when I am flying solo.

I don't have a car or a nearby pickup location, so the $15 delivery charge was well worth the convenience for me.

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We've stuck with Blue Apron for a long while now, and I'd say about 50% of the meals are great, another 40% are fine, and 10% are not so good.  They do over-rely on catfish, salmon, chicken, and low-ish quality cuts of beef.  Almost all recipes also ask for lemons and lemon zest, there was a period with a lot of snap peas, and we seem to be entering a season where every meal needs potatoes.  I am starting to get a little sick of the lack of variety.

Thinking about trying Purple Carrot, the vegan delivery service that Bittman just joined.  I'd like to lose a few pounds and eat more vegetables.  This might be a good way.

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There's another meal delivery service available now in our area, Home Chef. I came across an ad for an introductory price so I thought I'd give it a shot. My observations - Pricing is the same as Blue Apron, at least for the plan I compared (3 meals, 2 servings each for ~$60 - there is no additional shipping charge). However, Home Chef is (I think) different in that it simply charges you $9.95/serving/meal and you can decide how many you want each week so you are not committed to a specific box size each week. The one downside is that unless you order more than $40 worth of meals, you are charged an additional $10 for shipping. There are also occasionally entrees that are more expensive, but the prices are clearly stated. Home Chef also offer breakfast items, including fruit and smoothies.

I have found the meals to be fairly basic, along the lines of Hello Fresh, but tasty. I've cooked through 2 boxes now (6 meals) and haven't had a meal I didn't like though I found the sriracha shrimp salad a little boring and didn't think there was enough dressing. Some have been quite good and have introduced me to some new ideas, including a chicken with baharat spices and cilantro oil and am asian pork chop dish that had the most delicious roasted brussels sprouts with kung pao sauce and chopped peanuts. Like some of the other services, the dishes seem to rely heavily on garlic and lemon juice/zest.

I prefer the packaging of Home Chef, there seems to be less waste and the initial delivery came with a 3 ring binder to hold the recipe cards. In addition to the recipe itself, each card includes a little blurb that is sometimes entertaining or informative and there is always a recommended wine pairing. I find the recipe cards easy to follow and the estimate prep times seem accurate. Minimal dish use as well (usually one roasting pan and one saute pan) so not much to clean. The only ingredients you need to have on hand are evoo and salt & pepper.

One of the things that appeals the most to me about Home Chef is the variety of meal options. It is rarely difficult for me to find 3 paleo-friendly meals, but they also have more "balanced" and vegetarian options. It's also SO easy to log on to the site and choose your meals for the week or change them up as the mood suits you. Skipping weeks and putting your account on hold are also simple. You do sign up for a default and if you don't log on to choose specific meals they will choose them for you. Delivery days in my area were restricted to middle to end of the week for me, but that's worked out okay since the timeline to cook meals (also included on the recipe card) is generally 5-6 days. I have been putting the proteins I am not going to cook immediately into a mixing bowl, tossing one of their ice packs on top and putting it in the back of my fridge and that has worked well.

If anyone has any questions, let me know. I hope this is helpful for some folks. I won't continue with this indefinitely - for me it always comes down to this being a bit of an indulgence because of cost and I think I would get bored over time, but it is really nice to not have to think about meal planning or spend time grocery shopping and I'm generally not overwhelmed at the thought of cooking at the end of a long day because I know the steps are easy to follow and relatively quick. Unless one of the other companies comes up with more paleo friendly meal options, I'll stick with Home Chef when life gets overwhelming and I just need to take advantage of a service like this. In fact, I have a cabin trip coming up in a couple of weeks and I'm specifically ordering a box to be delivered the night before I leave because it will be so simple to just throw the bags of ingredients and proteins and a bottle of olive oil into my cooler and be done with it. Other than a few things for breakfast I won't have to think about it, or worry about packing up leftovers to bring home or taking up too much space in a cooler. Sweet!

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Do any of these use environmentally friendly packaging?

I don't remember though it was something I looked at when researching. You can recycle the materials that Home Chef uses to package their food. From their FAQ:

We recommend that customers reuse or recycle both the box & gel packs. To recycle the gel packs, simply cut open once it has thawed, and dispose of its liquid contents in the normal waste stream. The pouch may be recycled along with other plastic recyclables.

I have read the argument that the lack of waste makes up for the packaging and I will say that the lack of waste is one of the things that I really appreciate about these services as a single person.

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I'm a couple months (with some weeks off) into Blue Apron. [Note: I have some invitations for free trials - message me if you would like to try it out]

Like Bettyjoan has described, the appeal of particular meals can be up and down. Last night I made what was probably my favorite meal so far: Za'tar-crusted chicken breast, with couscous and asparagus. The ingredients included a pink lemon, which I've never handled before.

  • As others have said, you have some flexibility in meal choices, which they offer up several weeks in advance. There are generally 6 recipes to choose from available in a given week, but there some restrictions on combinations you can choose depending on overlapping ingredients and such.
  • I can also attest that they really do try to stay as seasonal as is reasonable. This can be a drawback as it seemed like for a while, there were several weeks in a row where kale was constantly on the menu. Same with salmon, which I just generally get tired of quickly. 
  • I've also had some disappointing meals and/or recipes that required an inordinate number of utensils/pans/etc - that just didn't seem that convenient and somewhat defeated the purpose.
  • You can pause your subscription at will.
  • Can't speak for environmental-friendliness of packaging. There does seem to be QUITE A LOT of it in every shipment, though. Each box is packed and insulated very well.

It has overall been a convenient service, well-executed, at a reasonable (though I wouldn't say cheap) price. 

 

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We are just finishing up a 4 week trial run with Blue Apron (first couple at a discount, the last two regular price).  I *like* it, but don't *love* it.

Pro:

  • The quality of the product is pretty high, but at full price I'm not sure it's any better than what you could get locally with effort.
  • It's two fully planned meals delivered to your door (duh).  Easily feeds 2 adults and two kids, usually with leftovers
  • Agree with the CSA comment above, it is an incentive to branch out, and we have found some recipes that we will keep in rotation (but will be able to recreate at half the price shopping on our own)
  • Recipes are clear, if a bit formulaic (I think we've made the same thing with different spices/sides at least once)

Con:

  • Limited ability to choose menus; we've had at least one dud recipe
  • Price.  I like shopping, and we prepare almost all of our dinners at home, so that is our basis for comparison.  If we were a 3-4x a week takeout family I would put this in the Pro column
  • Packaging.  I'm overly critical of the waste.  However, you can send everything back to Blue Apron (they will provide a printed return label if you have more than two deliveries worth of packaging, including the ice packs).  It's extra effort to essentially put recycling back on a truck to New Jersey where the shipments originate, and who knows what they do with it on the other end.
  • A couple of the recipes have seemed fussy, and on average take a lot longer to prepare than our normal go to's (but see the "branching out" comment above)
  • No option to specify gluten free for a household with a celiac sufferer.   We've found ourselves just supplementing our own pantry items where necessary (GF pasta or flour)

I could see us returning to doing it once a month as a weekly break from our normal routine, but for now we are putting the subscription on hold.  We may try one of the other options, but Blue Apron seems to be the best reviewed from friends.

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