A New Way To Prepare Meals
If you’ve turned on the TV, listened to the radio, or opened up literally any social media feed or website lately, you’ve probably seen advertisements for a fancy new meal delivery program. Promising you everything you need for fresh, delicious, nutritious meal kits delivered right to your door! It sounds like an absolute dream for busy families, or people who just plain hate meal planning.
But what are these meal delivery kits all about? Do they really deliver on all of their promises to make healthy eating a cinch? I wanted to find out!
I conducted a month-long trial of 3 different meal delivery programs available here in my city. But first, here’s a little background info on our current dinner situation…
My partner Dan and I definitely fall into the category of busy, but we still make time every weekend to do some meal planning. We sit down before heading to the grocery store and talk about our schedules for the week (who’s working late when, who has sports what evening), and figure out who’s cooking what meals on what days. Then, we write our weekly menu on the whiteboard in our kitchen. After doing this for so many years it only takes us a few minutes, but definitely sets us up for healthy eating success (otherwise I’d just live on cheese and pasta all week!)
Meal Planning Challenges
Now, I totally understand how overwhelming it can seem to figure out where to start when it comes to meal planning, especially if you’re not a great cook, or are lacking inspiration in deciding what you want to make. That’s where these meal delivery programs have found their niche. For people who don’t really know how to cook, or maybe enjoy cooking but hate the planning and preparation part. These boxes take the fuss out of creating home cooked meals. They send you everything you need to make dinner, in pre-portioned amounts and with step by step instructions for creating a delicious and exciting meal. And the meals are guaranteed to be healthy too right?…Right?
That’s exactly what I wanted to find out, and why we had to give this a try!
Since Dan and I share the cooking duties at home, I recruited him to help me take these meal kits for a test drive and see what they’re all about.
So, here’s what we did…
For 3 weeks we ordered a delivery from a different meal kit company in Canada. Hello Fresh, Good Food, and Chef’s Plate. We chose at least one vegetarian meal each week, and use the same “plan” for each one – 3 meals that would serve two people. We wanted to compare price, food quality, taste, and of course, nutrition! (Check out my detailed nutrient analysis of the meals we tried below!)
We also gave each company a score out of 5 for 6 categories:
- Ease of ordering/getting the delivery: How easy was it to place the order/choose the meals, and did the delivery arrive on-time, and in good condition?
- The Recipes: Were they easy to follow, and able to be prepared in the promised time?
- Taste: Was the food any good?
- Quantity: Were the portions reasonable for the two of us?
- Nutrition: Are the meals “healthy?” Are they something I’d recommend to a client who was wanting to eat a more nutritious diet?
- Waste: Was there an excess in food packaging? How much plastic packaging had to be thrown away from each box?
Week 1: Hello Fresh
Cost for 3 meals (2 servings): $79.99 (discount code price: $39.99)
Hello Fresh Meal #1: Moo Shu Pork Tacos
Overall, we thought the meal was really tasty and the portion sizes were pretty good for the two of us. The recipe makes 6 small tacos, and we both ate two so I did have enough for lunch the next day, but I don’t think eating all 3 would be unreasonable for a lot of people. We did run out of the “extras” though (green onion, sriracha mayo and radishes) so we had make sure to portion those out carefully!
We actually liked this dinner idea so much we went out and bought the ingredients to make it again a few days later!
Hello Fresh Meal #2: Turkey Scallopini with linguini
This recipe had a little jar of capers to go into the pasta dish. Nowhere in the instructions does it say to rinse them, so the dish was so salty we almost couldn’t eat it. The turkey scallopini was alright, but I think the turkey coating could have been better using another method (such as, an egg wash but eggs might be hard to ship). Also, I thought this recipe was really low on the veggies. A small container of mushrooms is all that goes into the pasta dish so you’d likely want to add a side salad. We did have enough in terms of portions though.
Hello Fresh Meal #3: Matar Paneer Curry
From a nutrition perspective, this dish was also a little light on the veggies. A small packet of fresh peas was the only green thing in the box. Flavours were great though, and the portion was definitely generous. I was eating this curry for another two meals!
Hello Fresh: My Thoughts
You may be wondering about the packaging. Definitely excessive, especially with all of the little bits of things like the spice blends and condiments. Everything came in single-use plastic packaging so there was a lot to throw away. Not very environmentally friendly at all!
What also really blew me away was some of the nutrition facts for these meals (check out my detailed analysis bellow!). Overall, the meals were REALLY high sodium and probably really high in calories for a lot of people too. We managed to make each meal into 3-4 servings, so that would drop the numbers by a bit, but I do think a lot of folks would probably eat the whole portion.
So, that concludes week one! On to the next…
Week 2: Good Food
Cost for 3 meals (2 servings) $74.00 (discount code price $29.00)
Good Food Meal #1: Conchiglie Pasta with Tomato and Spinach
One thing you need to know about Dan is that, he loves his meat. Definitely the kind of guy who would try a meal made with pulses and say “oh I like this, it would be great with chicken instead!”…BUT after eating this dinner he literally said “we should start putting chickpeas in pasta dishes more often”.
It was THAT GOOD! Plus, there was more fresh vegetables in this meal than some of the others we’d had. The pasta sauce was made with fresh tomatoes, and there was spinach wilted in as well. Two thumbs up!
This meal was really really delicious, and I’ve already made it again on my own since getting this recipe! Also, 790 calories per serving is probably a little closer to what we’d typically eat at dinner, but we still got 3 portions out of the meal.
Good Food Meal #2: South Asian Chicken Curry with With Kale Over Basmati Rice
If you’re looking for recipes with lots of fresh veggies, this meal definitely met our expectations. The sauce is made from fresh diced tomatoes, and the wilted kale in the rice was a nice addition. Personally, I would have liked a little more flavour and spice in this dish as it just could have had a little more oomph.
Portion-wise we had just enough chicken for the two of us, but quite a lot of rice. The kale definitely added a lot of volume which we really liked and would make again, but probably would sauté the kale a little first so it wasn’t quite so raw. It wilted a bit, but was still pretty crunchy.
Good Food Meal #3: Salmon with Risotto
Dan doesn’t eat fish, so he got to have a pork chop while I enjoyed salmon for dinner AND lunch the next day!
This dinner was excellent, we both really enjoyed the risotto. It was easy to make and I like how the vegetables are incorporated right into the rice rather than being a side dish. In my opinion one of the best ways to eat more vegetables is to make them part of your main meal vs an afterthought!
Good Food: My Thoughts
Overall, we really liked the emphasis Good Food Box puts on sending meals that include mostly fresh vegetables and a good amount of them. The portions were good for the two of us and we did have enough leftovers for one extra lunch. Nutritionally, these meals were reasonable in calories, fat, and exceptionally good in fibre where the chickpeas are concerned. Some were still a little higher in sodium than I’d like to see however (for more detailed nutrition analysis keep reading!)
Packaging-wise, Good Food also did a little better than Hello Fresh in that many of their items come in reusable plastic containers and bags. Now, you only need so much of that stuff in the house, so if you were ordering this box long term you may wind up with a cupboard full of mini containers, but at least they’re washable and recyclable so you have the option. The produce bags are going to be awesome for my garden next summer!
That’s two kits down, one to go!
Week 3: Chef’s Plate
Cost for 3 meals (2 servings): $59.94 (discount price $35.89)
Up front, the price of Chef’s Plate looks a little better than the other companies we tried. However, we learned that you might just get what you pay for!
A Few Hiccups
Our meal kit for Chef’s Plate unfortunately arrived frozen solid (and we were home when it was delivered, so it was not sitting outside on our front steps in -30 weather!). This meant most of the fresh vegetables were ruined (soggy cabbage anyone?) and unusable for the recipes. Huge bummer!
The company has good customer service though, so they credited our account with another week for free. We still made the meals for that week, we just went and bought the ingredients to replace the ones that had been ruined. I haven’t reviewed the specific meals from this week since we had to improvise a bit.
So, we were ready to give Chef’s Plate another try the next week. Our delivery was supposed to arrive on Wednesday but it just. didn’t. come. We didn’t receive any warning or heads up that the delivery would be delayed, it just never arrived. Definitely annoying, especially when you’re relying on that box being delivered so you can cook dinner! So, the company apologized and sent us another partial credit, promising delivery the next day. And our box did arrive only one day late, however once again everything was FROZEN SOLID! Another round of fresh vegetables ruined. We did receive another credit for the next delivery. Finally, with some warmer weather our box finally arrived the week after in usable condition.
Now, I can completely understand the challenge of getting these boxes delivered on-time and fresh in Winnipeg in January. The thing is though, Chef’s Plate is the only company that seems to have issues with this. Good Food and Hello Fresh were both delivered without freezing, so something about Chef’s Plate shipping methods is a little different, and frankly not ideal for our climate.
So, how did the Chef’s Plate meals measure up?
Chef’s Plate Meal #1: Creamy Baked Chicken Pot Pie with Buttermilk Biscuits
We quite enjoyed this meal, and I will say I was surprised that a chicken pot pie could be ready in such a short amount of time (45 minutes from start to finish!). Dan rated this meal as his second favourite overall in all of the boxes we tried. The portions were just right for the two of us, no leftovers here. You do need to have your own milk on hand for this recipe though! I don’t really understand why they can’t send a small carton of milk in the box when they’re sending everything else?
Chef’s Plate Meal #2: Chili Rubbed Steak with Rice and Cilantro Feta Salsa
We found this meal to be just ok. The rice cooked up very mushy for some reason, and the salsa seemed like a bit of a weird fit with the steak and rice. It wasn’t bad, just not something we raved about. One positive thing though is I always enjoy new types of salsas, and the radishes in this one is definitely something I’d do again, but maybe just not as a topping for rice.
Chef’s Plate Meal #3: White Bean and Cheddar Burgers with Kale Caesar Salad
This dinner gets mixed reviews from the two of us. Dan is a big fan of burgers (and is a pretty big meat eater in general), so he was pretty bummed when he found out this recipe was “burgers made from beans”, not “burgers with a side of beans”.
Now, the big issue with veggie burgers is trying to make them stick together without a binder like egg to hold everything together. Unfortunately these burgers were no different. They fell apart while trying to get them off the pan, and were quite squishy while trying to eat them.
Flavour-wise I was a fan. The beans are mixed with cheddar cheese and a Caesar-salad style seasoning. Dan thought it was a little bland, said the mayo on top was the only thing he could really taste. I’d agree that I prefer veggies burgers with a little more going on, but they were decent. The mayo doubles as the salad dressing for the Kale Caesar salad- garlic, Dijon mustard, mayo, and lemon juice.
I’ve never made creamy salad dressings myself, so this recipe gave me some good ideas for future meals. I did jazz up my salad a bit because just kale and tomato was a little dull. Portion-wise there was plenty of salad, and the burgers were generous in size.
Chef’s Plate: My Thoughts
When it came to the packaging, Chef’s plate had a bit of a mix of single-use plastic and re-usable stuff. It seemed to vary quite a bit week to week how the ingredients were packaged, so they may still be figuring out some logistical things behind the scenes. I’d like to see more environmentally friendly strategies used though if these meal kit services do become more popular.
So now that we’ve actually cooked and tasted our way though each meal delivery box, here is the nutritional comparison of the 3 meals we received from each company…
*likely higher with all the salt from the caper jar!
So, which meal kit gets the top marks?
Here’s our final scores!
…and the winner is Good Food!
Overall, we liked their recipes the best (for taste and simplicity), and had absolutely no issues with ordering or delivery. The price was just a little lower than Hello Fresh as well, without sacrificing quality. Good Food definitely takes the cake!
Final Thoughts on Meal Kits
Meal kits are great for people who may not know how to cook, and/or need to build up some confidence and skills in the kitchen. Even as experienced home cooks we learned a few new tricks that we’ll definitely be incorporating into our dinners more frequently.
- Adding chopped mushrooms to things like taco mixtures to increase the veggies and cut back on the meat.
- Use chickpea pasta dishes for a tasty meat-free meal.
- Adding some chopped greens to rice dishes to bump up the nutritional value (especially if you’re having white rice!).
On the downside, the meal kits aren’t cheap, and there’s a lot of excess packaging involved. A lot of the companies talk about sustainability, suggesting that their business model is more sustainable than buying food from the grocery store because there’s no waste with their meals (except for when your food arrives all frozen and ruined!). I’m not totally sold on that idea though.
From an environmental standpoint I don’t think we’re doing our planet a favour by having each teaspoon of soya sauce we need coming individually wrapped! Plus, you’d still have to hit the grocery store each week to buy stuff for your other meals.
These companies also follow a subscription business model, which means you have to remember to cancel your account after you try them out (or keep skipping the week each time you don’t want a delivery). This can certainly be a hassle to stay on top of (especially since I had accounts with several companies all at once during our trial!)
I would also really encourage these meal kit companies to work on reducing the salt in their meals. Very simple changes like removing the salt from the spice blends and sending lower sodium ingredients would make a huge difference. Especially when the recipes call for additional salt to be added along the way, it’s just too much. Keep the salt out of the recipes and ingredients, allowing people to add as little or as much as they like on their own. These boxes would be a great idea for families in a lot of ways, but I just wouldn’t recommend them to my clients if we’re trying to reduce sodium intake.
The Bottom Line
So, overall we definitely found the meal kits to be a fun thing to try. We got some great new meal ideas and recipes to put into our dinner rotation. Is it something we’ll be continuing on with? No, but if it works great for your family and it gets you cooking more at home I think that’s a wonderful thing.
I’m curious, have you tried any meal delivery kits? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Click here to read my thoughts on why home cooking is the most important thing we can do to live healthier.
Want to learn more about how to create your own meal plans? Click here!
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