We Were Curious About Meal Delivery Services, So We Ordered a Few

You’ve seen those meal delivery services and been interested in them. How could you not? It’s food delivery that’s not pizza and Chinese food for once.

I’ve been getting a ton of ads for these services lately, so we decided to contact the companies and get a box so we could see what the buzz is about. I’m not a picky eater, but I do often find myself falling into culinary ruts. With two other busy adults in the house, finding time to prepare healthy food isn’t always easy.

We all have different tastes and dietary needs (though we agree bacon is a staple) so we were excited to find out what these services provided and whether or not they were worthwhile.

Green Chef ($10-$15 per meal)

With so much waste generated by these meal delivery services, I was happy to find Green Chef packaged minimally in recyclable mostly recyclable materials. Green Chef has meals and plans that are vegan, carnivore, gluten-free, paleo, and more. We got a paleo box, which included three meals for two.

green-chef-meal-delivery

Everything in Green Chef is organic, and the colored labels correspond to each recipe, so it wasn’t difficult putting ingredients together. While it was a fun experience cutting and cooking fresh herbs, we did find that some items like the squash and rutabaga weren’t prepared, so we ended up having to cube and peel these veggies. With the amount of effort put in, we couldn’t help but wonder why we needed the service in the first place.

green-chef-5-spice-chicken-mixing

Some of the recipes took quite a bit of time to prepare, and we didn’t really notice much time saved by using Green Chef, although we found two of the three recipes satisfying (the tuna dish was somewhat dry and bland). We decided the best part of these subscription services was access to the recipes themselves, as you can replicate most of them on your own. Green Chef, however, made this somewhat difficult by not including ingredients in the sauces and spices.

Sauces like the walnut sauce used in the dijon steak recipe were a hit, but we can’t replicate them nor find that exact sauce in stores without ingredients. So while we got a recipe subscription service, we really can’t replicate all the recipes.

green-chef-dijon-steak-prep

The food quality in Green Chef is outstanding and the portions were mostly adequate (we had to add more squash to the mash). We did add quite a bit of butter, salt, and pepper to things, but overall no extra work was necessary and the recipes were easy enough to follow. Here’s the five-spice chicken from Green Chef fully prepared and plated (their dijon steak is the featured pic above).

green-chef-5-spice-chicken-again

Purple Carrot ($9.25-$11.33/meal)

Although other meal delivery services offer vegan options, they’re typically only a smaller menu within a larger selection. Purple Carrot offers a wide array of plant-based recipes to help you create healthy vegan meals. I’m not a vegan, but I do appreciate a flavorful meal, even when it’s vegetables. In the worst case, we could include meat.

The ingredients for each meal are wrapped in bags that reminded me of breakfast in Tent City. Because of the condensation built up in the bags from the cold delivery, the can of tomatoes was already rusting on the outside, so we erred on the side of caution and replaced it.

purple-carrot-meals

There was more variety of foods included in Purple Carrot than the others. While Green Chef only included a few proprietary sauces, Purple Carrot includes several premade packaged goods. Also, the butternut squash was precut, unlike the squash that came with Green Chef. However the eggplant was whole and needed to be prepared from scratch.

It was sometimes difficult to discern where each service’s assistance would start and stop. Cut veggies can dry out, but once I’m cutting up an entire vegetable like an eggplant, I can’t help but wonder why I don’t just buy one from the store.

purple-carrot-kale-ceasar-ingredients

Still, the packaged goods (which were still the type of items you’d find at a store like Whole Foods) added quite a bit of flavor to the vegan meals. The recipes were varied and included a faux lasagna, which has always been a pet peeve of mine about vegan diets. I love eating plants, but processing them into faux “cheese,” “meat,” etc, destroys all the benefits because you’re now eating a processed food. If I want cheese or meat, I’ll eat the real thing. The fake stuff is terrible.

Being November, many of the meal services included squash and other winter vegetables I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to eat, but they’re actually pretty good when prepared right. The combination of each service gave us a pretty well-rounded idea of how to prepare them though.

Here’s how the Kale Caesar turned out, which was a hit and we decided would’ve made a great light lunch or side salad option. Like the others, salt and pepper isn’t included, but there’s plenty enough flavor in the sauces that comprise the dressing. Unlike Green Chef, these recipes are easy to replicate with store-bought ingredients.

purple-carrot-kale-caesar

My Metabolic Meals ($10-$17/meal)

My Metabolic Meals promises healthy meals delivered and has a wide menu of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that are gluten-free. Unlike the other meal plans on this list, My Metabolic Meals come precooked like TV dinners. For convenience, these meals are definitely the fastest, taking only 5-7 minutes in the microwave to fully cook.

my-metabolic-meals

However, the flavor and portion sizes in My Metabolic Meals lacked behind the others. While the chicken on the website looks grilled, the chicken we received looks boiled with grill marks and minimal seasoning added. Also, each meal included only a main ingredient and a side, making them much less rounded than other meals.

My Metabolic Meals do get points for clear labels that make it easy to track calories, protein, carbs, and fat. They also included snacks that included cookies and coffee cake that were a welcome reprieve from the bland main courses. Unlike Green Chef and Sun Basket, the packaging was not recyclable, and I was left with a large box, insulation wrapping, and TV dinner trays to dispose of. However, because the meals are premade, there’s less packaging in the food than the other services.

Unfortunately I ran into technical difficulties and wasn’t able to recover the pics of the Metabolic Meals, with the exception of this one, but it gives you an idea of what you’re facing.

If you’re short on time, My Metabolic Meals are probably a healthier choice than your average TV dinner, but for $10-$20, you can get a premade meal from a farmer’s market or Whole Foods that’s healthier, more flavorful, and just as convenient. Going to the store will also save you quite a bit of unnecessary garbage. Even a premade meal from long-time food delivery service Schwan’s is only $5 for a larger portion with more selection.

Sun Basket ($11.49/meal)

Of all the meal services, Sun Basket’s menu felt the most exploratory. Each meal felt like I was exploring flavors I normally wouldn’t, like peanut stew with broken rice from northern Africa and Mediterranean sole. Everything was both colorful and flavorful.

Like Green Chef, the company does its best to send a recyclable package, and like Purple Carrot and Plated, each meal’s ingredients is separated into bags (which are also color coded) to keep them sorted. Unlike Purple Carrot and Plated, Sun Basket uses paper bags, which gave it the nostalgic feel of opening a bagged lunch while also making us feel a little better about the amount of waste produced by using all these services in such a short period.

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While the rest of the services had an ingredient or two we don’t use often (funnel, squash, capers, etc.), Sun Basket was full of entire meals we’d never considered, so we were excited to dive in. Below is the sole and sweet potato salad. Oranges, olives, and purple sweet potatoes are ingredients I never would’ve combined on my own, and the texture differences made for an interesting culinary experience.

Like the squash mash from Green Chef, we did supplement the salad with an extra orange sweet potato. However, we found there was an abundance of fresh herbs included, so we were able to save some for later.

We also started personalizing the meals a little more because we were a bit more experienced by the time we made it to Sun Basket (and had stopped using Pantelligent). None of us are very adept at cooking fish (although one of my roommates can make some mean sushi) as we don’t do it very often, so we did accidentally break it up the flaky bastard a bit during the plating process.

Despite our seemingly best efforts to ruin these exotic dishes, they turned out wonderful in the end and we were happy to try new and exciting flavors. Also, Sun Basket’s recipe cards were much smaller than the full-page recipes included with the other services, making it a bit easier to store them in the kitchen drawers. Unfortunately I did notice an incomplete recipe that told me to quarter a lemon and then never mentioning that quartered lemon ever again. Why did I quarter a lemon for no reason?

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Plated ($12/meal)

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Sun Basket, Plated provided what we considered to be comfort food. Steak and potatoes for one meal and chicken and salad for another. After exploring exotic spices and flavor combinations from the other services, we were excited for a return to normalcy, if you will.

Ingredients for each individual meal are individually bagged and the meats were labeled as specifically being made for Plated. Like many of the services above, the packaging was mostly recyclable, and other than a small packet of Grey Poupon, there were no pre-made ingredients.

Unfortunately Plated is also the only service that required ingredients that weren’t included in the box, other than salt, pepper, and cooking oil. We had to provide our own egg, which somewhat defeats the purpose of the delivery box.

plated-steak-frites-chicken-caprese

When making the steak frites, we did appreciate that the creamy shallot sauce was something we could easily replicate. Making sauce is a useful cooking skill and it was nice to gain an understanding of how to make a new one for us. The directions were easy enough to follow too.

By this point, we were basically freestyling with the recipes. None of us are big fans of the texture of cooked spinach, so we through the garlic into the shallot sauce and added some tomatoes to the uncooked spinach to make a salad. We also used some of the fresh basil leftover from Sun Basket to season the fries, along with the included maldon salt.

It was necessary to cook the steak a few minutes longer than the recipe recommended, but a meat thermometer ensured both were cooked exactly how we wanted. Maybe it was due to the fatigue of trying new things. Maybe it’s because we just enjoy steak and potatoes. Either way, the steak frites from Plated was our favorite meal from any of the services.

plated-steak-frites

Mystery Chocolate Box ($15-$17/box)

No meal is complete without a sweet treat, and I just don’t trust people who don’t eat dessert when given the option. To keep with the adventure of exploring different meal plans, we got a Mystery Chocolate Box, a subscription service that provides three random chocolate bars each month (and donates two meals for every box ordered). Below is September’s Mystery Chocolate Box:

mystery-chocolate-bar

The point of the box is to gather the family, sample each flavor, and attempt to guess what’s in them. The answer appears at the end of the month on the company’s website. It’s a fun game and an ingenious remarketing effort to help draw return traffic to the website.

Although ingredients were hidden, nutrition facts about milk and white chocolates is provided, and warnings for possible traces of nuts, soy, gluten, and other allergens are provided. So there’s no worry about involving your friends with food allergies.

While the game was fun, we found the chocolates a little disappointing. They weren’t bars any of us would go out of our way for, but the Mystery Chocolate Box is more about the adventure than the actual chocolate.

The company goes out of their way to explore different pairings, and it was definitely a great way to taste chocolate pairings we normally wouldn’t. It’s almost like Bernie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, definitely a fun game for chocolate lovers willing to roll the dice. Just keep in mind there’s bound to be a bar you dislike, but that’s part of the fun of trying new things.

Wine Down Box ($45-$49/box)

After a long week of exploring random recipes, it’s necessary to wind down with a drink. That’s where Wine Down Box comes in. For just under $50 a month, you get a hand-selected pairing of production wine, artisanal cheese, and other treats.

wine-down-october-box

In the October box we received (pictured), was a sauvignon blanc, a goat/sheep cheese, hard salami, and crackers, which paired well with each other. Being able to explore the story behind the pairings while sampling each part made for an enjoyable experience for all involved.

The bottle of Sidebar runs $20, so $45 isn’t a bad price to have a curated pairing shipped to your door. It’s easily what we’d spend at any of the wine bars downtown, but with a much more exploratory nature. An “artisinal” cheese platter at many of these bars rarely goes beyond the selection I can find myself at local stores and farmer’s markets.

Of course to truly appreciate the box, you’ll need to be ok with exploring different types of wine and snacks. Wine Down Box isn’t for people who only like specific wines, but for people willing to try them all. It was a great way to end the week though.

Final Thoughts

Having finally finished exploring the different flavors available for delivery, we ended the week by the fireplace, reflecting on what an amazing world we live in and how we felt about the meal delivery services overall.

None of them included salt and pepper, which again reminded me of jail, where seasoning is a commodity. The prepackaged goods had expiration dates but the rest we basically went in blind for. Overall the quality of food was great in each one, even Metabolic Meals, but some were held back by our inability to recreate proprietary sauce and spice blends.

As I mentioned above, the recipes are the best part of these subscription services. Both Green Chef and Sun Basket make their recipes accessible online to anyone while the rest are a bit too pushy on their websites, practically forcing you to sign up to get any details. If you’re interested in trying these services, those are the two best places to start just to try whipping up the meal on your own.

Of course, recreating the recipe doesn’t feel the same as having a box of food delivered to you. Just know that you’re not actually saving time in doing so (with the exception of Metabolic Meal’s microwave dinners). The time saved shopping for groceries is offset by the extra time necessary to recycle and/or dispose of the packaging.

The benefits of these meal delivery services is they help break up the monotony we can sometimes fall into with our eating habits. I don’t normally use ingredients like capers and fennel, so if I saw a recipe that called for them on my own, I’d end up using the necessary portion and then leaving the rest to inevitably go bad. Having everything portioned and cutting down on food waste is the major benefit.

Just make sure you dine with class and add desert and wine to your meal for the best possible outcome.

Versability

Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer.

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