We’ve all been there: You had a very long day at work. It’s late. You’re starving. And suddenly takeout pizza sounds much more appealing than hitting the grocery store to make good on your 2017 resolution to cook more. Luckily, someone’s thought through your woes and there are a wide range of delivery services to help get a healthy meal on the table — (semi) STAT.
As a girl with Celiac, a picky husband and a budget to stick to, I’ve always loved the idea of meal delivery services. But every time I get close to placing an order, I chicken out. Would they accidentally poison me with gluten? Would my husband hate the recipes? Would I eventually go broke paying $10-plus per serving? Turns out, there are a whole lot more options catering to the foot-dragging demographic like me. And now that my meal kit dry spell is officially over, I’m here to share the results.
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For five or six years meal delivery kits have been all over the news, from The New York Times to the TODAY Show. And while popular services like Blue Apron, Plated and HelloFresh provide great experiences and inventive menus, they can be limiting for people with special dietary needs or those looking for lower calorie, low carb or organic options. (Read: me.)
Meal Delivery: Outside the Box
To narrow down which services to try, I searched for lesser known meal kits that fit the following criteria:
- Offers a variety of options appealing to people with a range of special diets
- Ships to most of the U.S. (or will be expanding the delivery area soon)
- Provides either fully cooked meals or ingredients and recipes to make a designated meal at home in 40 minutes or less
The rules were simple: I’d test out one or two boxes a week over the course of four weeks and compare notes on the meal choices, how well the instructions worked, how good the meals tasted, how much they cost and how widely available each service is across the U.S.
Below, my reviews of the five services that agreed to let me test a week’s worth of meals in the hopes of getting you one step closer to your #kitchengoals.
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5 Meal Subscription Boxes to Try Now
Perfect for: Adventurous eaters who shop the organic aisle
Ninety-five percent of the ingredients sourced by Green Chef are certified organic, setting it apart from competitors. Plus, they offer vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, paleo, omnivore and carnivore menus — so there really is something for everyone. Each two-person recipe takes about 30-40 minutes to prepare and — save for a stovetop quinoa fiasco that was entirely my fault — I found that time estimate to be accurate. Some of the meals were a bit higher in calories than I would prefer (think 800-plus), but the carbohydrates, protein and fat in each meal did seem to stay in good balance. If calorie count is important to you, you can easily leave out the sauces to make the recipes a bit more diet-friendly.
Each of the three recipes I tried had simple instructions that were easy to follow. One way that Green Chef is able to offer slightly more complex finished products is by preparing some of the elements for you, a feature I really appreciated. For example, the Lentil-Mushroom Curry with Turmeric Rice, Roasted Squash, and Ginger-Mint Sauce took about 30 minutes to make, but the curry mixture — curry, onions and ginger — was pre-made to save you a few extra steps. The sauce on top of the dish — a mixture of ginger, mint and yogurt — also came pre-bottled for you.
Each recipe in my box yielded three good-sized servings instead of the stated two, which was a nice surprise. (The leftover Tuna Poke Bowl with Sushi Rice, Ginger-Scallion Relish and Bok Choy Slaw made a great lunch!) The recipes were inventive, flavorful, and never anything I’d ever think throw together on my own. I already have my next order placed.
Where they ship: Across the U.S., excluding Hawaii, Alaska, and parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota
Pricing: $10.49–$14.99 per serving, available in both two-person and family sized boxes. Pro tip: They often run specials for first-time users, so enter your email address and zip code on the website to see what offers are available.
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Perfect for: Busy people who want a stash of healthy and flavorful pre-made meals
Freshly provides fully prepared refrigerated meals that take just two minutes to heat in the microwave. All of Freshly’s meals are gluten-free (and prepared in a gluten-free facility, to boot), high in protein, low in carbs, and free of processed sugars. Plus, they offer both lunch or dinner entrees (think Penne Bolognese and Mahi Mahi with Coconut Rice) and breakfasts (like a BLT Omelet or Gingerbread Quinoa Porridge).
I typically hate frozen or prepared meals, but the six Freshly meals I tried tasted like I had prepared them in my own kitchen. They were tasty, well-balanced and high quality. I was also pleasantly surprised by the quality of the meats in these meals. The Grilled Flat Iron Steak with Potato Hash was incredibly tender and I was shocked that the center remained medium-well even after being microwaved. On a busy weeknight, it was refreshing to have dinner on the table in two minutes flat (and no pots and pans to clean!). I have a few particularly busy weeks coming up and am planning to place another Freshly order to get me though!
Where they ship: Currently available in 28 states across the West, Midwest and some of the South. They are working on new facility to serve the East Coast, which will be ready in 2017.
Pricing: Offer plans for four to 12 meals per week, ranging from $12.50 per meal to $8.99 per meal. (The more you order, the lower the per-meal price.) They also offer discounts on your first order.
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Perfect for: Home cooks who want a mix of classic and ethnic recipes
Sun Basket is all about offering non-GMO and organic ingredients whenever possible. They offer five different meal plans: Chef’s Choice (three dinners per week); Vegetarian (three vegetarian dinners per week); Paleo (three Paleo dinners per week); Gluten-Free (three gluten-free dinners per week); and Rise and Shine (two quick breakfasts and two dinners per week). Each can be ordered to serve two or four people.
The meals I tried had easy-to-follow instructions and yielded some very tasty meals. Our favorite: the Salmon with Roasted Potatoes and Green Beans. (My husband, who doesn’t typically like fish, even asked me to keep the recipe to recreate later!) Each of the meals made at least two hearty servings, and one of the recipes, the Senegalese Chicken and Peanut Stew with Broken Rice, gave us four. Three cheers for leftovers!
Where they ship: Most of the U.S. (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska and South Dakota)
Pricing: Meals cost $11.49 per person and delivery is $5.99 per week. They also offer discounts for your first order. The two-person plan: $68.94 for the first week and $74.93 thereafter.
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Perfect for: New cooks and picky eaters
Home Chef’s menu offers plenty of family-friendly variety with 13 recipes on the menu each week, including gluten-free, low-carb, vegetarian, soy-free and nut-free options. The recipes are generally pretty simple, typically offering a main protein and one or two sides with simple seasonings (read: good for less-adventurous eaters). Keep in mind, if you’re a more seasoned cook like me, expect highly detailed instructions that might not allow you to multitask as much as you’d like.
For this same reason, though, newbie chefs will take comfort in step-by-step guidance to get your meal on the table in 30 minutes or less. The Sweet and Smoky Chicken Skewers with Cilantro-Lime Pesto and Apple Slaw was unfortunately a miss (the chicken didn’t have much flavor, and there was an abundance of slaw on the side). But we did enjoy the Crispy Bavarian Caraway Chicken with Roasted Root Vegetables. It was easy to prepare and offered a healthy dose of protein and veggies.
Where they ship: 98 percent of the U.S. (except for parts of the Northeast, Southwest and Northwest). Check your zip code on their website to see if they deliver to you.
Pricing: $9.95 per serving; available in two, four or six servings. The option to add two smoothies or seasonal fruit is also available for an extra $4.95 each.
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Perfect for: Vegans or vegetarians who are always on-the-go
Veestro offers plant-based frozen meals and juices with a number of different ordering options, including a la carte, meal packs, weight loss plans and juice cleanses. All of the meals are organic and preservative-free, and can be stored in the fridge for two to three days or in the freezer for up to eight weeks.
I was pleasantly surprised by Veestro’s frozen vegan meals. Even though they were frozen, they tasted fresh once reheated. All of the meals can be microwaved, but most recommend reheating on the stovetop or in the oven. Because I took these to work for lunch, I had to microwave most of them. A few might have been better baked, but in a pinch the microwave worked just fine. If I ate a strictly vegan or vegetarian diet, I would definitely order these meals again (especially the Mushroom Risotto with Kale and Carrots and Golden Chickpea Stew!).
Where they ship: All 50 states. Additional shipping charges apply for Alaska and Hawaii. Orders over $199 ship free.
Pricing: Meal Packs start at $99 for 13 items. A la carte meals and juices range from $5.99 to $11.99 each. Daily Burn readers can use the discount code 21DAYSDB to get 20 percent off your order of any Meal Pack.