You have a whole lot of choices when it comes to meal kits. Too many? Perhaps, but all the competition keeps any one company from resting on its laurels. Two of the most popular meal kit outfits are Blue Apron, the original meal kit service, and HelloFresh, which markets itself as slightly more approachable, affordable and good for families and beginner chefs.
Anyone who knows me knows I hate cooking (and grocery shopping). I can make food to survive — can I get a yeehaw from Team Ramen? — but I’m no chef. Meanwhile, my husband is an excellent cook. He loves cooking, watching cooking shows, learning how different foods are made and making literally everything from scratch. Blessed? Yes. Stressed when he wants me to cook with him? Also yes. When I was told my assignment was to pit Blue Apron against HelloFresh by testing both meal kit services, which I still suspect may have been a cruel joke among my editors, I can’t say I didn’t start sweating.
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Meal kit delivery services like these have grown in popularity over the last few years, in part because of the variety and choices on offer from services like Blue Apron and HelloFresh. They’ve seen an even bigger boom in the past year, aided undoubtedly by quarantine, which has seen more of us cooking at home more often and looking for fun and easy ways to make dinner happen. Most of the services on the market send you the ingredients to cook a full meal (or several), along with a step-by-step recipe. Here’s what it was like playing chef with two of the most popular DIY meal delivery services.
Of all the dinner boxes out there, HelloFresh was the one I’d heard of most often. If you listen to podcasts at all, odds are you’ve heard an advertisement for the meal kit delivery service. It always sounded like an interesting thing to try, but I wasn’t expecting much by way of quality — for some reason, I had a picture in my mind of a frozen dinner, not fancy plated meals.
HelloFresh is not a frozen dinner. The service has several customizable plans to choose from: Meat & Veggies, Veggie, Family Friendly, Quick & Easy and a Calorie Smart (low-calorie) option. You’re not locked into your original meal plan and can change it later if it doesn’t seem like the best fit. From there, you can select two people or four people, and how many recipes you want per week (two to six). A two-person box ranges from about $50 for two recipes to $115 for six recipes. This ends up being anywhere from $8-$11 per serving, plus $8 per box for shipping.
On the HelloFresh website, you can see a menu of meal kit options for each plan for the next six weeks, with about 20 recipe choices to select from (you can see the menu for each plan without signing up for anything — perfect for picky eaters). The three meals I chose were the Balsamic Fig Chicken, the Southwest Chicken Sausage and Rice Skillet and Teriyaki Pork Chops.
When I opened the box, I found each meal’s fresh ingredients neatly packed into brown paper bags (which you’re encouraged to recycle), with the meat tucked under an ice pack. The whole box is structured to keep things cold if you’re not home when it shows up, which had been one of my concerns. Everything fit nicely into the fridge (which I cleaned out for this article. You’re welcome).
I felt like a “real” cook every time I emptied a bag’s contents. The vegetables were colorful, the greens were never wilted and any extra spice or additive was already measured out. The menus were simple to read and follow, and included pictures. Specific ingredients were called out in boldface type and the recipes offered cooking tips about each dish: what pots, pans or extra ingredients you might need, how to make it vegetarian if you wanted and even a good wine to pair it with.
Each dish took about 30 to 45 minutes to make, give or take some prep time (and the focus required for a newbie chef to avoid losing a finger while slicing and dicing). On average, each dish required at least one pan, one pot, a baking sheet, a chopping board and knife, and maybe a bowl to mix ingredients in. A peeler and a meat thermometer were also handy to have around.
I appreciated how the recipe directions had everything timed to the minute so nothing got cold or sat too long when it was finished. We enjoyed every tasty meal, and found the portion sizes ideal; we had leftovers only of the Southwest Chicken Sausage and Rice Skillet dish, which made a good lunch the next day!
|Number of people||Price per serving|
Blue Apron’s meals stepped a bit out of our comfort zone. The dishes were creative, included more international spices and did a good job of pairing items that I might not have considered. As with HelloFresh, you can choose from different types of plans, but you do have to create an account and enter your credit card information to see the various plans and menu options.
The Signature option for two or four people includes “an ever-changing mix of meat, fish, poultry, Beyond Meat and nutritionist-approved recipes created with [Weight Watchers],” according to the site. There’s also a Vegetarian option for two. After making your choice, you can decide how many recipes you want per week — the Signature for Two plan and the Vegetarian options offer two to three recipes per week, and the Signature for Four offers two to four recipes. A two-serving box costs about $50 to $60 per week. The Signature for Four costs $72 to $120 weekly.
We chose Signature for Two, and ordered the Steaks and Caramelized Onion dish, Korean-style Fire Chicken, and Harissa and Honey-glazed Chicken.
The ingredients were packaged similarly to HelloFresh’s box, except there were more individual bags, so ingredients for a single meal weren’t necessarily grouped together. There were three bags of “Knick Knacks” (sauces, spices) with the corresponding dish’s name on them as well. Everything fit in the fridge, but I could see myself potentially forgetting about some of the food, since it’s not in the individual meal bags like HelloFresh. That didn’t strike me as a deal-breaker, though.
The recipes were structured similarly to those from HelloFresh, with an easy-to-follow, step-by-step checklist for cooking the meal, along with bolded ingredient names, pictures and a possible wine pairing.
Read more: How many of these cooking terms do you know?
Blue Apron’s service felt like it required a bit more effort and established cooking knowledge than HelloFresh, though not by much. The recipes sometimes mixed in cooking terminologies like “fond” (the brown bits remaining in the pan after you cook meat) and “aromatic ingredients” (usually onions, garlic or leeks; often a combination of vegetables, herbs and sometimes meat). Not knowing these terms, I reread the recipe a couple of times before panicking and asking my husband for help.
We wound up with leftovers twice, but through no fault of the kit. My husband didn’t care for the Korean-style Fire Chicken, and we had a little extra of the couscous side from the Harissa and Honey-glazed Chicken (another great Day 2 lunch).
Blue Apron pricing
||Vegetarian||Signature for Four||Signature|
|2 recipes per week||$10 per serving*||$10 per serving*||$9 per serving|
|3 recipes per week||$10 per serving||$10 per serving||$8 per serving|
|4 recipes per week||$10 per serving||N/A||$7.49 per serving|
Overall, we had a positive experience with both Blue Apron and HelloFresh. While meal kits, in general, may be slightly cheaper than takeout, they are almost always more expensive than purchasing ingredients from the grocery store and so may not work for everyone’s budget. But you came here to find out which meal kit service is better, Blue Apron or HelloFresh, and the breakdown below should help you pick the perfect cook-it-yourself dinner delivery.
Pricing: If you’re trying to decide between the two meal kit services based solely on price, it really boils down to your family’s needs. A four-week HelloFresh subscription for two people would range roughly between $120 and $460 (for two to six meals). Four weeks for four people would range between $268 and $748. With Blue Apron, four weeks of weekly boxes for two people would cost between $192 and $240 (for two to three meals). For four people, a month would be between $288 and $479 (for two to four meals). Basically, the two-person, two-meal option on HelloFresh is about $72 less than the same option on Blue Apron — but for the two-person, three-meal option, it’s about the same.
For my house, we tested the two-person, three-recipe box. For that option, a month of orders would come to about $240 for both HelloFresh and Blue Apron (give or take some change).
Overall quality of meal kits: While this is subjective, Blue Apron meal kits certainly skew more toward high-end restaurant-style food. You might call the recipes more complicated, although most meals can be prepared by a chef of any skill level. HelloFresh meals tend to be simpler and if you’re looking for true no-fuss weeknight dinners, HelloFresh has them in spades. The ingredients for both were fresh so we’ll call that subcategory a draw.
Healthiness: While HelloFresh may have more diet meal plans such as low calorie and keto-friendly options that filter out the meals that don’t adhere, both services have plenty of healthy recipes. Both also have a few splurge meals for cheat days or whenever else you want them. Blue Apron has a Weight Watchers integration, so if you’re familiar with and partial to that point system, Blue Apron meal kits would be a seamless transition.
Breakfast, lunch and add-ons: Neither service offers specific breakfast or lunch options, but there’s a chance of leftovers, depending on how hungry you are, that could roll over into lunch. HelloFresh does have the option to add things to your order like sides and complements (bread, extra proteins and some breakfast options) and desserts or lunch items, for an additional cost, while Blue Apron doesn’t. Blue Apron, however, offers sommelier-picked wine pairings at an additional cost, while HelloFresh does not.
Difficulty: Both services provided meals that were delicious and not overly complicated to make. (And, OK, it was fun!) The meals all required about the same amount of prep, cooking and cleanup time, on average. Blue Apron tends to have more slightly involved recipes, though certainly won’t require a culinary degree. HelloFresh’s beginner-friendly directions and straightforward recipes helped me overcome some of my kitchen anxiety and made me curious to try new recipes.
Final verdict: After all this, it’s honestly quite close to a draw and it became clear to me why both meal kit companies have become so popular. That said, Blue Apron is a better pick for a moderately experienced chef looking for more adventurous recipes to add to their repertoire. HelloFresh on the other hand is a much better meal kit choice for a genuine beginner or someone looking for dinner shortcuts and time-savers a few nights a week without resorting to takeout.
You should look into both options and take advantage of free trials and offers for major savings. There’s no commitment to stick with either, so you could try both if you’re able to and see which you like better. If you try one or both, let us know what you think of Blue Apron and HelloFresh in the comments.
The article was originally written by Shelby Brown in a previous year and has been updated with the latest offerings and information.
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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.