I Tried a Meal Kit Service, and So Should You.

Fresh, boxed, quality, cheap, and fast home-cooked meals delivered right to your door, where even the most accident-prone college student could whip up a 5-star meal. 

Skeptical? So was the entire culinary world when Blue Apron made these claims back in 2012. The reviews? Mixed at best. But eight years have passed, and the pandemic is turning attention back to meal kit services. After trying one myself, there’s a strong case to be made for shipped home-cooking — pre and post-pandemic. Whether you’re a master of the kitchen or somebody who is afraid of turning on their stove, you might be surprised how well these kits work.

All you Need is an Address, Oven, and 30 Minutes: Home Chef

I was shocked to discover that my sister started cooking during the pandemic, since the last time she turned on a stove was before UberEats hit the app store.After some inquiry, I learned that she subscribed to a meal kit service: Home Chef. 

When visiting a couple months ago, I was interested in getting my hands on one of these Home Chef kits, but I was unsure to expect. The first kit I used was for a Italian sausage penne with sun-dried tomato cream and sweet corn. Surprisingly, the recipe only requires the included pan, a preheated oven, and a pair of scissors to take the ingredients out of the package. After 10 minutes of prep and 20 minutes in the oven, I made a full meal that was unimaginably easy yet flavorful. This was one of Home Chef’s signature “easy prep” kits, and it changed my entire view on meal kits. 

Home Chef, launched in 2013, is one of the largest and most popular meal kit services in the United States. The major difference between a service like Blue Apron and Home Chef is ease of use. Home Chef specializes in making cooking in the kitchen as easy and intuitive as possible, requiring less skill and technique as opposed to other meal kit services. The ingredients are heavily prepared and recipes are heavily simplified, making mistakes more forgiving and sparse. This approach to cooking makes it possible to create a home-cooked meal with little time and hair-pulling. For inexperienced cooks like my sister, this simplicity helped introduce a new world of options when it came to meal time. Each week, you can select what meals you want (with different items on the menu every time), and all the ingredients you need will be shipped to your door. 

Snapshot of Home Chef’s Menu Offerings (Photo: Home Chef)

Quality and Cost: Is it worth it? 

Cost: 

When you subscribe to the service, the company will charge you around $6.99-9.95 per serving. A meal for two would usually cost around $19. This pricing seems pretty fair, since a Home Chef meal would likely take the same amount of time and money as a DoorDash order. However, it will be cheaper to buy ingredients yourself but this takes far more time and planning (which is where meal kit services shine). Although in a practical sense, people with less time or space to work with such as college students can benefit greatly from meal kit services. 

The price of a Home Chef meal is comparable to different meal kit services such as Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and Freshly. The only difference is the cost in time and commitment, due varying levels of difficulty. These range from TV-Dinner simple (Freshly) to more demanding and complex (Marley Spoon). The real advantage of opting for a meal kit is time, convenience, and ease. Most meal kit services offer great promotions for getting started, so figuring out your options is easy and relatively inexpensive. 

Quality:

Despite the simple nature of these meal kits, the actual quality of the food surpassed my expectations. The quality of the ingredients is no different than what you would find in the supermarket, and the recipes are designed to produce tasty food no matter the skill level of the user. The variety also improves the experience of meal kit services, as you could expect to have tacos, pasta, and steak in the span of a week. Home Chef also offers more exquisite options such as scallops with a cream sauce and asparagus (but at an additional cost).

The quality of the ingredients and produce are generally the same across different meal kit services. However, It’s important to note that certain services only offer meals that are microwavable and frozen such as Freshly, which can diminish the quality of the cooked meal. Nonetheless, the quality you get, regardless of purpose, will be worth the money. 

Is there a catch? 

A lot of this article talks about meal kits in a way that sounds too good to be true. While there are many benefits to meal kit services, there are certainly drawbacks. 

The Environment: An article posted earlier in April on Penn Appetit discussed the waste produced by these meal kits. Since almost everything is individually packaged in a meal kit and shipped to you with the power of fossil fuels, meal kit services can be particularly wasteful. However, the article also found that these kits are likely greener than your average grocery run, since groceries also suffer from the same issues. Nonetheless, there exist greener options that our planet may appreciate more.

Photo by boris misevic on Unsplash

Long Run Costs: Even though the price of a kit is fair and comparable to ordering food or produce online, using meal kit services can build up costs. In a post-covid world, accessibility to a grocer or farmers market often delivers cheaper and more diverse options. This drawback is especially important when considering people who are more proficient at cooking, since the convenience or simplicity of a meal kit may not be very beneficial. Another important consideration is that your spending shifts away from local businesses, who need every bit of support during the pandemic. 

TL;DR

When you pay for a meal kit service, you get convenience, quality, ease of use, and time. While these services are on par with or cheaper than restaurant food, a more experienced home-cook may find it cheaper and not much harder to opt for buying regular groceries and cooking. However, if you’re looking for something new, tasty, easier, and cheaper than takeout, meal kits will change everything.

(Featured Photo: Home Chef Media Assets)