Family

THE BATTLE IS ON : WHICH MEAL-SERVICE IS BEST?

Meal-kit services provide gourmet guidance to the foodie who wants to dine like she’s out, even when she’s staying in. Combining food delivery and cooking class, these services take the guess-work out of gourmet meal preparation. With a paint-by-numbers approach to home cooking, meal kit services provide master chef wannabes with everything they need to prepare restaurant quality dinners in 45 minutes or less. The meal kits are delivered to your door in refrigerated boxes complete with colorful step-by-step instructions and labeled ingredients.

According to Fast Company, meal kits have grown into a $5 billion industry in a “battle for the American dinner plate.” Most offer subscriptions starting at around $10 per meal, per person. Almost all of these companies allow for flexibility in diet, taste, delivery and commitment. You can cancel scheduled deliveries with advanced notice. Customers can use apps and online cookbooks to enhance the experience. Although some of the companies market themselves as time-saving, healthy or even budget friendly, the biggest lure to meal kit services is the sense of culinary mastery. It’s a chance to emerge from Hot Pocket hell to feast on the unexpected. Coupons or Groupon offers are available for almost all the services. In fact, there’s no reason to try one of these kits without getting some sort of introductory discount.

Whether you’re a gourmet guru or a kitchen klutz, one of these meal kit services may have the recipe to satisfy your culinary cravings.

BLUE APRON: blueapron.com

Price: $9.99 per person based on three meals a week or $59.94 per week for two people.

Delivery: Free nationwide

The Skinny: Blue Apron boasts that a team of culinary experts come up with weekly recipes. They have a two-person or family plan, designed for four. You can skip any week or cancel anytime.

The menu includes delectable dishes such as acorn squash tempura tacos or Salmon pastrami on rye, roasted spaghetti squash. Meals are in a searchable cookbook.

Blue Apron also offers a wine ordering service to pair with meals.

Word on the street: Denise D. of Sacramento left the following review on Yelp, “Before Blue Apron, I didn’t attempt to cook at all. My specialties were boxed mac ‘n cheese, canned soup and frozen bean burritos. I decided to do a discounted trial of Blue Apron and I am now a master chef.”

DIN (formerly Forage)

Price: Din subscriptions start at $60 per week. Delivery includes two meals, of two servings each, at $15 per serving.

Delivery: Los Angeles and San Francisco areas and some parts of Nevada. Shipping is free.

The Skinny: Din partners with local establishments to provide customers with restaurant quality meals they can prepare in 20 minutes. They’ve also teamed up with a meal delivery service to cut down on packaging waste, a concern for the environmentally savvy customer. Pricier than most, Din is the meal kit service for the epicurean who enjoys haute food.

Word on the street: In reviewing several services, San Francisco Chronicle writer Sarah Henry wrote “My first reaction was: ‘If I want restaurant quality food, I’d rather go to a restaurant and have the whole experience.’ I was wrong. We liked the food — the Shrimp With Brussels Sprouts, White Beans and Kale Salsa Verde, adapted from a recipe from New York’s Gramercy Tavern; and Butternut Squash Tacos With Kale Salad, courtesy of San Francisco’s Tacolicious chain.”

HELLOFRESH

Price: Start at $9.08 per person based on three meals a week or $59.94 per week for two people.

Delivery: Free nationwide

The Skinny: Similar to Blue Apron, HelloFresh recipe box subscriptions offer variety and flexibility. Menu items range from chicken meatballs & gnocchi with sage, apple and parmesan to marinated steak bibimbap with shaved vegetables, crispy mushrooms, and pickled scallions.

Word on the street: Kelly C. of Wallingford, CT said via Yelp review, “I love the recyclable materials – I got one large box with a cardboard “cooler” and all of the meals came in individual paper boxes. There is some plastic and a small amount of styrofoam, but I would say the majority of the ingredients came in recyclable packaging. I also love the step-by-step directions with accompanying photographs since I am a visual learner.”

MARLEY SPOON

Price: $8.90 per person

Delivery: Mid Atlantic and New England regions: most of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and Washington D.C

The Skinny: This service started in Europe in the United Kingdom and Germany and in parts of Australia before its transatlantic launch in the States this year. Marley Spoon’s menu includes everything from the basic shrimp-fried rice to lamb kafta salad or espresso-rubbed steak.

Word on the street: Unfortunately, Marley Spoon has gotten some rotten reviews. A number of unhappy customers posted complaints in the comments section of a story on TechCrunch disgruntled customers posted. Facebook user Anne Shaffer Myers complained, “I have had the worst experience with Marley Spoon. I used a coupon for a free week and was never notified that if I skipped my first week the coupon wouldn’t apply. I was charged $61 for a mediocre box of food. I notified them as soon as I saw the charge come through, and they refused to issue me a refund.”

To Marley Spoon’s credit, someone from customer service responded to every negative post and offered a resolution.

PEACH DISH

Price: $12.50 per serving. Two servings of two weekly meals cost $50. Subscribers can add additional servings, up to eight per delivery. There’s a price break for higher quantities.

Delivery: Free for subscribers nationwide. Shipping for non-subscribers starts at $7. It’s $15 for people who live outside South, Mid-Atlantic or Northeast.

The Skinny: This is the meal kit service for those who long for Southern cooking. It’s not all deep-fried though. The menu includes all types of dishes with a hint of Southern flare such as salmon croquettes with dill sauce and gem lettuce salad, curried chicken breasts with bok choy and basmati rice, and sweet potato and chard risotto with parmesan, rosemary and nutmeg.

Word on the street: Laura F. in Manhattan, posted this review on Yelp: “Our family relies on PeachDish every week! They send the most beautiful ingredients – many of which are far better quality than I could find at our grocery. The recipes are just challenging enough to be fun but easy enough for a home cook (and for a quick weeknight meal for our family). It’s so nice to have one less grocery errand to run and great new recipes in our mailbox on the reg. Thanks PeachDish!”

PLATED

Price: $12 per order, minimum 4 orders per week. Priced “per plate.”

Delivery: Plated claims to deliver to 95 percent of the continental U.S.

The Skinny: Plated is based on orders per plate rather than monthly subscriptions. However, subscriptions are encouraged. Menu items include comfort meals such as New England-Style pollock chowder with garlic bread. For an additional charge, customers can order from the Chef’s table that includes recipes with specialty cuts of meat and market priced seafood.

Word on the street: Jim, a user on monyunder30 wrote of Plated “I tried Plated recently with the four free plates when you buy two offer. It’s a great deal if you can still find it. The recipes I received (Beef and Squash Empanadas with Tomato Basil Salad, Garlicky Chicken with Caramelized Squash, and Pork and Peach Skewers with Peach Mostarda) were fun, pretty easy to prepare and really delicious…At the regular price, I initially thought that it was expensive but actually it’s just a little more than fast food or ordering a pizza, and so much better! It’s still less expensive than eating out!”

 

This article was written by Merlisa Lawrence Corbett, contributor for The Daily Clutch.