It’s amazing the advances in modern life that you miss living overseas for the better part of five years. While I was learning to live more simply, and climb trees for coconuts, the developed world was giving society every gizmo and gadget to make life as convenient (and cluttered) as possible. Returning back to America after 5 years introduced me to the fad of Apple Watches and Fitbits. Apparently moving from the front door to the car never happened unless you have a device on your wrist counting each step. Nearly every phone is adorned with a pop-out circular handle with some sort of cute design on it. I couldn’t figure out what in the world the purpose of these was until it occurred to me that our smart phones are now too big to hold and use at the same time, all with one hand. When did that happen? When I left, we were still trying to make each phone smaller than the last. Now we’re going in the opposite direction. Uber and Lyft lights now adorn the dashes of every other vehicle on the roads. The semantics get a little confusing, because everyone says “Uber” as the general term, even if they actually intend to use Lyft. (That was true at one point anyway; I’ve heard the term “Lyft” used a lot more recently). And my least favorite of all, the rise of Amazon’s artificial intelligence that shares my name. Thank goodness I’ve gone by “Lexi” since college, because I don’t dare say the name “Alexa” anymore without getting thrown the dreaded “Hey Alexa…” jokes.

As overwhelming as it all is, I have become a very big fan of the subscription meal kits. Probably because they allow me to hide inside, away from all of that other nonsense. I was skeptical when my sister first told me about them; I thought I actually liked going grocery shopping. Plus they just sounded like something for lazy or incredibly busy people. I was neither. Then I tried one and realized that cooking is so much more fun when you don’t have to comb the zillions of recipes that exist online, trying to find something that sounds good for dinner. You don’t have to dart around the grocery store, constantly saying ‘excuse me’ to everyone you almost bump into, because you’re instead looking at a million options on the shelves, and why do we need so many different kinds of eggs to choose from? Organic, cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised, conventional… Do we really have so many different ways of torturing chickens that we have to label which torture methods we’re not using? And the big problem I always run into is food waste. I'll find some lovely sounding recipe with a couple obscure ingredients that cost a fortune but I only need a little bit, so the rest just sits in the back of the fridge and rots.

What are these meal kit subscriptions I am referring too? If you’ve clicked on this article, then you probably already know, but just incase the rock you’ve been living on is more isolated than mine… I am referring to a subscription you can sign up for that will send a box of pre-portioned ingredients to your doorstep every week, with instructions for how to prepare anywhere from two to four meals, depending on which subscription you sign up for. Most of them have the option to order for two people or for four people, and the option to skip weeks without penalty.

I tried HelloFresh and a little bit of the mind clutter from moving back eased ever so slightly. A box arrived at my door, with three options for dinner, not twenty zillion; the ingredients were all much fresher than I would have expected for sitting in a box (although I guess the food in the grocery stores has to arrive in boxes too), and there was just enough to make the meal, which meant no food waste. The resulting meal was tasty too. I was hooked. I told Fletch about my discovery (we were in separate states at the time) and he initially expressed all the same doubts that I had. Then we tried making a few together when we were all moved into our apartment, and have been on a journey to test all the subscription services ever since.

I’d like to add a quick disclaimer that this is not a sponsored post. None of these services have paid me to claim that theirs is the best product (in fact I’m certain that I’m about to insult a few of them). These are the honest opinions of your everyday pescatarian (vegetarian plus the occasional seafood). As a pescatarian I did opt for the veggie plans on most of these. Know that all of them except Purple Carrot offer plenty of options for omnivores too, but none of my reviews take any land-meat dishes into account. Fletch and I did actually order, prepare, and eat every one of these (apparently some people just write these articles with information they glean online).


HelloFresh


Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Biggest Pro: Consistently overall good quality
Biggest Con: No tofu or tempeh
Non-Discounted Price Per Meal: $7.49 - $8.99 (depending on the plan)

HelloFresh made a stellar first impression with its user-friendly app and website, fresh ingredients, easy-to-prepare meals, delicious finished product, and friendly customer service. The packaging was minimal, avoided plastic when possible (ingredients like beans and chick peas came in cardboard), mostly recyclable, and/or compostable. The service made it easy to skip weeks or cancel at any time. The few times I contacted customer service with minor issues, they usually discounted the cost of a meal or two from the next week’s box. HelloFresh became the standard against which all the other services were judged, and set the bar high.

Ready to make some Veggie Licious Tacos from HelloFresh!


Compared to other meal kits, HelloFresh did not have quite as many meals to choose from. You can choose from the Vegetarian Plan or the Classic Plan. The Vegetarian Plan offers up to three veggie meals per week, with no variety to choose from. The Classic Plan offers twelve meals to choose from, including the three veggie meals, usually two seafood dishes and the rest meat dishes. I loved the grilling cheese that was used as a meat substitute in some of the veggie dishes, but was surprised that substitutes like tofu and tempeh were never used.

This is the meal kit for you if you like a consistently good product for a reasonable price.

Sun Basket


Overall Rating: 1/5
Biggest Pro: Caters to many different dietary restrictions
Biggest Con: Too many to list here
Non-Discounted Price Per Meal: $11.99

Ohhhh Sun Basket… This one seemed so promising and ended up being such a disaster. I’ll try to keep my ranting and raving brief. The variety was promising, and offered plans for carb-conscious, paleo, mediterranean, lean & clean, gluten free, vegan, quick & easy, vegetarian, pescatarian, and diabetes-friendly; or chef’s choice, which allowed you to mix and match meals from any of the above categories. The app was easy to use and comparable to HelloFresh. Weeks were skippable, however canceling took the better part of an afternoon to figure out. They hide the cancel button under More>Help/Feedback>Help Center>Canceling your subscription. This brings you to a pop-down menu where you choose the time that works best for them to call you. Then you wait for their phone call, listen to their sales pitch as they try to convince you to give their product another try, and then finally confirm that yes, after all that headache you still haven’t changed your mind about canceling.

Spicy Bibimbap with Tamari Mushrooms, Kimchi, and Yuba Noodles, was one of the better Sun Basket meals.


All ingredients are organic, so if you are like me, and just take “organic” to be synonymous with “quality” then you might be tempted by this one. Sun Basket taught me a very valuable lesson about produce though. Organic dos not always equal quality. Sun Basket had the lowest quality produce of any of the meal kits we tried. Many of the vegetables were pre-chopped, who knows when, and so were completely dried out with zero flavor remaining by the time they arrived. A lot of the sauces and bases were also already pre-mixed, leaving me wondering what was inside, but hey, it was all organic, so I shouldn’t care, right?

I have never been a fan of vegetables that have already been cut up. They are usually already dried out. 


Pre-mixed Sun Basket coleslaw dressing base - but what is it? 


The finished meal quality was about on par with the quality of the ingredients - highly lacking. A lot of the recipes seemed as though they hadn’t been tested before being published and packaged. There was an instance with a black bean quinoa burger that comes to mind. Now granted I’m no expert chef (hence the need for a box of ingredients and instructions on my doorstep), but I follow direction well and after an entire summer of HelloFresh, never once had an issue with a recipe not turning out the way it was supposed to. The black bean quinoa burger recipe suggested that the cooking time would be 35-40 minutes. I spent two very frustrating hours in the kitchen, smoked up the entire apartment, completely ruined our new, expensive, non-stick pan, and ended up with 8 oversized, overcooked burger patties that crumbled when touched, to go with the 4 little buns that also came with the kit. We ended up scrapping the burgers and turning the black beans and quinoa into burrito bowls.

The black bean burger fiasco...


The packaging also bothered me. All materials were recyclable, but only if your recycling center accepts those types of plastics. Everything came in a thick, plastic container. We live in an area without recycling, and so have become uber sensitive about the amount of waste we generate. All that plastic went into the trash, and let me tell you, there was an unnecessary amount of plastic. I felt sick throwing our bag of plastic containers away after every meal. Please avoid this service unless you live in an area with proper recycling.

Why so much plastic?!


This is the meal kit for you if you care more about tag words such as “organic,” “clean,” “responsibly sourced,” and “gluten free,” than you care about the actual quality.

Purple Carrot


Overall Rating: 3/5
Biggest Pro: Best selection of plant-based meals
Biggest Con: Price
Non-Discounted Price Per Meal: $12.00

Purple Carrot is well known for being 100% vegan. The website is easy to use but they do not offer an app. The serving sizes were sufficient and did not leave us hungry despite vegan foods usually being lower in calories. The ingredients and finished meal quality were all on par with HelloFresh. Each week had six different vegan meals to choose from, with variety from light meals such as salads and hummus bowls, to more hearty meals such as quesadillas and bourguignon. I really enjoyed the options on this one. Purple Carrot does not offer nearly as many discounts and promotions as the other food kits, making it one of the pricier subscriptions out there. When I first became a vegetarian, I was saving money by not eating meat. When did eating vegetables become the expensive way to eat?

Out of the box - Purple Carrot menu & pre-measured ingredients for Rigatoni Arrabbiata 


Edit: I originally rated this one 4/5 but had to drop a point after some unsettling input from my sister who also tried the subscription. I never had any problems with the ingredients being anything less than fresh, but my sister received expired seitan on two separate occasions. Not just a few days expired either, but three months! When customer service was contacted, they apologized, refunded her $15, and said they would get to the bottom of the issue, claiming it was not something that happened frequently.

The finished product - Mushroom Bourguignon from Purple Carrot


This is the meal kit for you if you are a strict vegan, or wanting to incorporate more vegan foods into your lifestyle, and the price tag doesn't scare you away. 

Blue Apron


Overall Rating: 3/5
Biggest Pro: Consistent quality
Biggest Con: No vegetarian option for 4-servings
Non-Discounted Price Per Meal: $7.49 - $9.99 (depending on the plan)

Blue Apron is one of the better known meals kits out there. The website and the app are both easy to use, although canceling took a little bit of searching around for. I finally found instructions to email cancellations@blueapron.com, and figured that someone on the company’s end would have to cancel the subscription for me. A form letter was returned though with instructions on which buttons to click to cancel.

Out of the box - pre-measured ingredients for Lemon-Butter Scallops from Blue Apron


The ingredients were all good quality, 100% of the eggs were pasture-raised. We received fresh noodles a few times which was a treat. The finished meals were almost as good as HelloFresh. Almost. A little extra something was usually missing to round out the flavors though. Preparation was slightly more advanced than some of the other kits, although still suitable for a beginner. The biggest difference was that the instructions actually told you how you should be multi-tasking.

Kudos to Blue Apron for the cardboard packaging on their sesame oil.


Blue Apron offers four different plans: 2-Serving Signature (choose from any of their 14 meals), 2-Serving Freestyle (choose from the 6 recipes that accommodate weight watchers), 2-Serving Vegetarian (choose from 3 vegetarian meals), and 4-Serving Signature. The serving sizes were smaller than some of the other meals plans, and so still being hungry after several of the meals, we tried to upgrade to the 4-serving plan. With all of the other food kits, any of the meals were available in 2-servings or 4-servings. Strangely, Blue Apron has an entirely different menu for their 4-serving plan, which only includes one vegetarian option, and does not accommodate a chicken-less diet.

The finished product - Austin-Style Breakfast Tacos from Blue Apron


This is the meal kit for you if you have a family who likes chicken.

Green Chef


Overall Rating: 4/5
Biggest Pro: Variety of choices and the quality to go with it
Biggest Con: Price
Non-Discounted Price Per Meal: $10.99 - $12.99 (depending on the plan)

Green Chef arrived on our doorstep and the box looked suspiciously like HelloFresh’s box. We opened her up and the contents were very reminiscent of HelloFresh as well; similar recipe cards, the same paper bags and labels. Come to find out that HelloFresh did acquire Green Chef a year or so ago. So the quality is all strikingly similar, but there are more options for more dietary needs, and a steeper price tag to make you reconsider if the options are really worth it.

Kudos to Green Chef and HelloFresh for using paper bags.

This one has an easy to use website, makes it simple to skip weeks and cancel, but does not offer an app.

The ingredients are all USDA certified organic, and unlike Sun Basket, they are all fresh and good quality. One week we received some of the prettiest kale I had ever seen. Yes, I just called kale pretty. It was purple! The portions were all a good amount of food and we were never left wanting more. The packaging is as minimal as they can get away with, and their website includes clear instructions on how to recycle every item in the box (but again, you have to live in an area with recycling).

The finished product - Corn Pesto Flatbreads from Green Chef

Available plans to choose from include Pescatarian (5 meals to choose from), Keto (5 options), Paleo (5 options), Heart Smart (5 options), Omnivore (6 options), Vegan (3 options), Mediterranean (4 options), Vegetarian (5 options), Gluten-Free (5 options), and Lean & Clean (4 options). The only downside to all these options is that there is no Chef’s Choice that allows you to mix and match between all the recipes available. Once you choose a category, you only have the options within that category. You can swap over to another category the following week though.

This is the meal kit for you if you have dietary restrictions or don’t mind paying more for organic.

Marley Spoon


Overall Rating: 2/5
Biggest Pro: Price
Biggest Con: Recipes are very hit or miss
Non-Discounted Price Per Meal: $8.70 - $12.00 (depending on the plan)

I really had much higher hopes for Martha Stewart’s meal kit. It was almost as disappointing as Sun Basket though. The only reason I gave it one extra point was because we did get a couple good recipes out of it. (The Thai-style veggie fried rice was surprisingly flavorful). Most of them were just plain bland though. The first one we tried was a white bean & swiss chard stew. I don’t know if she learned how to make it in prison or what, but it reminded me of the cabbage stew that poor little Charlie Bucket had to eat every night in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, because his family was too poor to afford anything else. This stew had one spice, and that was paprika. The rest was water and beans and leafy greens. No stock, or bouillon, or anything beyond a bit of paprika.

I’m thinking that Martha Stewart doesn’t cross over into the realm of vegetarianism very often, because the bean stew offered the most protein out of the six meals that we tried. Most of them were pastas and fried rice and nothing but carbs. The cheese would have added some protein but another complaint was that she seriously skimped on the cheese. The recipes called for enough, but the handful of individually packaged, bite-sized cheese morsels sent in the kit never added up to anywhere near the amount that the recipes called for.

We chose a lot of recipes that called for a good amount of cheese. All we ever received in the box were a handful of these individually-packaged, bite-sized parmesans. 


The other things that bothered me about Martha’s meal kit included the packaging. Lots of the produce came shrink wrapped to styrofoam trays. Martha was the only meal kit that sent styrofoam, a material that is harder to recycle than plastic and never decomposes. Sorry turtles. The produce, like the recipes, was very hit or miss. Many of the limes were too dry to get any juice out of, and the garlic was in sad shape. What Martha lacked in spices, she made up for in oil usage (not included in the box). Many of the recipes called for 1/4 cup here, 1/4 there, whereas recipes from other meal kits never called for more than “a drizzle” unless it was to make a dressing. Finally, the portions were lacking. Whether this was because they were too small, or because we were eating mostly carbs and therefor not getting much in the way of protein or nutrients, is up for debate.

This is the meal kit for you if you are a fan of Martha Stewart and her name is the only thing that matters to you. I honestly can't think of another reason to spend money on this.



Conclusion


HelloFresh was the clear winner in our household, as it offers consistently good quality, doesn't cost as much as some of the other kits, and has the least amount of packaging. If you are a strict vegan, I would check out Purple Carrot, as they offered more vegan options than any of the other kits. If you have other dietary restrictions, skip Sun Basket and go straight to Green Chef, as their quality is far superior. 

Coming soon: How to take advantage of different plans' discounts and eat for cheap!