Sunday, February 14, 2016

My Take on The Food Delivery Services

About a year ago, we found ourselves in a common rut: we were tired of everything we knew how to cook at home, worn thin on the local takeout options, and not sure how to shake things up. That's when I started seeing ads on Facebook for different food delivery services, and armed with a coupon, decided to give one of them a try. Now, over a year later, we have tried three of them: Blue Apron, Hello Fresh,  and Home Chef. They have changed how we eat, made me a better cook, and made the formerly dreadful task of making dinner something I actually look forward to.
Thai Chicken Meatballs

I've been asked which of the three I like best, and that's not an easy question to let me break it down with some pros and cons for each:

Blue Apron

This was the first service we tried, and I would imagine it is probably the most well known, because I constantly see ads for it on TV and the web. For $9.95 per meal, it's a great value, and priced right along with the others. For just under $60 a week, we got three delicious, fine-restaurant quality meals. Even if we ultimately decided that a certain dish wasn't something we would care to try again, we could appreciate the complexity of flavor, layering of texture, and real artistry of the Blue Apron meals. The biggest downside for me was the prep time. It was not at all unusual for it take two hours to make a Blue Apron meal. The ingredients come garden fresh and in their natural state, so if a recipe calls for three different vegetables and four fresh herbs, there is going to be a lot of prep time getting everything ready.  What ultimately swayed us from continuing with Blue Apron was that the menus became a little TOO artistic. My better half is not an adventurous eater, and there were just too many weeks where the unpronounceable meals were picked at and pushed around the plate before going in the trash. Each week, there are several meal options, and you have some flexibility in picking which meals you will receive, but don't have carte blanche to pick any three you want. (Picking meal "a" might mean that meal "d" can't be ordered in combination.) If you have the time to spend and like trying new and unusual dishes, then Blue Apron is for you...their meals are artistry!
Chicken Sate

Hello Fresh 

Hello Fresh was the second service we subscribed to.  The recipes were unusual enough to satisfy my adventurous palette,  but familiar enough to (mostly) please my picky eater. Prep time was generally less than Blue Apron meals, so we could make them on weeknights after work and still eat before the eleven o clock news came on. Hello Fresh was the most expensive of the three we have tried, at $69 a week for three meals for two. Like Blue Apron, there are several meal choices each week--usually at least one beef, chicken, pork, fish, and vegetarian option. Fairly new is a partnership with Chef Jamie Oliver, who designs one recipe per week. Hello Fresh is perfect for cooks who don't want to spend all night in the kitchen, but still want to try new things.
Cod with pickled grapes

Home Chef

Home Chef is the subscription service we are currently using. It's priced identically to Blue Apron at $9.95 per meal. The flexibility and options with Home Chef are better than either of the other two. Each week, there are ten dinners to choose from, and you can put together any combination you want. There is also a breakfast option each week, a dessert option, and specialty menus for special occasions. (For example, there was a Valentine's menu of Filet Mignon that included chocolate mousse) The menus are not as adventurous as their competitors, but that's actually a plus in our house. I would describe their meals as "new takes on old favorites." Some of our favorites have been simple "beef and potatoes" dishes, but finished off with simple but flavorful sauces or complexly flavored compound butters. The time to prepare their meals is generally less...from start to finish in 30 minutes is the norm.

Butternut Squash Pizza

Overall, each of these services are a good value. I've tried to recreate meals from their recipes on several occasions, and have always spent at least as much as what it took to order them, largely because the small quantities of some ingredients aren't available. (If you just need a pinch of fresh dill, for example, good luck finding that at the grocery.) My biggest grumble with any of them is the packaging. They come in a cardboard box with an inner "cooler" type liner that is filled with ice packs. It's a lot of waste. I've read on social media that each of them are looking at ways to reduce that. (On the upside, the packaging does protect delicate ingredients, and keeps the food cold even when the FedEx man leaves it on our sunny front porch for half a day.) Customer service with each company is great...problems are rare. I've had the occasional missing ingredient, and one time a damaged box meant our food was ruined, but in each case, customer service took care of the problem quickly.

So which would I recommend? If I only had to pick one, for us, it would be Home Chef.

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