Cooking three meals a day at home is like an unpaid full-time job. To save time in the kitchen, some busy people order takeout, some look to devices like slow cookers and pressure cookers, and others try home-delivery meal services.
If you want to use a meal kit service, you have to decide which one to go with. With so many options now available, factors like price, delivery schedules, dietary needs, and taste (of course) all come into play. To help you choose which meal kit is right for you, we compared two of the most popular options, HelloFresh and Blue Apron, the latter of which has a cloudy future (see final section).
Which meal service should you choose? The side-by-side breakdown below provides an in-depth explanation of each service in terms of price, diet options, food quality, shipping, and taste. Let’s find out which meal service attains culinary dominance.
Pricing: Ranges from $9 to $10 per serving. HelloFresh also tends to offer a lot of discounts and deals throughout the year. Depending on what you choose, it’s easy to find free shipping deals, major discounts on price per serving, and more.
Options for those with dietary limitations: Three vegetarian recipe options are included in the classic plan each week, so you can order a vegetarian meal plan. You can find some meals that happen to be gluten-free or dairy-free (and are labeled accordingly), but HelloFresh does not have plans that are specifically designed for customers with these dietary restrictions. However, it is generally easy to find meal options that use Beyond Meat or other meat substitutes.
Food selection, variety, and quality: When first signing up, you have a choice between a meat-and-veggies focus, a veggie focus, a family-friendly focus (meals that kids will like and that are generally faster to prepare), and a low-calorie focus (under 650 calories for a serving, although this does vary a bit in practice). You then customize the number of people and the recipes you want per week. Finally, you curate and build your menu every week from 20 different rotating recipes.
The recipes have improved in recent years, and picking your weekly
Not all of their ingredients are organic, but there appears to be an emphasis on using quality ingredients. The service has partnered with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for recipes and continues to make partnerships with suppliers around the country. The company famously says it tests every recipe 45 times to make sure it’s worth including.
Packaging and shipping: HelloFresh assumes customers have salt, pepper, sugar, oil, and butter already on hand, so they don’t include those ingredients in the meal box. The company preportions and packs the ingredients for each meal in individual kits, and packs the refrigerated products with food-safe materials (insulating liners, gel packs, and cooling material) that keep the ingredients fresh. Each meal also includes a recipe card with very easy, step-by-step instructions, nutritional information, and an ingredients list.
HelloFresh charges $7 for shipping, and on your delivery day, there’s a window between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. when your meals will arrive.
Taste and meal preparation: The recipes we tried — figgy balsamic pork and beef rice noodle bowls — were both very tasty and very easy to prepare. It took 38 minutes to prepare the pork recipe and 32 minutes to prepare the noodle bowls (including reading the recipe and getting the kitchen prepared with all of the necessary pans and utensils).
Based on reviews from Consumer Affairs and social media sites, the overall consensus from customers is that the meals taste very good and the preparation is pretty painless.
- Tasty foods
- Excellent packaging
- Variety of recipes
- Healthy meals
- Vegetarian options
- Calorie-smart options
- Excellent customer service and a strong focus on customer feedback
- You can skip weeks
- Easy to cancel
- Plenty of recipes to help you cook on your own, too
- Long delivery time window
- Price is a bit steep considering some of the meals
- You have to pay for shipping (although a variety of discounts can qualify you for free shipping)
- Not all ingredients are organic
- Few specific dietary options
Pricing: Between $9 and $10 per serving.
Options for those with dietary limitations: Blue Apron offers an all-vegetarian plan. It is even starting to offer Beyond Meat products, such as plant-based patties. It can also provide options for those who don’t eat fish or red meat, for instance. The meal delivery service does not, however, have specific meals or plans for those with food allergies. Customers can choose the recipes that arrive in their boxes if they like, though.
Food quality and variety: Blue Apron says on its website that it works with more than 100 family-run farms that use sustainable farming practices. Many of the ingredients are organic, but not all of them.
Blue Apron offers about six different meals to choose from each week, depending on your plan. Customers have access to nutritional and allergy information for each meal.
Packaging and shipping: Blue Apron uses insulated thermal packaging liners and refrigerants to help promote freshness and maintain safe temperatures. The company also assesses its packaging regularly, making adjustments based on factors like weather conditions when appropriate.
In the box, you get premeasured and labeled ingredients for each meal and comprehensive recipe guides that include pictures, nutritional information, and step-by-step instructions. Blue Apron assumes you have salt, pepper, and olive oil at home, so those ingredients are not provided.
The day your shipment arrives will depend on your area. You may have different options for delivery based on where you’re located. The shipping cost is free for the signature four-serving plan, and for the three-recipe-per-week plans. The shipping cost is $8 for the two-serving, two-recipe plans.
Taste and meal preparation: We tried the broccoli risotto and eggs, as well as a salmon and vegetable dish. Both dishes were delicious. The risotto and egg dish took 41 minutes to prepare, and the salmon took 39 minutes. We did have to do a bit more prep for some of the ingredients, which added on a bit of extra time.
Blue Apron has overall positive reviews. While most customers enjoy Blue Apron, some customers complain about its packaging and how difficult it is to cancel. But others rave about how much they love the food and how great the customer service is. Taste is the biggest area where Blue Apron thrives.
Blue Apron benefits
- Exceptional taste (better than HelloFresh, in our opinion)
- Easy to prepare
- Vegetarian, diabetes-friendly, and other helpful diet labels
- Healthy options (it teamed up with Weight Watchers Reimagined to create healthy recipes for the Weight Watchers Freestyle plan)
- Freshness guarantee
- Free/included shipping with some plans
- You can skip weeks
Blue Apron negatives
- Difficult to cancel subscription (you have to email for cancellation instructions)
- Less variety
- Difficult to find meal options for those with food allergies
- Price is high for some of the meals
- Long delivery time windows
- Packaging could be better
If judged by taste alone, we would pick Blue Apron based on how delicious their meals were. Blue Apron is also the best pick for more restricted diets based on their recipe information. However, HelloFresh has seen improvement and is a great option for ease of use — it may also be easier for families or people short on time, although both services offer a great variety of weekly recipes to choose from.
Update: The future of Blue Apron
Blue Apron has been struggling for the past few years — especially when it comes to finances. At one point in 2018, investors even sued the company, so it’s no surprise that current stocks for Blue Apron aren’t exactly great. The company also reported massive losses in the final quarter of 2019, and continues to lose customers.
Right now, Blue Apron is trying to survive through a lot of layoffs and the shutting down of warehouses, which may affect availability in some areas, as well as what recipes the company can offer. These products may be adjusted rapidly, so keep in mind that the information above may change. The latest word is that the company is looking for a buyer, although no one seems interested right now. If the company can’t be sold, it’s possible that it will shut down, possibly in 2020. If this happens, we’ll be sure to give you an update and provide alternative information that you can use.
On the plus side, the struggles of Blue Apron have been a boon to HelloFresh, which continues to add customers and grow — in 2019 it surpassed Blue Apron to become the largest company in the market. This makes it a more viable option than ever, at least for those living on the mainland U.S.
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