We Tried Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Their 4 Competitors—One Was Clearly the Best

Since this article was published, I have reviewed even more subscription meal services. Go here to check out the Observer’s full guide to these companies, which includes an infographic that will help you decide which is right for you based on your diet and other preferences. 

Typical restaurant food delivery will always be in style, but services that deliver the ingredients to create your own meal at home are surging in popularity. You’ve probably heard of some of the biggest names in the business like Plated, Hello Fresh and Blue Apron, which have collectively raised more than 527.9 million in investments over the past three years. The clear demand for a home-cooked meal without the hassle has led to the launch of more competitors such as Home Chef, Purple Carrot (which specializes in vegan food) and Peach Dish (which serves healthy, Southern-inspired meals).

These companies all promise a few things, mainly delicious food and convenience. The idea is that it’s all right there for you and all you have to do is cook. Their membership plans vary, but essentially they ship recipe cards and the necessary pre-portioned ingredients to your house in insulated packaging. You never have to figure out how to use the rest of the mushrooms you bought for that one recipe because they only send what you need, and there’s no food waste.

SEE ALSO: We Tried Meal Kits That Are Supposedly Healthier Than Blue Apron—Here’s How They Rank

I wanted to get a sense of how these companies compare, so I put them to the test and tried all six of the aforementioned recipe delivery services. What I discovered is that although the concept is the same, the way these companies execute it is very different. Some have truly amazing meals, while others are serving food that is O.K. at best. Some have a huge variety of recipe options, while others only have a handful or don’t even let you choose your meals (they do all have vegetarian options). Some have a lot of recipe kinks, but others are expertly crafted.

The main thing I discovered, though, is that one of these services is far better than the rest—and which one that is may surprise you.

Blue Apron

Mushroom brown butter cavatelli. (Photo: Blue Apron)

Mushroom brown butter cavatelli. (Photo: Blue Apron) Photo: Blue Apron

The price:
-For two: $59.99 ($9.99 per serving) for three meals, six total servings
-Family plan: $69.92 ($8.74 per serving) for either two or four meals, eight total servings
Free shipping

The plan:
Blue Apron lets you choose from the above plans, choose which day of the week your box will arrive and choose your recipes for each week. For the smaller plan, you have six meals to choose from each week. For the family plan (for which you choose to receive either two or four meals), you have only four meals to choose from. This is a subscription service, meaning a box is set to come every week. However, you can skip a week or cancel at any time.

Recipes I tried:
1) Mushroom brown butter cavatelli, with kale and soft-boiled eggs
2) Trattoria-style cheeseburger, with rosemary-garlic potatoes and aioli
3) Coconut curry-braised cauliflower, with aromatic basmati rice and cilantro chutney

Pros and cons of my experience:
+ All of the food was pretty good.
+ Recipes were detailed and easy to follow.
– All of the ingredients were thrown in the box together, not separated by meal like they were with every other service.
– Since some of my recipes required the same ingredients in different amounts (mainly spices), I had to be extra careful to make sure I used the correct portion with the correct meal. For me, this basically canceled out the promised convenience of pre-portioned ingredients.
-Only calorie information was listed on recipe card, while other services list full nutrition facts.

Overall, Blue Apron’s food was among the best from the services I tried. The convenience, however, wasn’t there. I also feel their selection is lacking. There are only six meals to choose from, and while the dishes themselves change each week, there still isn’t a ton of variety. Every new menu has one chicken dish, one seafood dish, one salad dish, one soup/stew/chili dish and one that is either pork or beef.

My rating:
3/5

Hello Fresh

California-style cheeseburger. (Photo: Hello Fresh)

California-style cheeseburger. (Photo: Hello Fresh) Photo: Hello Fresh

The price:
-Classic box for two: $69.00 ($11.50 per serving) for three meals, six total servings
-Veggie box for two: $59.99 ($9.99 and up per serving) for three meals, six total servings
-Family box: $105.00 ($8.75 and up per serving) for three meals for four people
Free shipping

The plan:
Unlike most others on this list, Hello Fresh doesn’t prompt you to choose the specific meals you’ll receive. Previously, you chose vegetarian or non-vegetarian and your meals would be a complete surprise, but the company recently added and option for “picky eaters” to choose their meals. Still, this is not a part of the process. You have to manually go into your settings and choose meals to swap each week (there are only five available), and you have to do it before their deadline. Hello Fresh is also a flex subscription service, meaning you’re set to receive a box every week, but you can skip a week and cancel at any time.

Recipes I tried:
(Note: I didn’t choose these. I wasn’t even aware of the “swap” option)
1) Pan-seared garlic chicken, with potatoes huancaína
2) California-style cheeseburger, with secret sauce and onion rings
3) Mushroom and leek tagliatelle

Pros and cons of my experience:
+ In addition to calories, fats, carbohydrates, protein, fiber and sodium values were listed on the recipe cards.
+ There was less packaging than other services and it was all cardboard instead of plastic.
+ My box came with a Hello Fresh apron and rubber spatula. Random, but not a bad bonus.
– These recipes were not healthy at all, which especially irked me since I didn’t choose them.
– There was a ton of extra food. I was given a giant tomato when I only needed two slices for the burgers and more than three times as much lettuce as I needed.
– There was way more of each spice than needed. This was not only wasteful, but it wasn’t convenient and pre-portioned. I still had to measure out each spice.
– I followed the recipe exactly and tried with great determination, but the bread crumbs just would not stay on the onion rings. This part of the recipe was a major fail.
– Cheeseburgers, pasta and grilled chicken are pretty basic foods I can confidently cook without the help of recipes. Not only did these meals lack originality (the cheeseburger recipe basically says they’re copying In-N-Out), but I think it would’ve actually been easier and faster for me to cook them on my own.

Overall, I wasn’t very impressed with Hello Fresh. The food was just O.K., and the process certainly wasn’t as convenient as these services can be.

My rating:
1.5/5

Peach Dish

Zeb's chicken and dumplings (Photo: Peach Dish)

Zeb Stevenson’s chicken and dumplings. (Photo: Peach Dish) Photo: Peach Dish

The price:
-$25 meal, two total servings
-$50 meal, four total servings
-$90 meal, eight total servings
-$130 meal, 12 total servings
Free shipping

The plan:
Peach Dish works slightly differently than most of these plans, but it’s a simple system. Rather than keeping you to a set number of meals, you can choose however many you want, and then you choose how many servings you want (two minimum). There’s no subscription and the selection is good, with eight meals available each week.

Recipes I tried:
1) Hanger steak with mushroom-shallot sauce, and a kale and apple salad
2) Zeb Stevenson’s chicken and dumplings

Pros and cons of my experience:
+ These meals were extremely delicious.
+ Not only is there a wide variety of options, they’re great options and recipes I wouldn’t normally think to make.
+ The recipes were detailed and easy to follow.
+ The recipe cards included full nutritional information as well as bios of the recipes’ chefs.
+ As a bonus, my box also came with some surprise snacks, including oranges and chocolate chip cookies.
– The apple was a bit browned, but the other produce was fresh.
– At $12.50 per serving, the price is steep compared to the other services.

Overall, I really liked Peach Dish. The options are great and the food was delicious, and there’s a lot of opportunity to have healthy meals with this company. Besides that, all of their ingredients are sourced regionally and seasonally in Georgia where they’re based, and information about all of their suppliers is listed on their website. The only thing holding Peach Dish back is their price.

My rating:
4/5

Plated

Shakshuka with Turkey, Kale, and Chickpeas. (Photo: Plated)

Shakshuka with turkey, kale and chickpeas. (Photo: Plated) Plated

The price:
-Two meals for two: $48 ($12 per serving) for four total servings
-Three meals for two: $72 ($12 per serving) for six total servings
-Four meals for two: $96 ($12 per serving) for eight total servings
Two meal box costs $6 to ship, while all larger boxes ship for free

The plan:
Log on each week to choose your meals from their weekly menu of six dinners and two desserts. It’s a weekly subscription, but you can change plans, skip a week or cancel at any time.

Recipes I tried:
1) Butternut squash mac and cheese with kale
2) Shakshuka with turkey, kale and chickpeas
3) Apple crisp with pecans

Pros and cons of my experience:
+ The food was delicious. (Shaksuka is my new favorite food!)
– Not a huge deal, but a few of the ingredients weren’t correct. For example, spinach was sent instead of kale and canned whole tomatoes were sent instead of diced tomatoes. (I didn’t realize this last blunder until after I already emptied the can into the pan, and I ended up trying to dice them while they cooked. It was challenging.)
– Two eggs were required but were not included. Luckily, I had some on hand.
– The directions were not always clear. For example, the cooking time on the bag of pasta for the mac and cheese was different from what was written on the recipe card.
– Only calorie information was included on the cards.

Overall, these cons were enough to make the cooking process a little more frustrating, but the food was good enough to make up for the trouble. The prices, though, are also a little too high.

My rating:
3/5

Home Chef

(Photo: Home Chef)

Thyme- and rosemary-roasted pork tenderloin. (Photo: Home Chef) Photo: Home Chef

The price:
-$9.95 per serving on meals
-$4.95 per serving on smoothies and fruit selections
Free shipping when you order three or more meals, or else shipping is $10 (but often free anyway with promotions)

The plan:
When you create your Home Chef account, you choose how many meals you want to receive each week (from two up to seven) and how many servings of each (either two or four), and you’re then charged per serving. As per usual, you can change your plan at any time. Home Chef has the largest variety of meals out of any of these services. Each week, 10 dinners are available as are one smoothie recipe and one bag of season fruit. When you sign up, you’re also asked to answer a few questions about your eating habits and desires (do you have any allergies? prioritize low-carb meals?, etc.), which the system uses to recommend meals. 

Recipes I tried:
1) Thyme- and rosemary-roasted pork tenderloin, with apple cider sauce and broccoli mash
2) Black bean burger, with roasted sweet potato fries
3) Mushroom parmesan penne pasta, with basil, tomatoes and a side of toasted baguette
4) Kale and avocado fall detox smoothie
5) S’mores smoothie

Pros and cons of my experience:
+ The food was pretty good, and the bread was surprisingly fresh and delicious.
+ The recipe cards included wine and beer pairings.
+ The recipes included some nice cooking tips that can be used beyond these recipes
+ Calories, fats, carbohydrates, protein, fiber and sodium values were listed on the recipe cards.
– There was an unnecessary amount of packaging and it was all plastic. It seemed very wasteful.
– The spices weren’t all labeled and the basil was slightly wilted.

Overall, Home Chef has a lot of good things going for it. The options and variety of recipes is by far the best, and when you go on the site to choose your meals, everything from allergens to low-calorie and low-carb indicators are clear and visible before you even click the recipes. The food was all pretty good and simple to make.

My rating:
3.5/5

Purple Carrot

(Photo: Purple Carrot)

Tofu larb with crisp noodle. (Photo: Purple Carrot) Photo: Purple carrot

The price:
-For two: $68 ($11.33 per serving) for three meals, six total servings
-For four: $74 ($9.25 per servings) for two meals eight total servings
Free Shipping

The plan: 
The first thing to note is that Purple Carrot’s meals are vegan and curated for you, meaning you don’t choose them, and there is no option to swap them out for others. It is another flex subscription service, though, so you can skip a week or cancel your plan whenever you choose.

Recipes I tried:
(Note: to be clear, I didn’t choose these)
1) Tofu larb with crisp noodle pancake and all the trimmings
2) Khatti dal with fresh pear chutney
3) Latkes with cran-apple compote and vegan sour cream

Pros and cons of my experience:
+ The meals were yummy and creative vegan dishes.
– The boxes are not labeled as perishable
– Only lists calories, carbohydrates and protein on the recipe cards.
– There was a lot of extra packaging. Individual apples were wrapped in a thin layer of foam, for example.
– For a few ingredients, the measurements labeled on the packages were different than what was listed in the recipe. It got confusing.
– The recipes weren’t always clear and easy to follow. Several times, I was instructed to simply “cook,” with no indication of how hot the burner should be.
– There was more than double what was needed of a few of the ingredients.
– These recipes all said they wold take 40 or 45 minutes, which is longer than the times stated for the recipes from the other services. What’s more, these actually ended up taking closer to an hour.

Overall, I was disappointed with Purple Carrot. The food was good, but it couldn’t make up for the many other problems. One issue really did it in for me—the lack of perishable label on the delivery box. I actually had to attempt Purple Carrot twice, for the first time, my food had all gone bad when I opened the box. All of these companies ship with insulated packaging and ice packs, but that only lasts so long. Only Purple Carrot didn’t label the box as perishable, and only theirs was bad when I received it. After that first package, I contacted the company and told them my food was rotten. I said I didn’t know if it was UPS or the fact that I live in a very large apartment building and mail doesn’t always get pushed through the system the exact day it arrives, but asked for another package and requested they make sure to mark it as perishable. When it arrived, AGAIN, it wasn’t labeled to be food, but nothing had gone bad and I was able to make the meals.

My rating:
1/5

And the winner is… Peach Dish

This may come as a surprise, for Hello Fresh, Blue Apron and Plated have the name recognition and are the ones advertising all over social media, offering free meals and money off your first order. They’ve even begun buying television ads. I personally hadn’t even heard of Peach Dish until I began researching for this article, but I’m glad I found it. The meals are delicious, their options are great, and from ordering to cooking, everything just went so smoothly with this company. Plus, with the surprise snacks and profiles of their chefs and suppliers, everything felt more personal and well, home cooked. If you can get over the price tag, order from Peach Dish. Available for a cheaper cost, Home Chef comes in a close second with tasty food and large and varied menu.

In general, though, I’d say these services are not for everyone, or at least not to be used weekly. After the first few weeks of this, I was tired of coming home each night and cooking a whole meal. I’m the type of person that often makes a big batch of something and eats it for a few meals, and other nights, I throw together a quick sandwich, wrap or salad. I also like having leftovers to bring to work the next day for lunch—these services don’t really allow for that. If you’re like me, try this here and there, but don’t count on it being your main source of food. It’s a great way to learn about new foods you wouldn’t usually cook, however. I’m now obsessed with shakshuka and am dying to make those chicken and dumplings again.

Convenience and non-waste are the allures of these services, but other than the facts that I didn’t have to think too hard about what to make for dinner and the groceries arrived at my door, it wasn’t that much of a time or energy saver. I still had to chop all the ingredients and prepare the food, and while following a recipe, it actually took longer than if I threw something together myself. The other issue is all of the packing. There’s a ton of packaging involved to keep the food cold, and I now have a few dozen ice packs in my apartment. I have no use for them and I don’t want to throw them away, so they’re just sitting there. These services all do have recycling programs where you can ship back your ice packs, but that is more of a pain than just going to the grocery store and buying these ingredients in the first place.

Disclosure: All orders were completed with a free trial.

We Tried Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Their 4 Competitors—One Was Clearly the Best