These meal plan boxes first came out a few years ago and instantly became popular. I mean, what’s not to like. It promised portioned out foods for recipes selected by the user to make every day meal prep so much easier. When they first came out, I was very interested in giving them a try, but with my dad being a judgy chef and all, I never really did. Plus, giving them a few more years would show me whether it was worth the investment or not and give them a chance to iron out any kinks they had, technologically or tactically.
The goal for me is to try out all the meal plan box companies and determine which one is most superior based on my experience.
I decided to go with Hello Fresh first because we received a coupon for 55% off of the first box for all new members. At the time, most of the other box companies, goodfood and Chef’s Plate, were only offering 50% off. My first step was to investigate which recipes were available for the three plan boxes they had, all of them include free shipping.
The pronto plan box, priced at $13.33/serving, is meant to make preparation quick and easy, promising that recipes would take less than 30 minutes to make. The pronto plan allows the user to select whether it will be for 2 or 4 people and how many recipes, 3 or 4, for the week. Taking the number of people and multiplying it by the number of recipes will get you the number of serving sizes and thus the price of this box, which ranges from $79.98 – $213.28. The recipes that were available for the week in question were Coriander-Spiced Pork with Fragrant Couscous and Herby Salsa; Chimichurri Burgers with Avocado, Monterey Jack, and Cabbage slaw; Turkey Milanese with Pesto Greens and Creamy Potatoes; Peanut Satay Noodle Stir-fry with Sugar Snap Peas, Red Bell Pepper, and Thai Basil; and Pesto Chicken with Lemony Couscous and Zucchini Salad.
The family plan box, priced at $10.83/serving, advertises that the recipes in this plan will encourage everyone to get into the kitchen and that everyone would enjoy dinner together, including the picky eaters. The standard size for a family is set at 4 and cannot be changed, but the user can select 3 or 4 recipes, putting the price range for this box at $129.96 – $173.28. This is the box we selected, going with 3 recipes. The recipes available for the week in question were Seared Pork Tenderloin with Green Beans, Roasted Potatoes and Tarragon sauce; Retro Burger with Caramelized Onions and Creamy Potato Salad; Crispy Chicken Parmigiana with Cucumber-Apple Salad; Pork and Parmesan Patties with Butternut Squash Mash and Green Beans; and Crunchy Potato Chip Chicken with Cheesy Cauliflower and Green Peas. We selected the Seared Pork Tenderloin, Crispy Chicken Parmigiana, and Pork and Parmesan Patties.
The final box is the veggie plan box, priced at $12.33/serving which is as the name indicates, a vegetarian option. While I’m not a vegetarian, I do appreciate that it includes a box to accommodate those who are and having seen some of those recipes, I am not opposed to trying this box out in the future. Besides, I rarely get enough veggies in my life to begin with, so it wouldn’t hurt to try. This box is the most limited of the three boxes. It is set at 2 people and 3 recipes with no room for selecting otherwise, which sets the price of the box at $73.98. The recipes available for the week in question included the Peanut Satay Noodle Stir-fry (same as in the pronto meal); Veggie Chili with Tortilla Chips and Sour Cream; and Spinach and Feta Pie with Cucumber-Olive Salad. In other words, there are exactly 3 recipes so there were no other choices for alternative recipes that week.
Before I dive in and describe the whole food making process and delivery, I will share with you the ordering process. So this meal plan box acts like a subscription service (I’m not sure if the others are like this as this is my first one, but with time I shall either confirm or deny). If you don’t see a recipe you like or you just don’t want the meal box for that week, you can have that week skipped. If you had just wanted to try for the one week, then after you receive your order you can simply just cancel. The thing I love most is that I only have to pay for the boxes I ordered.
When I was first setting up, the site kept crashing on me. It would load the menu pages one time, but then later, upon revisiting, it would say that the page either did not exist or was unavailable at the time (due to maintenance or something). No matter, I pressed on, adding the plan I wanted to my shopping cart and checking out. I entered my credit card info in as well as the promo code and then it crashed. I wasn’t able to get back into it all night and wasn’t sure if my credit card had actually gone through. So the next day, I checked again on a PC (I have a Mac now) and on a different browser and it didn’t have any record of my purchase going through the night before. Okay, fine, so I put in another order and put in my credit card and promo code. Everything went well. It went through and then I got my receipt by email and it had charged me full price. I was furious. So I did what I do best. Write a very strongly worded email expressing my dissatisfaction with the situation.
Then I waited. The website said it would take at least 2 business days for me to receive a response to my inquiry. The first email I received stated that unfortunately my credit card had been charged before my promo code had been applied. Well no kidding! After a bit of correspondence, they said that I would get a full refund, but my meal box would still come. In the end, I didn’t get a full refund, but that partial refund was still worth it. I am very impressed with how customer service handled my complaint and as a result, has made me more likely to come back to this particular company than I would have had they refused to refund me.
On the website, it indicated a 12 hour window for the time of delivery on the chosen date of delivery (Mon-Wed). When I signed up, it gave me a slightly narrower window. Before the food was to be delivered, I received an email around 6:00 a.m. saying that it would soon be on its way. My mom confirmed that it came by Fed-Ex at around 10:00 a.m. on Monday morning (the day I had chosen for it to be delivered). I had given directions for it to simply be left at the door and since the box is insulated and contains ice packs to keep the meat cool, I wasn’t too concerned if it didn’t make it into the fridge right away.
Now on to the food. The first recipe we tried was the Crispy Chicken Parmigiana with the Cucumber-Apple Salad. I didn’t realize when we had ordered it, it had the instruction “make first” because we were going to start with the Seared Pork Tenderloin. However, it ended up having to be the Crispy Chicken Parmigiana because the chicken was the only protein that was thawed enough to be cooked that night. The recipe instructs us to make the salad (just the cucumber and apple part) first, to allow it to marinade. The dressing was just sugar, lemon juice, and dijon mustard. If I make it again, I would substitute honey instead of sugar. It’s also worth mentioning that this meal kit assumes you have the basics like sugar, pepper, salt, oil/butter, etc. so make sure you have those things at the very least. Since I already know some things about cooking, prepping the chicken was pretty easy. However, instead of eggs, the box included mayonnaise, which is something I never thought of using. Mayonnaise is egg based, but sticks to the chicken so much better than egg and also allows the bread crumbs to adhere more easily as well. However, mayonnaise is also inherently oilier than egg and at some points I failed to take that into account. After breading the chicken breasts, the recipe instructed me to pan fry until golden brown, approximately 3-4 minutes per side. It included an additional note that it wouldn’t be a concern if the chicken wasn’t cooked all the way through, which is expected if you’ve only cooked each piece for a total of about 8 minutes. I had expected to finish the breasts in the oven, but the next instruction was simply to turn on the broiler and put the chicken, which was now topped with pizza sauce and cheese and leave it until the cheese was melted and the internal temperature was 165°F. I, of course, misread that and set the oven as low as it would go (it wouldn’t go down to 165°F). I baked it for an additional 15-20 minutes, but the middle was still raw, so I ended up having to cut them in half, turn up the temperature and bake them for another 10-15 minutes, which then resulted in some portions being overcooked. Since there were no carbs (if you don’t count the breading on the chicken), I decided I wanted to make a portion of pasta to go alongside it. It was nothing special, just plain pasta with a little bit of butter. My mom helped me out with that while I had my hands full with the chicken. The cucumbers and apples were served on top of spinach, which was the final touch. The amount of spinach we were given was so small, it looked like it was only one portion size of spinach. This told me one of two things. The first was that we were in the habit of over eating and over estimating the size of a single portion. The second was more of a question of why there was so much more of the cucumber and apples compared to the spinach (the ratio was way off). The acidity of the salad (since we did use a whole lemon) was a perfect contrast to the heavier Chicken Parmigiana.
The second dish we made was the Pork and Parmesan Patties with Butternut Squash Mash and Green Beans. Since we didn’t end up using all the parmesan from the night before, I used that in addition to the package of parmesan that had been portioned off for this meal. The butternut squash had already been cubed and so all we had to do it put it into some boiling water with a bit of salt and boil until soft. The green beans were seasoned with salt, pepper, and tossed with oil before setting them to roast in the oven. Since the night before, we had problems getting the chicken to cook all the way through, I tried to make the patties as thin as I could so that they would cook more faster. However, I didn’t make them thin enough because, despite following the recipe properly this time (no misreading), it still didn’t cook all the way through and we ended up just microwaving them. I have to say, the butternut squash mash and green beans were my favourite sides of the three meals. I especially loved the sweet-savoury combination and creamy texture of the mash. I may have baked the beans a little over, but I do prefer my beans to be a little drier, so that turned out well. I really like fresh parmesan because it isn’t as strong as dried parmesan and creates a different texture when used in cooking. This was the first time I didn’t hear a complaint from my mom about having parmesan in a dish. The night before she was already saying that the chicken parm could do without the parm, but with this, she couldn’t even tell. I felt like a parent who had to hide veggies in their child’s food, except instead of veggies it was cheese. The onion gravy I made for this dish was my crowning achievement. I’ve made a similar one at Julia’s house with the same success and with the addition of rosemary, the sauce was taken to the next level. I will acknowledge that rosemary is a fairly strong herb and that me forgetting to put it in till the end may have added to its pungency. My mom liked the gravy, but said that rosemary in general was too strong for her.
With those two dishes complete, it only leaves the Seared Pork Tenderloin with Green Beans, Roasted Potatoes, and Tarragon Sauce to be discussed. It’s ironic that this was the dish I had wanted to make first and it ended up being the last dish. We made some modifications to this dish. Instead of roasted potatoes we decided to go with a mash (more on this later) and since the roasted green beans had been such a success the night before, we decided to roast them instead of pan-frying them. I prefer recipes that utilize the oven as well as the stove top because it is way more efficient. The pork was essentially seasoned and seared off before finishing it off in the oven which was great because by this time in the week I was getting pretty tired and this recipe was a little more hands off, which was nice. My sister helped with this one and instead of boiling the potatoes decided to microwave them. Generally this isn’t a problem except for the fact that Yukon Gold Potatoes are not meant for mashing. This made for the lumpiest mashed potatoes I have ever made. Even with the amount of sour cream we added to make it lighter and fluffier did nothing except for make it taste like a lot of sour cream. We reserved some of the tarragon to put into the potatoes, but being so mild, the tarragon was generally lost in the potatoes. This time, being so concerned with not getting a raw slice of pork tenderloin, we ended up overcooking it. I guess, that’s part of the reason why there was a sauce, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the sauce as it had been made from sour cream. In other words, with sour cream being so prevalent in the potatoes the sauce was just a sour cream overload. I think if I make this sauce again, I will just use flour, butter, salt, tarragon, and milk instead.
Each dish had their highlights and the prepped and portioned ingredients saved me a lot of time. It definitely comes in handy for those who don’t have the creativity to come up with their own recipes on a weekly basis or if they don’t have very much time to prep and cook everything after work. The great thing about the meal box is that the recipe booklet Hello Fresh sends includes the recipes that I didn’t select, but having the recipe gives me the chance to try making it myself even if I didn’t buy it from them originally.
Usually my mom prefers Chinese/Vietnamese food over any other cuisine, but this week was the first time I’ve seen her eat everything off her plate without complaint. She had good things to say about all the plates, so I consider this a huge success.
If I had to sum this box up in one line, it would be restaurant quality dishes at home.
I don’t want to make a recommendation until I’ve had the chance to try out more meal plan boxes, but they have made a good impression on me and I encourage others to try it out and let me know what your experience is like with the box.