What kind of meal-delivery subscription box is right for me?
September 17, 2016 1:14 PM   Subscribe

As someone trying to make eating healthy easy, cheap, and convenient, what kind of meal-delivery subscription box is right for me? There are so many options now!

I am a single woman living in Brooklyn. I eat okay right now--I try to keep carbs low and eat fruits and veggies and lean fats. I don't do too well with portion control--I sometimes will eat until I'm full instead of just eating until I'm just not-hungry anymore. I'm not really going for weight-loss but that would be a lovely side effect. I really want to just take the thought out of eating.

I hate cooking. I hate planning and shopping and am terrible at the multi-tasking required to make a good and satisfying meal. I get by by eating the fruits and yogurt (and occasional bagel or cereal) that my office supplies, ordering take-out, and snacking on fruits and veggies and cheese at home, maybe making some chicken with greens or something. But I'm always thinking about what to eat next and how to procure it and it's really not worth the brainspace. So in comes meal-delivery for the win, right?

This is what I want out of a service:

*Being able to choose delivery time windows (like Fresh Direct does, because I don't have a doorman and it'll otherwise get left on the street to get rained on or stolen or whatever). It would be great if I were able to switch up delivery times/days with 24 or 48 hours advanced notice, because my schedule can be a little wonky and I don't always know when I'm going to be where weeks in advance. This is a MUST.

*I would like to be able to choose from many low-carb/paleo/gluten-free kind of options. (I just find that lowish-carb suits my lifestyle). This is also a MUST.

*That includes nutrition info in ordering options, mainly regarding calories and carbs/sugar/fats/etc. I don't really care about tracking vitamin and mineral intake. This is not as much of a MUST, but would be nice.

*Since it seems all these services require that you cook for two and I am only one, it would be nice if the portions provided were a little on the larger size so that I can get two actual meals out of it.

*I hate and am bad at cooking, so it needs to be easy and not take a lot of time and not require me to have more than the barest basics (salt, butter, oil) to prepare.

*Lunch/dinner options only are fine. I usually just do the aformentioned fruit/yogurt-at-work thing, or eggs on the weekends, and that works for me.

*I have pretty bland tastes so I don't require really creative foreign cuisines or spice variety. I'm not a vegetarian. I love meat and fish and cheese and veggies and fruit and did I mention cheese?

*CHEAP! It seems like most are in the same range, but this is very important to me because, again, I am single in New York so everything costs me double what it costs someone in a relationship :)

*Ability to skip weeks, or cancel at any time.

So, what service do you recommend? Or any services that you discourage because they don't meet my needs?

Thanks for your help!
posted by greta simone to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I tried hello fresh and home chef. Home chef offered a low carb option (which was why I tried it), and hello fresh offered enough ways of picking through stuff that you could sort of manage low carb.

Home chef recipes were genuinely bad, and sometimes their veggies were mushy / bad. Home chef is bad.

Hello fresh recipes were good, and the portion sizes were such that I often got three meals out of it (tho I am a small human). Produce was always fresh. But because they don't offer a low carb option, I had to go back and pick meals every week, which I am just not organized enough to do (and which is why I wanted one of these services in the first place). I ended up with a lot of half-used, cannibalized meal boxes. Also, lots of waste to dispose of, and unless you have a doorman, delivery can be a bitch.

Last I checked blue apron and plated didn't offer enough boxes for me to check (low carb, gluten free, no shellfish, a bunch of other snowflakes).

It was useful in teaching me some basic cooking techniques. Because of further food intolerances (and a desire to figure that shit out) I now cook for myself, but hello fresh was useful for getting me to a point where I felt I could do that confidently.
posted by schadenfrau at 1:29 PM on September 17, 2016

You'll probably rule it out for other reasons, but I had a disappointing customer service experience with HelloFresh and would not recommend them. One of the deliveries had a package of raw beef that was open and leaking, and when I requested a refund for the package I had to follow up twice and eventually sent a rather yelly email. For a few weeks after that, they kept calling me about a survey or something, and it was really annoying.

I've tried them and Blue Apron and neither of them had a whole ton of options for low-carb stuff. They gave you some choices, but it was like you'd choose 2-3 meals out of 5-6 given options.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:29 PM on September 17, 2016

I think SunBasket has a paleo option and I have heard good things about them. I personally use and enjoy Blue Apron but it would be pretty tough to do low carb.
posted by fancypants at 1:44 PM on September 17, 2016

I've been happy with everything we've gotten from Home Chef. I tend to cherry-pick stuff I know my husband will be okay cooking, which usually means a mix of their low-carb and vegetarian options. I've never had a problem with produce quality.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:22 PM on September 17, 2016

It's a bit more work, but I would recommend TheFresh20. Basically it's a meal-planning service, you pay a few bucks to get a week's worth of recipes that use overlapping ingredients, plus a shopping list (which you can quite easily take to FreshDirect to stock up). This grants you more flexibility, menu-wise (and Fresh20 has Vegetarian, Gluten-Free, Paleo, etc. options).

What I liked was that TheFresh20 spells out your "prep" day, where you pre-slice a bunch of stuff, or sometimes make a sauce or something in advance. Then the night-of preparation is much simpler. Some weeks they might have you cook a whole chicken or stew and then use pieces of it in a later meal.

It's not perfect, and it might be way too much food for one person, but I think it's worth checking out. My partner and I have had a number of good weeks of home cooking from it.
posted by Zephyrial at 2:23 PM on September 17, 2016 [9 favorites]

I tried one of the Fresh20 trial weeks, about a year ago, and it was so many carbs. It may just have been a weird week, but I love carbs as a concept but I felt like I was eating nothing but bread all week. I now use Mealime, which I really like. You have to do your own shopping, but I find that actually really helps with flexibility. I don't think you can choose a low-carb plan, but I'm using their standard plans and I find them pretty low carb (to the point that I often add a side of rice or bread). I find that their portions for everything except vegetarian dishes are enough for dinner plus lunch the next day.
posted by lazuli at 2:57 PM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Take the thought out of eating
Not worth the brainspace
Hate and am bad at cooking
Bland tastes

I swear I'm not being flippant, but... Soylent? If I weren't married I'd be in your position. (Except that I enjoy cooking for pleasure, but not for sustenance.) I basically was in your position over this summer while I was away from home for six weeks. It's so cheap (especially if you are willing to mix the 1.6 powdered version), that you can easily supplement with NYC-priced prepared food and restaurants for your meat, fish, veg, CHEESE desires. (I have them too.) Except then you're eating it because you want to, not because you just need to eat something.
posted by supercres at 3:01 PM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Based on your criteria, I don't think Blue Apron would work for you. The deliveries aren't that flexible at the last minute and they don't have a lot of low-carb options. On the plus side, the portions are generous enough for two good-sized meals, and the quality of ingredients shipped was good in my experience. You can view their recipes on their website without actually paying for the service in case you want to try making any on your own.
posted by bananana at 3:07 PM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Looks like Mealime does have paleo and low-carb options.
posted by lazuli at 3:26 PM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: FYI I actually tried Soylent, it wasn't for me.
posted by greta simone at 4:13 PM on September 17, 2016

I don't know if any of them let you schedule a narrow delivery window - none that I've tried have. I absolutely love MarleySpoon though. About half the meals are I get are low carb, though that's not my goal and you could choose meals that meet you needs. I find the meals are faster to prepare than Blue Apron, produce and meats are high quality and responsibly sourced, and most of them are more interesting than what I put together on my own.
posted by OrangeVelour at 6:11 PM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just had a box from Green Chef delivered. Sadly, the items in the box were all over temp (53-68F) even though I unpacked it at 3pm on delivery day. The meals looked interesting, but their stated prep times cannot possibly be accurate as there is a good amount of prep involved. I will say the produce was all in great shape and very fresh.

My recent Blue Apron box was delivered nice and cold. The produce was in good shape and the meals went together very quickly. They seem to have a bunch of meal plan options too.

I really like that Green Chef is organic, but they are pricey and the meals look like they would take 45-60 minutes to prepare. I'll probably just stay with Blue Apron because the meals are quick and the cost is lower.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:51 PM on September 17, 2016

I love Marley Spoon, too -- I prefer it to Blue Apron because Blue Apron was, when I was using it, super carb-heavy and I gained about five pounds on it, and it's just more interesting and easier for me, as OrangeVelour says. That said, delivery may be a pain. For a while, I had to sign for every Marley Spoon delivery until my delivery guy had me sign a waiver that he could just leave them. They show up when they show up. I think this is going to be your big issue in this situation. They're fine for a couple of hours (they're really well packaged with cooling packs and whatnot) but if you don't feel comfortable having a package outside from 2pm onward or whatever, any of the major food box systems might be problematic.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 1:18 PM on September 18, 2016

I've tried several service and none of them will allow you to specify a delivery window, tho some will allow you to choose a specific delivery day of the week. Maybe consider delivering to your workplace?

That said, I've subscribed to Sunbasket for more than a year now and I've never been disappointed in a meal. I am single too and each recipe is enough for two portions. They have paleo, vegetarian, and gluten free recipes as well. You can plan weeks in advance if you would like to skip specific weeks. They also have fantastic customer service. I've been most impressed with the freshness and organic/local quality of their ingredients vs other subscription services. I've also tried Marley Spoon and had similar results altho they do not have specific paleo recipes and sometimes their ingredients are not as quality as Sunbasket. You can also choose two recipes weekly rather than the usual 3 (or more) per week.
posted by violetk at 6:38 PM on September 18, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks--wish delivering at my workplace were feasible, but work doesn't have cold-storage, I'm there for 10 hours a day, and I live a 30 minute subway ride from work and don't want to haul a huge box during rush hour. Hence the need for a scheduled window!
posted by greta simone at 11:40 AM on September 20, 2016

Does your local market have delivery? It may offer a more customizable window than some of the meal-delivery services. If so, you could do something like get the recipes and shopping list from Mealime or another meal-planning service, and order the food delivery through your local market online. It's two steps rather than one, but that might help with the flexibility.
posted by lazuli at 5:33 PM on September 20, 2016

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