WHAT’S FOR DINNER: UNPACKING MEAL DELIVERY BOXES

Full disclosure: if you live anywhere other than a metropolitan area of England this may be of little to no relevance to you.

So it became evident pretty quickly after we went into lockdown that we had three options: starve; go broke from ordering Deliveroo for breakfast, lunch and dinner or cook for ourselves (and by cooking I’m not referring to the microwaved meals we became abundantly fond of).

One week into trying to imagine what to eat for dinner every night that would satisfy our nuanced taste profiles, and doing sometimes not one but three dashes back to Tesco to get the garlic, agave nectar (side note this stuff ended up actually being the shiz) or cornflour that our chosen recipes demanded of us, we realised that from a time, nutrition and cost perspective meal delivery boxes were the way to go for us.

100 days of lockdown later and now a week into our second lockdown and its fair to say we have certainly played the field in terms of meal delivery boxes (some might say I’m living with Goldilocks). So, to take the hard work out of it, I’ve summarised the good, the bad and the ugly (and delicious!) for you below.

SimplyCookHelloFreshGoustoMindfulChef
Trial Cost£1£33.59£21.9925% off meal value
Actual Cost£9.99+£41.99£34.99£71-79
Meals4545
Quality/5N/A425
Delivery/52544
Variety/54243
Nutritional Value/54345

THE LOW DOWN

Simply Cook

Don’t be fooled by the flashy ads and the cheap price, as we were. This service does not contain actual food!

Needless to say, as the first meal delivery service we could get our mouths around when COVID hit, we were very concerned about whether the food would go off given it wasn’t delivered on the date we were told to expect. When we found an envelope through the mailbox a week and a half later we were even more concerned we had been sent a promotional keyring and had been well and truly scammed.

Turns out, Simply Cook is SAUCES AND SPICES ONLY and all of a sudden it makes sense why it is so cheap (and that we weren’t going to receive a box full of quality meats for £1!) While we were initially disappointed, probably more of an anti-climax than anything else, in some ways this service makes sense – provided you are happy to grocery shop for the perishables yourself (and it therefore gives you a bit of flexibility around when you eat the meals without having to worry if the chicken will go off if you have take out one night).

The meal choice was good, the tastes are more based around spices (think chipotle steak salad, chilli con carne and every variety of curry under the sun), which is probably linked to the fact that that is essentially all they can provide. So good for if you CBF to invest in a spice rack, but otherwise relatively limited.

Cheap as chips but not that convenient (and limited transparency around when it will arrive given it is sent by regular post, so impossible to plan meals around).

Hello Fresh

Ah, Hello Fresh, these guys will get you good with their influencer marketing and staggered discounting system. And to be fair, it is worth it. But, after you have tired out most of the options on the carb-heavy menu after roughly six weeks, you might start to get wandering eyes.

Cost

These guys push their discount codes every which way. They used to be those annoying people who would approach me on my lunch break with pamphlets and discount codes, begging for your email address to sign you up and I swore never to use them for this reason alone. But they seem to have taken a shine to influencer marketing and staggered discount codes in recent times. The best I’ve seen was 80KATIE which gave you $30, $20, $20 and $10 off your first 4 boxes respectively.

We didn’t use a discount code but there was a sign-up bonus in any case. A week after we cancelled our subscription we started being hounded with phone calls begging us to give them another go – alas, another months worth of discounts (catch being they make you commit to a date there and then). We’ve now cancelled and restarted 3 times and repeated this process. They have also offered us 8 free boxes to give to friends, shame we don’t have that many friends in London.

Meal Choice

In the beginning I was super impressed with the meal choices and there was always multiple things I wanted to eat.

After week 2 we had had some form of taco/burrito/enchilada 5 times. After week 3, we had had mash potato at least 4 times.

Maybe it was just our choices, but the foods do seem to be very carb/starch heavy.

After six weeks we found the options very repetitive and that there was very few available we hadn’t previously selected. It was also frustrating that some of the options we would have been more inclined to choose were always those that were 2.99/person extra etc (kind of like when Guzman charges you extra for guac because they know literally everyone will opt for it).

Call me crazy, but as a complete novice in the kitchen, the one thing I loved was that the meals always required that tiny extra bit of preparation, and they tasted all the better for it – ie salads would never just be cut up and put in a bowl (which we did notice was the case with Gousto), there would always be some additional preparation needed (ie inclusion of sauces and sesame seeds), meat would never just be chucked in the pan and sauce put on top, but marinated then oven baked then pan fried and breads were always required to be oven baked and not just microwaved – this always gave the meals more of a restaurant quality, rather than feeling it was something slapdash you cooked at home (tandoori chicken paste in a jar anyone?)

Quality

Absolutely could not fault it – garlic in the recipe? Here’s a whole garlic for you. I was most disappointed at the contrast when we received our first box from Gousto and rather than a whole garlic, we were given a battered, brown, half clove of garlic which was essentially useless (and we ended up using the leftover HelloFresh garlic!)

The ingredients were always top quality and truly fresh (which it turns out can be quite rare for these services!)

Big plus for me was that all the ingredients (minus the meat), came in separate marked paper bags, so there was no need to go rooting round the fridge/cupboard when dinner time came around (big points for the novelty value).

Minus being that the products, including fresh products are generally covered in a lot of plastic. They could do better!

Delivery

The delivery is on point with these guys. They use Gophr, who let you know when the box has been picked up and a rough estimate of the time it will be delivered. Their tracking system shows you what number you are in the delivery queue and shows you all the stops on the driver’s route before your order will be delivered (bit creepy IMO but interesting nonetheless – ie I now know which of my neighbours also get their Hello Fresh delivered on a Saturday). Once the order has been delivered they will send you a message on all possible mediums to make sure your order isn’t left unattended.

Gousto

I had high hopes for this service, what with the flashy red boxes all my neighbours seemed to be having delivered and appealing and varied menus, but it hasn’t really lived up to the hype.

Cost

Less than HelloFresh but still more than the supermarket.

Quality

If you like expired chicken (vom worthy smells) and bruised and battered vegetables, then go for your life. We also found we were often missing multiple ingredients which is no doubt a recurring problem as they have an established form and will refund you a specific amount for the respective missing ingredient.

On the whole this service just felt like it was cutting corners and they were trying to make a profit in every way possible. As per above, receiving half a brown clove of garlic when HelloFresh was sending me a whole one was (whilst optimistically not wasteful), frankly disappointing.

Also this is super petty, but the instructions sent with the box just annoyed me, maybe it was the font, maybe the size IDK, whatever.

Variety

Together with quality, the variety was what meant Gousto didn’t ultimately get past the third date with us. Don’t get me wrong, the menu is varied and there were an abundance of options we liked but every meal just seemed kind of… lacking, and irrespective of what we ate it all ultimately ended up tasting kind of same same. The meals just needed more pizzazz, more garlic, more dressing, just anything.

Mindful Chef

As a bit of a fitness freak, I REALLY wanted to love Mindful Chef, not least because my boyfriend committed to pay the price only after one of his friends recommended it (obviously this would not be justified off my recommendation). But I ended up feeling like that colleague who constantly reminds you he is shredding because all he eats is chicken and broccoli.

Cost

You’ll need a second mortgage. Refer to Exhibit A above for the breakdown.

Big plus for the freebies every week, Tony’s Chocolonely went down a treat

Quality

Amazing, but not obviously so. I don’t think there was that much of a disparity from HelloFresh.

The instructions come in a booklet which contains instructions for all of the Mindful Chef meals available in that particular week. Cue disappointment when you know Sally next door is having something better. Also, waste of paper and half the time I had no idea what I had even ordered (the ingredients for each respective meal are not numbered or otherwise sent together, as is the case for HelloFresh so I would spend a good 10 minutes pre-cooking rooting around the fridge for the right thing).

Variety

Great, but again the meals just seemed to be missing something. Mindful Chef sells itself on being the healthy meal box provider and this was a big selling factor for me but I did end up finding the choices quite boring.

Having said that, all Mindful Chef boxes are gluten and dairy free and I have friends who swear by it for this reason. There are also four vegan options on the menu each week.

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