I Tried a Meal Prep Service for a Week—Here’s What I Thought
There's no argument that meal prep services are convenient. The question is whether the meals are easy, economical or even all that yummy.
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Nothing compares to a fresh, home-cooked meal made with quality ingredients straight from the farmers market or local grocery and seasoned just the way you like. It’s equal parts care and delicious personalized flavor.
But, more often than we’d like, this isn’t feasible. The kids’ schedules get hectic, work meetings run late, or we simply can’t muster the energy, creativity or forethought those kinds of meals require.
All of these reasons to opt for other meal solutions are totally relatable, which is likely why meal-prep services such as Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Home Chef have found such success. If you’re unsure whether one of these services would be a good fit, look no further—we tested it for you so you can decide whether it’s conducive to your lifestyle.
What is HelloFresh?
Taste of Home
HelloFresh is a meal-kit provider based in Germany that has found wild success here in the United States. The meals, which customers choose weekly from a menu of 20+ options, are delivered straight to your door. The company allows customers to purchase as many as six different recipes per week in serving quantities of either two or four. I opted to order three meals with two portions each.
On the easily navigable menu, there is a wide array of meals labeled as “Calorie Smart,” “Carb Smart,” “Easy Cleanup,” “Easy Prep,” “Veggie,” etc. to help customers select best, based on their appetite and schedule that week. My meals of choice? Chicken Ramen in a Shoyu-Style Broth, Pan-Fried Garlic Herb Gnocchi and Louisiana-Style Tilapia.
HelloFresh has been on the scene for a decade now as one of the original meal-prep services and a beloved suppertime helper, but in summer 2021, the company launched HelloFresh Market, expanding it into a more all-encompassing food service.
Through the market, customers can order breakfasts, side dishes, snacks, beverages, even fresh produce. The add-ons are included in the same box as the other recipes and come from an array of brands and vendors, including Pillsbury, Annie’s Homegrown, Sargento, Lärabar and more. (These are our best-loved store-bought snacks!)
I decided to splurge on some extra goodies for, er, experimental purposes, of course. These items included Intelligentsia spiced oat lattes, spinach and feta egg bites, Blount Clam Shack New England clam chowder, and mini vanilla cheesecakes.
Now let’s dig in…
Did HelloFresh Save Me Money?
When I am cooking from scratch for myself, I go to the grocery store about twice a month. On average, I spend $80 each time, which amounts to two weeks’ worth of breakfasts, lunches, and two high-yield dinners that I meal-prep and eat throughout those two weeks. (Note: I don’t typically make meat for myself, which allows me to save some money.) The HelloFresh plan I chose, which is the company’s most popular option and lasted me one week rather than my usual two, cost $66 including shipping. The HelloFresh Market add-ons set me back an additional $40.
Ultimately, I totaled about $100 in food for the week—much more than I’d typically spend—and that’s not including the bread, milk, snacks and produce I ate to supplement my meals.
But, as many others seem to be, I was willing to splurge for the sake of convenience. It was almost too easy ducking out of my at-home office Wednesday morning to grab the well-insulated box of food left for me in the lobby. The hard part? Getting the box up three flights of stairs.
Did HelloFresh Save Me Time?
According to the website, HelloFresh meals take between 20 and 50 minutes to make, depending on the recipe. Well, that must be if you’re quick in the kitchen. I’m shamefully slow at food prep (yeah, I could probably work on my knife skills…), but each meal took me between 10 and 15 minutes longer to make than projected.
With this being said, when making other meals, I normally spend around an hour in the kitchen. All my HelloFresh meals were on the table in 55 minutes or fewer, thanks to the portioned ingredients, trimmed meats, etc. In addition, I spent less time making my grocery list and perusing the supermarket. Taking all this into account, I probably saved around 30 minutes per night. Not bad!
Unfortunately, though, I can say no time was saved on cleanup. The number of dishes used, with the exception of maybe some measuring spoons, wasn’t noticeably reduced. Expect the standard amount of pots, pans and measuring cups to be piled in your sink by the end of the meal—or, if you’re concerned about the mess, try one of the company’s “Easy Cleanup” recipes!
Were the Meals Easy to Make?
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I’m no professional, but these recipes were super simple. Easy-to-use direction cards with tips, ingredient lists, and step-by-step photos and instructions made preparation straightforward. Some of the techniques used in the recipes were frying, roasting, sauteing, simmering, even microwaving. Easy enough, right? If some of these seem unfamiliar to you, no stress. The instructions are written in an accessible way, making them doable for even the most beginner-level cooks.
The most challenging part was timing. Because you’re cooking up your entree and sides at once, time management is critical. You don’t want the roasted potatoes getting cold as you fry your tilapia fillets. This just takes practice—and sometimes straying from the instructions a bit.
The best part of prep, on the other hand, was the lack of food waste. I can’t help but feel as though I also throw away a little piece of my heart each time I toss a carton of spoiled milk, can of expired broth or box of wilted lettuce in the trash. Because of the mini bottles of vinegar, single garlic cloves and individual packets of ingredients like stock and sour cream, hardly anything goes unused.
Were HelloFresh Ingredients Good Quality?
All of the ingredients were on par with what I’d pick up at the supermarket. The produce was fresh; the fish and chicken top-notch; the herbed butter and ramen concentrates exceptionally flavorful. Some of the ingredients were even name-brand, like Old Bay seasoning, Clovis mustard and Colavita white wine vinegar.
Despite this, you might find your ingredients don’t look the exact same as those pictured. The Yukon Gold potatoes I received were significantly smaller than the ones in the photos, making for mini potato wedges.
Similarly, I received one very large and one very small tilapia fillet. Although I don’t doubt that together they met the 11 oz. benchmark, it did make it slightly difficult to split into two equal servings. Thankfully, these variances don’t affect the taste, which brings us to…
How Do HelloFresh Recipes Taste?
All of these meals were absolutely mouthwatering. I’ve had some serious fails in the kitchen: burnt-to-a-crisp pizza crust, overcooked meatloaf, flavorless soups, thanks to user error, of course, but also shoddy recipes. I could tell all of HelloFresh’s recipes were tried and true, and I’d certainly return to any of them. They were flavorful, filling and even approved by my decidedly picky boyfriend.
They were also very caloric. The gnocchi, tilapia and ramen were 770, 790 and 910 calories per serving, respectively. When I cook for myself, I try to keep my dinners between 500 and 600 calories. With that being said, the portions were very hefty. In fact, I was able to split the ramen into three meals. (Hello, yummy lunch leftovers!) And I am partially to blame for this nutritional fact, as HelloFresh does offer a number of lower-calorie options that clock in between around 600 calories or fewer. (If you’re into low-cal entrees like me, these quick, nutritious recipes should be on next week’s menu.)
And the HelloFresh Market items were just as much of a home run. The oat lattes were such a delicacy for me compared to my typical cup of joe, and the egg bites brought back memories of similar-tasting spinach mini quiches that I loved as a child. And lunch and dessert were done in an instant with the equally indulgent and delicious clam chowder and cheesecakes. Yum!
Taste of Home
In all, I had a positive experience with HelloFresh, though I will not make a weekly habit of ordering it because it’s a little beyond my budget. But because the service is so easy to activate and deactivate, I would definitely consider re-ordering if I’m ever in the mood to treat myself.
- Well-rounded and restaurant-worthy recipes
- Helpful instructions and resources
- Little food waste
- Efficient packaging that kept the food cold and was easy to dispose of
- Robust options for people with special dietary restrictions or preferences
- A bit pricey
- Considerable cleanup
In sum, this service is probably best for busy couples or small families who don’t have the time to devise lengthy grocery lists or run to the supermarket each week. All it takes is the click of a few buttons, and—bada bing!—there’s a box with everything you need delivered right to your doorstep.