We Tried 4 of the Most Popular Food Boxes to See If They’re Really Worth It
You’ve seen the ads on the subway and heard them on your favorite podcasts.
Food delivery boxes are so chic, providing hearty, home-cooked meals without having to think about meal planning or grocery shopping.
But are they really worth the price? Can you justify the convenience of food delivery and also justify the cost?
We decided to test four popular food boxes by having one of The Penny Hoarder’s least-experienced chefs make a recipe from each.
Then, we compared the price of getting each box delivered to getting all of each recipes’ ingredients at the grocery store.
When It Makes Sense to Splurge on a Food Delivery Box
No matter how we sliced it, it’s cheaper to buy the ingredients you’d need to make each of these recipes.
But I also have to acknowledge that starting these dishes from scratch takes a bit of planning and strategizing.
If you’re not creative in the kitchen, you might struggle to attempt the variety of ingredients and flavors the boxes contain.
If you do attempt an ambitious recipe, you might find yourself blindly wandering the aisles of the grocery store to find what you need.
Food delivery boxes are for the anxious home cooks: the people who will watch cooking shows all day, but would never dream of trying to replicate those skills.
So brush your anxieties aside and order up a box when one or more of these situations arises:
- You’re crazy-busy at work this quarter, but bored with takeout
- You’ve got a new beau and don’t want them to know that you sometimes eat cereal for dinner
- You want to level-up your cooking skills without a big time investment
Read on for my experience as The Penny Hoarder’s very own home chef. I’m happy to report I received zero complaints from the dining room.
A note about our price comparison: We noted the ingredients for each recipe and researched the cost of comparable ingredients at national retailers, such as Walmart.
For example, our Blue Apron recipe came with one tablespoon of honey. When we checked Walmart’s price, we found the smallest size of honey we could get was an 8 ounce jar for $1.98 – 24.8 cents per ounce, to be precise. Since a tablespoon is half a fluid ounce, we used 12 cents worth of honey in this recipe.
Our price comparison does not include the cost of staple items or cooking aids each box expected you to have available at home, including items like olive oil, salt and pepper, and aluminum foil.
Plated vs. Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh vs. Marley Spoon
We tried: Spice-Rubbed Pork with Sweet Red Onion and Black Beans
Usually costs: About $60 for three meals with two servings each per week
What the ingredients would have cost for this meal: $7.80 ($3.90 per serving)
Listed cooking time: 45-55 minutes
Time it really took: 1 hour, 13 minutes
Top Chef winner Brooke Williamson contributed this recipe to Blue Apron’s Guest Chef Series, adding an extra layer of intimidation as I pulled a small pork roast out of the box.
The photos and instructions for searing, then roasting the pork were surprisingly easy to follow — even if I approached the seasoning process a bit hesitantly. (The instructions said to season the pork, but my co-worker crew was not satisfied. They made sure I rubbed those spices in.)
The final dish was savory, sweet, and looked impressive when sliced and plated.
Order it when: You want your sweetheart to swoon over your cooking prowess. I felt like a pro putting this dish together.
How to make the deal even sweeter: When you sign up, you’ll get $30 off your first order.
We tried: Pan-Seared Chicken with Herbs de Provence
Usually costs: About $60 for the classic box, which contains three meals with two servings each per week
What the ingredients would have cost for this meal: $6.62 ($3.31 per serving)
Listed cooking time: 30 minutes
Time it really took: 40 minutes
Hello Fresh had the easiest instructions to follow, by far.
And even though the recipe was one of the simplest, this chicken dish was solid. Another plus: a simple recipe meant cleanup was easy, too.
Our Hello Fresh dish also had one of the lowest calorie counts of the day, but was just as satisfying as the rest.
Order it when: You want to try a food box, but haven’t taken cooking 101.
How to make this deal even sweeter: Subscribe via email to get a $15 discount.
We tried: Chicken Piccata with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Green Beans
Usually costs: About $72 for two meals with three servings each per week
What the ingredients would have cost for this meal: $11.56 ($3.85 per serving)
Listed cooking time: 35-45 minutes
Time it really took: 37 minutes
Plated’s instructions were easy to follow, and the ingredients included were easy enough to find and use that I could see myself making a similar recipe again on my own.
I especially enjoyed the recipe-card sidebar that taught me why I was deglazing the pan with white wine as I did it.
Look at me, I’m cooking!
Order it when: You want to feel fancy, but still enjoy familiar flavors. This wasn’t the most exciting recipe in the bunch, but it still delivered on taste.
How to make the deal even sweeter: Use this link to get a free meal on Plated.
We tried: Garlic Braised Chicken with Greens & Creamy Grits
Usually costs: $48 for two meals with two servings each per week
What the ingredients would have cost for this meal: $6.55 ($3.28 per serving)
Listed cooking time: 40 minutes
Time it really took: 1 hour, 16 minutes
Let me just admit I messed up this recipe, big time.
The instructions said to trim excess fat and skin from the chicken breasts, which I took to mean “rip all the skin off with gusto.” A few sentences later, I learned that I should “add chicken skin-side down and cook until browned.”
Lesson: Always read the recipe card twice before you start, instead of skimming over the bold words while you unpack the box.
I had major doubts when I was working on this recipe from Martha Stewart’s meal-delivery company. I don’t love kale, I don’t love grits, and the photos on the recipe card looked a little less than appetizing.
But the result? It was so good, I made myself a leftover plate to take home (and then hid it from my co-workers). I probably should have known a Martha-approved recipe would be delicious.
Order it when: Your parents are coming to visit and you (still) need to convince them you’re an adult.
Lisa Rowan is a writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder. Editorial intern Jennifer Smith did the legwork at Walmart and crunched the ingredient numbers.