I’ve talked in the past about how much I adore Plated. Well, lately I’ve been sampling some other very similar services, and I thought I’d break down my experience with each of them and let you guys know how they differ and what I like or don’t like about each one.
What is this box of food?
All three services have a similar concept. For a set price per serving, you can experiment with new recipes. You select the food you want from their menu for a particular week (or skip it if you don’t want anything that week), and they will ship you the recipe and the food used to make it. There’s no buying a whole bunch of something you’ll use once and then have tons of leftovers that inevitably end up in the trash. When I say they provide everything, I mean EVERYTHING. They typically will only assume you have salt, pepper, oil, and the occasional egg on hand.
The Different Services
Plated was my first, and I was immediately head over heels in love. Of the three plans, it offers the largest selection of recipes (including desserts). Best of all, you can try it all out for free if you can get your hands on a referral.
There are downsides, though. The meals are typically for a more mature palette, and they’re designed for two people, so if you have kids, it’s a little tricky to work around. It can be done, as I typically turn a “two plate” meal from Plated (which is two big restaurant-size servings) into a four-serving meal, or you can simply order two of a particular dish to put together a four-person meal. That said, you still might have nights where you and the spouse are enjoying a nice meal for two and the kids are eating frozen pizza because they’re just not going to eat miso-glazed salmon with sauteed mushrooms and kale. Plated is also the most expensive of the three services I’m comparing here at $12/plate.
Plated used to be slightly more versatile, where I could easily order more than one box per week and change the number of meals or delivery day on a whim. Now it’s set up much like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh where you have to change subscription settings if you want more meals or a different delivery day. I can contact Plated’s customer service either by phone or form email and have them send me a box on Wednesday and another on Saturday or four meals instead of two for one week only, but it was just a little less hassle before.
What I do like about the new interface is that it’s done in a “set and forget” style. I don’t have to order all of my boxes a couple weeks in advance in one large chunk for fear of a meal I want selling out. Instead, I can pick the plates I like weeks ahead of time, and my card will be billed for each box a few days before my box arrives. And if I change my mind and decide to skip a week, that option is still available.
For a little more per meal, you can order dishes that have pricier ingredients, like these two here:
Plated has the largest selection of the three boxes. There are seven regular menu options, two premium meal options, and two desserts available each week. Both desserts and premium “Chef’s Table” dishes are optional, but they do add a nice variety to the mix. Ont thing that most people will do is add a dessert to their two-meal box, which (after making shipping free) only amounts to an extra $2 per box.
All of these said, Plated’s two biggest competitors have really stepped up their games lately.
Blue Apron has also been a wonderful experience. While I do miss the selection offered by Plated, I like that I can order meals designed for a family of four. I also like their packaging. Meats were kept separate from produce by a cardboard divider, and smaller items had their own bag to keep them together. There are also informational cards telling you about a featured ingredient and the farm where it’s grown, which I loved.
There also seems to be less waste and easier recycling options. I live in the middle of nowhere and have very few options for recycling. Blue Apron allows you to ship your packaging back to them for free so that they can do the work for you, and I LOVE that.
While you can keep your Plated recipes in PDF format, it’s limited to only the recipes you ordered. Blue Apron, on the other hand, keeps all of their recipes handy at all times in a convenient, searchable format. As an added bonus, you can even view them in a tablet-friendly format! You can easily look up a recipe before you order, and there’s no mystery regarding whether or not it’ll be too difficult for you to prepare or if you’ll need any particular equipment or ingredient on hand or if you want to deviate from the recipe at all.
I do feel like I’m a little limited with Blue Apron. There are only four options to choose from if you’re using the family plan. The two-person plan gives you six options, but three tend to be vegetarian (a bummer if your spouse is vehemently apposed to anything categorized as “meatless” like mine is), and since you have to order three recipes on the two-person plan, there’s no real selection. There’s also no dessert, but when it’s good, it’s good. Just take a look at what I’ll be getting in a couple of weeks:
Notice that I have the option to change what I’m getting or even skip it. (I won’t do either. This sounds scrumptious!) I also like that it offers a wine pairing suggestion. Blue Apron offers a wine subscription as well to go with their meals. This is something I’d absolutely love, but alas… I live in Alabama. I’m not getting a wine delivery service anytime soon.
Of the three services, I feel like Hello Fresh ranks third on most appealing menus, though I’ve ordered more of them in recent weeks. They’ve also recently started working with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who offers one recipe out of the five available to choose from each week. They have a family meal option, but unlike Blue Apron, you don’t have to select recipes that are different from the 2-serving selection. This could be considered a game changer if you have older kids in the house who prefer grown up flavors. Here’s a look at the recipes I’ll be cooking this week:
The recipe cards gave the standard information about the various recipes. I like that the seafood I ordered was labeled saying that it should be prepared first. For me, that’s obvious, but for a novice that would be good information to have. I also like that the recipe cards list how much of each ingredient you need for both 2 servings and 4 servings. That’ll be handy if you decide to make the meal again, only for more or fewer people. This is also great because, with my Plated meals, I get amounts like “1 packet of butter” which I then have to convert to 1 Tbsp or some other measure if I make it again.
These are by far the most informative recipe cards of the bunch, including nutritional information, chili icons next to spicy ingredients so that the cook knows to adjust the heat to taste, and even a ruler to help with dicing measurements.
Their packaging is not my favorite, though I can see how it would appeal to others. While I appreciate all of the ingredients for each meal being packaged together, Plated manages to do this in bags that fit easily into a drawer in my fridge. The boxes Hello Fresh use were a bit tricky to fit. I also had a beef with the packing for transport on my first box. There were only two ice packs included, and the “insulation” amounted paper about as thick as a grocery bag, which led to a WTF moment for me. When it got to my home, the ice packs were all but melted, and I was worried that the food had spoiled. (It hadn’t, but I can imagine had the weather been warmer.) One of my ice packs had even been punctured, leaving gel all over the outer packaging on my meat. Thankfully, I decided to give Hello Fresh another shot, and I found that they’ve since improved. Their insulation is much better, and there are more ice packs. Everything now arrives nicely chilled.
The portion sizes for meals in all three boxes are about the same. It’s a restaurant-size portion, which for some meals means that 1 serving is really 2 servings, depending on how large your meals tend to be. Plated is the most expensive at $12 per plate. Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are about the same, with Blue Apron’s family plan being slightly cheaper and Hello Fresh being the cheaper option for two people. Hello Fresh will cost $8.75-11.50 per meal, depending on which box you decide to go with. Blue Apron has the best value, running $8.74 per serving for the family plan and $9.99 for the 2-person plan.
How can I try this for free/cheap?
Ask. No really, ask. Hop on Twitter, make an account if you don’t have one and look for one of these three tags:
Tweet to these nice folks and ask if they have a free box they can send you. They’ll need your name and email address to do so.
I also happen to have a few free boxes I can send out of each one, so if you feel like leaving your name and email in the comments along with which one you’d like to try, I’m happy to send them out on a first come, first serve basis.
Alternatively, there are discounts offered if you sign up via a referral link or code. I don’t currently have one for Plated or Blue Apron, but I can offer one for Hello Fresh.
Click here or use my referral code KTW84U for $40 off your first box with Hello Fresh.
Honestly, if you can snag a free box, snag a free box. You’ve got nothing to lose. It’s free food, and who wouldn’t want free food? If you can’t snag a box, it’s cheap food, because you can find some pretty darn good discounts out there for your first box.
At the very lease, I heavily recommend giving all three a try. Even for a cooking novice, these tend to be easy to prepare and tasty.