A few weeks ago my husband came home bearing a $40 off coupon for Hello Fresh. Hello Fresh is one of those meal kit delivery services where you make your weekly selections from a range of menu options, and then the assembled ingredients are delivered to your door some days later, to await your magical culinary touch. I’ve been really curious about Hello Fresh and other outfits of its ilk (Goodfood, Red Apron) but, frankly, frightened off by what I consider to be an unequitable ratio of value to cost. As in I think it’s a pretty poor one. But with a coupon that covered more than half the cost of a week of Hello Fresh meals, the time seemed right to satisfy my curiosity and give this fun delivery service a try. Here’s how our week of Hello Fresh broke down.
First, because Mr. Finger Candy is a vegetarian, we went with the veggie meal plan. Hello Fresh offers three different plans – family (predominately meat-based entrees), pronto (quickly prepared dishes) and veggie. All of the plans are available for either two or four diners, and you can choose to receive three or five meals a week. We went with the three-meal veggie plan for two people at a cost of $73.99. With free shipping and our $40 off promo code, that brought the cost down to $33.99, or $5.67 a plate.
Hello Fresh is a subscription service, although you’re free to cancel your subscription penalty-free at any time (provided, of course, your latest box of grub is not already on its way) or even suspend your subscription for a period of time. The latter is particularly helpful if you’re perhaps going to be away from home for a while, or even if you just don’t care for any of the coming week’s planned meals.
Your three (or five) meals come wrapped, by the individual recipe, in a brown paper bag, and the brown paper bags are themselves boxed up in a large, insulated cardboard box lined with disposable freezer packs. The excess packaging issue (or the perception of excess packaging) is one that Hello Fresh seems to be acutely aware of, and they appear to be making every effort to pack their goods in recyclable and biodegradable packaging made from sustainable sources. In addition, they offer free pick-up and shipping on the ice packs, should you not wish to cut them open and dissolve the contents down the sink (or, alternately, to slice them open and play around with the semi-frozen, 99 percent water-based solution contained therein. It was just like trying to hold handfuls of frozen lubricant, an activity I already clearly indulge in a lot!)
My first nit to pick, however, is not with packaging waste, of which there was, all things considered, precious little. It’s more that I had arranged my day in order to accommodate a delivery window of 8 am to 8 pm, only to discover, well after the lunch hour, that our order had in fact already been delivered, and was at that very moment leaning (and melting) against my front door, where it had been sitting, in a very hot and humid hallway, for anywhere between one and four hours. The contents of the box, our meals, were just fine and none of the ingredients had spoiled, but the bottom of the main box was approaching sodden and had to be disposed of immediately, because it reeked of wet cardboard death. A simple knock on the door just to let me know the delivery had arrived is all that was required here.
The three vegetarian meals we received included a pasta dish (Rigatoni in a Blush Tomato sauce with Basil Oil and Torn Bocconcini), a Thai-influenced entree (Thai Massaman Veggie Skewers with Basmati rice, Eggplant and Cremini mushrooms) and a salad (Mixed Bean and Veggie Panzanella Salad with a Lemon Vinaigrette.) There’s some indication on Hello Fresh’s website that you can in fact choose the entrees you’d like from any given week’s menu (say, for instance, you’re not super jazzed about Thai cuisine, and would prefer another one of the dishes on offer) but the policy isn’t clear and I wasn’t able to make any changes to our order. Which is just as well, because I absolutely would have jettisoned the veggie skewers, as I’m not that fond of Thai food, which would have been a shame, as they were utterly delicious.
Each recipe took about half an hour to 40 minutes to prepare, and produced one plate (or bowl) of food per person and nothing more; we absolutely did not realize next-day leftovers from these recipes. Having said all that, the recipes were nicely laid out and easy to follow, and I even picked up a couple of new cooking tips from the rigatoni dish (and I thought I knew all the pasta tricks!) I especially liked the “exactly what you need inside” approach to the ingredients; as I puttered about my kitchen tossing exactly 18 cherry tomatoes with precisely one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar from the miniature, two tablespoon-bottle provided, I felt like I was the star of my own little cooking show. Of course, it helped that I was addressing an audience of one curious cat and one curiouser husband as opposed to just talking to myself in the middle of the kitchen. Let’s see how each entree stacked up, shall we?
Rigatoni in a Blush Tomato Sauce with Basil Oil and Torn Bocconcini
This was so delicious, I could have eaten both bowls myself, and then probably a third just for total overkill measure. I had not the most optimistic of hopes for this dish; as a lifelong pasta devotee, I just assumed I had already enjoyed (or made) all the great pastas in the world. Also, it doesn’t get much more straightforward than cherry tomatoes, basil and cheese. So how delightful was it to find out I was completely mistaken on both scores? Because this bright, fresh, super flavourful pasta dish was not only unexpectedly scrumptious, but making this recipe also taught me a few new tricks – first, that fresh basil can sometimes be a tough old thing, and a minute or two in a hot, blanching bath will do it wonders, secondly, that I’m drowning my roasted tomatoes in liquid when just a tablespoon or two will suffice, and thirdly, I don’t use either vinegar or my broiler enough.
But making this incredibly delicious pasta – indeed, all three of the dishes – laid bare what I consider to be the one and only flaw to the Hello Fresh service – namely, that the very small portion sizes do not represent good value as set against the per plate cost. When I pulled the ingredients for this recipe out of the bag, I had a great laugh at the comically small amount of dried rigatoni. Look at how teeny weeny it is!
However, looking at it in a more positive light, making these recipes also exposed one major obstacle to my plateaued weight loss efforts, that being that I’m wildly overestimating my portion sizes. A single serving of this rigatoni dish clocked in at 727 calories, and as I’ve already indicated, I not only thought the portion sizes were tragically tiny, but that I could have eaten about three times as much. So a cool 2,200 calories in pasta alone. Which may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but could I have eaten both bowls? Yes, absolutely. Which may account for at least some of my inability to move the weight loss needle in any significant way for some months now. Creeping portion sizes are a real dink.
Thai Massaman Veggie Skewers with Basmati Rice, Eggplant and Cremini Mushrooms
Well, this was an unexpected hit! As in I had expected to hate it, because I really, really dislike Thai food, just to an unbelievable degree. But I’m always game to try something new (I’ve eaten – and sort of enjoyed? – duck testicles, for pity’s sake) and I’m so glad I did, because this dish was incredibly delicious. I think I cooked the spicy peanut butter sauce down just a tad too much (it was decidedly thicker than the one pictured on the recipe card) but holy crow, who cares, it was great. I particularly loved the bright flavours of the cilantro-lime basmati rice, and prior to this, I would have gone to the mat over my hatred for basmati rice. But this was a particularly inoffensive basmati, neither too flowery, nor too starchy. Like the rigatoni, I’d make this yummy dish again in a heartbeat.
However, about an hour after eating, both Mr. Finger Candy and I were utterly famished; like, gnawing the chair rail molding hungry (no, just us? We do have a lot of decorative molding in our apartment.) These veggie skewers were so delicious, but once again, there was simply not enough food.
Mixed Bean and Veggie Panzanella Salad with a Lemon Vinaigrette
Finally, we come to the dish I was the least enthused about (bean and bread salad, really?) and while it was tasty, it was my least favourite of the three recipes, in large part because this kit was missing the Italian seasoning blend, a somewhat crucial component to a salad where the only other flavour is LEMON!!! Oh my gosh, so, SO lemony; too lemony. I cobbled together a vaguely Italian-ish seasoning blend from spices in my pantry, but that’s somewhat defeating the whole “exactly what you need inside” principle Hello Fresh literally prints on the outside of their bags. What would you do if you didn’t have any of those spices in your kitchen? Eat intensely lemony bean and bread salad, that’s what. And while I actually quite enjoyed the hearty beans with the fresh, crunchy vegetables and the toasted garlic bread cubes (the smell as they were toasting was utterly intoxicating) I thought the vinaigrette could have benefited from both the missing Italian seasoning blend, and a tablespoon or so of dijon mustard.
Geez, I also forgot that one half of one of the mini cucumbers had gone mushy, requiring me to substitute a handful of cherry tomatoes from the fridge. Delicious, but again, quite besides the point. Presumably because of the beans, this dish was super duper filling. And I’d absolutely make this dish again as well, just with a few necessary flavour adjustments. This recipe really represented the poorest value for the money, though, and I would not have been happy paying the full plate price ($12.33) for such a dish. Heck, I’m not sure if I was happy paying $5.67 per plate.
The too-long, didn’t-read version breaks down like this: I see a lot of utility for a meal kit delivery service like Hello Fresh for many, many people – those who hate to shop and would prefer if someone else did it for them (me!), those with little cooking experience or a very pared down kitchen (definitely not me), people who travel a lot and never keep a fully stocked kitchen (occasionally me), home chefs looking to juice their repertoire of recipes (very much me; I’m always on the lookout for a great vegetarian meal), travelers staying in suites with kitchens who may wish to make their own meals (never, ever me; I’m not cooking after a long day at the Disney parks!), those on restrictive diets seeking to strictly monitor their portion sizes (should be me, apparently) or those looking for a unique wedding or other special occasion gift (not me anytime soon that I know of, although I’d gladly accept such a gift!)
Ultimately, though, I think the main reason a person might continue on in their Hello Fresh subscription is because they have a lot of disposable income and they don’t mind spending it in this fashion. Because for all of the positives – and there are many, many positives, nearly overwhelmingly so – the price-to-value ratio is so skewed, I think you just have to enjoy the experience of a meal kit delivery service, and nothing more complicated than that. And if you do see value in something like Hello Fresh, that’s awesome; if we could afford it, we would have continued on with our subscription. But as it was, the increasingly budget-conscious person I’m becoming derived little pleasure from knowing that I could have made four times the amount of pasta using $30 worth of full size ingredients that I got off my own butt and bought at the store.
So would I use Hello Fresh again? In the words of one of my personal heroines, Mabel Pines of the animated TV show Gravity Falls, yes, definitely, absolutely! With the caveat being that it would have to come along with a pretty major discount to offset what I consider to be the one stumbling block to the service – the prohibitive cost. Otherwise, I loved the entire experience – it was fun, produced really tasty meals and was a nice little break from the usual. One and three-quarters of a thumb up for Hello Fresh from this blogger.