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.

Nothing compares to a fresh, home-cooked meal made with quality ingredients straight from the farmers market and seasoned to perfection. It’s equal parts care and delicious personalized flavor. (These are our favorite stick-to-your-ribs classics.) But, more often than we’d like, this isn’t feasible. The kids’ schedules get hectic, work meetings run late, or we just need a break from the kitchen.

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 you’re willing to sacrifice your homemade goodness for one of these alternatives, look no further—we did it for you so you can decide whether it’s a fit for your lifestyle.

I Tried HelloFresh to Make Evenings Easier

For a week, I ordered three meals, two portions each, from HelloFresh. (They also offer boxes with three meals for four.) Because I was cooking for one, these recipes lasted me six nights, but two people could easily polish off the whole box in three days.

There are 17 recipes to choose from each week, including “Calorie Smart,” “Hall of Fame,” “Gourmet Plus” and vegetarian options. My meals of choice? The Pulled Pork Fiesta Bowls, Steaks with Shallot Pan Sauce and Monterey Jack Chicken Sandwiches.

Now let’s dig in…

Did It Save Money?

When I am cooking from scratch for myself, I go to the grocery store weekly. On average, I spend $50, which amounts to a week’s worth of breakfasts and lunches and four day’s worth of dinners (oh, and dessert). The HelloFresh box I ordered, which was the company’s cheapest option, cost $60. This $10 difference would be pretty negligible if I didn’t still have to go to the store to pick up fixings for the week’s breakfasts and lunches.

Ultimately, I totaled about $85 in food for the week—much more than I’d typically spend. But, as many others seem to be, I was willing to splurge for the sake of convenience. It was almost too easy walking into the lobby of my apartment building on Tuesday evening to find an insulated box of tasty ingredients waiting to be cooked. The hardest part? Getting the box up four flights of stairs.

Here’s expert advice on how to save money at the supermarket.

meal prepAnnamarie Higley/Taste of Home

Did It Save Time?

According to the website, HelloFresh’s meals take between 20 and 45 minutes to make, depending on the recipe. Well, that must be if you’re quick in the kitchen. I’m shamefully slow at cooking (yeah, I could probably work on my knife skills…), but each meal took me about 15 minutes longer to make than the recipe projected.

Even so, when making other meals, I normally spend at least an hour in the kitchen. All the HelloFresh meals were on the table in 55 minutes or fewer, thanks to the pre-portioned ingredients, already-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 up in your sink by the end of the meal.

Try these 15-minute dinners for those super-stressful nights.

meal prepAnnamarie Higley/Taste of Home

Were the Meals Easy to Make?

I’m no professional, but these recipes were simple as can be. Easy-to-use direction cards with tips, ingredient lists, and step-by-step photos and instructions made preparation super straightforward. Some of the techniques used in the recipes were caramelizing, roasting, toasting, pan-frying, 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 the same time, time management is critical. You don’t want your pork bowl getting cold as you quickly dice up your pico de gallo. 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 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 beef and chicken stock HelloFresh provides, hardly any items go unused.

Reduce your own food waste by saving these surprisingly edible scraps.

meal prepAnnamarie Higley/Taste of Home

Were the Ingredients Good Quality?

All of the ingredients were on par with what I’d pick up at the supermarket. The produce was fresh and ripe; the pork, steak and chicken was top-notch. The seasoning blends, like the fajita spice blend and the fry seasoning, were oh, so flavorful; the bread was soft yet crunchy. Some of the ingredients were even name brand, like the Daisy sour cream and Colavita balsamic 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. The same could be said of the chicken breasts. Thankfully, these variances don’t affect the taste, which brings us to…

meal prepAnnamarie Higley/Taste of Home

How’d It Taste?

All of these meals were positively scrumptious. I’ve had some serious fails in the kitchen: burnt-to-a-crisp pizza crust, overcooked meat loaf, flavorless soups, thanks to user error, of course, but also shoddy recipes. You 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 family-friendly.

They were also very caloric. The pork bowls, steak and chicken sandwiches were 770, 510 and 810 calories per serving, respectively. When I cook for myself, I try to keep my dinners between 500 and 600 calories. That being said, the portions were very hefty. In fact, I was able to split the pork bowls 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 400 and 500 calories. (If you’re into low-cal entrees like me, these quick, nutritious recipes should be on next week’s menu.)

Would I Order Again?

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 (seriously, it just takes the click of a button), I would definitely consider re-ordering if I’m ever in the mood to treat myself.

This service is probably best for busy couples or small families who don’t have the time to devise lengthy grocery lists or make large grocery hauls 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 in five days.

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Annamarie Higley
Annamarie Higley is an Associate Print Editor for Taste of Home magazine, as well as the brand's special issue publications. A midwestern transplant originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she enjoys hiking, trivia-ing, and—you guessed it!—all things cooking and baking.