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Fresh n' Lean review: The best prepared meal delivery service we've tried

Period. End of story.

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David Watsky/CNET

If you're looking for the best prepared meal delivery service overall in 2021, I've got some good news. Meal delivery is convenient, first and foremost, and that's an indisputable fact about pretty much all of them. What's less certain is whether a given meal subscription service will churn out pre-made lunches and dinners that are actually good, good for you and worth the money. 

When it comes to ready-to-eat meal delivery, there are naturally some hits and misses. Even within a particular service no matter how well run an operation, you're bound to run into some meals that taste amazing and others that fall flat. Knowing these variables, the goal is finding the meal delivery service with the most great-tasting and healthy meals for you to for those days or nights you don't want to cook -- or clean up -- but still desire something delicious.

I hadn't heard much about the brand before I began my review of Fresh n' Lean, but from basic website and marketing jargon, I deciphered that it was a meal service aimed at those looking to eat healthy, with plans for keto, paleo, organic and plant-based diets. With a number of other prepared meal services looking to capture a similar audience, I wanted to see how the healthy meal service stacked up in a taste test so I unpacked and ate my way through two week's worth of meals to rustle up this firsthand review of Fresh n' Lean.

At last count, I've tested somewhere in the neighborhood of ten prepared meal services. Some have been reliable and consistent with crave-worthy and comforting recipes but packed a few more calories than one might want. Others have the health thing down, using wholesome, organic ingredients in healthy recipes but come at a hefty price and include some meals that just aren't great. All of them have strengths and weaknesses but I'd been hoping to find a meal delivery service that could crack the code by taking wholesome and healthy ingredients and consistently turning them into interesting meals I'd look forward to. In my latest victim, Fresh n' Lean, I may have found exactly that. 

Fresh n' Lean

Like

  • Overall, the best prepared meals I've tried.
  • Food looked appetizing upon arrival.
  • Healthy, whole and mostly organic ingredients with lots of variety.
  • Competitive prices and shipping is free.

Don't Like

  • Menu choices are largely preset, except for expensive a la carte options.
  • Changing your meal plan requires a phone call or email.
  • An occasional overcooked chicken breast

Read moreSunbasket review: Healthy, creative meal kits with fresh market add-ons

How Fresh n' Lean works

Fresh n' Lean is an organic prepared meal subscription service, so -- unlike a "cook it yourself" meal kit service -- it sends precooked and vacuum-sealed meals to your door every week. When you sign up, you choose one of five meal plans: Protein Plus, Paleo, Keto, Vegan or Low-Carb Vegan. Next, you'll choose how many days per week you want meals (five or seven) and how many meals per day -- breakfast, lunch and dinner or any combination of the three. 

The price per meal doesn't change regardless of whether you choose five or seven days of meals, but it does vary significantly based on how many meals per day you opt for. For instance, choose only dinners for the Protein Plus plan and it'll be about $15 per meal but the price drops down to $10.41 per meal if you get breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

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One of Fresh n' Lean's vegan offerings: Tofu with chili-lime rice and broccoli. 

David Watsky/CNET

Meals are delivered every Friday unless you choose to pause your subscription or skip for any particular week. A pause or week skip must both be done by Sunday of the previous week. 

Two important pro tips: Fresh n' Lean's standard subscription is for weekly deliveries, but if you call the customer care line (888-420-4080) they'll adjust your plan to bi-weekly - a good way to test the service, or if you don't want five meals every week. Likewise, if you want to change to a different meal track -- say, from Keto to Low-carb Vegan -- you'll need to call that number or email "hello [at] freshnlean.com." Note that neither change can be done online. 

Read more: The best weight loss diets for 2021, according to experts

Fresh n' Lean meals are cooked by actual people in the brand's kitchen in Anaheim, California, where they're portioned, packaged and delivered fresh, not frozen as with some services. All meals are fridge- or freezer-ready, and it might sound obvious but don't forget to pop any meals in the freezer that you don't plan to eat within a few days.

Fresh n' Lean has a la carte meal options too, including bulk proteins, but these are significantly more expensive -- about $15 per meal -- and you'll need to meet an $85 minimum. You can also add a la carte items onto your subscription delivery each week, but the prices remain the same (expensive). 

What are Fresh n' Lean meals like?

Fresh n' Lean has great variety while keeping everything pretty healthy, as you might suspect with a name like that. There are very hearty dinners such as grass-fed steak with bearnaise and sweet potato along with lighter fare including chicken thigh with curried spinach and sesame cod with bok choy. 

The vegan menu features a few tofu stir-fries each week along with rice or bean bowls and also some faux meats like seitan or plant-based chicken used in various ways. The food is not heavily seasoned but there are plenty of interesting flavors, spices and sauces plucked from popular world cuisines.

Most Fresh n' Lean meals fall somewhere in the 400-to-500 calorie range. The keto meals are, of course, low in carbs and make frequent use of cauliflower, eggplant and other hearty vegetables. Fresh n' Lean meals are all made with real, mostly organic ingredients, and there was nothing mysterious on the labels to decipher -- something I always like to see.

I found Fresh n' Lean portions to be adequate but not excessive, which I assume is to encourage portion control for those trying to watch calorie intake. I wouldn't expect leftovers, and big eaters may find them to be on the small side.

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The ingredients list for my Mediterranean chicken.

David Watsky/CNET

How much do Fresh n' Lean meals cost?

There are many pricing combinations depending on the meal plan and frequency. Too many, perhaps. For a snapshot, Fresh n' Lean meals start at under $8 when you pick three meals a day from the Vegan Standard plan. Keep in mind, that would mean receiving 15 or 21 meals per week. 

Fresh n' Lean pricing

Meal Plan Price per meal (3 meals per day) Price per meal (2 meals per day) Price per meal (1 meal per day)
Protein Plus $10.41 $12.18 $14.75
Paleo $10.78 $12.60 $15.18
Keto $10.78 $12.60 $15.18
Vegan $7.93 $10.05 $12.64
Vegan Low Carb $9.63 $11.96 $13.67

If you want meals with meat, it'll be about $12 per meal for two meals per day (10 or 14 meals per week) and closer to $15 per meal if you choose only one meal per day (five or seven total meals per week). So, yeah, the more you order the cheaper it gets, but don't forget that trick I mentioned about scheduling bi-weekly boxes instead of every week. Our little secret.

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Chili lime tofu with rice and broccoli. 

David Watsky/CNET

How my Fresh n' Lean meals stacked up

Now for the fun part. I tested two weeks' worth of Fresh n' Lean meals, all of which were chosen for me. I found all of them to be, at the very least, good and most were far better than that. Overall, Fresh n' Lean had the best-tasting meals of any service I've tried, and it's not particularly close. My food was all fresh and meats were (mostly) cooked nicely and not dry or tough. The same goes for vegetables, which were rarely mushy -- an issue I've encountered often in these tests.

Here's a selection of what I ate and how I liked it.

Chicken thighs with olives, kale and tomato: I loved this one and found it rather unexpected from a service like this. It reminded me of a nice light lunch you might get at a Greek restaurant. A bit of a risky recipe since not everyone loves olives, but it worked like a charm on me.

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Boneless chicken thigh with kale, tomato and olives.

David Watsky/CNET

Chili-lime tofu with rice and broccoli: Being a harsh tofu critic, I had extremely low expectations for this one, but it ended up working well. Both the broccoli and tofu had the right texture -- not mushy or tough -- which isn't always easy to do, and the flavors were bright and balanced. 

Braised beef with vegetables and coconut-cilantro sauce: This was the single best prepared meal I've tried thus far from any service. The beef was four-star-restaurant tender, and all the flavors worked. It was the only one that didn't look so great but I couldn't have cared less.

Chicken breast with cremini mushrooms and tomatoes over rice: This meal had really nice flavor and reminded me of a light chicken cacciatore, and the veggies were cooked nicely. My one complaint is the chicken breast was a tad dry. 

Turkey breast with cauliflower, cranberry and celery hash: An obvious nod to Thanksgiving. I was surprised at how tender the turkey breast was and assume it must have been prepared sous vide. The flavors were mild but classic, and it proved to be a very solid meal. 

turkey-dinner

A surprisingly moist turkey breast over cauliflower and cranberry hash.

David Watsky/CNET

The verdict on Fresh n' Lean meal delivery

I'll keep it simple. If you're looking to try a prepared meal service to keep to a health or nutrition goal or just to have some ready-to-eat meals on hand for those crazy days, Fresh n' Lean ticked the most boxes of any service I've tried and is the one I'd recommend. From vegan tofu stir-fries to the slow-cooked beef dishes, everything I tried over my two-week test run was at least good and most meals were far better than that. 

Save for one slightly dry chicken breast, it's clear that the brand keeps meals to a high standard. An impressive feat considering the food is cooked ahead of time, vacuum-sealed, packed on ice and flown across the country. The meals were all made with simple, healthy ingredients too and everything looked appetizing upon arrival.

Fresh n' Lean may not the cheapest prepared meal service, but it's also not the most expensive either. If you opt for 10 meals per week, it's about $12 per meal and even cheaper if you order more meals per day or choose a plant-based meal plan. This puts Fresh n' Lean squarely in the same price range as some other meal delivery services I've tried and most of them weren't nearly as good. 

Note: I did not test Fresh n' Lean's breakfast meals or bulk add-ons for this review.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.