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Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh: Meal kit delivery comparison

We put two of the most popular meal kit delivery services to the test and compared the pros and cons.

Anyone who knows me knows I hate cooking (and grocery shopping). I can make food to survive (can I get a yeehaw from Team Ramen?), but I'm no chef. Meanwhile, my husband is an excellent cook. He loves cooking, watching cooking shows, learning how different foods are made and making literally everything from scratch. Blessed? Yes. Stressed when he wants me to cook with him? Also yes. When I was told my assignment was to try out Blue Apron and HelloFresh, which I still suspect may have been a cruel joke among my editors, I can't say I didn't start sweating.

Meal kit delivery services like these have grown in popularity over the last few years, in part because of the variety and choices on offer from services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. Most of the services on the market send you ingredients to cook a meal (or several), along with a step-by-step recipe. Here's what it was like playing chef with two of the most popular services.

Shelby Brown/CNET

Of all the dinner boxes out there, HelloFresh was the one I'd heard of most often. If you listen to podcasts at all, odds are you've heard an advertisement for the meal kit delivery service. It always sounded like an interesting thing to try, but I wasn't expecting much by way of quality -- for some reason, I had a picture in my mind of a frozen dinner, not fancy plated meals.

HelloFresh is not a frozen dinner. The service has four customizable plans to choose from: Meat & Veggies, Veggie, Family Friendly and Low Calorie diet option. From there, you can select two people or four people, and how many recipes you want per week (two to six). A two-person box ranges from about $50 for two recipes to $115 for six recipes. The meal service charges per serving, plus $7 shipping.  

On the HelloFresh website, you can see a menu of meal options for each plan for the next six weeks, with about 20 meal choices to select from (you can see the menu for each plan without signing up for anything -- perfect for picky eaters). The three recipes I chose were the Balsamic Fig Chicken, the Southwest Chicken Sausage and Rice Skillet and Teriyaki Pork Chops. 

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When I opened the box, I found each meal's fresh ingredients neatly packed into brown paper bags (which you're encouraged to recycle), with the meat tucked under an ice pack. The whole box is structured to keep things cold if you're not home when it shows up, which had been one of my concerns. Everything fit nicely into the fridge (which I cleaned out for this article. You're welcome).  

I felt like a "real" cook every time I emptied a bag's contents. The vegetables were colorful, the greens were never wilted, and any extra spice or additive was already measured out. The menus were simple to read and follow, and included pictures. Specific ingredients were called in boldface type, and the recipes offered cooking tips about each dish: what pots, pans or extra ingredients you might need, how to make it vegetarian if you wanted and even a good wine to pair it with.  

Each dish took about 30-45 minutes to make, give or take some prep time (and the focus required for a newbie chef to avoid losing a finger while slicing and dicing). On average, each dish required at least one pan, one pot, a baking sheet, a chopping board and knife, and maybe a bowl to mix ingredients. A peeler and a meat thermometer were also handy to have around.

I appreciated how the recipe directions had everything timed to the minute so nothing got cold or sat too long when it was finished. We enjoyed every tasty meal, and found the portion sizes ideal; we had leftovers only on the Southwest Chicken Sausage and Rice Skillet dish, which made a good lunch the next day! 

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Balsamic Fig Chicken from HelloFresh

Shelby Brown/CNET
Shelby Brown/CNET

Blue Apron's meals stepped a bit out of our comfort zone. The dishes were creative, included more international spices and did a good job of pairing items that I might not have considered. As with HelloFresh, you can choose from different types of plans, but you do have to create an account and enter your credit card information to see the various plans and menu options. 

The Signature option for two or four people includes "an ever-changing mix of meat, fish, poultry, Beyond Meat and nutritionist-approved recipes created with [Weight Watchers]," according to the site. There's also a Vegetarian option for two. After making your choice, you can decide how many recipes you want per week -- the Signature for Two plan and the Vegetarian options offer two to three recipes per week, and the Signature for Four offers two to four recipes. A two-serving box costs about $50 to $60 per week. The Signature for Four costs $72 to $120 weekly.

We chose Signature for Two, and ordered the Steaks and Caramelized Onion dish, Korean-style Fire Chicken, and Harissa and Honey-glazed Chicken. 

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The ingredients were packaged similarly to HelloFresh, except there were more individual bags, so ingredients for a single meal weren't necessarily grouped together. There were three bags of "Knick Knacks" (sauces, spices, etc.) with the corresponding dish's name on them as well. Everything fit in the fridge, but I could see myself potentially forgetting about some of the food, since it's not in the individual meal bags like HelloFresh. That didn't strike me as a deal-breaker though. 

The recipes were structured similarly to those from HelloFresh, with an easy-to-follow, step-by-step checklist for cooking the meal, along with bolded ingredient names, pictures and a possible wine pairing. 

Read more: How many of these cooking terms do you know?

Blue Apron felt like it required a bit more effort and established cooking knowledge than HelloFresh, though not by much. The recipes sometimes mixed in cooking terminologies like "frond" (the brown bits remaining in the pan after you cook meat) and "aromatic ingredients" (often a combination of vegetables, herbs and sometimes meat). Not knowing these terms, I reread the recipe a couple of times before panicking and asking my husband for help. 

We wound up with leftovers twice, but through no fault of the kit. My husband didn't care for the Korean-style Fire Chicken, and we had a little extra of the couscous side from the Harissa and Honey-glazed Chicken (another great Day 2 lunch). 

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Korean-style Fire Chicken

Shelby Brown/CNET

Takeaways

Shelby Brown/CNET

Overall, we had a positive experience with both Blue Apron and HelloFresh. Though all the meals were delicious, I know that using a meal kit delivery service wouldn't be the best choice for everyone's budget. 

If you're looking to choose between these two meal delivery services based solely on price, it really boils down to your family's needs. A four-week HelloFresh subscription for two people would range roughly between $120 and $460 (for two to six meals). The same timeframe for four people would range between $268 and $748. With Blue Apron, four weeks of weekly boxes for two people would cost between $192 and $240 (for two to three meals). For four people, a month would be between $288 and $479 (for two to four meals). Basically, the two-person, two-meal option on HelloFresh is about $72 less than the same option on Blue Apron -- but for the two-person, three-meal option, the two are about the same. 

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For my house, we tested the two-person, three-recipe box. For that option, a month of orders would come to about $240 for both HelloFresh and Blue Apron (give or take some change). 

Blue Apron doesn't currently offer breakfast recipes, but some of the dinner recipes could easily work as lunches, especially if you've got leftovers. 

It doesn't appear that either service offers specific breakfast or lunch options, but there's a chance of leftovers, depending on how hungry you are, that could roll over into lunch. HelloFresh does have the option to add things to your order like sides and complements (bread, extra proteins and some breakfast options) and desserts or lunch items, for an additional cost, while Blue Apron doesn't. 

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Both services provided meals that were delicious and not too complicated to cook. (And, OK, it was fun!) The meals all required about the same amount of prep, cooking and cleanup time, on average. Ultimately, it comes down to what you're looking for. I personally don't think I'd subscribe for good, but it's definitely a nice idea to keep these services under your hat for dinner parties or date nights if you're looking to impress. The kits also helped me overcome some of my kitchen anxiety and made me curious to try other recipes. 

HelloFresh's packaging, beginner-friendly instructions and lower cost for a monthly subscription gave it a slight edge over Blue Apron for me. But you should look into both options and take advantage of free trials and offers. There's no commitment to stick with either, so you could try both if you're able to and see which you like best. In addition, both services have mobile apps for extra convenience. 

Happy cooking!

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