I Tried 3 Food Subscriptions & Here's What Happened

Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Food-subscription services are like DIY Seamless: dinner on demand, but made by you. Maybe some of you have tried a few of them, or perhaps you swear by one company in particular. I had yet to try a single one of these trendy services, until recently. And admittedly, I knew little to absolutely nothing about how they work or even how much they cost.

But that all changed when I volunteered to give three of the most popular companies — Hello Fresh, Plated, and Blue Apron — a try. Thus began my solo kitchen saga of nine dinners in one day — making them all in such a short time period was the easiest, most efficient way for me to test them out and compare them. There were no sous chefs, production assistants, or cheerleaders of any kind; it was just me against the kitchen. (Full disclosure: All three services provided my meals for free.)

What did I learn, aside from mistaking a cucumber for a zucchini in a chopping-versus-grating incident, stabbing my thumb with a fork while attempting to shred chicken, and saying "fuck it" to freshly chopped garlic on meal seven (I just threw in garlic powder)?

Keep reading to find out.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Hello Fresh
My culinary journey began at 9:30 a.m. I was feeling good; my kitchen was clean, my tools were sharpened, and I had on my very own branded apron (thanks, Hello Fresh).

1 Box, 3 Meals (each serves 2):
Crispy Salmon (my favorite)
Pesto Chicken Skewers
Chipotle-Glazed Pork Chop

Total Box Cost:
$69.99 (free shipping)

Cost Per Meal (per person): $11.67 (6 total meals for around $12 per serving)

Packaging: In addition to the complimentary HF apron, the individual recipe boxes I found inside were convenient, cute, and the perfect size. I was also pleasantly surprised that the garlic came pre-peeled and portioned in the correct number of cloves per dish (no waste here). Although, I still had to chop and wash all the veggies...
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Crispy Salmon: Ingredients
Nothing like cooking up some crispy salmon first thing in the morn. The ingredients for this recipe were all perfectly fresh and clearly labeled — I'm not usually confident in my fish-cooking abilities, but I felt good going into this one.

Prep & Cook Time
The recipe card told me it would take 30 minutes, and it did! The only real prep work went into washing and chopping the veggies; everything else was straightforward and fast.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Crispy Salmon: Finished Product
This dish was totally worth it. Sure, it was only my first — but for the quality, fantastic flavor pairings (hello, wasabi-aioli dressing), and price, this salmon dish was pretty darn perfect. Not sure I'd be able to beat this $12-per-person meal on my own.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Pesto Chicken Skewers: Ingredients
Moving on to the poultry department — I was excited about the basil-pesto situation, and was still feeling energized...

Prep & Cook Time
...Until I had to saw the chicken thighs into inch-sized, skewer-friendly cubes. Not only did the prep work in this recipe take some time, but I also managed to skewer my thumb more than once in the process (those sticks are sharp AF).
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Pesto Chicken Skewers: Finished Product
This dish was tasty (can you ever go wrong with pesto on anything?). But I felt like I could grab most of these ingredients at the grocery store for less than the $24 meal total (for two servings). Is it worth it to have this sent to your house? Up to you!
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Chipotle-Glazed Pork Chop: Ingredients
So this recipe got a little mismatched — I requested a steak-tip stir-fry, and instead was sent the pork-chop ingredient box with the stir-fry meat. But because I love red meat, I didn't let that slow me down. Onwards and upwards.

Prep & Cook Time
The total time took longer than the recipe card's stated 30 minutes, because small potatoes aren't really "small potatoes." Washing, peeling, and boiling those little suckers took a lot of time.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Chipotle-Glazed Pork Chops: Finished Product
This dish was simple — the flavors were good, but presentation-wise it was just meat and potatoes (oh, and broccoli). Part of this I will attribute to the meat mix-up, so it's possible that the pork chops changed the game. That being said, in the future I'll stick to the grocery store for this one.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Plated
I popped open box number two a little after lunchtime — and although I hadn't completely slowed down, I did lose some steam. But that didn't stop me; I was still psyched for this next batch of new recipes.

1 Box, 3 Meals (each serves 2):
Balsamic Steak Sandwiches (my favorite)
Mediterranean Chicken
Shrimp Tacos

Total Box Cost:
$72 (free shipping)

Cost Per Meal (per person): $12 (6 total meals for $12 per serving)

Packaging: The packaging here opted for multiple labeled bags instead of individual recipe boxes. This quickly created an ingredients-on-counter chaos in my kitchen; I had to spend some time sorting through everything to create efficient recipe piles.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Balsamic Steak Sandwiches: Ingredients
I love a steak sandwich. So I was pretty pumped to make this dish — and with only three recipe bags to use, I was feeling good.

Prep & Cook Time
The total cooking time was less than the recipe card's stated 30 minutes. The steak was easy to sear and the vegetables easy to wash, chop, and arrange.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Balsamic Steak Sandwiches: Finished Product
This was worth it! Although sandwiches may seem like a simple and fairly affordable concept, the flavor pairings (hello, horseradish mayo) and pickled-cucumber side to this dish were inventive, but also easy and delicious. Not to mention, the steak was prime quality, making the price tag 100% worthwhile.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Shrimp Tacos: Ingredients
I was nervous to unwrap this package of shrimp...because veiny, raw shrimp scare me.

Prep & Cook Time
I mustered up the courage to unwrap them, and then had to cut the veiny, raw shrimp into halves. Aside from this yucky process and also having to shuck the corn, the total cooking time was not longer than the stated 20 to 35 minutes. That was a plus!
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Shrimp Tacos: Finished Product
These shrimp tacos were pretty good and super festive-looking — but could have used some sort of defining sauce or cheese to pull them together for next-level taste. Overall, I think that I could have grabbed these ingredients (minus the raw shrimp) at the store for less of a hassle.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Mediterranean Chicken: Ingredients
I was excited for this dish because it looked and sounded delicious — but was also admittedly disheartened by the sheer amount of recipe bags and the fact that I was now on meal number six.

Prep & Cook Time
I tried to stay strong, but this one was a semi-disaster. Not only was there quite a bit of prep work with washing, peeling, and grating OR dicing (i.e. the great cucumber-zucchini mix-up of 2016) the vegetables, but I also suffered a fork-tong injury to my thumb while shredding the chicken (the scar is still visible). My inept veggie-differentiating abilities and exhaustion aside, the overall time was longer than the stated 40 to 50 minutes.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Mediterranean Chicken: Finished Product
Yes, this dish was tasty (the pre-packed naan was a winning touch). But the tzatziki sauce did not reach its full potential (probably due to my chopping of the cucumbers instead of grating). Even so, the Mediterranean-chicken mixture was a bit bland on its own, and I was tempted to douse it in Frank's hot sauce. I would've preferred to stop at the grocery store and make it my way.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Blue Apron
It was now after 4 p.m., and I had just about had it. My nifty new Hello Fresh apron was stained with grease, and I was sweaty and reeked of garlic. Nevertheless, I held onto a glimmer of excitement and hope for my very last box.

1 Box, 3 Meals (each serves 2):
Summer Vegetable Gnocchi
Basque-Style Lamb & Beef Pipérade (my favorite)
Chilled Chicken Ramen

Total Box Cost:
$59.94 (free shipping)

Cost Per Meal (per person): $9.99 (6 total meals for around $10 per serving)

Packaging: The ingredients were very clearly labeled and cleanly packaged, despite being loose inside the box. Bonus points for BA's cute brown "knickknacks" bag containing sauces and seasonings.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Basque-Style Lamb & Beef Pipérade: Ingredients
I was not excited about my first BA recipe — because WTF is a pipérade? It sounded difficult, and I was tired with little time left for an enjoyable dabble in Basque cooking.

Prep & Cook Time
Total surprise! This dish did not take longer than the generously stated 60 minutes. The instructions on the recipe card and the packaged ingredients were simple and straightforward.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Basque-Style Lamb & Beef Pipérade: Finished Product
Hello, beautiful Basque meatballs. One bite of these brought me straight to Flavortown, and restored my dwindled faith in cooking. The ground Espelette pepper (included in the knickknacks bag) made a huge difference. This is something I would otherwise have never made or even known was a thing, rendering it 100% worth the subscription price tag.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Chilled Chicken Ramen: Ingredients
5 p.m. came and went, and I was in serious cooking crunch time. This recipe intrigued me, as I'd never made ramen before (aside from microwavable Cup Noodles), and I also found the individual tomato carton charming.

Prep & Cook Time
Turns out ramen is surprisingly quick and easy to make. The total cooking time was not longer than the stated 45 minutes, and the prep work was limited (although I was tasked with fork-tong shredding the chicken again...).
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Chilled Chicken Ramen: Finished Product
Voilà! This turned out so splendidly that I almost forgot it was the eighth meal I'd cooked that day. It was something that I would never think to make on my own, but that was super-simple and flavorful in an unexpected way. Yet another win from BA — the service made a seemingly complicated dish accessible.


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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Summer Vegetable Gnocchi: Ingredients
I live for pasta. It is something I have grown up eating and have thrown together countless times. So when I reached meal number nine, I was fed up with reading the recipe cards, and went rogue (at this point, 6 p.m. was nearing).

Prep & Cook Time
Because this recipe seemed more intuitive to me than the others (i.e. fewer ingredients and cooking components), I went off-book and threw it together on my own — in less time than the stated 40 minutes.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
Summer Vegetable Gnocchi: Finished Product
I wasn't expecting too much from this dish. Pasta, in my mind, is always simple, and the flavors here seemed very veggie-heavy — and therefore potentially bland. But, I was wrong! The last dish came together in a fresh, flavorful, and texturally and visually pleasing way. That being said, I'm still sticking to buying and making my pasta dishes sans subscription service.

Final Takeaway:
First of all, NEVER cook nine meals in one day. Unless, of course, you're a professional with a team of next-level sous chefs at your beck and call. I'm more of a throw-it-together-and-go kind of girl. But if you're the type of person who needs some guidance with recipe ideas, instructions, and grocery shopping, then these services are absolutely worth checking out.
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Photographed by Elizabeth Buxton.
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