These meal subscription boxes are the best values

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Cooking is one of life’s simple pleasures.

Deciding what to eat, hauling groceries from the store, and figuring out how to smush them together into something edible (let alone delicious)? Those aspects are not such a pleasure. Not after a hard day’s work, anyway …

Luckily, we live in the future now. A meal subscription box is like a 3D printer for restaurant-style home food. You just tap your preferences into your computer, pay your fees, and wait for a weekly recipe box to arrive with precise ingredients for you to piece together calmly.

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But some recipes burn a hole in your wallet more than others. That’s why Top Dollar opened up the box to see what really comes with your subscription, assessing the US and UK meal boxes that cost the least and those that offer the most value compared to buying the ingredients separately.

The Cheapest and Best Value Meal Boxes in the US

We collected all the recipes available online for each meal box company and added up the cost of the ingredients if bought at a popular local supermarket chain. Then we averaged out the price and cost for each subscription company. Each figure is equal to 4 meals for 2 people (i.e. 8 portions) as standard.

Meal delivery subscriptions

Neomam

 

EveryPlate prides itself on being “affordable for everyone.” And its box is not just the cheapest in our study, it also provides the best value. With an EveryPlate meal, you’re paying an average of just $12.76 on top of the cost price. At the other end of the scale, the separate ingredients in a Sunbasket vegan meal box cost just $3 more than EveryPlate’s – but the box itself costs more than twice as much (Sunbasket $95.92 vs. EveryPlate $39.92).

However, these two companies are playing to different markets, as the recipe names suggest. Compare, for example, chicken sausage penne with pink sauce plus zucchini and melty mozzarella (EveryPlate) to mushroom tostadas with pinto beans and cabbage slaw (Sunbasket).

EveryPlate reputedly delivers simple, satisfying after-school dinners, while Sunbasket offers chic, healthy, organic meals with a wide range of dietary options. You’re also paying a slight exclusivity premium with Sunbasket – the price tag itself lends a feeling of luxury.

Dinnerly is price-positioned as an alternative to EveryPlate, but nearly half of what you pay for Dinnerly disappears before you even get to the first ingredient. Green Chef and Purple Carrot offer vegan boxes to rival Sunbasket’s price, and you get a few extra bucks’ worth of food for your outlay.

Mindful Chef and Riverford Battle for UK’s Top Premium Recipe Box

Meal box firms are prospering in the UK, despite recent Brexit/Covid-led stock availability challenges. Lockdown boredom drove Brits into the kitchen, their consciences eased by studies showing that meal boxes can have a lighter impact on the environment than store-bought groceries. (The supply chain of the food itself offsets the additional packaging that some subscriptions include.)

HelloFresh, the owner of US company EveryPlate, offers both the best value and the lowest prices in our UK study. However, Gousto is second-placed for both cost and value, and there is just £3 price difference between the companies, and just over £4 difference in value. Gousto’s biryani is “a comforting b*****d, and ready in an astonishing 35 minutes,” according to the Guardian.

At the deluxe end of the UK recipe box market, FeastBox charges £60 for ingredients that cost less than HelloFresh. With that in mind, it’s worth paying three or four pounds extra to get around 30% more ingredients from Mindful Chef or Riverford.

Mindful Chef’s unique selling point is a focus on nutritional planning, social responsibility, and “recycled denim insulation.” Yum! (No, really, though – it’s also “delicious and unusual.”) Riverford, meanwhile, is an employee-owned, farming-oriented cooperative that initially emerged to deliver simple veggie and grocery boxes, before later diversifying into meal subscriptions. Riverford also offers the best-value vegan recipe box.

Boxing Clever

There are undoubted pleasures in the meal subscription box: the unboxing, the presentation, the ease of preparation, and – if you follow the instructions! – the restaurateur levels of achievement unlocked with that delicious first bite.

But the costs are significantly higher than shopping for the ingredients alone. And if it’s sometimes nice to “buy off” the time you’d need to spend trawling grocers for bits and pieces, remember once in a while to ask yourself: what are you really spending your hard-earned cash to buy off? Isn’t the pleasure sometimes in the hunt?

Well, sometimes.

METHODOLOGY & SOURCES

We collected all the recipes available online for each meal subscription box to find the ingredients and portions. We standardized boxes by taking the price charged for 4 meals for 2 people (or 8 portions). We then cross-referenced the prices of those ingredients against a popular local supermarket chain in each country. Using this information we calculated the difference between the average cost of ingredients and the amount charged for the subscription box. We then ranked the results by price difference, and then by ingredients’ cost.

The data was collected in Aug-Sept 2021.

This article originally appeared on Top Dollar and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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In “Kitchen Confidential,” Anthony Bourdain famously said that stock is one of the biggest differences between restaurant cooking and home cooking. It’s the secret ingredient that adds depth, intensity, and structure to any dish. Don’t take his word for it, though.

 

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Stock not only brings tremendously concentrated flavor to any dish, it is also the way to turn scraps that might otherwise go to waste into a delicious, versatile, and long-lasting super ingredient.

 

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Stock is a great way to use up excess aromatic vegetables or vegetables that are on their last legs like celery cores, slightly wilted carrots, or that random half an onion that your roommate stashed in the fridge and never finished.

Stock is also a great way to use parts of vegetables that you don’t normally cook with, like leek greens, scallion roots, and fennel fronds. We do not recommend using things like onion skins and carrot peels in stock as they don’t add a ton of flavor, but the final call is up to you!

 

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Onions, carrots, celery, garlic, leeks, fennel, mushrooms, thyme, parsley.

Note: Avoid cruciferous veggies like cabbage or brussels sprouts as they can result in a bitter stock.

 

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Fresh herbs like thyme and parsley are lovely in stock but be careful of intense/woody herbs like rosemary as they can overpower it. Double concentrated tomato paste adds a nice combo of sweetness, acidity, and savoriness.

A parmesan cheese rind (too often thrown out!) in stock adds a wonderful savory flavor. If you’ve got a splash of wine left over, it can be a great way to round out your stock, too.

 

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Try roasting or sautéeing your vegetables ahead of time to deepen their flavor.

If you’re using meat, save the bones/meat scraps from your roast chicken or choose cuts like shanks and oxtails as they are cheaper and make for a more flavorful stock with more body.

 

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Save your veggie and meat scraps in your freezer and once you’ve got enough to make stock, make a big batch on a Sunday. The great thing about stock is once you put it on a simmer, you can start cooking other food, go for a hike, or just chill until it’s done. Once you’ve strained and cooled your stock, label and date it and keep it in the freezer!

 

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In addition to being the perfect base for a restorative soup, you can use your stock as a braising liquid for meat or vegetables, as a medium for cooking rice or grains, and as the ultimate flavorful punch for your next sauce!

 

This article originally appeared on ImperfectProduce.comand was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

 

 

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Featured Image Credit: bondarillia/ istockphoto .

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