The ultimate ranking of meals delivered in boxes.
You’ve probably seen or heard about the trend of food boxes from companies like HelloFresh.
It’s not easy to eat healthy, wholesome, home-cooked meals seven-nights a week.
That’s why when food delivery services, like HelloFresh, started popping up they brought such a breath of fresh air to home cooking.
These groups tend to all work in the same way.
You sign up on a weekly or fortnightly delivery schedule, pick a number of recipes that you want to cook the following week, and await delivery of a cardboard box with exactly the right ingredients to cook said meals.
Think tiny packets of sesame seeds, crushed chilli flakes or oregano. Sprigs of chives or rosemary. Clumps of rocket, spinach or parsley. And bundles of fresh pasta, pancetta lardons and chicken breasts.
All weighed, measured and ready to cook.
Healthy meals with not a pinch of pepper or clump of parsley left to waste.
It might sound idylistic but HelloFresh, by far the biggest food box delivery service, claims to deliver over 7.2m meals every month to its subscribers across the UK, Europe, the US and Australia.
But in this world of cardboard boxes and square meals, which food box is best?
The Memo decided to find out, so we ordered five of the leading food boxes to find out which is best:
The big daddy of food boxes.
Its partnership with star chef Jamie Oliver, who creates recipes for HelloFresh, and endless promotions across Britain won’t have escaped your attention.
And it shouldn’t, because HelloFresh is by far the sleekest, most professional and full-featured food box service we tried.
That starts with an extensive selection of different styles of boxes (Classic, Veggie, Family) as well as different number of meals within those boxes (3/5 meals for 2, 3, or 4 people, etc), and different meals each week (pick ⅗ recipes from 5 different ones each week).
The typical price of a single meal with HelloFresh is £6.50, with 3 meals for 2 people costing £39.
Once you’ve cracked open the box everything is clearly partitioned, the heavy stuff, fresh stuff, chilled stuff, etc, but ingredients are not divided into meals as some of the other services do, so a slight markdown there.
For its recipes the language HelloFresh uses is clear and succinct with lots of good photography and some nice facts and titbits dotted around the page, but which are kept clearly separate from the main recipe.
HelloFresh has also gone far beyond simple paper recipes, the service has an excellent app which improves on the written recipe by bundling in extra photos, nutrition info and timers for every step in the cooking process.
Put a pot of potatoes on the boil? Tap the timer to remind you in 10 minutes when they’re done. It’s a nice touch.
And the meal itself? Excellent.
For our test we tried Butterflied Chicken with Feta, Leek and Minted Potatoes, a warm, wholesome delight which brings together salty feta cheese with the sweetness of fried leeks and grilled tomatoes.
Meals are clearly well thought through from start to finish and will expand your culinary horizons by introducing unusual ingredients and cooking methods that are within most people’s abilities.
The crucial timings placed on recipes are fairly accurate and within reason, a 30 minute recipe will probably take you 40 minutes.
Portion sizes (while not the biggest we’ve seen) are adequate and the meal at the end is sure to delight with fresh flavours.
The food 4/5
The recipe 4/5
The service 4/5
Often thought of as HelloFresh’s smaller brother here in the UK, Gousto was started in 2012 and now boasts of having over 300,000 UK customers.
If we’re honest the comparisons are apt, Gousto has clearly taken HelloFresh’s model to heart and done its very best to replicate the experience.
Gousto is really very, very similar to HelloFresh.
Pick a box for either 2 or 4 people and add between 2 and 4 recipes to the box from a selection of 12 (some are ‘quick’, ‘veggie’ or ‘healthy’).
The typical price of a single meal with Gousto is £5.83, with 3 meals for 2 people costing £34.99.
Once your box arrives, again you’ll struggle to tell the difference between Gousto and HelloFresh, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Everything is clearly partitioned, but again, ingredients are not divided into meals like some of the other services do.
While the physical 1-pager is a little smaller than HelloFresh’s, it doesn’t sacrifice clarity and readability.
Gousto actually has more photos in their recipes, literally a photo for every step of the process, as well as links to YouTube videos that will walk you through the more complicated bits in the menu.
The paper recipe edges slightly ahead of HelloFresh’s, but while Gousto’s app also offers a digital version of their recipes, it lacks the timers, bells and whistles that HelloFresh boasts.
Gousto has a nice balance between going for the mainstream, and broadening your culinary skills.
We tried Artisan Pancetta & Tomato Pasta, which is a slightly more complicated version of a crème fraîche pasta sauce that you may have even cooked before.
Timings were spot on, recipes are rigorously well thought through and meals, as we mentioned, are a perfect balance of tapping into your existing cooking skills while gently introducing new concepts and ingredients.
Portions, again like HelloFresh, are adequate.
If we had to mark-down Gousto on anything it would simply be that the service is too similar to HelloFresh. There’s nothing particularly unique here.
Although given that Gousto’s food box is £4 cheaper than HelloFresh, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The service 4/5
The recipe 4/5
The food 4/5
As its name suggests Riverford Organic prides itself on its organic credentials. What started in the early 2000s as a simple veg box delivery service from the synonymous farm in Devon has today grown across the country to serve around 47,000 customers a week.
Think more local produce, with some more unusual ingredients dotted around, with meals that have a rustic homely feel to them.
Slightly less choice and flexibility than a service like HelloFresh, Riverford has 3 different box types (original, quick, and their guest chef of the week) which have either 2 or 3 meals for 2 people. Unlike HelloFresh there’s no changing the meals in a box, so if you don’t like the ‘original’ box recipes this week, tough.
The typical price of a single meal with Riverford is £6.65, with 3 meals for 2 people costing £39.95.
Packaging is broadly similar to HelloFresh, but with some odd compartments for some ingredients of some meals… but not all of them. It’s a bit of a muddle really.
While we were initially impressed by the attractive fold-out pamphlet recipe style with its serif fonts, there’s a good reason why the more successful food services have opted for simple 1-page recipe with basic sans serif fonts.
It’s because recipes should prioritise delivering information in the heat of the moment, rather than impressing you with their design skills and flowery language (which some of our team also complained about).
We were also disappointed by the lack of photos in Riverford’s recipe, when cooking a fairly complicated meal (more on that next) more pictures would have given some much-needed guidance.
We had some big problems here.
When a recipe promises “Prep & Cook: 50 minutes” we sure don’t expect to still be cooking two hours later. But that’s exactly what happened when we attempted to cook Riverford’s Broad Bean Empanadas with Spinach, Sheep’s Cheese & Green Sauce.
Take the journey of our broad beans.
They needed to be removed from their pods, boiled for 3 minutes, cooled in cold water for another minute, drained, every bean must then be removed from their skins, roughly chopped and then mixed in to create the filling for the home-made empanadas that we also had to roll-out from scratch. Bear in mind there was a 20 minute “bake in the oven” at the end of it all.
It would require a truly super-human chef to make this meal in under an hour.
And that’s a shame because the resulting meal of empanadas was excellent and the ingredients were clearly top quality. Sadly the sheer complexity of the recipe and amount of preparation required means there are few families who would be able to cook this in an evening.
The service 3/5
The recipe 3/5
The food 1/5
The youngest service we tried, Mindful Chef only started last year with a small team of passionate foodies sourcing all their produce from Devon and the West Country.
Unlike other services Mindful Chef does have a specific health-angle that it’s targeting, as they put it: “we believe in reducing your intake of gluten and that refined sugars and refined carbohydrates should be avoided.”
They also heavily prioritise protein over carbs and are clearly angling for the most health conscious of consumers.
That means pasta dishes, bread and white rice are all firmly off their menu.
Mindful Chef is far more simple than other services. Choose how many people you’re cooking for (1, 2 or 4) and pick as few or as many meals you want from a list of around 8.
The typical price of a single meal with Mindful Chef is £6.60, with 3 meals for 2 people costing £39.50.
One thing we did like is that Mindful Chef offers deliveries for 1 person, while most other services only offer meals for 2 people. With around 40% of the population being single, we’re glad to see a food delivery service that caters to this market.
Another thing we really liked was Mindful’s packaging. It was the only service we tried that divides ingredients into meals for you.
After unpacking ingredients from five different food box delivery services, we can’t tell you how time-saving and refreshing this is.
An attractive small 1-pager recipe that we’d love to put in our recipe collection, but one which sadly suffers from serif fonts (Gah!) that are simply too small, which just isn’t helpful in the heat of the moment.
Mindful Chef sadly doesn’t have enough pictures in their recipe either, only showing you what the completed food should look like, not much help when you’re muddling through a complex recipe (more on that next).
While they have the potential to be great, sadly Mindful Chef is prioritising style over substance with their recipes.
We cooked Mindful Chef’s Beef Burger with Poached Egg, Spinach & Beetroot Crisps.
On the positive side Mindful have clearly thought through their recipes, spacing out the food preparation, and the food quality is excellent.
But there were major negatives.
Cooking a poached egg in a whirlpool of boiling water is far, far beyond the abilities of most people.
Expecting people to be able to do this without ending up with a pot of eggy water and a ruined dinner is simply madness.
And giving recipe timings of 25 minutes but with a recipe that includes two 15 minute cooking sections is also crazy.
It’s such a shame because of all the boxes we tried Mindful Chef is the most modern, enjoyable service we used, it’s just a shame that this falls apart once you’ve unpacked their beautifully packaged box.
The service 5/5
The recipe 3/5
The food 1/5
If you’ve never heard of Marley Spoon before, that’s probably not a surprise, the service only started in 2014 but already covers six countries including the US, Australia and Germany.
Apart from that we didn’t think there was anything particularly noteworthy with Marley Spoon…
Marley Spoon is sadly more restrictive than some other services, only offering a 2-person box and a family box (2 adults, 2 children) with a selection of recipes.
Luckily it makes up for this by being the cheapest food box delivery service of any we tried.
The typical price of a single meal with Marley Spoon is £5.80, with 3 meals for 2 people costing £34.80.
Another nice thing to note here, Marley Spoon offers a free ‘Cooking hotline’ if you have any questions or difficulties with a particular recipe. Lines are open 5pm to 8pm Tuesday – Saturday (why not Monday?!) and it’s a great addition that we hope other services will quickly copy.
A large 1-pager with lots of big panoramic photos, ingredients highlighted in bold throughout and a clear step-by-step recipe.
While the physical recipe is larger than HelloFresh or Gousto’s it uses this extra size to boost readability and make reading and cooking a breeze.
Marley Spoon’s recipes aren’t just beautiful, they’re a pleasure to cook with too.
We tried Marley Spoon’s Portobello Mushroom Pasta Bake with Peppery Rocket Salad and it was excellent.
This is the kind of wholesome, hearty food that you want to be eating after a long day in the office.
The recipe time was accurate within reason (a “30 minute” recipe that probably took us 35 minutes).
The cooking process wasn’t too complex – chop this, fry that, boil, etc – and you won’t need a sous chef or partner on hand to help.
Marley Spoon’s portion sizes, not something that any other service should be shouting about, were superb.
For both the Pasta Bake, and another Marley Spoon recipe we tried, we were left with ample portions and enough extra for an additional plate of food or for the next day’s lunch.
For its price Marley Spoon is the best food box delivery service on the market, right now it’s the one that all others should strive to beat.
The service 5/5
The recipe 5/5
The food 5/5
Marley Spoon is hands down the very best food box we tried.
Large, colourful recipes which are full of photos, healthy meals that are full of flavour and boast portions far bigger than any other we tried.
Nice bonuses like a cooking helpline if you get stuck, which you won’t because Marley Spoon’s recipe’s are well considered and will only gently stretch your cooking prowess.
Finally there’s that low cost: Marley Spoon is inexpensive, but by no means is it cheap.
Top notch grub, at a good price, with hearty portions.
What more could you want?