Meal kits deliver taste and convenience, but consider the cost

February 3, 2023

During the months I was recovering from an injury, we subscribed to delivery of two meal kits each week from Hello Fresh. Originally founded in Germany in 2011, the company has operations in several countries around the world and offers meal delivery options under a number of different brands, from ready to heat and eat to measured ingredients and instructions for the home cook.

One of the things I noticed about the service in the early weeks was a change in the style and amount of packaging. This was a conscious decision by the company to address sustainability goals and implement actions to solve climate change challenges. On their website you can find an impressive analysis of their sustainability policies and metrics that are as far-reaching as the construction elements in their facilities.

Once I gained a level of independence as I recovered, I found myself debating whether or not to cancel the service. First vote to cancel came from my wallet, as the weekly two-person, two-meal subscription averaged just under $60, including shipping. Another vote to cancel came from the repetitive nature of the recipes. For example, every creamy sauce was built from pan drippings, stock concentrate, water and sour cream or cream cheese.

The next vote to cancel was driven by my regular frustration with some of the instructions, which were often counterintuitive. It didn’t make sense to me to cook a protein, then remove it from the skillet to assemble a sauce. You can just as well undercook the protein and leave it in the skillet as you stir together the sauce. Finally, some of the most intriguing meals come with a surcharge of up to $10, a deal breaker for me.

By way of explanation, let me take you through the meal in the photo: mini meatloaves with gravy, roasted potato wedges and broccoli. Among the packaged ingredients was a packet of ketchup, of which only half would be used. As I read the instructions for the meatloaf mixture, it seemed far too dry, so I stirred in the extra ketchup rather than discarding it.

Instead of roasting the two vegetables together, the instructions directed me to place the meat and broccoli on the same baking sheet. Reluctant to have the meat juices run into the broccoli, I switched up the contents of the two pans, leaving the meat on its own. Unlike many of the kits, which try to minimize the number of pans or bowls, this one had me use three separate cooking pans.

After all this negative commentary, I need to complete the story – the food was delicious. The small size of the two meatloaves allowed them to cook in just about 20 minutes. The addition of minced onion and parsley gave them a nice texture, and the creamy sauce melted into the ketchup spread on top of the loaves, creating a lovely flavor.

But, if I look at the cost of ingredients, I could have made this same meal for two people for less than $10, instead of almost $30. So, the question becomes how much is convenience worth? Now that I am close to fully recovered and able to shop for groceries (albeit with help), it seems logical to cut the cord with Hello Fresh and start planning our meals without a costly delivery service. I’ll use the money we save to go out to our favorite restaurants.

Meatloaf & Onion Gravy

1/4 C panko
2 T ketchup (divided)
1 egg yolk
2 T minced parsley (divided)
1 small diced onion (divided)
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
10 oz ground beef
1 T butter
1 T flour
1/2 C beef stock

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line a rimmed baking pan with aluminum foil; set aside. In a mixing bowl whisk together panko, ketchup, egg yolk, 1 T parsley, half the diced onion, salt and pepper. Add meat and use your hands to combine the ingredients. Form into two small loaves and place on the prepared baking pan. Spread remaining ketchup on top of loaves. Bake until cooked through, about 20 minutes. As meatloaves finish baking, make the gravy by sautéing remaining onion in butter in a small skillet until tender, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and stir to combine. Deglaze the pan with beef stock and continue cooking until thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in remaining parsley, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle gravy over meatloaves to serve. Yield: 2 servings.

Roasted Potato Wedges

1 lb Yukon gold potatoes
1 T olive oil
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a rimmed baking pan with aluminum foil; set aside. Cut the potatoes into half-inch-thick wedges. Arrange on prepared baking pan in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil; toss to coat, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until tender and golden, about 25 minutes. Yield: 2 to 3 servings.

Roasted Broccoli

1/2 lb broccoli florets
1 T olive oil
salt & pepper
red pepper flakes (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil; set aside. Trim off the dried bottoms of the broccoli stalks and cut into bite-sized pieces, if necessary. Spread the broccoli in a single layer on the prepared pan and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat each piece, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes (if using) to serve. Yield: 2 to 3 servings.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter