Eating & Drinking

Meal Boxes — Are they really as convenient and time-saving as claimed?

Until a few weeks ago, I had never tried a meal delivery box. A friend asked if I was interested in receiving a trial of free meals; of course I said yes. I redeemed her coupon code for the company GoodFood, and a few days later a large brown box showed up at my doorstep. Inside were three plastic bags filled with fresh food for a meal, several (recyclable) ice packs and a recipe for each bag.  At first I was surprised at how much packaging waste the box generated, given that everything was individually packed in plastic. However when I took a closer look I saw that everything could be recycled, even the ice packs. The GoodFood meals were flavourful, unique, easy to prepare and sometimes provided enough for leftovers.

Photo: GoodFood
Photo: Amanda Havey

Intrigued by the prospect of other “food box” trials, I discovered similar meal service companies that deliver to Ottawa. Most of them offer coupons of 30-50% off for first-time customers, so I tried three more: MissFresh, HelloFresh and Chefs Plate, all offered a similar experience to GoodFood.

Price

Overall the meal services gave a variety of options to pick from each week, but – as always – there were fewer vegetarian options. In general, the meals were tasty and easy to prepare. My top 3 dishes were were HelloFresh’s Quick Veggie Lentil Ziti-Style Pasta Bake, Good Foods’ Grilled Halloumi Fattoush Salad and Chefs Plate’s Baja Fish Taquitos. The menu options change weekly for all services so you’re never eating the same thing twice.

Convenience comes at a price — GoodFood is $65 a week for three meals that serve two people. That works out to around $22 per meal. The contents of one meal was mainly chickpeas, lettuce and cabbage, which are all inexpensive, so you’re paying a premium for the convenience. Speaking of convenience, if you’re short on time after work, Chefs Plate, HelloFresh and GoodFood all provide meals that can be made in less than 15min or 30min (for an extra charge).

GoodFood

Regular – $65 per week
Vegetarian – $59 per week
Easy Prep Box – $75 per week

HelloFresh

Pronto Plan (meals made under 30 min) – $79.98 per week
Veggie Plan – $73.98 per week

Chefs Plate

Two-person Plan – $65.70 per week
*($2 extra per meal for cook time under 15 min)

MissFresh

Custom – $65.94 per week
Chef – $58.74 per week
Vegetarian – $58.74 per week

*all prices indicated for 3 meals per week that serve two individuals

Photo: Amanda Havey

Time Savers

Overall, food boxes offer an easy and healthy alternative to takeout, and they have allowed me to enjoy more of this hot summer rather than meal planning for the upcoming week. However, since the meal services provided my partner and I only 3 meals a week, we were still required to go to to the grocery store for weekly staples: bread, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. Having the meal box service did reduce time spent meal planning and shortened our time in the grocery store. Cooking also felt less daunting when a recipe, which was easy to follow, and the ingredients were laid out clearly in front of me.

Waste

When it comes to waste, this is where some of the meal services distinguished themselves from the others. HelloFresh, GoodFood and Chefs Plate all packaged their meals in individual paper or plastic packaging while MissFresh, opted to reduce packaging and piled the ingredients straight into the box. Unlike the others, HelloFresh even offers an ice pack return program. Recycling the ice packs on your own is also possible, but takes time. You defrost your ice packs, cut them open, empty the gel in the toilet and then rinse out the plastic— a bit of a time commitment for a service that is aiming to reduce time spent meal planning.

Photo: Miss Fresh

As my trial coupon days came to a close, it was time to evaluate if “the food box” was something my partner and I wanted to continue. We juggle work, family time, the gym and social activities, so these boxes allowed us more time for those interests. However, although appealing, we couldn’t justify the premium price.  Alas, when the trial coupons run out, so will my journey of ultimate convenience.