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Out of the Box

Six home-delivery meal kit services that make cooking healthy, chef-worthy dishes simple. Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

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Six home-delivery meal kit services that make cooking healthy, chef-worthy dishes simple. Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

Maybe you’re tired of take-out or fed up with frozen entrées. Maybe you’re like me and prefer home-cooked meals, but just don’t have the time or energy to cook every week. After all, preparing just one meal can involve a lot of prep work—combing through recipes, writing out shopping lists, going to the market, and slogging through traffic. Then there’s actually cooking the meal and trying to coordinate the timing of your main dish with any sides.

So the question remains, “What’s for dinner?” Enter a new slew of home-delivery meal kits, including recipes and the ingredients you need to make them, that come right to your door. This recent food trend is springing up everywhere and becoming incredibly popular. It’s easy to see why—all the prep work has been done for you. Most dishes take under an hour to make. The steps are coordinated so your timing is never off. The ingredients are perfectly measured, and fresh herbs and produce are always on the menu.

Here’s how it works: A box of all of the items you will need for the dishes you have chosen from the company’s website is delivered to your door each week (they’re well-packed in ice so they’re fine sitting unrefrigerated for hours). All you need to do is follow the easy step-by-step instructions on the recipe cards and you will look like a superstar chef. I tried several of these services. Here are some of the tastiest and healthiest I found.

Chef Seth Freedman created the recipes I received from Peach Dish, and they were beyond amazing—his “Beef Tenderloin with Herbed Onion Rings & Charred Okra” was one of the best meals I prepared during this experiment. My boyfriend remarked that it was “restaurant quality.” Freedman’s “Chicken Braciole with Tomato-Basil Capellini” rivaled anything I have been served in an Italian restaurant. No wonder—Freedman’s bio on the recipe cards explained that he graduated first in his class from the world-renowned Culinary Institute of America.

Peach Dish is based in Georgia, so several of the dishes have a Southern flair (such as including okra as a side and soaking the onion rings in buttermilk before coating them). Menu items change weekly and are based on what’s seasonal and local. Ingredients like grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, and organic, locally sourced produce from small farmers and artisans are always on the menu. And don’t be surprised if you find a couple of Georgia peaches and squares of dark chocolate in your box for dessert.

Hello Fresh lives up to its name—each dish features an abundance of fresh herbs and produce. The chef-created recipes I received were really delicious and relatively simple to prepare—a “Thai-Style Beef” dish with carrot noodles (carrots sliced into long strips); “Eastern Carolina Pulled Chicken Sliders” on brioche buns with cabbage slaw which was a fun summer meal; and a vegetarian “Tortellini & Kale Gratin” which was flavorful, satisfying, and best of all used only one pan so there was minimal clean-up.

Hello Fresh includes calorie counts and nutrition information for each recipe. Recipe cards include icons that let you know if your dish contains gluten or allergens such as nuts, as well as estimates of the difficulty level and the time the dish takes to prepare. And the company offers a “classic box” for omnivores and a “veggie box” for vegetarians.

This company scores high in every category, from taste to presentation to ease of preparation. Recipes are designed by an in-house culinary team and include farm-fresh ingredients from artisanal purveyors. It takes 35 minutes to prepare Blue Apron meals on average, and they range from 500 to 700 calories per serving.

As with all of these services, you can choose from a variety of dishes to suit your tastes and dietary requirements. I received a trio of dishes—Curry-Spiced Chicken Thighs with Sugar Snap Peas and Fingerling Potatoes, Seared Salmon with Sorrel Salad & Creamy Barley, and Chicago-Style Italian Beef Sandwiches with a side of roasted potatoes (a perfect weekend meal). Meals were balanced and truly tasty. And the aromatic herbs (dill, sorrel, mint) used in these dishes made my kitchen smell great.

Green Chef offers only sustainably sourced, certified organic ingredients, from wild-caught salmon to free-range eggs and GMO-free soybeans. Ingredients are free of synthetic pesticides, genetically modified organisms, growth hormones, and antibiotics. Packaging is eco-friendly.

The meals I received from Green Chef were mostly plant-based: a Mushroom Ragu served over Rosemary-Mascarpone Polenta, Fried Egg & Sherry Brussels Sprouts and Edame Falafel with Peanut-Curry Noodle Salad. There was one meat dish—a sweet and savory Thai Beef (grass-fed) with brown rice and veggies. The dishes were full of flavor and easy to prepare. And I will admit I felt “healthier” after eating them—satisfied but not stuffed and more energetic. You can choose your own meal options: Vegetarian, Omnivore, Carnivore, Gluten-Free, or Paleo.

Home Chef offers a variety of recipes to choose from each week, and the site allows you to create a diet profile: Omnivore, Meat, Seafood, Pescatarian, Vegetarian, or Vegan. You can also specify dietary preferences, such as ingredients to avoid, or low-calorie or low-carb meals. This company offers subscriptions for gluten-free and dairy-free meals as well.

I chose a Chicken Quinoa Stir-Fry and Pork Lettuce Wraps. The lettuce wraps were just as tasty as my favorite lettuce wraps at P.F. Changs—complete with spicy sriracha and hoisin sauces, crunchy water chestnuts, and fresh cilantro. The chicken stir-fry was loaded with veggies and used quinoa instead of rice. And each recipe includes a drink pairing suggestion—you never have to wonder if you should go with a white or red.

Plated is big on fresh veggies, and each meal comes with a generous portion. Meals also include a chef-created entrée such as chicken or fish. A starch such as rice or pasta can be added if desired. My favorite Plated meal was Chicken-Feta Roulades (thinly pounded meat wrapped around a filling of feta, olives, oregano, and lemon zest). There was also a superb seafood dish (tilapia steamed in banana leaves instead of parchment paper) with a side salad (an interesting combination of radish and avocado).

The portion sizes and absence of a carb component was perfect for me (especially since I try to eat low-carb), but according to my boyfriend the Chicken-Feta Roulades looked “like a great appetizer.” When I served the next meal, Za’atar Beef Koftas with Babaghanoush and Tomato Herb Salad, a Middle Eastern-inspired dish made with ground beef and spices and a delicious babaghanoush made with roasted eggplant and a generous sprinkling of smoked paprika, I added a side of rice and had no complaints from my boyfriend. In fact, he said that this was his favorite dish of all.

Ready for Pick Up

Don’t feel like cooking? My Fit Foods offers prepared, health-oriented take-out meals. The fast-growing company based in Austin, Texas, currently has 50 locations in five states around the country.

Entrées, as well as breakfasts, snacks, and desserts, use fresh ingredients and are portion-controlled—for example, you can choose the “Omega Me Crazy” salmon entrée in either 350-calorie or 550-calorie sizes. What sets them apart from something you could purchase at a supermarket or take-out restaurant is that meals are “clean” and made from lean proteins, whole grains, vegetables, and heart-healthy fats, and are prepared with your health and weight in mind. Unlike a frozen diet entrée, you get a whole-foods-centered, fresh meal you can really feel good about. A 99 percent gluten-free menu is offered as well.

My Fit Foods eliminates any excuses you may have to eat healthfully. You can place orders online (there are more than 60 menu items to choose from) in advance, so meals are ready and waiting when you arrive at the store. Meals are microwaveable and have a 4– to5-day shelf life.