I accidentally kept us from having to forage for food during the pandemic! On a whim in early March, I signed up for HelloFresh using a great $90 off coupon (spread over 4 boxes). Our first box was nearly free, and I figured at the time it might inject some variety into our supper routine.
Who knew that within a few days of our first box arriving, nearly everything in America would shut down?
What started as a simple experiment became a grocery lifeline for us. We even tried it out for an elderly relative (too much meal prep for her to handle, so we’re going to try TopChef next).
HelloFresh: The good stuff
- Someone else answers the wearying question of “what’s for supper tonight!” This ended up being a genuine benefit, as we’ve eaten so much at home for the past two months of quarantine that we would have been really bored with our usual supper routine, good as it was.
- Each meal includes a good shot of protein, vegetables, and a relatively healthy carb. The quality of the meat is quite good. Also, some items like finely ground beef or chopped raw chicken really speed up meal prep, far more than standard ground beef or having to dice something yourself before you start cooking.
- You can throw extra groceries into your box. You’re already getting it shipped to your door, so might as well add some extra ground beef or chicken, a salad kit, or some garlic bread to round out a meal or knock out a quick lunch.
- Replaces curb-side pickup for major meals. My area isn’t urban enough for Instacart and other door-delivery grocery services, so this gets us more than halfway through a week. This goes along with being able to get food to your house without having to go out shopping, and we really appreciated how much this helped us keep quarantine when Covid19 was on the rise in our county.
- The portions are large enough that we are full after eating a HelloFresh meal. For me, anyway. You aren’t going to get anything extra from a 2-person meal for 2 people, but you won’t go hungry either unless you’re a really big eater.
- Meal variety is good. We started seeing repeat recipes in about 4 weeks, but they tend to have 20+ recipes up at any one time, and we’ve hardly found anything we genuinely didn’t like. There are always at least 3 vegetarian options, plus several meals using chicken, beef, pork, and fish. You pay extra for steak, salmon, and other higher-cost items (optional recipes).
- Interface is easy. The phone app is great; the web login works great too. I had no problems figuring out how to add meals, subtract them, pause my box for the week, etc.
- Options for pausing or canceling subscription. Although you do need to remember to set up your meals several days in advance (otherwise, you’ll get the standard recipes, and we always want to swap some out), you can easily push “pause” on HelloFresh for many weeks at a time. So if you wanted just one week a month of planned meals but be on your own the rest of the month, you could manage your deliveries to accomplish this.
- The recipes are easy to follow, even if you aren’t an experienced cook. If you’re helping to launch a teen or young adult into their own living space, you might consider giving them a few weeks of HelloFresh along with a good cutting board, a sturdy knife set, and a couple key pots and pans. They’d be eating well and learning while doing it!
- The random stuff you never have in your pantry is included in the meal package. I don’t have a knob of ginger around or a squirt of concentrated chicken stock when I need just a tablespoon. The only stuff you need to add to HelloFresh recipes are butter or oil (nearly all the time), salt & pepper (all the time), and occasionally sugar.
- The delivery box really does keep the food cold for 24 hours or more. Those freezer packs and box liners really work! We also saved a couple and re-froze them to use as a day cooler recently, with zero conscience about throwing out the box instead of hauling it back home (as if it were our actual cooler).
- Customer Service has been good. I had an issue with a box early in our subscription. I couldn’t get through the phone line (this was at the height of the Covid19 outbreak, so things were nuts). I used the chat feature online and rapidly got an agent, and help with my problem. They fixed the delivery issue, sent out a new box ASAP, and credited my account to boot.
Nice perk: Aside from just the sheer variety of food and reduced mental load of planning meals — which has been much more valuable during corona-living than I’d expected — HelloFresh makes it easy to experiment with international foods and flavors (Thai, Korean, Mexican) in your own kitchen without dropping $100 extra bucks in the international foods section to pick up the side items required for less-common recipes.
So – is HelloFresh the perfect solution? Well, no. Everything brings tradeoffs, and I’d say there are a few key downsides.
HelloFresh: The downsides
- The cost: Our average box of 3-5 meals for 2 people runs $75-100 per week. Granted, sometimes that box has 4 or 5 meals in it. And food prices have really shot up lately, so you’d have to hit 3 or 4 store sales plus have a really well stocked pantry to cook the same menu for much less. So I don’t think HelloFresh prices are at all unreasonable given the convenience you’re paying for. But this is not cheap eating.
**You do end up with a more cost-effective box if you’re buying for 4 people. The meals aren’t double the cost when you double the size. We did 4-person meals for a few weeks, and it was nice to have leftovers or have a friend over for dinner (pre-corona) and know we’d have enough.
- The packaging waste: HelloFresh works hard to use only recyclable packaging, and you can fully recycle their boxes, liners, and freezer packs (if you first pour out the gel). But every week you’re getting 1-2 big boxes and all the interior packaging. It’s a little overwhelming. Also, every individual meal item (aside from vegetables) is packed in its own little wrapper. You will use your kitchen scissors 100 times (that’s what it feels like) to cook any given meal.
HelloFresh says there’s less overall climate impact from having a box of groceries delivered than what you spend in gas and packaging buying stuff from grocery stores yourself. That’s probably true, but it doesn’t change the shift in responsibility. You’re going to be throwing out a lot of packaging.
- The freshness of the vegetables is hit or miss: While I have been very happy with the protein and spices and accessories as well as the customer service for HelloFresh, I’m sometimes really disappointed by the quality of the vegetables. Carrots in particular seem to expire much faster than any carrots I buy myself. Also, if you decide to stock up on 3-4 meals in a given week but aren’t planning to eat some of them for 4-6 days, you should strategically plan to eat meals with tender herbs (cilantro) and perishable vegetables before others which can hold out longer (like potatoes).
Also have to note that HF tomatoes are just the saddest thing. If you’re out and about and can hit a farmer’s market for a fresh summer tomato, plan on swapping out the HF tomatoes for ones with actual flavor, at least in the summer!
- You have to cook. There are days when I’m tired from work and my spouse has been busy all day too, and we just aren’t in the mood for 10 minutes of chopping plus 20-30 minutes of cooking. If we get too reliant on HF, we end up having to do takeout because we don’t have the supplies for a quick weeknight supper. Moral of the story: HF is not going to turn you into a supper-cooker if you aren’t already willing to cook. Also, keep some food in your pantry!
- Recipe prep: If you’ve got two people to split up the work, it goes much faster. But every recipe starts with several things to chop and prep, and once you’re into the cooking, sometimes you need three hands. I do think HelloFresh has streamlined their recipes and I always know what to do. But … you need to be up for it.
- Calorie counts are high if you aren’t picking low-cal recipes. You can control this if you pay attention to the recipes, but EVERYTHING uses oil and 1-2 T of butter. Those calories are really adding up. I can’t blame HF entirely for my quarantine weight gain, but it’s definitely a factor.
None of these are deal-breakers to me. The fact that we’ve done HelloFresh for over two months is testament to the quality of their meals. But we recognize that we are lucky enough to have the privilege of extra income right now to do a meal box service, as we’re both still employed.
This was the best time to try a meal box service. Little did we know. I am going to try Gobble this week (we paused HF) and see how they compare. We could probably run through all the meal service options using their coupons, but HelloFresh is one of the least expensive on the market, and we’ve liked the mix of flavor and quality.
If you want to give HelloFresh a shot after reading this, my link will give you $40 off your first box. It’s easy to cancel — set yourself a reminder to manage your HF account after you’ve gotten your first box and decide if you want to keep going.