Review – Meal boxes and bags

Marley Spoon, My food bag, Food box, Pepper leaf, Hellofresh, just to name a few of the online dinner meal boxes now available to consumers in Australia/New Zealand are designed to take the hassle out of the question “what should I cook for dinner”.

Ordering and managing your meals online, such services have been called the new convenient way of making dinner in the age of online.

But do these meal boxes or meal bags are as convenient and are they worth it?

Well, it was my job to find out…the one person in the entirety of HashtagME who couldn’t cook to save herself, the one person who made sure she had budgeted for takeaways when her resident chef (husband) leaves to travel the world.

Turns out there are a variety of different meal options/boxes available for single to family size meal plans, all promising various options of how this will help turn your dinners into gourmet masterpieces.

For the uninitiated basically what happens is you choose a style of box (vegan, family, gourmet etc) that comes with food and recipes for a certain amount of days, and cook according to the prepared recipes.

I have seen both friends and family order these boxes and cook amazing meals for their respective families.

So considering I can’t cook for shit, am now full-time at HashtagME and have two boys who can devour a fridge in a matter of minutes I decided to give one of these meal boxes a go.

HelloFresh was my meal box of choice. Mainly because they said it would make my dinners look instagrammable.

Which with my cooking history would be quite the feat.

The classic box for 3 meals is what I was sent and is supposedly sourced from local producers with a preference for family owned businesses in Australia sourcing only high-quality products.

It came delivered on Saturday morning (as per my request) a lot earlier than it was supposed to and I received a text to say when it was delivered.

When I opened the door after receiving the text it was sitting there.

Ingredients inside the Hello Fresh box
Ingredients inside the Hello Fresh box

I liked that part of the service.

Now you can actually dictate when and what time the box is delivered (which is cooled). Including during the weekends which is when mine came.

I had it scheduled to show up on a Saturday morning so when I woke up in the morning it would be there.

This box came with 3 recipes and all of the ingredients with the promise of reduced waste due to the perfect amount of ingredients and the promise of easy to follow instructions….

Well we were about to find out how easy these dinners were going to be, with a backup plan of Pizza Hut on speed dial should I completely fail

Paprika Chicken Flatbread with Zucchini & Cheddar
First up was the Paprika Chicken Flatbread with Zucchini & Cheddar. It was my first recipe in my

My first attempt at cooking - Paprika chicken flatbread
My first attempt at cooking – Paprika chicken flatbread

entire life that I was going to cook with Zucchini.

To be honest, I didn’t know what used Zucchini unless it was in some veg type meal so I was intrigued.

It also had chili and sweet paprika. From all the TV programs I have ever seen this meant that it would be hot.

My kids don’t like hot food.

Worse still is one of my friend’s son was staying the night while my eldest was at his friends. Should I truly screw this up my friend’s son would retell the story of how horrible my cooking was to his mum.

Not that it mattered that much, everyone knows I don’t cook, but the one time I do I didn’t want it to be a complete disaster.

To be honest it was relatively easy and cooked within 30mins… I kinda wanted it to be a bit shit so I had an angle for the story.

Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your stance of where this review was going to go, it was bloody delish.

The Kids devoured it, Hubby devoured it, I devoured it.

I learned that Sweet Paprika isn’t actually that hot and gave the chicken the most amazing flavour while the chili would only be hot if I put in the seeds.

I didn’t put in the seeds despite the temptation to slip a few onto Hubby’s portions.

And it was the first pizza style thing that I’ve managed to get veggies onto where the kids haven’t picked it off and placed on the plate

No one was hungry after this gourmet pizza like thing and I discovered that the perk of having to cook tea meant not having to do dishes.

This cooking fad is starting to grow on me and I put the recipe aside to make it again at a later date.

I celebrate my win with a cocktail recipe that I got from the internet

On the taste scale according to Mr 10yr old this meal ranked a decent 9 with 0 being the lowest and 10 being the highest.

 

Sweet & Sticky Pork Rice Noodles with Cashew Vegetable Toss
I love Asian style food, that’s why I have never attempted it.

I don’t want to ruin my love of Asian food with self-inflicted bad cooking.

To say I was nervous was an understatement.

This recipe came with several things to do at once, a massive mixture of ingredients and noodles.

The only noodles I have ever cooked are 2min noodles.

Still 30mins later I had a full meal cooked up with a type of noodle that I didn’t realize existed.

This meal was exceptionally large, with a much larger portion size than the previous meal, which again meant full puku’s (stomach) for the entire household.

So far so good, the sweet and sticky pork created large portions
So far so good, the sweet and sticky pork created large portions

To be honest, this meal could have feed 5 peeps, such was the extensive portion size we actually had leftovers, which isn’t a bad thing, except it went straight into our compost as I didn’t know if we could reheat the noodles in the microwave.

The veggies were crunchy (which I don’t mind) but the kids weren’t too keen on, despite this, the eldest (Mr 15yrs) gave the meal for taste a 7 out of 10 while Mr 10yr old gave it a 9 ½ out of 10 saying it was better than last nights meal.

I pat myself on the back for cooking 2 meals without burning the house down and celebrate with a LeConfield Coonawarra 2013 Merlot which I decide will go nicely with tomorrow’s Lemon Pepper beef.

Because apparently now I am becoming a true food connoisseur matching wines with my meals.

Lemon Pepper Beef with Warm Mustard Broccoli & Potato Discs

Lemon beef with potato discs
Lemon beef with potato discs

The final meal, of which I purposely did last as the grand finale of the food box from HelloFresh commenced.

Such an expert chef I now consider myself that I am no longer nervous about cooking this meal as I begin to prep according to the recipe.
This is quickly replaced by fear as I realize that there are multiple cooking factors included in this meal.

30mins quickly goes by, so much so that even I am surprised that I manage to plate up a full meal with lemon pepper steak, served with aioli sauce, broccoli cooked in dijon mustard and potato chips which for some reason are called potato discs.

Hubby is the first to finish his plate giving the meal a 9.5 out of 10, Mr 10yr old declares it a 9.5 out of 10 and decides that Sweet and sticky Pork Rice Noodles should get a 10 out of 10, Mr 15yr old upgrades yesterday’s meal to 7.5 out of 10 and gives today’s meal a 7 out of 10.

While I and Mr 10 are completely full, hubby says he’s hungry 2hrs later, Mr 15yr old makes himself a bowl of cornflakes 3hrs later.

Quality of ingredients
I am going to be completely fair, the ingredients that came in this box were extremely high quality.

Everything from the veggies to the meat was prime grade high quality, even the spices and nuts were high quality

So in terms of quality, I was highly impressed.

Not all of the ingredients were included (such as olive oil or fish sauce) and I got excess onions for some reason.

The pictures in the recipes also show other ingredients which weren’t in the box so for a complete cooking noob like me, this did confuse me, was I missing ingredients? Why did I have brown onions when the recipe showed red onions? Why were there nuts in the picture but no nuts in the recipe? Stuff like that.

So for that reason, I gave the ingredients 4 stars, had it had all the ingredients I would have given it 5 stars

Ease of Recipe
Having very limited cooking experience and not one to cook “exciting” dinners, the recipes and discovering how easy the meals were to cook has definitely made me much more adventurous.

The fact that I cooked them and they were eaten by the family I think testifies to the recipes that HelloFresh have selected.

Having everything available and the right amount of ingredients eliminating the need for measuring was definitely more convenient, however, I am not sure if it cut down “cooking” times.

In terms of Ease of recipe I give it 4 stars – if it had fewer ingredients and less cooking time I would have given them 5 stars

Cost
To be honest, the cost is my pain point for all of these boxes with the only exception being high-quality food as a justification to myself that this is why I would purchase one.

The cost of this classic food box is $124 AU delivered for 3 meals. Which works out to be $9.50 per person per meal. Which for a family of four….thats a high price to pay for just dinner for 3 nights.

My average grocery bill in Australia is $100 AUD ($108 NZD) per week for my family of four and includes other basics required for lunch and breakfast and snacks in between, so a $124 box blows my budget out of the water.

When we looked at just ordering these high-quality ingredients online the total came to $89.46 AUD delivered and you would have ingredients to repeat these meals again, the price probably reduces if you go to your local markets or shop for cheaper options making it a more realistic long-term option.

So for price, this gets a 2 1/2 star rating I probably would have given it a 3 or even 4 stars if the box came with at least 5 meals for the price.

Convenience
Not going to lie, not worrying about what to make for dinner was incredibly convenient and having everything already portioned (despite some confusing ingredient requirements) was still quite relieving knowing I didn’t have to search in my cupboards.

It was also quite fun to make and my family would not have had such variety each night, which I think is one of the main convenience’s these meal boxes bring.

For Fun, convenience, and variety I gave the Hello Fresh Food box 5 out of 5

Overall
Overall the Hello Fresh Food Box was quite a fun cooking adventure, if you are on a budget I wouldn’t recommend it suggesting that you could pick 3 of your top chef recipes, buy everything you need and it would come up a lot cheaper.

Still I would recommend you give it a go, and if you have teenagers definitely buy it so they can have a crack at cooking some delicious meals, but to be perfectly honest despite the high-quality food it’s just way too expensive for my liking and I can’t recommend it as a way to replace your weekly shopping.

I can, however, recommend it as a great way to treat yourself and your family to something different and to get your creative cooking juices flowing.

Hello Fresh is available in Australia only and should you want to give it a try you can click this link to get $50 off your first box delivered.

Its easy to order, easy to cancel and easy to manage with no real training required making the entire ordering process incredibly easy and simple.

Overall as a product I give these meal boxes and bags 3 stars – its not a must have, but it is a must do… at least once.

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Charis McAwesome

Charis McAwesome is a social media client project manager to companies including Microsoft, Intel, Lenovo, Deloitte, banks and many more on behalf of Digivizer. By day, she provides digital strategy and big data analysis, by night she may provide news on the podcast & when she doesn't, makes up for it by writing articles instead.