Right, so this is going to sound like an advert. But it ain’t.
I can honestly put my hand on heart and say that Hello Fresh has landed a huge boon right in our kitchen.
For those not in the know – Hello Fresh is a subscription meal service, where you pay a set fee per week (in our case, £45) and a box is delivered to your home containing the amount of meals (4) for the number of people (2) you’ve specified. Inside the box you get an insulated bag containing ice blocks and any meat & dairy, 4 colour-coded bags, 4 menu cards detailing how to make each of the meals, and usually a little envelope stuffed with adverts for other subscription services.
Now. Liz & I tried Hello Fresh a few years ago, and after a fairly short length of time we sacked it off due to it being a bit “meh”. However since that time something’s obviously shifted at head office, because oh my word have they lifted their game.
The Good Stuff
The recipes are excellent: I’ve got a tendency to hold on to recipes that I like. When we started with Hello Fresh I thought “Well if I hold on to one card out of every box or two then that’ll build me up a nice little stack of go-to recipes. The truth is that I’m actually only throwing away one out of every box or two.
Zero food waste: A common gripe of mine is that in order to make any given dish they usually ask for “half a red pepper” or “1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper”, or some other small amount of crucial ingredient which is required for the dish but which you can only buy in much larger amounts. Hello Fresh sends the exact amount (in most cases) you need to make the recipe. Goodbye, rotting bag of carrots.
Convenient: IT GETS DELIVERED TO YOUR HOUSE.
Reduces hassle/overhead of menu planning: The biggest challenge of the way we used to do meals was having to work out what to have on what nights, to discuss healthiness vs. just-picking-a-recipe (I have a tendency to randomly select stuff from books that looks nice without considering richness, elaborateness, or if it’s 80% butter), and then working out the shopping accordingly. Hello Fresh lets you choose your menu from an app the week before – or picks it for you if you forget – and then the only thing to decide is which bag to choose on what night.
Portion control: Because the Hello Fresh meals are portioned out there’s no tendency to make up, say, the whole packet of 4 chicken breasts you’ve bought and then serve up 1.5-2x the amount the menu suggested so you’re eating a meal for 4 between 2.
Generally healthy: Perhaps it’s a side-effect of them trying to keep the cost per meal down, but the recipes use a decent amount of fresh veg in them and usually show on the card that they satisfy between 3 and 5 of the 5 a day guidelines. And limiting meat portion has the knock-on effect of reducing the typical amount of fat in a recipe.
The recipes are excellent: almost universally tasty, I’ve been really impressed at the little tips I’ve picked up as a result of making them. For example, previously if I was making a dish with rice it’d either be The Dish, and then plain boiled rice as an accompaniment, or perhaps a separate fried rice recipe (meaning more ingredients and process), whereas often these recipes will make rice more interesting by having you saute some onions, then add water & stock, and then cook the rice in that – or to cook the rice and then stir through some toasted coconut and/or grated veg. There’s some really simple tasty stuff I’d have never have thought of, like making burger patties using pork mince, panko breadcrumbs, grated ginger, peanut butter and chilli – rather than relying on a sauce as a burger flavouring. And generally the really nice ones have all featured a moment where I’m following the recipe and think, “Oh wow, I wouldn’t have thought of that”. It’s probably something to do with simplicity vs. effect.
Generally quick: recipes estimate on the card how long they’ll take, typically between 20 and 50 minutes to prepare and cook. My experience is that though these are more accurate than Jamie frigging Oliver’s frigging 15 bollocksing minute goddamn meals, they’re still pretty wide of the mark.
Ease of control through mobile app: You can control the whole process via the phone app, so specifying number of meals, choosing meals, suspending orders that week… all doable on the go rather than having to be at your computer.
The Less Good Stuff
Tendency towards saltiness: something which was apparent during our first few weeks was that a recipe would call for a stock pod to be mixed in, and at the end of the process the food would often be too salty. We tended to correct this by using half as much stock, although more recent recipe cards appear to have assimilated this feedback so it can’t have just been us.
Slight repetition: inevitably they can’t go on producing infinite numbers of recipes, so there will be weeks when you get one you’ve already had. Or 2. Or in one case, 3. It’s barely the end of the world, but periodically we’d pause our order for a week then pick 4 of our favourites from the card stack and buy our own ingredients – only to then get one of those again the following week.
Muddy waters over quantities of ingredient: I struggle with the idea of “1 small bunch of coriander” vs “1/2 a small bunch of coriander”. If you showed me the latter and asked me what it was I’d probably say “It’s a bunch of coriander”, or possibly “It’s a small bunch”. The pack they send just says “coriander” on the outside, so you’ve sort of got to take it on faith they’ve sent the right amount. This becomes more of an issue when you’re trying to make one of their recipes later on – as they pre-measure ingredients you might get a listing that says “1 pack of rice”. So in those cases if you want to ever have a hope of not cocking it up in future it’s critical you weigh the rice and note it down before cooking it. (150g, if anyone’s interested)
Can’t recycle insulated bags: The refrigerated ingredients are kept cold on delivery day by being wrapped in an insulation bag and packed with big chunky icepacks. The insulation seems like something that should be reuseable (and in the early days they used sheeps’ wool-packed bags which you could send back when you were finished), and they indicate on the packaging that it’s recyclable – however our garbologists won’t take it in recycling so there’s no option.
App klunkiness around recipe ratings and future planning: I was rather hoping that the system might come with some sort of AI whereby you would easily be able to rate the meals in that week’s box and then they could build a profile to better inform your future default selections (mainly, so I don’t end up with any more recipes involving eggplant or fucking olives!). But finding the recipes you’ve been sent that week is a non-trivial exercise. So maybe they’re not intending to use the info that way.
Non-Issues Sometimes Framed As Critiques
Excessive packaging: A few discussions I’ve had with people saw “excessive packaging” cited as a reason not to use this system. I disagree with this, in that the British supermarket shopping experience generally means an excess of wrapping and packaging, with the option of selecting loose veg being more of a rarity than normality in favour of 1.5kg bags of potatoes or 600g bags of carrots. When you need 1 carrot but have to buy a bag then you’re potentially not only buying a square foot of plastic, but also lining up to waste a load of carrots. Hello Fresh appear to be trying to be as pragmatic as possible by putting all the non-meat/dairy ingredients for a dish into a reuseable/recyclable brown paper bag. They do use little sachets/pots of spices, but on balance I think there’s less packaging than the average shopping trip would yield. Not that I’m not saying *that’s* not too much, but this option doesn’t make the situation worse, to my mind.
Value for money: Each meal works out to about £5 per head, so £10 a meal. We figure a 4-meal box works out to £10 per meal plus a fiver for delivery. There’s a bit of averaging going on because obviously some meals cost more than others in ingredients and that evens out with the cheaper ones, but overall it’d be fair to say that this is not wholly an economy-based solution.
At the risk of proselytising for one company without trying others, we’ve also now tried out the competing service, Gousto. So far I like that Gousto have some even simpler meals which can allegedly take 10 minutes to make (lies, but still), and that their pricing structure is based on what meals you select rather than a blanket price-per-box. They reduce packaging by not separating the ingredients out into a bag for each meal, but then you lose the convenience of being able to grab a bag from the fridge and know that everything you need’s in there. And, so far, the finished product has been not universally quite as good as Hello Fresh. Their app seems better, and the way you build your box appears to suggest there’s more choice than Hello Fresh, although it remains to be seen how frequently they switch the options in and out as we’ve only used them for 2 weeks. Other than that, the two services are more or less identical.
For busy couples who want healthy, varied diets and are concerned about food waste, Hello Fresh is an excellent service. 4 meals a week has been perfect for us as it gives flexibility for a few nights out a week or for one to be repurposed as a weekend lunch. As you can see from the above, the pros substantially outweigh the cons.
If you’d like to give it a try, drop me a line for an intro code for £20 off your first box.