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Stuck in a quarantine cooking rut? There’s no better time to try a meal kit service

Bored with my own vegetarian menus, I gave HelloFresh’s quick and easy meal kits a try. Here’s what I found.

Stuck in a quarantine cooking rut? There’s no better time to try a meal kit service
[Photo: courtesy Hello Fresh]
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A few months ago, and after hitting a wall in quarantine cooking, my friend finally convinced me to try HelloFresh. “It’s the sauces,” she told me after I asked what drew her, a busy cook running a multigenerational household, to the meal kit service. She’d been ordering from the company for weeks, and raved about the recipes’ simplicity and success rates. So when she offered me a referral code, I obliged.

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Like other meal kit delivery services, HelloFresh subscribers pick from a list of recipes, and are shipped pre-measured ingredients (including spices, fresh vegetables, and uncooked proteins) weekly. The service first appealed to me because of its designated vegetarian and pescatarian plans—but once you sign up, you can handpick from the full range of 20-or-so recipes (including carnivorous and family-friendly options). You can adjust the frequency and number of servings too: I opted for three meals per week for two people, knowing my partner would be around for most meals, which cost $8.99/serving, totaling a little over $60 per week, with shipping.

My first week, I got Salsa Verde Enchiladas, Warm Buttered Shrimp Rolls, and Zucchini and Mushroom Bibimbap. Each order comes with the option to add on proteins like chicken strips and sausage, as well as avocados, bagged salad, and garlic bread. The ingredients come in individual, but eco-concious packages: the cooling packs are filled with a water-soluble gel and the meal bags, box, and cardboard are recyclable. HelloFresh even made a cute website that outlines how to break down and recycle your packaging. Each recipe arrives its own brown paper bag—a welcomed asset at the end of a busy day, when you lack even the energy to think through all your ingredients (hey, it happens).

[Photo: courtesy HelloFresh]
The recipes themselves are easy—usually six steps, with rudimentary chopping and prep skills involved. They typically assume your pantry is stocked with olive oil, butter, sugar, salt, and pepper, but are also thoughtfully written to minimize the number of dishes and pans you’ll use. The kit comes with large recipe printouts, or you can follow along via the HelloFresh app (where you can also adjust your future shipments and poke around other recipes on the roster). The dinners rarely take more than 30 minutes to prepare, which gives you another good reason not to order DoorDash for the sake of “efficiency” at the end of a busy day.

My results: two hits and miss. The Zucchini and Mushroom Bibimbap, a relative abomination of the Korean staple, turned out annoyingly great. Quick prep and a simplified soy-sesame sauce has turned it into a recipe I replicated the following week for lunch. Buttery Shrimp Rolls were succulent and indulgent. But the Salsa Verde Enchiladas were unforgivably off—requiring only three to five minutes in an oven, resulting in tough, floury tortillas in a bland sauce. Fail.

Other issues required more mental gymnastics: Did I love the idea of three plastic packages containing two scallions each? No. Did I like a small packet of celery salt, something that added a lot a fish-paired slaw, but that I would need a full jar of? Yes. I balked at the nutrition stats on the shrimp rolls (910 calories, 41 grams of fat) but couldn’t help but eat the second serving I had intended to save for my partner for lunch the next day (sorry not sorry.)

[Photo: courtesy HelloFresh]
And then there are the famous sauces. They’re basic, primarily made from pantry items, but reliably make me think “Why didn’t I think of that?” That’s true for a lot of the clever tricks HelloFresh recipe developers include in meal kits. The gentrified bibimbap’s rice, steamed with minced ginger that’s been sautéed in butter until toasty and sweet, is genius. So is the the spice blend (celery salt, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper) you toss shrimp with before they’re pan-fried to pink.

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Like most subscription services, HelloFresh’s referral marketing campaign is quick and aggressive. I received multiple “free” (just pay shipping!) offers for friends and family and decided to send a box to my parents in Connecticut. They were ecstatic—there was great debate between Korean Chicken Tacos and Gouda-stuffed Burgers. If it keeps them well fed, and away from the siren call of grocery store trips and restaurants, it’s a price I’m more than willing to pay.

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