Carnivores, pescatarians, vegetarians, vegans and everyone in between – let’s talk recipe boxes. Whether you’ve discovered a new love for cooking this past year or are just, like us, bored of the same old meals you’re eating each week, it might just be time.
The new generation of recipe box and meal kit services are designed to make it easy to plan and cook tasty, wholesome meals each week, even for kitchen novices. Once you sign up and set your preferences – be it for a family of four or two veggie flatmates – you choose from the weekly menu selection and all the correct ingredients will come individually packaged and delivered direct to your door with easy-to-follow recipes.
On the plus side, they cut out the need for a supermarket shop and help to limit food waste, but on the downside, they can be expensive and sometimes come with a lot of packaging – it’s easy to see each company striving to take the top spot for sustainability. And while many claim their ingredients come from the best suppliers, for anyone who likes to choose their own produce and go for organic all the way, it’s probably not for you.
To find out how the latest services shape up, WIRED signed up to the recipe box services lining our Instagram feed and gave them a try. We found each one to have its own USP – with indulgent carb-heavy dishes to healthy lower-calorie conscious offerings. From cooking vegan dishes with ingredients our carnivore palettes had never tried, to dining in our kitchen with a caviar-and-all feast complete with wine, we scoffed and quaffed it all, in the name of research.
What’s the best recipe box in 2020?
We’ve highlighted Gousto as our best recipe box pick overall due to its wide range of choice and Lean in 15 recipes, with prices starting at £25 for two recipes for two people per week.
We also think Hello Fresh is worth a try for its mix of both health-conscious and everyday family meals – prices start at £30 for three recipes for two people per week.
Meanwhile, if you want to mark a special occasion, enjoy a date night at home or replicate the taste of gourmet restaurant cooking, take a look at One Fine Dine, which offers a la carte meals complete with cheese and wine with prices around £120 for three courses.
WIRED Recommends: Our favourite recipe box and the best for recipe choice
Average recipe choice per week: 50 | Recyclable packaging: 100% recyclable (plastics, local service dependent) | Dedicated app: Yes | Subscription based: Yes
With an aim to provide ‘precise ingredients, delicious recipes and a dollop of adventure’, Gousto offers a wide range of family friendly and speedy meal kits. Within its selection of up to 50 plus weekly recipes, you can refine your search. Choose by category – be it for fish, meat or poultry dishes, or refine your search by healthy meals, ten-minute meals or Joe Wick’s specific Lean in 15 meals.
In a bid to reduce the amount of packaging the companies recipes arrive in, Gousto has just introduced a new Eco-Chill Box – this is a recyclable cardboard insulator that keeps your food fresh in transit, but which uses no plastic.
We found the app to be user friendly and ordering particularly easy. We could also manage our subscription, rate the recipes we had already tried for future reference and send discount codes to friends – there’s a £15 credit incentive for you if a friend signs up using your code.
In our box, we tried the One-Pot Haddock, Leek and Cheddar Chowder, Smoky Beef Enchiladas With Fresh Tomato Salsa, Mild Chicken Curry and Lasagne Primavera With Feta and Rocket. The step-by-step, illustrated recipe cards are straightforward to follow, even for beginners, with good quality ingredients, including the vegetables. The beef is vacuum packed, which you might not be used to, though we did have the option to freeze it for up to a month. The portion sizes across the board were also very reasonable. Our beef and onion enchiladas looked and tasted great and the 30 minute estimate was spot on.
The “bits and bobs” like cumin, paprika and chilli flakes, come in numbered packages, which correspond to each recipe, and each spice and herb is packaged in the correct serving. While this is great if you’re a dummy in the kitchen, it’s perhaps an area where Gousto could cut down on packaging; though it is mostly recyclable (depending on what’s available where you live) with instructions on the box.
For each recipe, there’s information on calories and nutritional info per serving, allergens, fruit/vegetable portions, what else you’ll need in terms of kitchen basics and equipment (oven-proof dish etc), how long it takes to cook and – particularly useful – how many days we have to cook the meal – we had five days in which to cook our enchiladas from the date they were delivered, for example.
Pros: Family friendly carb-based meals; wide range of dishes; current offer of 30% off first box in first month; reasonable portion sizes
Cons: May be too carb heavy for some
Price: From £25 for 2 recipes for 2 people per week | Gousto
An alternative recipe box service for family meals
Average recipe choice per week: 31 | Recyclable packaging: TBC | Dedicated app: Yes | Subscription based: Yes
Hello Fresh aims to save you time, stress and money. It’s easy to build your box either online or via the app, from the 31 weekly recipes, which are initially divided into four main categories – meat and veg, veggie, family cook and quick cook. Each recipe comes with a large step-by-step illustrated instruction card, which gives detailed instructions on what basic cooking tools you need, a nutritional breakdown of calories and fat in the meal, allergen advice and a nudge to rate the app online.
We found the selection of recipes available from Hello Fresh to be particularly family friendly. We tried three meals for two in a box, which featured Sticky Pistachio Crusted Salmon, Lebanese Style Flatbread and Mango Chutney Glazed Chicken Wraps.
We enjoyed following the recipe for the Lebanese Style Flatbreads and even got a couple of eager kids to help out in the kitchen too. Slightly surprisingly, they really enjoyed eating the finished dish too. Like the majority of recipe box companies we’ve tried, the meat comes vacuumed packed and unfortunately they sometimes aren’t the most generous portion sizes. So if you’re someone who loves their meat, you may end up pining for seconds. It’s also worth noting that some meats can’t be frozen – while the chicken we ordered had a good shelf life of up to four days, the lamb in our dish had been previously frozen and had to be used up within two days of delivery, for example.
Hello Fresh’s app stands out for being a particularly good source of inspiration when you’re stuck for cooking ideas. As well as being able to order your meals from the weekly selection, we could browse the recipe hub that features 2,500 ideas for home cooking.
Pros: Vast recipe selection on app; 50% off first order and give £20 and get £20 voucher code in app; family friendly recipes
Cons: Meat portion sizes can be on the small side; not all organic ingredients
Price: £30 for 3 recipes for 2 people per week | Hello Fresh
The best recipe box for healthy low carb options
Average recipe choice per week: 16 | Recyclable packaging: 100% recyclable with packaging return option | Dedicated app: Yes | Subscription based: Yes
Mindful Chef is a subscription-based service that with a focus on providing healthy, low carb meal kits that are dairy and gluten free and which you can cook in under 30 minutes. A dedicated app is easy to get on with and provides recipes divided into sections for healthy meals, vegans and those that are family friendly. This can be broken down further into categories such as meals under 10 minutes, certain diets or foods from around the world.
Instead of individual recipes cards, inside the box you’ll find a weekly Mindful Chef recipe magazine that includes details of all the recipes available for that week. The magazine also highlights YouTube links to fun, useful cooking hints from chefs and tips videos. A note from the founders Myles and Giles comes included in the box welcoming you to the Mindful Chef ‘community’ and asking for any feedback, which we found to be a nice touch.
In our box, we tried the Mexican Rubbed Salmon, Coconut and Lime Rice, Chicken Cacciatore with Sweet Potato and Roasted Squash & Buckwheat Risotto. We were surprised to find the rice in the Mexican was a Tilda wholegrain basmati packet, instead of dried rice, but it meant the meal could be created quickly in less than 10 minutes and the whole dish served within 30. In each meal we were introduced to new flavours and spices and pushed out of our comfort zone – but it was worth it.
What each recipe does well is point out the calories per person, protein, carb and fat value per dish. It also highlights allergens in bold and makes it very clear whether the dish is vegan or vegetarian. Info on how long it will take you is also available, which makes sense if you want a good meal, fast. While the ingredients selected for each meal supports local British farms and include a lot of veg, not all are organic, which we think may be an issue for some who are keen to eat organic-only. Unlike many of the competitor brands we’ve tried, the meat and fish for the meals at Mindful Chef didn’t come vacuum packed – the portions were noticeably more generous than some too.
Pros: Gluten and dairy free; current offer of £10 off your 1st and 2nd box; no stodgy carbs; weekly magazine; time-saving recipes
Cons: Not all food is organic; not ideal for carb lovers or fussy kids
Price: £32 for 2 recipes for 2 people per week | Mindful Chef
What to consider when choosing a recipe box service
Recipe box services are usually subscription based whereby you have to sign up and enter your card details. We found that cancelling a subscription was easy and instant enough, however. Alternatively, you will find some companies allow you to make one-off purchases.
If you have signed up for a weekly delivery service but want to choose alternative dinner plans one week, most companies will let you pause the subscription until you decide to resume.
Tailor your order
Once you have signed up, the app/site will nudge you to choose which meals you want ordered each week. In most cases the menu offering will change each week too. Be careful not to get caught out adding meals to your box that aren’t in your standard subscription fee. If you don’t log in to choose the recipes you want, the company will choose the meals for you. On average you have up to about four days before you order is due for delivery to make changes to your menu.
If you suffer from allergies, be vigilant. Some companies highlight specific meals into categories for you to choose from such as ‘gluten free’, ‘dairy free’ or ‘plant based’. Some recipes turned up with unusual ingredients, which (and forgive our ignorance) we hadn’t tried or heard of before. For those with nut allergies however, this is not so clearly marked on the search buttons and you will have to look for alerts and read ingredients carefully. When the food does arrive, many companies will highlight the offending ingredient clearly – when we made a Thai Green Curry, the sesame seeds were clearly marked with a label that read: ‘Allergen’. And while we found a range of nut-free recipes across the board, none of the services we tested could guarantee that their meals weren’t packaged in an environment that may contain nuts.
Check your social media feed and no doubt you’ll be bombarded with special offers to sign up to the latest service. If this is the case it may be worth mixing it up and signing up for a few to see which one suits you. Just remember to cancel if you don’t want to continue with the subscription.
Emily Peck, WIRED contributor
One Fine Dine
The best meal kit for well, fine dining
Average recipe choice per week: Large a la carte menu that changes seasonally plus Christmas Menu and exclusive Dom Perignon Tasting Menu | Packaging: 100% recyclable | Dedicated app: No | Subscription based: No
One Fine Dine is a slightly different service in that it provides all the ingredients you need for a three-course meal pre-prepared for you to simply heat and plate. The meal kits, when compiled, are designed in a, let’s say, avante-garde way you’d expect at a top restaurant. Originally served on board private jets to heads of state and global business leaders, you can now order these dishes for home delivery. In these lockdown days, One Fine Dine is the next best thing to sitting in a top restaurant.
You can choose from a range of a la carte meals, which you buy as a one-off purchase, covering starters, mains, desserts, canapes and wine. The ingredients come from local, artisan suppliers and inside the box you’ll find step-by-step instructions with pictures and YouTube video links for details on how to plate your food. Food can be kept for up to 48 hours, but best served on the day it arrives.
We ordered a three-course meal with wine for up to two people. This included Miso Braised Cod with Sesame Bok Choy, Shitake Broth and Pink Ginger and Langley Chase Rack of Lamb, with minted ratte potatoes, turnips and lamb jus. We paired this with a 2019 Oliver Dubois Pinot Noir.
Dishing up was aided by the fact that everything was colour coded and the professional-looking results on the plate were fairly painless to achieve. While there was a lot of individual packaging to contend with, the box comes complete with a breakdown of how everything can be recycled.
We were amazed at how quickly these could be heated – up to eight minutes in the oven or microwave – and beautifully presented – although we did need to Google a couple of items to identify what they were (bergamot gel anyone?). The dishes even came complete with mini sauce serving jugs made from china. With such rich flavours and ingredients, this is definitely not a meal to be eaten in front of the TV, but one to be saved for a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary.
Pros: Unique experience with no cooking required; gift cards available; recycling instructions included; 3-course Christmas menu; microwave and oven friendly
Cons: Best eaten on the same day although can be kept for up to two
Price: £120 for three-courses excluding drinks and extras | One Fine Dine
The best option for world cooking
Average recipe choice per week: 12 | Recyclable packaging: 95% recyclable | Dedicated app: No | Subscription based: Yes, one-off dinner party available
Feastbox has a focus on offering recipes from around the world at their most authentic, nutritious and responsible. So instead of the ubiquitous lasagne or burger and chips, you’ll find dishes such as Baba Ganoush With Spiced Lamb and Iranian Addas Polo, a popular type of Persian rice.
While it is a subs-based service with 12 recipes offered weekly – half of which are vegan/veggie – the company also has one off ‘dinner party’ boxes that don’t require you signing up regularly. You can choose from the Middle Eastern BBQ box or Chinese Banquet box, for example.
The company’s mission is to provide flavourful dishes that are easy to cook, no matter how unfamiliar the ingredients. While much of their produce comes from the UK, the recipes do contain ingredients that grow in the country of their origin. In our box we tried Green Thai Chicken Curry with Jasmine Rice and Crispy Jackfruit Pancakes. Both dishes came packed with lots of interesting and unusual produce. One item in the Thai curry dish even sparked a bit of ‘First one to guess what this is?’ chat on the WIRED WhatsApp group. Answer: a Thai galangal.
The recipe cards that come in the box are well presented and as well as the standard nutritional information per serving, it includes interesting facts about the dishes you’re making. While the jackfruit pancakes didn’t come out quite like the recipe said they should, we took to cooking the green curry – and it tasted pretty damn good too.
Feastbox’s current offer is worth noting too. It’s £10 off your first two boxes but Feastbox has also partnered with the Give Back Box scheme. Fill your empty boxes with charitable goods and send for free to local charities and get 10% off your next order.
Pros: Interesting ingredients from around the world; flavoursome dishes; £10 off first two boxes offer
Cons: Spicy recipes sometimes not ideal for fussy kids
Price: £15 for 2 recipes for 2 people per week | Feastbox
Great Food 2 U
For anyone pining for street and restaurant dishes
Average recipe choice per week: 45 meal kits now available from 14 restaurants and growing | Recyclable packaging: 90% recyclable | Dedicated app: No
Love street food? Great Food 2 U is a wonderful hub where you can order fresh meal kit deliveries from a range of well-known UK restaurants and street food brands. The service was launched back in June following the closure of pubs and restaurants during lockdown and began with just a few popular London-based street food brands such as Bleeker Burger and White Men Can’t Jerk, and has quickly expanded to offer meal kits from the likes of Spice Box, Gunpowder and Nanny Bill’s. Great Food 2 U is trying to support as many restaurants as possible and adding on restaurants to their offering as they come on board.
The service isn’t currently subscription based, but it means you can order food from the range of restaurants available as and when you like. Meals arrive in a well insulated box with all the fresh ingredients you need to make your dish. While Great Food 2 U is in its early days, it’s working hard to ensure as much of the packaging the meal kits arrive in are sustainable – the insulated wraps are made from recycled denim that when disposed of breaks down easily over weeks as opposed to years, for example.
We tried Cyprus Kitchen’s Chicken, Lamb Kofte and Halloumi Wrap kit for two people and were impressed by the prompt delivery, freshness of the produce and compact presentation in the box. The lamb and chicken came vacuum packed and were preseasoned on skewers so we didn’t need to do any major cooking prep – we could simply pop the ingredients in a frying pan and the whole dish was ready in under 20 minutes.
The recipe card is quite basic in that there isn’t a picture of the food you’re cooking, but the step-by-step instructions are clear and if you want to see the food being prepared in action you can log onto a dedicated YouTube video. The dish came with pickled cabbage, parsley, aleppo chilli flakes, tzatziki, Za-atar and halloumi and two pittas, that all looks fresh and were individually packaged. It’s worth noting that this particular meal kit needs to be eaten within two days, so it’s not one you can freeze.
Pros: Delicious; supports a great cause; brings street food and restaurant food home
Cons: Eat within two days
Price: £17.50 for 1 recipe for 2 people | Great Food 2 U