Healthier than a takeaway and significantly cheaper than eating out, a home cooked meal can be a wonderful thing - as these best recipe box services prove.
Yet many of us lack the time or skill to produce tasty, nourishing dishes of our own on a regular basis. And that’s where the recent trend for meal subscription boxes springs from.
UPDATE: We've been trialing Chefly for a little while now and it's a great, healthier alternative. It's not a recipe box as such, as all the meals are made for you - all you have to do is put them in the microwave to heat them up. The meals are nutritious, packed with protein and range from 450 to 650 calories a meal. If you opt for six or more meals a week, then they are £7.50 a pop (reducing to £6.99 for 12 meals) but there is a new four meal option that's £10 per meal. Head to the site for more information. And if you want 20% off our first order, then use the code: REALFOOD.
All across the country, entrepreneurial food producers are portioning out their fresh produce (or that of their suppliers) before packaging them up with recipe cards and sending them out to the hungry working people of the UK.
Here are 10 of the finest meal subscription boxes money can buy. We’ve taken into consideration the reputation and unique angle of each service, alongside the quality and affordability of the overall package.
Best recipe box
1. Mindful Chef
As the name suggests, Mindful Chef is primarily concerned with keeping your waistline slim - and they have the celebrity athlete testimonials to prove it. The likes of Andy Murray, Victoria Pendleton and, er, Pixie Lott all lend a quote to the website.
All Mindful Chef recipes are low-carb and reduced sugar, with top quality veg and meat pushed to the fore. With prices starting from just £4 per meal, you might actually find yourself gaining a few pounds.
Nutritional food, cooked, straight to your door - that's the premise of Chefly. It's making it as easy as possibly to eat healthily, with each meal vacuumed packed. This means that the meals can last for longer in your fridge - in our trial we had the likes of Grilled Bavette Steak, Miso Salmon and tikka chicken thighs, all of which had a really nice taste to them. Heating them up is simple (just put in the microwave) and once you take the plastic off, the cardboard boxes they come in are recyclable. It does cost (especially if you go for a lower meal count option) but you have to remember that these are complete meals, ready to eat - and shipping is free, you can skip weeks and cancel at any time. If you want 20% off your first order, then use the code: REALFOOD.
3. Balance Box
If you barely have time to leave the office to grab lunch and need healthier options, then Balance Box could be for you. This box is especially good if you hate cooking, because unlike many of the meal subscription boxes out there, these meals are pre-prepared so most can be eaten cold or simply heat in the microwave (or oven if you prefer). It provides breakfast, lunch and dinner (plus snacks) in clearly labelled tubs so you can simply grab your food for the day and run.
As it is primarily designed to help with dieting, it comes in two variations; 1,200 calories or 1,800 calories per day. Within that there are 4 menus - Classic, Vegetarian, Pescatarian and Free From. Added bonus if you live in London, your box is delivered before 6:30am (and left in a safe location) so your breakfast is waiting for you when you wake up.
AllPlants is the latest addition to the list. You guessed it, these guys serve up 100% plant-based meals that are both healthy and nutritious. Instantly frozen to lock in the nutritional benefits, the boxes are available for both one or two people and come in packs of 6 meals starting from £40. That works out at around £4.99 per meal - pretty idealif you ask us.
FeastBox faces East with its selection of recipes, drawing inspiration from Asia and the Middle East rather than the predominantly European fare found elsewhere on this list.
Think prawn masala, sweet and sour duck breast, and chicken laksa. Bespoke spice blends are part of the package, and you might even encounter a few rare ingredients you haven’t seen before. Prices do seem a little higher than the competition as a result, though.
Gousto provides some of the tastiest and most globe-trotting food selections of all the services, with up to 40 recipes to choose from each week. At the time of writing that includes such exotic delights as Filipino-style pork belly and chicken cacciatore with herbed orzo.
The service has also teamed up with Joe Wicks to provide a few healthier options, while they’re competitively priced at around £5 per meal when ordering three recipes for two people.
Riverford places the emphasis on organic produce above all else. You pay for this a little in terms of options, as there are only 12 recipes to choose from each week, and the recipes lean a little more towards the ‘hearty’ side of things.
Meanwhile, you can only order food for two people. Despite these limitations, you can be assured that each recipe is packed full of fresh veg and grass fed organic meat.
8. Simply Cook
Simply Cook takes a different approach. It doesn’t give you all of the ingredients. It’ll supply you with the recipes and all the spices you’ll need to flavour those dishes, but you’ll need to supplement these with four to six items from your fridge or cupboard.
As well as reducing packaging, this also cuts the up-front price down somewhat. Each £9.99 box contains four kits, each of which feeds two to four people.
9. Pasta Evangelists
Now we’re getting seriously specific. While the other meal box services draw from multiple food cultures, Pasta Evangelists is all about those Italian carbs. This isn’t your Mum’s spag bol, though, but rather a range of silky pasta recipes fit for a restaurant.
A Pasta Evangelists box supplies you with chilled artisan pasta and top ingredients for making authentic (and seasonal) Italian sauces and garnishes. If you’re in London, they’ll even post the boxes through your letterbox.
10. Hello Fresh
Hello Fresh offers some of the easiest-to-follow recipes around. Each order includes a step-by-step picture card for every recipe. Added to the well packaged, pre-portioned ingredients, it makes the whole cooking process a waste-free doddle.
The range of recipes is extensive and varied, but none take longer than half an hour to cook. Prices start from around £5 per meal when ordering three recipes for two people.