Meal delivery services put to the test

HOUSTON – "What's for dinner?" It's a harmless question that many parents dread. Between work, school and extra-curricular activities, finding the time to cook healthy meals for your family is more than a challenge.

That's why so many businesses are popping up, promising to solve your dinner dilemma.

KPRC Channel 2 consumer expert Amy Davis put some of the most popular meal delivery services to the test.

Instead of shopping and unloading groceries, new delivery services pack everything you need to make multiple meals and ship them straight to your door.

Three busy moms tested three services.

Channel 2 special projects producer Tera Roberson ordered meals from Blue Apron (hyperlink to: www.blueapron.com). Davis ordered from Hello Fresh (www.hellofresh.com), and anchor Rachel McNeill went with Plated (hyperlink to: www.plated.com).

Plated offers two, three or four dinners a week for two people. That's the first problem for McNeill's family of 4.

"Basically, (it) meant in my case, I was making one dinner for my husband and myself and then making a totally separate dinner for the kids," said McNeill.

You just answer a few questions about your taste buds and Plated recommends recipes.

The first night, McNeill made a homemade chicken pot pie. On night two, it was baked gnocchi with kale and mozzarella. Even though she enlisted the help of her 7-year-old, Plated was more of a time sucker than a saver.

"The Plated recipe had a lot of steps," said McNeill. "I mean, you're sous chefing, you're cutting up a lot of vegetables and things like that. It was very time consuming for us."

At Roberson's house, her Blue Apron box arrived with everything she needed to make kale and ricotta calzones and tomato braised cod and fettucine.

On Blue Apron, you can order meals for two or four people up to three times a week. Roberson's 12-year-old, Maddy, helped with the calzones. They chopped, sauteed and strained and Tera was only halfway through the steps.

"Are you tired yet, because I kind of am!" said Roberson.

The big test, of course: the taste!

"Was it worth all the time that it took us to make it?" Roberson asked Maddy.

"Sort of, I guess so," said Maddy.

"I'm a five-ingredient, one pot kind of girl. I like to walk away from my food and this did not allow me to walk away," Roberson said.

Davis' Hello Fresh box challenged her with a recipe for pan-seared salmon and bok choy, and the folks at Hello Fresh don't leave anything out.

"It even gives you the cream cheese that the recipe calls for," Davis said.

Hello Fresh lets you order meals for two or four people. Davis has a family of five, but her kids are so small, they were able to stretch the meals for two to feed the little ones. What she couldn't stretch was her time.

"This recipe is supposed to take 40 minutes," Davis said about the salmon. "It's a lot longer when you're juggling three kids."

David was also disappointed that the produce wasn't pre-cleaned.

"You probably can't see it on there, but there's still grit on here, so I know it hasn't been washed," Davis said of the bok choy.

It was a healthy meal on the table that she said she probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.

While everyone agreed the meals were a bit more complicated than they would've like, they did notice a major difference in pricing:

  • Plated was the most expensive service: $54 for two meals for two people comes out to $13.50 per serving.
  • Hello Fresh was a little less at $69 for three meals for two people or $11.50 each meal.
  • Blue Apron was the least expensive service at $69.92 for two meals for four people, or $8.74 a plate.

If you do decide to try one of them, make sure you find a coupon. All of them offer discounts for first-time users, but Plated denied McNeill's $20 off promo code after she ordered and didn't offer another.