Want to Don the Blue Apron or Say Hello to Fresh?

Meal delivery services are all the rage—we decided to try a few.

It sounds like a homemaker’s fantasy: quality ingredients of a delicious, healthy dinner, carefully selected and safely chilled with ice packs, arriving in a box on your doorstep, complete with recipes that don’t require the cooking savvy of Rachael Ray. What could be better? OK, perhaps the arrival of Rachael Ray herself, but let’s be realistic.

When I was asked to try a couple of meal delivery services for this article, I had fun trying something that for me was, literally and figuratively, out of the box. First I tried Blue Apron, using the $30 discount for a first-timer. One of the two recipes was Italian sausages and peppers, with fregola sarda pasta and garlic-parmesan broccoli. the recipe card contained generally clear instructions, photos of all ingredients and steps in the cooking process, as well as a recommended wine pairing. The fresh vegetables required considerable slicing and dicing, and I did struggle (as I have in the past) with the task of peeling a clove of garlic to mince. The instructions about using the flat edge of a knife to create a garlic paste did not yield the desired results. the final dish, however, was delicious and won raves from my teenage son.

Customers try these services not just for convenience, but also to learn new cooking skills and experience new foods. I’d never eaten a purple pepper before and the fregola sarda pasta, shaped like tiny firm pearls in a mix of light brown tones, was something I’d never heard of, but had a tasty, nutty flavor.

Another service I tried, Hello Fresh, offered 50 percent of my first box, and I selected a meal for a family of four. It was a baked turkey burrito with spinach, black beans and cheddar. This box was clearly for families, with a fun fill-in-the-blank card for children, tips for kids helping with the recipe and even a suggestion for a dinner activity (“describe each family member at the table in three words”). It was challenging to adequately mash the black beans with a potato masher as instructed, but when my teenage son arrived after the dish was ready, he said the house smelled “fantastic!” One problem, though, was that I really could have used a side dish to round out the meal, but none was included.

Both these services provided lots of helpful website information and offered apps as well. But was the price of the convenience worth the benefits? On the Blue Apron dish I would have paid about $7.45 per serving if I’d bought the ingredients myself, and their two-person meals average $9.99 a serving. For the Hello Fresh dish, I would have spent about $5.60 a serving, whereas the website indicates that their meals typically average about $8.74 per serving.

Clearly, you’ll pay more to have the meal planning and ingredient selection done for you. And I heard of one regular user who eventually opted out because she felt her plan didn’t offer enough variety over the long term. But you might decide it’s worth it — even just for a few weeks or months — to get a glimpse of being Rachael Ray.