Food delivery services are now officially a 'thing'. Weekly deliveries of fresh ingredients and recipes sent straight to the doors of time-strapped folk who want proper food, without the hassle of the nightly supermarket shop.
From Abel & Cole to Hubbub, Gousto, Recipe Box and Hello Fresh these pre-packed recipe boxes are also aimed at kitchen novices keen to make meals from scratch, who may be big on ideas but small on skill.
And I know they are a 'thing' and not just yuppy crowdsource projects because most of my normal city friends, including singletons, families and flat sharers, are considering joining (if they haven't already).
There's no doubt they make life easier after a long day at the office but they're not cheap, so are they worth the money?
And now we're turning into a nation of health-loving gourmets, do the recipes live up to the high culinary standards of the UK's wannabe Masterchefs?
Thanks to a discount code from a foodie friend (get yours at myvouchercodes.co.uk here) we've been putting the Hello Fresh service to the test in the Detox|Retox home this week, at the hands of one passionate cook (the vegetarian husband) and one basic kitchen disaster (me). Here's how we got on...
"Every week, we’ll deliver recipes to your door with all the ingredients you need to cook delicious dinners.
"Our Veggie Box is bursting with tasty new ingredients and healthy recipes that will make your taste buds rejoice. Our chefs create new flavourful, perfectly seasoned vegetarian recipes every week, from salads, stews, soups… the list is endless. You’ll broaden your veggie repertoire beyond your wildest dreams with the finest ingredients!"
The Veggie Box. Three meals for two people = (usually) £36 or £6/meal.
Our veggie box included Jamie's Sicilian Spaghetti Alla Norma (437kcal), Roasted Honey Feta (410kcal) and Lentil and Vegetable Hotpot (553 kcal).
THE HELLO FRESH VEGGIE VERDICT
The ingredients for each meal come in separate paper bags so it's very easy to identify what's what (and to store) and the recipes are completely idiot-proof, with pictures of the ingredients needed and basic instructions that even include chopping the top and bottom off the carrot before peeling.
There's nothing too complicated prep-wise, and there won't be anything on the ingredients list you haven't heard of, which means that even the most unconfident chef ("hello!") can create something that actually looks like the picture on the recipe card.
I made my first ever hot pot, completely from scratch, and got a bigger buzz out of creating it and then presenting it for dinner than actually eating it.
2. CALORIE COUNTERS
Calories and nutritional information for every meal are listed on the app, and while not particularly low-cal, the info is there for anyone keen on keeping track.
If you are trying to keep the calories down at dinner the fact there is no dessert provided could be considered a plus.
And I also found the portion sizes spot on with zero waste/leftovers (but hungrier, sportier friends have been left wanting more).
3. BRITISH BRANDS
Hello Fresh take pride in using British suppliers where possible and also work hard on sourcing ethical products (meat comes from Roaming Roosters in Lancashire, fish from the Queen's suppliers James Knight) and each of our recipes were dotted with product from British brands, including spinach, potatoes, butter and cheese, which was brilliant to see (just because we want convenience doesn't mean we don't care where the food is coming from).
HELLO FRESH NOT SO GOOD FOR...
The husband, who loves cooking, found the step-by-step recipes too simple/boring and the dishes themselves a bit bland and safe. The aforementioned hot pot was declared 'a bit average' and although it hurt, he was right. I can't really cook but I love food and two out of three dishes in our week tasted quite basic.
If you're used to using cookbooks and experimenting in the kitchen you will probably find these recipes too easy, and the ingredients a bit tame, even the Jamie Oliver approved ones (in fact his pasta dish was the most disappointing meal in our trio). BUT there's nothing to stop you adding your own twist on things if you have the flair. And on those days when you have run out of energy/imagination it's great to know that there's everything you need for a decent, simple dinner at home.
2. VEGETARIANS/VEGANS/CLEAN EATERS
While meat eaters can opt for three or five day plans, which brings the price per meal down quite considerably, veggies only have the three day option. And £12 for two portions of lentil hot pot seems a bit steep.
Talking of lentils, two out of our three meals were lentil-based, and it was the same in the following week's plan. And while of course vegetarians are required to love a lentil, it did seem a bit lazy (other recipe box services will let you choose from a selection each week).
There aren't yet any vegan or 'free-from' options (all of our dishes contained milk and two of them gluten) which I know would be a deal-breaker for some of my more careful friends (but fyi all allergens are stated on the app so you're informed ahead of ordering each week).
3. THE PLANET?
The amount of packaging used when pre-measuring every part of a meal is something that has always stopped me signing up to food delivery services, and this applies to all of them, not just Hello Fresh.
Hello Fresh have obviously worked really hard on keeping their packaging as eco as possible - lots of the product arrived loose in the brown paper bags, the wool liners used to chill things are compostable or can be sent back to the company and the boxes are FSC recyclable certified - but after three days of meals we were left with what seemed like a LOT of packaging, including sachets for the honey/oil and pots for the tiny amounts of herbs.
Also, I would have liked to have seen/had the option to choose organic product.
SO, WILL I BE ORDERING AGAIN?
Yes, but only occasionally, and probably when the husband is out of town so he won't get frustrated and I can order the better value meat-based box.
This service is brilliant for very busy people and beginners in the kitchen but the recipes are limited and the choice for veggies needs a bit of work.
Hello Fresh delivers recipes and fresh ingredients to your door each week. Plans starts at £4/meal (family box) and once you have subscribed you can see the recipes in advance on the app and skip a week at any time.