Are meal subscription boxes worth it?

When we lived with housemates last year, I watched astonished as Liz ordered a few meal subscription boxes. It seemed crazy, and expensive.

But it’s a growing trend in America: pay $40-80 for a week’s worth of dinners, and all the ingredients come in little packets in a refrigerated box on your doorstep. You chop and fix them yourself.

Cutting vegetables for oven-roasted vegetables

Liz enjoyed it, but ultimately decided portions were small and it wasn’t for her.

But once we got a place of our own, I was curious. If I tried a few boxes on sale, would they be worth it?

Trying it out:

So for the past few months, Amos and I have used a range of trial offers, which usually put three small meals in the $20-35 price range. On the one hand, that’s still a luxury, as we pay off student loans—but on the other hand, it means we eat out less, avoid indecision at the grocery, and it’s given us the chance to try something new.

Home Chef. I lured Amos in to cooking random meals for me (…I mentioned I order and he cooks, right?) with classic meals like chicken & greens, beef & rice, and pork & brussel sprouts. We tried a few salads, then realized we could easily buy a mix and pre-cooked meat ourselves. These meals were generally filling and tasty, and we did several rounds of this. Get $35 off with this code.

Gobble. What with hand-rolling fried chicken sandwiches, smashing potatoes, and stirring up gemelli pasta, these were our most fun recipes—although too salty for me. Amos likes learning how to make fried chicken and says he’d do it again.

Daily Harvest. You can get six weird smoothies (black sesame & banana, anyone?) packed in dry ice for $26. Oddly enough, I really enjoyed them. But I can’t imagine paying the regular $50. I tried inventing my own smoothies afterwards, but let’s just say my globs of frozen peach with freezer-burned kale still needs some work. Use my code to get $25 off.

Hello Fresh. As Amos got more adventurous with cooking, we tried a vegetarian week of sweet potato tacos, spinach ravioli, and farro grains with goat cheese. Our first box wasn’t great (the avocado we got was hard and unusable) but we’ve ordered since this and liked this box. Also, they regularly send you coupons to put this in the reasonable-price category. Get $40 off with this link.

Marley Spoon. We enjoyed the flavor mixes of chicken and bok choi, and chickpeas with cucumber salsa, but this is the fancy Martha Stewart version of food in a box that cost $40 for two meals after a discount. We probably won’t do it again, and the recipes were so detailed we’re unlikely to do them on our own.

Dinnerly is owned by the same company as fancy Marley Spoon, but tries to stay at half the cost of the other meal boxes.  They were…a bit dull, but okay. You really could make pasta on your own.

Blue Apron. Some interesting meals, like steaks with yuzu fruit, and freekeh grains with broccoli. The downside was that other companies separate each meal in its own bag. Blue Apron just tosses all your groceries in a box, so you have to count every carrot before using.

Green Chef. When we ordered, this came in sets of meals, so we got two that we loved with a random third (stuffed zucchini?). Also unfair: an hour after I had my wisdom teeth out, Amos fired up the stove to make steaks so they wouldn’t “go bad.” (!). I suppose I can’t blame that on the box, though.

Sun Basket. We enjoyed a Mediterranean salad with soft-cooked eggs, but the recipes come in a magazine; I’d rather just get cards for the ones I ordered. You also have to call to cancel, which is a pain.

Farm Fresh to You. Finally, we tried a box of fruit and vegetables, which arrived fairly fresh. Worth it with the discount; you can get $15 off with this code: CELI7881.

Thoughts: 

On an accounting basis, it’s not worth it to buy subscription boxes, even at a discount. You could probably buy what’s on sale at the grocery store and make a meal yourself for cheaper.

But that’s also not quite the point.

For some folks, boxes represent convenience: you don’t have to plan and buy all the parts of a meal. (I still did a fair bit of mental labor to order, be home for when the boxes arrived, track which plans we tried, cook meals before ingredients went bad, and cancel before we were charged full price, though… even if Amos did the cooking!).

But for us, we liked that it let us learn new cooking skills and explore together. We didn’t have to buy more of an odd ingredient than we needed, it nudged us out of old food habits, and it became a substitute for a night out or attending cooking classes—in which case, the teaser price is reasonable.

Price-wise, I think we hit the sweet spot as a couple. A single could order in or buy to-go meals more cheaply, and a family could definitely save with a pot of spaghetti (some of the recipes, though, do note places for kids to participate, helping you to involve kids if cooking is new to you).

If you want to try it, look online for discount codes, or use my links above; I won’t link unless there’s a discount for you involved.

I suggest you order, choose a delivery day, then immediately “skip” the next few weeks’ orders. This gives you time to get your first box and then decide to either keep ordering, or cancel your subscription without worries of being charged for future weeks. (I put the day after a box arrives on my calendar, to remind me to cancel).

Overall, we found it worth it to try new things, but it still took time and energy to cook something new.

I recommend trying it for the experience — but not as a regular habit unless prices come down!

One Comment

  1. Marilyn

    Thanks so much for this! I’ve been wondering for a while what they’re like, but feeling it wasn’t worth it for me due to my various food restrictions and requirements. You can also get discounts on the ones mentioned on various podcasts, though I suppose you have to already be listening to the podcast to know which shows are sponsored by which products. I’d only ever heard of Blue Apron before, so fun to see the variety!

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