The Throwdown: Meal Kit Edition

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It's a new(ish) year, and I've learned over time to make doable resolutions. No more promising to write The Great American Novel; if I can keep my mind and body in one piece (and maybe squeeze in a first-time tennis lesson), that's good enough for me. And yet there's one resolution on my list that intimidates me the most:

Order less takeout.

I wasn't always a takeout person. I love to cook and try my best to work with what I've got in the fridge. But allow me to blame things on COVID for a moment: when access to so much of the world was cut off in 2020, I had to take my variety where I could find it. 

In recent months, my mobile ordering habit has proven tricky to break. In the mood to cook up a big project meal or simply order myself some khao soi from down the street, I've lost is the middle ground – the easy, accessible weeknight meal that takes a sliver of cook time without mountains of prep, and gets me the nutrients I need without feeling like monkish deprivation.

Which is where meal kits come in. With pre-packaged ingredients and recipes that save you from scouring the internet for inspo, they're a happy medium between the accomplishment of a home-cooked meal and the ease of delivery to your door. Need help choosing which brand to go with? Right this way… 

I've lost is the middle ground – the easy, accessible weeknight meal that takes a sliver of cook time without mountains of prep, and gets me the nutrients I need without feeling like monkish deprivation.
Which is where meal kits come in.


Let me start by saying there's no way I could provide a rundown of the entire field. The meal kit delivery market is spreading like wildfire, with new brands entering the ring every day and industry-wide sales exceeding $6 billion last year alone. 

Instead, I found three brands that service a wide variety of customers, similar in premise but different in execution, branding and price point. I've rated them in categories like taste, convenience, and cost, and captured in photos a little bit of my journey cooking through all three competitors.

Cashew chicken, but homemade this time, thanks to Martha & Marley Spoon


First up is Home Chef, a brand founded in 2015 and recently acquired by Kroger. Home Chef focuses on providing "restaurant-quality" recipes that take thirty minutes or less to prepare, with 20+ recipes available to choose from each week.

Martha & Marley Spoon makes similar promises on quality and cook time, with the added status symbol of its celebrity partner, Martha Stewart. Since all the recipes have her stamp of approval, its claim to fame is more specific curation.

Freshly meals are pre-cooked and microwavable. Curious to see if the brand’s product could stack up to its home-cooked equivalents, I had to bring them into the mix.

The Freshly website is endlessly customizable

Test #1: Ordering Process

In this category, I took a look at how many options were offered for both recipes and delivery days, and how painless the experience was in general.

Home Chef: For the week that I sampled Home Chef, there were 24 entrees on offer. Each recipe is listed clearly with cook time, a nutritional breakdown, and potential allergens. Some recipes involve cooking (Meal Kits), while others are heat-and-serve (Oven Ready). You can skip weeks when you won't need any meals and set your next six orders up in advance, including the delivery dates. Overall, I found this to be an incredibly intuitive and well thought-out process. 9/10.

Martha & Marley Spoon: My week’s 38 possible entrees were broken into five categories: Health & Diet, Vegetarian & Vegan, Meat & Fish, Under 30 Minutes, and Family-Friendly. The options, like Brazilian Tomato-Coconut Shrimp Stew and Broken Pork Dumpling Stir Fry, feel globally-inspired. Plans are available for 2 or 4 people, and you can choose between 2 to 6 meals a week to be delivered between Thursday and Saturday. It's an easy and efficient system, bringing it to an 8.5/10.

Freshly: When I put my order together, I had a whopping 55 meals to choose from, available for delivery on just about any day. You can sort by individual macros like carbs, protein, and even sodium. Since meals are individually packaged and single-serving, select your number of meals, not number of diners, with plan sizes of 4, 6, 8, 10, or 12 meals per week. With all of these options, it's a pretty faultless process – it's just a little less easy to toggle in and out of future weeks. 9.5/10.

Winner: Freshly

Diving in with Martha & Marley Spoon

Test #2: Cost

This one's about as objective as it gets. Let's let the numbers do the talking.

Home Chef: The Home Chef meals range from $8.99 to $18.95 per serving, with Culinary Collection items (usually nicer proteins like salmon or steak) claiming the higher end. While you can order as few as two meals per week, each order must have a minimum value of $49.95, with shipping costs going up the fewer items you purchase. 7.5/10.

Martha & Marley Spoon: Despite the luxe vibe of its recipes and aesthetic, Martha & Marley Spoon is remarkably affordable, with meals ranging from $1.99 to $6.82 per portion. Even the largest possible order, 6 meals each for 4 people, comes in at $172.75 per week. Considering the quality, that earns a rare 10/10 from us.

Freshly: The brand’s smallest plan of 4 meals a week comes in at $11.79 a meal, with a discounted rate going up to $8.99 a meal if you order 12 meals a week. This brings the Freshly range between $47.16 and $107.88 a week. 8.5/10.

Winner: Martha & Marley Spoon

Freshly: microwave, but make it fashion

Test #3: Ease of Cooking

So you've unboxed your ingredients and loaded up your fridge -- now what? Here's the scoop on the easiest dinnertime experience.

Home Chef: Home Chef makes the incredibly helpful decision to separate each recipe's ingredients (most notably proteins) into a different zip-top bag. I never experienced any confusion while cooking my way through Home Chef. Bonus points for pre-portioning most of the ingredients to cut down on my slicing and dicing. 9/10.

Martha & Marley Spoon: Martha & Marley Spoon takes the opposite approach, with all of the week's ingredients arriving bundled together. I spent a fair amount of time scanning through the recipe and making sure I pulled the right ingredients out to match it. Even still, I mixed one or two things up (I ended up making a chicken broth instead of a seafood broth once). While high-quality, these ingredients were a little difficult to handle. 6.5/10.

Freshly: This one's not even fair! It's hard to overstate just how easy it is to pop your meal in the microwave and still have it come out even remotely healthy and satisfying. With the other meal kits, I rarely had the time in my work days to carve out space for cooking lunch, but Freshly got me through the daytime meals no problem. Given the category, that sounds like a 10/10 to me.

Winner: Freshly (with an Honorable Mention for Home Chef for making the home-cooked option easy too)

When it comes to flavor, Home Chef's got the goods

Test #4: Taste

All other factors aside, this is the one that counts. Life's too short for mediocre dinners, especially if you're shelling out for them weekly. So let's see who brought it home.

Home Chef: I was consistently impressed by Home Chef’s bold, complex flavors with relatively few ingredients. The dark horse, Home Chef’s Basil Pesto Salmon was the best bite I had throughout this whole taste test. Considering the effort put in, these meals were a solid 8.5/10.

Martha & Marley Spoon: Maybe my expectations were too high, but my taste buds were slightly disappointed with these meals. The flavors lacked punch (even when I livened things up with my own spices or a hit of lemon juice). At times, I even found myself wishing I had trusted my own cooking instincts instead of following the recipes. 7/10.

Freshly: The microwave of it all is a double-edged sword here. Compared to the frozen dinners I grew up with, Freshly is a hell of a lot more flavorful. But it's still hard to shake the lack of freshness. Texture is hard to get when everything's been blitzed and steamed for the same length of time, so even though there's plenty of good bites to be had, these still leave something to be desired. 6.5/10.

Winner: Home Chef

And the winner is...


While Home Chef might not be the cheapest brand on the market, or the one with countless meal options to choose from, the brand scored consistently high marks in all categories and provided the most delicious bites. It was easy to put together a well-rounded order and even easier to reach into my fridge and grab what I needed in one fell swoop.

With all that convenience at hand, Home Chef is making it easier and easier every day to get myself back in the kitchen and leave Postmates behind. 

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