While meal services like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and many others have now been a norm in many households for years now, I had never tried one until just recently. I had always been curious about these services, but the price point and frequent reviews from friends about how complicated the recipes were kept me from exploring this idea further. However, when I was offered a code for a free box from Plated, I decided to give it a shot. Note: I did not receive this code from Plated, so this review is not in any way at their request.
First, I created an account, and although I was getting a free box, I had to provide a credit card and full billing and shipping information, since the intention is that you will continue with the service. Once that’s set, the site prompts you to choose a plan, which is based on how many meals you want per week (up to 4), and how many servings of each meal (up to 4). My 5 year old gets a pretty set menu for the week, so I chose 2 servings and 3 meals, which was the lowest option I was offered when I signed up. The site does offer 2 nights/2 meals, as their most basic option, but it wasn’t available to me at sign-up.
Second, I had to pick my meals. The site prompts you to set preferences, like gluten free, vegetarian, etc. and then presets a menu for you. Since my husband is a lifelong vegetarian, I selected the vegetarian option. When my menu popped up, I noticed that only 2 of my 3 meals were actually vegetarian, so I went to swap. The site gives you a short list – about 8-10 options – that you can pick from if you want to swap out any of the preset meals.
Lastly, you select your delivery preferences. The box arrives once a week, and you can set the day of the week you want to receive it. All over the site, Plated promotes their flexibility – you can pause boxes if you’re out of town, increase servings if you are having guests, shift delivery days, etc.
Our box arrived midday Sunday, and thankfully, because we live in a condo building, our front desk was able to store it in their refrigerator, but even if that’s not an option, the box is guaranteed to stay cool and the food save until midnight of the delivery day.
The food arrives in a large cardboard box, with a gel-pack ice pack lining on the bottom and sides of the box, so that everything is packaged cold. We didn’t get any meats or fish, but the instructions noted that the proteins are usually packed closest to the ice to keep them as cool as possible. Everything is packaged and labeled by recipe, and large recipe cards are included with full instructions and steps.
Efficiency: The biggest advantage of this service, and I imagine others like it, is that everything is done for you, so for anyone who doesn’t like meal planning, grocery shopping, etc., this is a great service. Everything is pre-set, pre-measured, and spelled out. You simply take a recipe card, get the package for that recipe, and go. There’s no need to buy larger amounts of ingredients you may only need a teaspoon of, no need to mess with measuring spoons, and cleanup is pretty easy. Even as someone who enjoys meal planning, dinner felt much easier the week we had this service.
Variety: Perhaps the best thing of this service is the creative recipes that allow you to try different cuisines and ingredients. We are pretty adventurous in our cooking, and even we felt like these 3 meals we got from Plated gave us some great new things to try – a Korean sauce that will now be added to our regular rotation because it was so delicious, a Middle Eastern spice we hadn’t tried before and ended up literally licking the bowl after making a dish with it, and new takes on ingredients we use frequently, like a salad dressing using peanut butter. For anyone who wants to expand their palate, this is a great way to test out some new flavors without a huge commitment to large containers of something you may not end up liking.
Sizable portions: I’ve heard reviews of other meal services that said that portions were lacking, and we did not find that with the Plated meals we received. In fact, for 2 of the 3 recipes, we actually had some leftovers for a small meal for one person, or a solid side.
Taste: All of the meals we received were delicious. My husband is a fairly picky eater, and he insisted that we make all of the recipes again (thankfully we get to keep the cards and can recreate the meal with our own ingredients).
Waste: The first thing my husband said when we dove into making the first meal was, “I’m pretty sure I just killed a dolphin with all this plastic.” We are not deeply environmentally focused, but even we noticed how much plastic and packaging went into a single meal. Every ingredient is packaged into its own plastic baggie, bottle or can, and none of it is reusable.
Nutrition: The recipe cards, and the meal listings on line when you’re setting your choices, provide calorie counts for each meal. Our average Plated meal (based on the 6 total vegetarian meals we received in 2 weekly boxes) was 800 calories per serving. We don’t really count calories in my family, but these values definitely caught my attention. All the meals included a fair amount of cheese and carbohydrates (pasta, bread, bulgur), and even the more veggie-based meals still clocked high calories. Looking at Plated’s site, the low calorie options do exist, but none are not vegetarian friendly and seem limited in general.
Cost: Plated says that the average cost for their service is $9.95-11.95/serving. While this is definitely lower than a restaurant meal, and the portions are very filling, for us this was still a pretty high per person cost. Our average grocery bill, which often times feels shockingly high even with intentional meal planning, tends to put us at about $9 per person for 6 days of meals, and that’s including items that will last us over multiple meals and weeks, like milk, cereal, sauces, etc.
A note on timing: As I mentioned earlier, I’ve heard a lot from people who have tried these services that the time it takes to make the meals is long. The recipe cards we received told us that we should expect to spend 20-40 minutes on each recipe. We found that it took my husband and I closer to a full hour for each recipe (assuming one of us handled the whole thing from start to finish). If we’d worked together we probably could have shortened that time, and I don’t know if Plated makes the assumption that it’ll be a 2-person meal prep. An hour didn’t feel too prohibitive to us, but it did feel like the recipes were presented as more quick than we had experienced.
Overall, I was really glad we tried this service. While I enjoy meal planning and cooking, my husband and I really lack creativity and need to work off recipes to create a good meal. We’re pretty adventurous eaters, so we love trying new things, but need someone/something to guide us, and the Plated meals definitely gave us some new recipes to add to our repertoire. We both thought the meals were delicious, and plentiful, and despite the longer timing than what the recipe said, we felt the prep was fairly easy and cleanup was minimal, which was a plus in our book.
That said, we decided not to continue with the service and cancelled right after we made our first box of meals. Because of the timing of our cancellation, we did end up getting a second box, and are looking forwarding to trying those meals as well, but realized that generally, this type of service is not the best fit for us. We want to be more nutritionally conscious, and these meals were very heavy on carbs and cheese than the meals we normally make. We also want to be mindful of waste, and ultimately, the cost just seemed too high for one-and-done meals.
For those who may be similar to us, and want to diversify their recipe box but don’t want to spend this kind of money on a meal service, I highly recommend looking into CookSmarts. A fellow HelloBee blogger mentioned this service a few years ago, and I signed up immediately and it’s been the best thing I’ve done for our meal planning. The service provides recipes, and costs $8/month for 4 recipes/week, and has varying levels of plans you can choose from, and they are tailored to different dietary styles. While it does pose the hazard of having to buy ingredients you may not enjoy or use, it’s been very worthwhile to us because it has given us a ton of vegetarian options to choose from, the nutritional counts are very reasonable, and the meals are creative and fairly easy to make as well. To top all that off, CookSmarts is based on the principle of cooking efficiently, so there are videos on how to chop and prep efficiently, and the meals tend to reuse ingredients that may be left over from another recipe. I can’t rave about CookSmarts enough!