Slicing and dicing through subscription meal services
Subscription meal services are popping up all over the internet and now that a number are delivering in the Portland area, we wanted to see what all the fuss was about. In case you’re not familiar with this trend, these services deliver most of the raw ingredients and recipes to cook up healthy meals for several days in the week. A weekly subscription, with different diet choices, delivered right to your door. No fuss, no muss.
So we sampled from three different companies: ACME Farms + Kitchen, Blue Apron and Sun Basket. We wanted to see the quality of the produce and products in each shipment as well as the ease in cooking their meals. And although some consider food delivery a luxury, we know people who would argue otherwise.
We made recipes from each meal service and found them all interesting, creative and delicious. So good in fact, that we plan to remake all the recipes again in the future. All three companies have numerous dietary options and sizes (listed at the end of the article) and varying degrees in subscription flexibility. We ordered the 2-person meals from Blue Apron and Sun Basket and a large Locavore box from ACME Farms + Kitchen.
Both Blue Apron and Sun Basket post their recipes online in advance so shoppers can see what meals will be coming in the weeks ahead. This is handy if you want to skip a week’s meal selection when the recipes may not be to your likely. If you subscribe to more than one service, it’s fun to choose from the most interesting meals and skip the others. Sun Basket and Blue Apron default to weekly deliveries so shoppers must visit the website to make any alterations.
ACME Farms + Kitchen feels more like a local weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivered right to your door. They also offer subscription deliveries 7, 14 or 28 days apart and a weekly newsletter with a list of the key ingredients in the next shipment.
Again, both Sun Basket and Blue Apron have pre-measured raw ingredients so their meals can be made in about 30 minutes. They also arrived with the most packaging and labeling- great for beginner cooks who might not be familiar with the ingredients. But for those looking to lessen their carbon footprint, it might be a challenge to repurpose all the plastic bags and containers. ACME Farm + Kitchen packs their box with very little packaging or labeling. We were unfamiliar with two ingredients but a quick google image search determined which was which.
We found the Blue Apron recipes really only did serve 2 people, leaving us wishing for leftovers. Although the Sun Basket recipes say 2 servings per dish, we had enough food left over for lunch for one of us the next day. The ACME Farm + Kitchen recipes resulted in the largest meals, making enough to feed 3-4 people each dish.
Prep and cooking
If you have limited time to prep and cook, the Sun Basket and Blue Apron meals can usually be finished in a half hour. The supplied pre-measured ingredients speed up the cooking process. Sun Basket even bags the different meals separately, making it easy to begin cooking without searching your fridge for all the necessary ingredients. Blue Apron’s recipes offer the most efficient cooking strategy with suggestions such as starting water to boil before chopping the vegetables. The ACME Farms + Kitchen recipes took us a bit longer to prepare but also offered the most traditional cooking experience of washing, trimming, chopping and cooking.
ACME Farms + Kitchen prints an entire week’s meals on one page of recycled paper, including the pantry items not included in the shipment. This also doubles as handy shopping list to take to the grocery store. But there are no photos and we found the suggested meal order didn’t use the most perishable ingredients first so we modified the recipe order.
Sun Basket has a photo, information about the ingredients, labels for different diet types (vegetarian + gluten-free), prep and cooking time estimates along with calories per serving and how much protein, fiber and added sugars were in each dish. We found their ½ page recipe layouts to be the easiest to follow, especially if you wanted to eliminate an ingredient you might not care for from the meal. They also list the few pantry ingredients not included as well as the necessary cooking utensils.
Blue Apron’s recipe cards are a full sheet of paper with photos of the finished dish and all the individual ingredients beside the ingredient list. They describe the dish along with the unique ingredients and spices. Calorie count, prep and cooking time and a tablet-friendly website address for cooking tips are also listed. On the backside are photos of each step in the process and efficient cooking instruction– perfect for beginners. Beyond salt, pepper and olive oil, Blue Apron provided us with all the other ingredients.
For most of the year, ACME Farms + Kitchen uses small and mid-sized regional farmers and producers in Washington and Oregon, only supplementing with California growers in late Winter/early Spring. Mostly everything they offer is organic or grown using sustainable practices even if it’s not officially certified organic.
Sun Basket also offers mostly organic and GMO-free foods, stating that they meet or exceed the standards of most natural grocery stores. Most of their ingredients come from California.
And Blue Apron seems to source ingredients from across the country, selecting producers and growers that use sustainable practices while limiting their use of pesticides.
Recycling the packaging
Another consideration is how to handle the boxes and icepacks that arrive with the weekly shipments. The ACME Farms + Kitchen contained a couple icepacks in a sturdy box that could easily be reused or recycled. On their website, they suggest leaving the thermal pouches and ice packs out for the driver to collect on the day of your next delivery. The Blue Apron and Sun Basket shipments contained a lot more packaging but both websites offer instructions on how to properly dispose of everything or the option of shipping the materials from two shipments back free of charge using a USPS return label. Sun Basket even uses recycled denim that can be tossed in your compost if you don’t want to return it.
Sun Basket sent along a free fresh juice to try and a discount coupon to use if we liked it. They also have a breakfast option and you’re not locked into just one diet. If the next week’s shipment includes an interesting looking vegetarian dish, you can replace one of your meat dishes with it.
Blue Apron has the most expansive add-ons available in the form of wine and cooking tools. Home chefs can buy cutting boards, cookware, stemware and knives as well as wine, all available from Blue Apron’s website.
Blue Apron is available across the United States.
Sun Basket is currently available in CA, OR, WA, NV, CO, ID, AZ and UT.
ACME Farms + Kitchen is currently available in Portland, OR; Bellingham, WA and Seattle, WA.
Our ACME Farm + Kitchen deliver arrived on time but both our Blue Apron and Sun Basket deliveries arrived after the stated delivery window. Happily, both companies offered a discounted second delivery to make up for my inconvenience.
How to choose a subscription meal service
Choose Blue Apron if you are new to cooking and want easy recipes with step-by-step instructions, a busy person with limited time to cook and want pre-measured ingredients, love recipe photos, want the convenience of a phone number to call in case you have questions or issues, want all your ingredients labeled, don’t have additional pantry supplies to add to your dishes or are the type that ends up with unused, spoiled food.
Choose ACME Farms + Kitchen if you want to eat mostly organic foods, are looking for less packaging, desire leftovers, want to eat local, tend to use recipes as suggestions rather than following them to a tee or want the convenience of a phone number to call in case you have questions or issues.
Choose Sun Basket if you wants calorie count, protein and fiber information for every meal, are a busy person with limited time to cook and want pre-measured ingredients, want all your ingredients labeled, don’t have additional pantry supplies to add to your dishes, love recipe photos, are the type that ends up with unused, spoiled food, want to eat mostly organic foods, are new to cooking and want easy recipes or desire leftovers.
Locavore trial meal box $30 (One dinner that will serve 3-4, no choice in what’s included)
Large locavore box $99 (Five meals for 3-4 people per box, shopper can also choose gluten-free, dairy-free, double protein, gluten + dairy free options for an additional cost)
Small locavore box $75 (Three meals for 3-4 people per box, shoppers can also choose surf, turf, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegetarian gluten-free options for an additional cost)
Paleo locavore box $155 (Five paleo compliant meals for 3-4 people per box, and a double paleo box option is available for an additional cost)
Beyond basics box $70 (Stock your pantry with fruit, dairy, eggs, other snacks and things like waffle mix)
Save $15 off your first ACME Farms + Kitchen order by using discount code ACMEWINE15 before 6/30
Two-person plan $59.94 (Three meals for 2 people per week)
Family plan $69.92 (Two meals for 4 people per week)
When you sign up, you complete your meat preferences (beef, lamb, poultry, pork, fish and shellfish) or select vegetarian
Get your first 2 meals free at Blue Apron using this link: https://www.blueapron.com/michelemar16
2-person weekly plan $68.94
4-person weekly plan $137.88
6-person weekly plan $206.82
Shoppers can select 3 meals per week from Chef’s choice, Paleo, Gluten-free, Vegetarian or Rise & Shine (Two dinners plus 2 two 5-minute breakfasts)
Use this link to save $30 off your first Sun Basket order: bit.ly/cooksunbasket