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.

Sun Basket shipment box

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.

Sun Basket Beet and Cabbage Borscht recipe and ingredients

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 roasted veggies

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.

ACME Farms + Kitchen Rotini with Bokali Pesto

Serving sizes

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.

Blue Apron Crispy Brown Butter Gnocchi

Recipe formats

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.

Blue Apron recipe cards

Food sources

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.

Sun Basket Beet and Cabbage Borscht

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.

Add-ons

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 loo