April 23, 2019 8:00 am

Meal kits reviews: Are these popular plans worth your money?

10 things you need to know before buying a meal kit.

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Meal kits in Canada have been around for years, offering busy adults the opportunity to cook nutritious meals in a relatively short period of time.

From large companies like HelloFresh and Chef’s Plate to more locally sourced ones such as truLOCAL, Meatme.ca, and Fresh City Farms, the meal kits market is filled with a variety of options for both families, couples and single-household Canadians.

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But with these options, it can be hard to pinpoint which meal kit works best for your home. While most offer similar services (week-long recipes, pre-cut ingredients, recipe cards), they do differ in price and meals.

If you want to read the review for a specific brand:

Read the review for Chef’s Plate

Read the review for Fresh City Farms

Read the review for Good Food

Read the review for HelloFresh

Before buying a meal kit, there are some things to consider: Make sure you have time to cook these meals during the week (you don’t want to waste any fresh produce) and make sure you read all the fine print before handing over your credit card information (for example, even though many plans include free meals or promo codes for one week, they will automatically charge you for the next week unless you pause or cancel your plan).

To get a handle on what various programs offer, four Global News reporters tested four meal kits available across the country (as well as one exclusively in Toronto). Each weekly kit had three to four meals. Options varied from four-person servings to vegetarian to recipes with locally sourced goods.

Below, is a review of some of the meals tested.

The review: Chef’s Plate

Company website: chefsplate.com
Reviewer: Arti Patel
Price: $8.99 to $12.95 per serving. Based on four recipes and two servings, $79.92 for the classic plan, $143.84 for the family plan, $103.60 for the 15-minute plan and $79.92 for the vegetarian plan.
Recipe options: Vegetarian
Meal plans: Classic, family, 15-minute and vegetarian with no commitment plans.
Availability: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

Example of recipe card from Chef’s Plate. Photo: Arti Patel

List of meals:
Middle Eastern fasoulia stew
Mushroom risotto
Asian firecracker cauliflower
Thai coconut curry pasta

Kit components: Four paper bags with ingredients including pre-chopped produce, whole produce, spice mixes, creams, etc. Recipe card and ingredient list also included.
Take note: Chef’s Plate notes 100 per cent of the packaging is recyclable. Chef’s Plate also includes free delivery that will arrive by 7 p.m. on a chosen day of the week (often Sundays) depending on location.
First impressions: After you receive your box, make sure you go through all of the bags and ingredients to figure out which ones can be stored in the fridge and which ones you can leave out. A few of my kits included canned goods. The produce itself (for all four meals) were fresh, even though they were sitting with my condo’s security for more than six hours.

Ingredients for Thai coconut curry pasta. Photo: Arti Patel

First meal: Thai coconut curry pasta (vegetarian) (two servings) 
Nutritional info (per serving): 680 calories, 25 grams of fat, 8 grams of sugar, 24 grams of protein, 620 mg of salt
The package: The bag came with each ingredient separately packaged and in some cases, pre-cut. Each spice was measured and prepacked along with the serving of coconut milk. Each package also came with nutritional information, ingredient list, and a three-part step-by-step instruction card.
Prepping the meal: This was probably one of the easiest meals I’ve ever made. Everything was already portioned out or pre-cut; the only prep I really had to do was boil water, cut the cauliflower and wash the spinach. I was a little nervous cooking the bucatini pasta, but only because I have not cooked this type of pasta before.
Skill level: Easy
Cooking time: 15 to 20 minutes

Final meal. Photo: Arti Patel

The taste: As a fan of curry, I was disappointed in the taste of this meal. While I understand it was Thai-inspired, I thought it could’ve used more spices. I ended up adding my own spices to the mix, as well as pepper, to enhance the flavour. I also would’ve preferred this meal with a bed of rice vs. pasta. Even though the recipe card insisted this meal was “spicy,” I did not find it spicy at all. I did, however, enjoy the mix of cauliflower, coconut milk, and crispy shallots. I will definitely be using this recipe in the future, even though I also found it too salty.
Final thoughts: For starters, I appreciated how easy this meal was to assemble. As someone who wants to cook more curries during the week, it did offer me more insight on how to get away with a quick curry. I also liked the fact the meal was mostly focused on one-pot — made clean-up time easier. While the dish could’ve used more spice, I would try to recreate this meal again on a bed of rice and possibly with different vegetables. This was also part of Chef Plate’s 15-minute meals, and though I took more time than 15 minutes to prepare it, it definitely could be possible. 


Ingredients for Asian firecracker cauliflower with jasmine rice. Photo: Arti Patel

Second meal: Asian firecracker cauliflower with jasmine rice 
Nutritional info (per serving): 790 calories, 11 grams of fat, 17 grams of protein, 32 grams of sugar, 1910 mg of sodium
The package: The bag came with each ingredient separately packaged and fresh produce including bok choy, green onions, and cauliflower. Each spice and sauce was measured and prepacked along with an egg. Each package also came with nutritional information, ingredient list, and a three-part step-by-step instruction card.
Prepping the meal: This meal involved a few extra steps for prep. I had to chop the bok choy, cauliflower and green onion, while also cooking the jasmine rice at the same time. The next big step involved roasting both the bok choy and cauliflower, and I appreciated how the meal instructed the two to be cooked separately. For the cauliflower, you had to dip each piece in a separate mixture of egg and “firecracker mix,” before putting it in the oven. The next step was mixing the sauces together (soy, sweet chili sauce, rice vinegar, and melted butter) and topping the rice.
Skill level: Easy
Cooking time: 30 minutes

The taste: This meal was delicious. The roasted vegetables and peanuts added a nice crunch, while the sweet chili sauce wasn’t overpowering. I thought the mix of ingredients, as well as the rice, was tasty and something I could cook on my own with the addition of other veggies or even tofu. In fact, I recreated this meal the week after. 
Final thoughts: This was probably my second-favourite meal that week, followed by the risotto. It was easy to put together, can be varied with different ingredients in the future and makes a good option for lunch as well. I only wish there was an aspect of tofu or another vegetarian “meat.”

The week

Overall thoughts on the week? I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Chef’s Plate. While some of my meals required additional spices or sauces, overall, I enjoyed learning how to make four new meals. I was also happy I didn’t have to worry about buying groceries that week. I think a lot of my anxiety around cooking or finding time to cook is figuring out ingredients ahead of time. This showed me how easy it was to cook something once you had the right ingredients. My biggest concern is the amount of sodium in my meals, but next time, I would cut back on the given sauces. 
Would you use this meal kit again?
Yes with one caveat: after my first week I didn’t pause my account or cancel deliveries and was sent four other meals. I would suggest if you just want to try the plan out, don’t forget to change your account settings. In terms of meal prep and cooking time, Chef’s Plate was easy to follow, easy to assemble and living in a single-person household, ideal for lunch the next day. As a vegetarian I also liked the variety of the week; you did not have to eat the same thing twice.

The review: Fresh City Farms

Company website: freshcityfarms.com
Reviewer: Laura Hensley
Price: Fresh City kits are sold in single meals. A meal kit, which makes two portions, ranges from $19.50 for two servings, to $24.50. For a family kit that serves four to six, they range from $38.60 to $53.25.
Recipe options: Vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian, dairy-free, soy-free and meat options, among others.
Meal plans: The meal kits make two portions, and the family kits make four to six portions on average.
Availability: Toronto

A list of the meals:
Organic California macro bowl
Organic chicken paprikash stuffed pepper
Organic trout with herb mashed potatoes and greens

Kit components: All of the ingredients and dressings. You just need to have your own cooking oil (usually olive) and salt, or whatever other seasonings you desire.
Take note: The kits come in these big reusable bags with ice packs. Inside the bags are boxes that contain your meal kits. I was surprised by how much packaging there was. You also need to be willing to spend some time in the kitchen.
First impressions: A lot more packaging than I anticipated! I understand the need to keep things packaged and fresh, but individual items — like a bag of rice, for instance — seemed wasteful. Is there a way to put these items in a jar or cotton sack?

Prepping the bowl. Photo by Laura Hensley

First meal: Organic California macro bowl
Nutritional info (per serving): 623 calories, 28 grams of fat, 14 grams of protein, 126 mg of salt
The package: Instructions and nutritional value on the recipe card.
Prepping the meal: Meal prep was relatively easy. I make quinoa all of the time, so was able to throw it on the stove with ease. The rest of the ingredients were raw, so the meal was pretty straightforward in terms of prepping. What was more challenging, however, was the beets; I never cook with them and forgot how messy they can be! I also don’t eat figs often and had to just dice them the way I thought was best.
Skill level: Easy
Cooking time:
20 minutes

Final bowl. Photo by Laura Hensley

The taste: Overall, it tasted OK. It wasn’t anything special, but it was nice and light. I tasted the dressing before putting it on the bowl, and I’m glad I did. It was so, so sweet, and I did not like how sugary it was. Because of how sweet it was (and how much sugar I assumed was in it), I decided I wasn’t going to use the whole bag.
Final thoughts: The bowl was underwhelming. I felt the beets-to-carrots-to-quinoa ratio was off, as there was so much carrot and beet that the rest of the bowl felt dominated by those flavours. I make quinoa bowls at home a lot of the time and felt that I usually make meals of similar or better quality.

Second meal: Organic trout with herb mashed potatoes and greens
Nutritional info (per serving): 607 calories, 30 grams of fat, 35 grams of protein, 70 mg of sodium
The package: Instructions, nutritional value on the recipe card.
Prepping the meal: Meal prep was pretty straightforward. First, you boil the potatoes, which is easy. I found chopping the almonds to be a bit more challenging, only because a) I never chop almonds, and b) they are tiny and jump around. Cooking the fish was super easy and fast, as was steaming the broccoli. Once the potatoes were boiled, I was instructed to add the yogurt portion and seasoning package. I found the idea of adding yogurt to make mashed potatoes a bit odd, but it actually tasted OK.
Skill level: Easy
Cook time? 30 minutes

The taste: It was a well-balanced meal. Wasn’t anything crazy in terms of flavour, but not bad for a quick, healthy dinner.
Final thoughts: This meal was probably my favourite one out of the meals ordered. Even though the trout was frozen, it cooked up very nicely. While the fish wasn’t rich in flavour, it was a decent-sized portion and tasted fresh. The mashed potatoes were cooked in a way that is different from how I normally would cook them, but they weren’t bad. The fresh lemon squeezed over the greens paired with some chopped almonds was great.

The week

Overall thoughts on the week? I enjoyed coming home and knowing what I was going to eat for dinner (and that there was enough food in the fridge to make it!). I was disappointed, however, with the overall taste of the meals. I wish they had more flavour and were a bit healthier; the bowl’s dressing had a lot more sugar than I’d like.
Would you use this meal kit again? I don’t think so, no. For the price and quality of the meals, I don’t think the kits were worth it. I may re-order a kit if I was low on time or had a busy week when I didn’t have a chance to get groceries.

The review: Goodfood

Company website: makegoodfood.ca
Reviewer: Meghan Collie
Price: Cost per serving ranges from $9.75 to $12.50. There are three kinds of kits, and for each, you have the option of two, three or four recipes with two or four servings per.
Recipe options: Gluten-free and vegetarian.
Meal plans: They have three baskets: Easy Prep, Classic and Family. Easy Prep has the same recipes as the Classic basket, as well as “time-saving” recipes, and both come with pre-cut ingredients. When you choose Easy Prep, you can also ask for “low carb” recipes. The Classic basket is the only basket that can be completely vegetarian, and all the recipes in the Family basket come with four servings.
Availability: Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and the Maritimes.


What a box looks like. Photo by Meghan Collie

List of meals:
Roasted butternut squash dahl
Rice noodles in coconut curry broth
Chicken salad with black garlic balsamic vinaigrette
Fresh pappardelle with braised mini meatballs

Kit components: Nearly everything you’ll need — even spices and garnishes! — come in each kit. The only thing you need to provide is oil for your pan.
Take note: I live in a low-rise apartment building without a doorman. I knew I would be at a gym class when the box was delivered to me, so I left explicit instructions for the delivery person to dial my buzz code. That way, I could let them in using my phone and they could leave the box at my unit door. However, my box was left outside my building — not even inside the lobby. This was frustrating to come home to, but I called the company and they apologized, offering a $20 discount on my next order.
First impressions: The kits are dropped at your front door in a giant box lined with weighty ice packs, but that’s not all. When you first open the box, you’re greeted by a pile of large cards (including your recipes and other promotional materials). Then as in the image below, you find each of your recipes in individual bags with individually wrapped ingredients. It seems like an unnecessary amount of packaging.

First meal: Roasted butternut squash dahl
Nutritional info (per serving): 680 calories, 20 grams of fat, three grams of saturated fat, 240 mg of sodium, 104 grams of total carbs, 16 grams of sugar, 32 grams of protein, 19 grams of fibre.
The package: Instructions with pictures, calories per serving.
Prepping the meal: I found meal prep for this dish to be pretty straightforward. Every Goodfood recipe has a step called “mise en place” (they’re based in Montreal!) which lays out what your work station should look like before you start cooking. For a recipe heavy on the chopping, like this one, it’s super useful to have everything ready to go while the oven is on (as opposed to chopping as you go).
Skill level: Hard. All of the components had very different cook times, and I found the recipe telling me to start another step before I was done the last one, which left some things overcooked and other things under-cooked.
Cooking time: The recipe allotted 35 minutes for cooking, but it felt it took closer to 40 or 45 minutes.

Final meal. Photo by Meghan Collie

The taste: I enjoyed the flavours, especially the use of roasted peanuts and cilantro as garnish. However, I’m not used to cooking with lentils and I think the recipe called for too much water because the base was kind of… mushy. I was grateful for the green beans, which mixed up the textures.
Final thoughts: It was no doubt tasty, but the portion sizes weren’t great. I was cooking this for myself and my partner, and he was concerned about the lack of protein, so we bought some chicken thighs to cook alongside the veggie dish. I was grateful we did.

Second meal: Rice noodles in coconut curry broth
Nutritional Info (per serving): 650 calories, 20 grams of fat, 12  grams of saturated fat, 1320 mg of sodium, 107 grams of total carbs, 8 grams of sugar, 12 grams of protein, 8 grams of fibre.
The package: All ingredients and recipe card.
Prepping the meal: This meal prep was super straightforward. It had very few ingredients and involved almost no chopping. All I had to do was boil a pot of water for the noodles.
Skill level: Easy
Cooking time: 20 minutes

The taste: I love anything with coconut, so this was a win. That said, I’m not used to cooking with curry paste, so when this recipe said to use “as much of the curry paste as you’d like,” I didn’t know what to do. I ended up using less instead of more (I don’t have much of a tolerance for heavy spice) but later, I wish I’d used more. The water made the paste quite mild.
Final thoughts: I loved this meal. It was simple, straightforward, and light yet satisfying. The bok choy and red pepper offered a delicious crunch to the soupy noodles.

The week

Overall thoughts on the week? I really enjoyed not needing to worry about what I was going to scrounge together for dinner each night, and I love to cook, so spending some extra time in the kitchen (and following a recipe) was super peaceful.
Would you use this meal kit again? I would, but only if there was some sort of promotion. I don’t think I would shell out the full-price amount for what I was given, especially for meals like pasta. I would be more comfortable shopping for deals at the grocery store. I’m lactose intolerant, but there’s no way to indicate that on the site, so I had to comb through all the recipes myself before choosing them. I would love to see a specific list of options that are guaranteed to be dairy-free, so I don’t need to worry.

The review: HelloFresh

Company website: hellofresh.ca
Reviewer: Leslie Young
Price: I tested the “Pronto Plan,” which cost $100 for four two-serving meals, or $13.33 per serving. Other plans cost a little bit less.
Recipe options: Vegetarian. You can customize your preferences to exclude meals with beef, pork, shellfish, and a few other things.
Meal plans: The kits come in three varieties: Pronto, which provide a variety of meals in two- or four-serving sizes that they say can be cooked in under 30 minutes (more on that later); Family, which has four-serving meals and kid-friendly recipes; and Veggie, which is a vegetarian option that comes in only a two-serving size. You can choose whether to get three or four meals per week with most plans.
Availability: HelloFresh delivers to all the provinces, though they urge you to check your postal code to make sure you’re in their delivery area.

The HelloFresh meal kit. Photo by Leslie Young.

A list of the meals you had in the week and serving size:
Chorizo Burrito Bowl
Rigatoni in a blush tomato sauce
Almond-crusted chicken
Caramelized onion burgers

Kit components: Everything you need to make each recipe comes in the box, including veggies, meats, spices, grains and more — except butter, oil, sugar, salt and pepper, which you’re expected to have already. You’ll use a few of those pantry staples in pretty well all the recipes.
Take note: HelloFresh is a subscription service, meaning that once you sign up, they’ll keep sending you boxes and charging you until you ask them to stop. Unsubscribing is pretty painless though.
First impression: I live in an apartment building, so I was a bit worried about leaving a box full of raw meat in the lobby all day until I got home from work. But it was sitting at my apartment door when I got home, and all of the ingredients were still cold thanks to an ice pack and insulated box. There’s a ton of packaging though — nearly every ingredient is in its own tiny plastic bag or container and the ingredients for each meal are in their own paper bag.

Ingredients for a HelloFresh pasta recipe. Photo by Leslie Young.

First meal: Rigatoni in a blush tomato sauce.
Nutritional info (per serving): 880 calories, 41 g fat, 15 g, saturated fat, 600 mg sodium, 100 g carbohydrates, 17 g sugar, 22 g protein, 6 g fibre
The package: Instructions, an ingredients list and a list of pots and other kitchen equipment required to make the meal
Prepping the meal: Pasta is pretty well the easiest weeknight meal you can make, and something I reach for when I’m short on time. Fundamentally, this was pasta in a tomato sauce with some cherry tomatoes, basil, and nice mozzarella. With that said, this was surprisingly complex to make! You boiled the pasta, made the sauce, made basil-infused olive oil and broiled the tomatoes before combining it all for your dish.
Skill level: Easy but there were steps that could have been done at the same time.
Cooking time: 30 minutes

The finished pasta dish from HelloFresh. Photo by Leslie Young.

The taste: It wasn’t good. I found the tomato sauce was so sweet that it was actually hard to finish — which was surprising as it didn’t include added sugar.  I found that despite the effort that went into making your own sauce, it tasted worse than many jarred sauces I might buy at the grocery store. While the bocconcini was nice and fresh-tasting, I could have bought all these ingredients very easily to produce basically the same dish in just 10 to 15 minutes with a pre-made sauce.
Final thoughts: This is a pretty basic meal and the kind of thing I might already be making at home on a busy night.

Ingredients for the HelloFresh burger and cauliflower. Photo by Leslie Young.

Second meal: Caramelized onion burgers with garlic aioli and baked “frites”
Nutritional info (per serving): 830 calories, 56 g fat, 14 g saturated fat, 700 mg sodium, 49 g carbohydrates, 9 g sugar, 33 g protein, 5 g fibre
The package: Instructions, an ingredients list, and a list of required kitchen equipment.
Prepping the meal: This meal was a burger with some nice toppings, with some roasted cauliflower on the side. So, you needed to roast the cauliflower, toast some breadcrumbs, mix up the burger meat, fry some onions for a topping, make some garlic mayo, cook the burger patties and assemble the burgers. This took a lot of dishes!

The cauliflower arrived pre-chopped in a plastic bag, but the first step in the recipe was to chop it even smaller into bite-sized pieces. I was left wondering why they didn’t send the cauliflower in smaller pieces to begin with, as it had already clearly been cut up.

And while those onions were good, I’ll mention this because it’s a pet peeve of mine in recipe-writing: caramelizing onions takes more than eight minutes. These were fried onions with a bit of sugar sprinkled on them. A perfectly good burger topping, but not exactly caramelized onions in my opinion.
Skill level: Medium 
Cook time:
45 minutes

The finished burger and breaded cauliflower. Photo by Leslie Young.

The taste: Very nice! It was a decent burger with an interesting side dish that didn’t taste too heavy. It’s hard to go too wrong with a burger.

Final thoughts: This meal was my favourite of the four I was sent. The burger was just a nice homemade burger, but I thought the cauliflower interesting enough to make again someday: it’s roasted, then smeared with garlic mayo and sprinkled with toasted breadcrumbs. Pretty tasty and certainly gives you the same snacky satisfaction as fries, though it at least feels a bit healthier.

The week

Overall thoughts on the week? Overall, I’m not sure I saved a lot of time using this kit. It saved a trip to the grocery store, but not a lot of prep time, and many recipes left behind a kitchen full of dirty dishes. The food itself was mostly on the bland side and in a few cases needed to be rescued with a bottle of hot sauce or some Dijon mustard. If you’re ordering meal kits, I’d recommend you have a well-stocked condiment shelf just in case.

Some recipes required tools that not everyone might have in their kitchen, like a citrus zester or parchment paper — I ended up cooking something on aluminum foil instead. Some of the cooking instructions also didn’t make clear that you could do several elements at the same time, and a novice chef might not realize that on their own.

There were also a few baffling moments, like wondering why I had a baggie of sliced almonds that I was asked to cut even smaller, instead of just getting a baggie of crushed almonds in the first place — or whole almonds if I was going to chop them anyway.

I also couldn’t help feeling bad about the amount of packaging waste produced by each meal. Does everything really need to be in its own plastic bag?

Would you use this meal kit again? Based on this experience, I’m not sure meal kits are for me. It was nice to not have to go shopping, especially since I was in the middle of a move, but I don’t think I saved much time or ate particularly well that week overall.

— Graphics by Laura Whelan

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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