When you walk into a college residence hall kitchen, you expect to see cabinets riddled with ramen noodles and a freezer stocked with frozen pizza rolls and ice cream.
As a self-proclaimed college chef, I frequent grocery stores to pick up avocado toast ingredients and throw together a stir fry, admittedly with frozen broccoli, every now and then. To switch it up, I decided to venture beyond the simple recipes I’ve mastered in District House’s cramped kitchens and try cooking using meal kit subscriptions from Blue Apron, Plated and Sun Basket for three weeks.
The services send subscribers all the ingredients needed to craft a set number of meals they choose from the available recipes, which change weekly.
Here’s how the three services stacked up:
If you’re a decent chef looking to experiment
Blue Apron, one of the most well-known meal kit services, provides more complicated recipes that are ideal for a student with some kitchen experience but who wants to scale up their skills and try some new dishes.
Each of the three recipes I made took about 20 minutes longer than the estimated time on the recipe cards, and it was slightly stressful to balance all of the different activities like chopping, seasoning and cooking.
The three recipes I chose were Caribbean chicken curry with roasted plantains and coconut rice, sweet corn and pepper empanadas with charred sugar snap peas and radishes, and ribeye steak and spicy vegetable hash with marinated cucumber.
For the two-person plan, each serving was $9.99 – the cheapest of the options I tried. This was cheaper than going out to eat, but more expensive than the simpler meals I would typically cook for myself.
Blue Apron’s six meal options all consisted of recipes I wouldn’t be able to dream up myself, but some of the ingredients felt repetitive with cucumber salad as the side for two out of the three dishes.
If you’re someone who needs a recipe to make a simple grilled cheese sandwich, Blue Apron’s slightly vague directions on how to care for the ingredients in the recipes would be difficult to decipher. I consider myself semi-competent in the kitchen, but I still needed to Google search how to treat fresh ginger and mince garlic that didn’t come pre-prepared.
Prices: Two person plan with three recipes each week, $59.94.
If you’re always in a time crunch
Plated offers meals that are a bit more complex but are still easy to make. Whipping up each of the meals took less time than the time allotted in the recipe, which was about 45 minutes – perfect for a college student who’s strapped for time but wants to expand their cooking skills past making toast and boiling pasta.
The three recipes I chose were rigatoni alla norma with whipped ricotta cheese, barbecue chicken with basil zucchini and corn, and blackened cod topped with a garlic aioli and corn salsa. Plated also offers one option that none of the other subscription boxes did – dessert. The individual sized s’more pies took no more than 20 minutes to throw together and were a delicious dessert that looked store-bought.
The ingredients from Plated seem to be less fresh than the other companies, but all of the ingredients were still useable. Despite some ingredients being slightly over ripe, they managed to send a perfectly ripe avocado for the corn salsa recipe.
All of the recipes resulted in huge portions that left me with two filling meals, which I ate for dinner one night and lunch the next day, and some leftovers beyond that for a small lunch or snack. The hearty portions were a big plus for a college student trying to save money eating out.
Prices: Two-person plan with three recipes each week, $71.70.
If you’re environmentally conscious
Sun Basket focuses on sustainability in their meals. All of the ingredients are non-GMO, most produce is organic and the meats are hormone- and antibiotic-free. All of the ingredients come in packaging that is completely recyclable and have clear instructions on how to recycle it. Many people complain about the wastefulness of meal kit services because each ingredient is individually packaged, but Sun Basket does a good job combatting that.
Each of the recipes took about an hour from the time I pulled the bag of ingredients out of the refrigerator until the last bite. The way the ingredients were packaged together in large paper bags for each recipe streamlined the cooking process.
The three recipes I chose were the steak with chimichurri and harissa-roasted sweet potatoes, herb-crusted pork chops with kale and apple salad and Moroccan-spiced chicken skewers with pepper and tomato salad. It was difficult deciding which recipes to try because Sun Basket’s offering of simple dishes with protein and a simple side with a worldly flair seemed basic compared to the other companies’ offerings.
Sun Basket stood out for having the freshest ingredients among the three services, and they gain extra points for being organic as well. The kale for my salad was crisp and a rich dark green, and the meat was fresher and more flavorful than the fare received from other services.
When you subscribe to Sun Basket, you can log into your account and get recipes with exact measurements for each ingredient so you can recreate the recipe, even when you run out of the pre-measured ingredients provided. The online recipes were a nice touch because you can continue to make a stand-out recipe that you’ve now mastered with ingredients you buy yourself.
Prices: Two-person plan with three recipes each week, $68.94.