I tried Blue Apron… and hated it

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Blue Apron Samosa Meal
Blue Apron’s samosa meal.

I am on a quest to get out of a cooking rut. After the birth of my daughter we started living on a steady diet of takeout and the same three recipes so I set out in search of the holy grail of meal planning. Last week I tried out CookSmarts meal planning. This week I tried Blue Apron, a meal-kit service that provides ready-to-cook recipes and ingredients. I got the 2-meals-4-servings option, which retails for $69.92. I used a coupon for a free trial week.

Thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign there are literally hundreds of Blue Apron “unboxing” posts and videos, so we can skip past most of that (google it if you’re interested). One thing that did drive me nuts was pulling out items that I already have in my kitchen. Garlic, baby spinach, oranges, honey, red wine vinegar… all those things are already in my fridge/pantry threatening to rot if I don’t use them soon. And now I have more.  The real kicker was the recipe that came with a chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, since I have a TON of those leftover from last week’s meals.

On the flip side I was excited to make the samosa recipe, because searching the entire city for samosa wrappers would have taken me the better part of a day and probably still failed. Last time I tried to find an Indian grocery store I ended up at a bodega that sold mostly cigarettes (thanks, Google). The recipes were definitely outside of my normal habits, so if nothing else it was a good push to try new things.

Meal 1: English Pea and Potato Samosas

I made this recipe on Monday, and things got off to a rocky start.

English Peas from Blue Apron
“Shell the peas,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.

Look, I’m not saying that freshly shelled peas aren’t better than frozen peas, I’m sure they are. So I bristled at the instruction, cursed when peas escaped and went flying across the room, but ultimately ended up with a thing of nice plump peas. I made the chutney, cooked the spinach, prepared the samosa filling, and by this point over an hour had passed. I’d told my 3 year old she could help with the samosas, and she kept very impatiently asking “why is it taking so long?” I also managed to dirty approximately every single bowl and utensil in the kitchen during the prep process.

Every step seemed to take longer than the last, and when the samosas/cauliflower were finally in the oven I thought “why did I make the chutney first? I could have just made it while everything baked.” But then I looked at the giant pile of dishes in the sink and spent the 15 minutes cleaning up instead.

An hour and forty-five minutes after I started we were finally ready to sit down and eat.

Blue Apron Samosa Meal
Samosas, Cauliflower, and Chutney

The samosas look pretty good, but were pretty bland. I should have added more salt/pepper.  The chutney was great, the cauliflower was okay. What really bugs me though is how little protein is in this meal. You get a little from the peas, and some more in the cauliflower, but not much. The serving sizes are small and about half an hour after dinner I was raiding the fridge because I was still hungry.

After dinner I was exhausted from nearly two hours of cooking and cleaning. I collapsed into a heap with the baby (who of course was hungry by this point) while my husband Chris did the rest of the dishes.

Meal 2: Oven-Roasted Chicken and Mixed Mushrooms

Thankfully this meal went a lot more smoothly than the first. From start to finish it took one hour and 10 minutes, which includes 10 minutes of downtime while things roasted (used to clean the prep dishes and utensils).

The chicken came out crispy and the orange “salad” paired well with it. The collards were OK.  Our local grocery store doesn’t have much in the way of “fancy” mushrooms so it was nice to try some varieties besides white button.  I’m not sure it’s a recipe I’d make again though. Mostly I was relieved that cooking Tuesday’s dinner wasn’t another two hour marathon. I tried to follow the fancy plating instructions on the recipe card, but the sour cream really didn’t want to smear artfully along the side of the plate so I just blobbed it on. Once again I left the table feeling a little hungry.

Crispy chicken with oranges, collards, and mushrooms
Crispy chicken with oranges, collards, and mushrooms

Time and cost came to 2 hours 50 minutes and $70 for two meals, versus last week’s five hours and $60 for three meals. I knew Blue Apron would come out more expensive, since most of what they’re selling is convenience, but I didn’t expect the two to come so close in time-per-meal. I also really thought the meals would taste better. When doing my own grocery shopping there’s a lot of room for error in the quality of ingredients. Blue Apron provided all the ingredients here except for salt, pepper, and oil.

One of the biggest headaches of Blue Apron is the week lead time needed to change or cancel your meals. I don’t always know what I’m doing a week in advance. Mostly though I was just really frustrated with the time-to-deliciousness ratio. It wasn’t any cheaper than ordering takeout, but it was considerably more labor intensive. Not only that but I left both meals feeling hungry.

Originally I’d planned to try a bunch of different meal-kit services, but this week was irritating enough that I might just skip the others. I know many people love Blue Apron, friends of mine swear by it, and maybe this was just an off week for them. At $70 per week though I don’t have any patience for “off weeks.” I keep seeing photos on Instagram and Twitter of these gorgeous meals that people love. It makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong. As someone who has a reasonable well stocked kitchen, easy access to a grocery store, and limited cooking time I just don’t think Blue Apron is a good fit for me. I am willing to exchange the convenience of delivered food for more flexibility in my meals.

Anyone else try meal-making plans? How was your experience?

Comments on I tried Blue Apron… and hated it

  1. I’ve tried Blue Apron in the past and felt some similar things to what you experienced. We didn’t stick with it for long. Lately, we’ve been using Hello Fresh, which for us has been a better experience overall. I think they also underestimate how long it takes to prepare meals (they always take me longer than the card says, and we’re pretty experienced cooks), and the amount of dishes used can be frustrating. But I liked their packaging a lot better. Each meal comes in it’s own box within the big box (with the proteins separate so they stay colder), and one is usually labeled “make me first” if there’s seafood. Things are recyclable at least so I don’t feel as bad about the extra packaging and makes things a lot easier to put away in our fridge. We’ve had a couple times when something was wonky (like mushrooms that were unusable 3 days after receiving our package), but customer service was exceptional. Most of the recipes have been pretty good, though we have taken a few liberties to add additional spices and the like if we felt things weren’t going to be up to our standards for flavor. There have been some really creative and delicious things though, with their risotto recipes being favorites (or the similar paella recently). Overall, we’ve decided that it’s worth keeping an account, and we only get meals on the weeks that we really like the sounds of some of the things, so sometimes we skip a couple weeks in a row (since my husband also has some dietary restrictions we have to keep in mind).

  2. I tried two Blue Apron and Sunbasket. My main issue was not enough variety in the ingredients. For the winter months most of Blue Apron’s recipes presented to me contained sweet potato. And Sunbasket had a lot of parsnip.

    And like the author said everything was bland! Even after adding salt and other spices. And the amount of cleanup was daunting. And the costs exceeded what felt reasonable for a family food budget. We could eat out at a fairly nice restaurant for $60-$70 a week.

    Blue Apron was also annoying with all the little containers of kitchen staples. Sunbasket was better since you send everything back for reuse. And they don’t send kitchen staples.

  3. Full disclosure: I’m a picky asshole.
    I’ve repeatedly looked at Blue Apron (et al) whenever I inevitably get a promo code. I can never find more than one or two dishes I’d ever want to eat, let alone spend an hour of my life preparing. I mean, obviously, I’m an outlier because the list of food I hate is expansive (spoiler alert: both these dishes are hard NOs), but I feel like these services only sell me on the fact that I should be grocery shopping for myself.

    And can we talk about the fact that Blue Apron has their cookbook online for free?

    • We definitely caught on to the online cookbook (and they will even email you the recipes weekly). so we’ve used BA as inspiration for meal planning without paying for it.

    • I recently used the online Blue Apron cookbook to cook a fantastic dish with fiddlehead ferns. I had never tried fiddlehead ferns, but they looked tasty and are only in season for a short time. When I found them on sale at my local Whole Foods, I was inspired. The dish came out great, and helped key me in to what the flavor profile should be like, but I adjusted the recipe to my tastes (more greens, less oil, less cheese). I could see this as a potential problem if all your ingredients come pre-measured.

    • I didn’t like the taste of the recipes. Just bland most of them and i just started to think”maybe these cooks, chefs or whatever don’t know WHAT THE HELL THEY’RE DOING! HOW THE HELL DID THEY ARRIVE AT THIS!”

  4. I haven’t tried them, but I read “subscription box” blogs – I know Im weird – but its blogs devoted to unboxing different subscriptions… and among the food prep/dinner boxes, blue apron always rates the lowest, so I would encourage you not to give up on the boxes just because of blue apron…

    here is a kind of break down of the different boxes, but I think Home Fresh is the one that usually get the best reviews… not an affiliate, just trying to help… 🙂
    http://boxes.hellosubscription.com/meal-dinner-kit-subscription-boxes/

  5. Maybe try a Farm Co-op with delivery! I have one called Produce Box which delivers local farm veggies and fruits weekly with recipe suggestions.

    • I was going to suggest the same thing. We do a farm delivery and it forces us to think outside the box. I do my weekly grocery shopping trip the day after the farm delivery comes so I can shape our weekly meals around what came that week.

    • For a while I had a friend with a farm box that he would give us half of most weeks because he couldn’t finish it. A lot of our family staples are the result of me googling how to cook vegetables I’d never tried before. The beet and kale risotto (google “barbie rice”) is now my go to recipe for house guests who “don’t like vegetables.” I’ve yet to have anyone who didn’t like it (many of them displaying honest surprise when admitting as much). This is not something I ever would have made if I hadn’t just been plugging ingredients into google.

  6. We’ve done blue apron and hello fresh, and I’m pretty over subscription boxes. Blue apron’s proteins seemed a little funky sometimes, and we had issues with produce from hello fresh (rock hard avocados to make guacamole?). I’m also weird about storing things properly, like no tomatoes or bread in the fridge (or the aforementioned avocados), and since they were all boxed up with no mention of taking anything out, I got a little annoyed. Both kits seem to take longer than advertised, and the portion sizes varied a lot (some meals were huge, others tiny). I did love the variety, that it pushed me out of my rut, and that we had something to make for dinner on a weeknight, but if I put a little more effort into meal planning it would be the same. Plus so much waste, we were throwing away ice packs!

  7. I’ve used Hello Fresh because I got a free trial from them that included three meals. I really liked what they sent and even kept the recipe card so I can remake my faves, but ultimately canceled after that first delivery. Like you, I also keep fresh ingredients at home and the fact that they took the time to peel and enclose two garlic cloves and one carefully measured teaspoon of mayonnaise had me rolling my eyes. The meals are only enough for a single serving for two people (so no leftovers) and for the weekly cost, I could use that on groceries to get a larger amount of fresh ingredients and cook meals with enough left over to reheat later. I think it’s a useful service if you’re in a pinch, but I wouldn’t rely on it exclusively to keep dinner on the table.

  8. Quite frankly speaking, the meals drive me crazy.  They are good, but the prep work is insane.  All I do is cook and prep for well over and hour, it takes 10 min to eat and another 30=40 min to clean up afterwards…..  My humble opinion…….
    Yes, they have some great recipes and some interesting seasonings.  Most of the meals so far have been very good.  I am small so I get full, the gal I share the meals with cannot get enough to eat and snacks for the rest of the night…….

  9. We prefer Hello Fresh from the packaging, the recipe cards to just the overall taste and style of the food. My husband and I use it for meals for the two of us (we have 4 kids who are all over the place) and just for date night. I like the option that I can “pause” for a week or two. We currently subscribe twice a month and with the food staying fresh for up to 7 days we always have a Hello Fresh in the fridge when we need it. Compared to Blue Apron the Hello Fresh is easier to prepare and uses less dishes. I knew it was the right choice when I came home from work one night and my husband was so proud that he’d made dinner for me! Anything that he’s willing to cook and enjoy is worth it in my opinion! I’ve given out several free boxes to friends and several are still subscribers.

  10. I subscribed to Blue Apron with the hopes of spending some quality time wit my teenager, while also teaching him how to cook. We weren’t impressed. The prep and cook time didn’t bother me much, as there were two of us working on the meal. What we didn’t like was the food. I think there was only one recipe we tried that we partially liked. My youngest child refused to eat any of it. We also tried the family option of the service. None of the recipes impressed my kids, the recipes weren’t very kid friendly in my opinion. I did like the fact that you could chose what weeks you wished to purchase, and that it came with everything included, as I am a busy single mom. Unfortunately, we gave Blue Apron three chances, and after that we canceled.

  11. I definitely think everyone’s experience will be different. Mine has been nothing but awesome, with only the occasional “meh.” I even got a couple coworkers to join and they LOVE it too!

    The only thing that I always have in my house which seems wasteful is garlic, because I like the peeled version. We also have an onion allergy, so those got put aside too (actually given away) Other than that, I know what’s coming weeks in advance so I just don’t buy that when I go to the store for the week.

    The recipes have all been really easy to follow, with the occasional blip (I actually emailed them about that for feedback and they said thanks so much, here’s a free meal for you). They have you reuse the same pan whenever possible by putting parts aside while cooking the next part, so I actually have less dirty dishes than normal (maybe that’s just me… I do have to do dishes unusually often for 2 people).

    And for the amount of food… although I don’t get leftovers (that is a bit of a bummer), it’s always enough for the 2 of us. He eats a good amount usually… I’m surprised it fills him. But then again, it’s supposed to be proportioned and america tends to eat twice the recommended.

    I’ve been doing it for about 8 weeks now and I still love it. I am trying so many new foods and cooking is actually enjoyable. I don’t have to even think about 3 meals a week. Sidenote– I tried shopping once for one of the easy meals and my grocery store was out of half the ingredients. I spent way too much time trying to hunt down these things (easy ones like mint– they were out!) and finally got frustrated and defaulted to steak and potatoes. The only downside I don’t like is how much waste the packaging is… but they do offer free recycling.

  12. I was staying with people who used this service.
    Pros: no decision-making, no grocery shopping, portion control, gets you to try new things, illustrated recipes
    Cons: time consuming, lots of dishes, doesn’t make nearly enough food for the amount of time it takes (no leftovers for future meals), still have to grocery shop for lunches, breakfasts, etc.
    If you have a tough schedule or conflicting schedules with your cooking partner, this can be a double waste if you never cook the meals and order takeout instead.

    If I would use a service like this, it would be to learn how to cook a completely different type of meal plan. Specifically, there is a vegan program called The Purple Carrot I would consider.

  13. We did about a years worth of eMeals and I highly recommend it. It’s not as hands off as a delivery/subscription service. But, it got us out of our meal rut. There’s a weekly menu, a shopping list, and an app. You can easily subtract out meals if you won’t cook every night (we did). They have different themed plans, and you can switch in between them. It was wonderful. I stopped doing it but now I want to get back on that wagon!

    • We did eMeals too and loved it. Being able to swap different plans was great and most of the menus were easy and quick to make. It doesn’t fit in our schedule right now (we meal prep for a week) but i kept the recipes for sure.

  14. I cannot get on board with these subscription meal boxes – they seem incredibly wasteful with their need for insulated packaging, and are definitely way more expensive than what I would spend at the grocery store. I understand you are partially paying for convenience, and maybe it’s just because I live in a 2-adult childless household, but these things just seem gimmicky to me with no real benefit outside the novelty.

    I echo the thoughts of some posters above that farmer’s market or co-op subscription produce boxes are more worthwhile – I had a farmer’s market box subscription for awhile and it was great, and I felt good about supporting local small businesses.

    • I feel the same way. It isn’t saving me any money, and is so much more wasteful than even getting takeout meals (I live in a 2-adult household too).
      For that much money per meal for a few dinners….I could get groceries for every meal for the week!
      blegh.

      • I would have felt the same before children. Finding time after they go to bed to plan and make a grocery list, then packing up 3 small children to take the store, all the while trying to engage them to keep them from destroying the place, loading up the car, unloading and putting it away while said children are unsupervised and probably opening the flour, all just downright stinks!!!! It’s exhausting. For now, these type of boxes are working great for us! We’ve had a nice dinner every night for weeks, whereas before I would put off going to the grocery or couldn’t because one child was having diarrhea or another had a well check appointment, or I was wiped and fell asleep with them at 8:30 and never got around to meal planning etc., and we would end up eating very expensive takeout (family of 5 easily $50 to $100 in Loudoun County) or drown our tears in carrot sticks and old tortilla chips. Just wanted to give another perspective! That being said I VERY much prefer Hello Fresh over Blue Apron for all the reasons in this post and comments. 🙂

  15. A good way to get out of a cooking rut and try new things without spending and arm and a leg for me was Raw Spice Bar. It’s like $6/mo, and all they send you is spices and recipes. You can get your own groceries, change up things, whatever, as needed, but it’s still “exciting new things” you wouldn’t have thought of or likely gotten off pintrest.

    • To the Internets! This sounds right up my alley. I live in an area that can be really difficult to find certain spices at the grocery stores and sometimes I’m too cheap/broke to buy an entire jar of something for one recipe.

    • Thanks, as someone who likes to cook, but is at times unsure of how to change up the spices, this sounds like it would be the type of a service I would be able to use.

  16. Ugh, I hated Blue Apron too! We got a free trial because a friend of ours was using it.
    1) as you and others have mentioned, the meals take WAY too long! I feel like Blue Apron is better for people who are trying to expand their diet, rather than those of us who need a quick meal after work

    2) THE PACKAGING, AAAAAARGH!!!! Everything individual thing is plastic-wrapped/vacuum-sealed. The foam container for keeping things cold. My conscious!! D:

    3) It is very difficult to cancel. You can’t just go online and do it (at least, not when we tried it). You have to call up the representative. And soon enough that they don’t go ahead and charge you for the next week. Blech!

    My husband and I have actually made some of the recipes again because we liked the food (and they give you a nice recipe card). But I wouldn’t recommend the service to anyone. Seconding Dootsie Bug that you can just look at the recipes online fo free.

  17. I never tried boxed plans and I don’t think I will. See, my biggest food annoyance is lunches. Argh. Two different schools = two different sets of rules and two working adults, one of who refuses sandwiches and one who does not have access to refrigeration…

    I meal-plan specifically to have appropriate lunch left-overs. I like cooking, though (but omg my meals never take 2 hours to make!) The absence of left-overs in the boxes means no-go for me!

    I like honest reviews though!

  18. I don’t quite understand Blue Apron. What am I paying for? I get the idea that you aren’t wasting food, but if you already cook, you might be wasting other food you might have (like if you have a certain paste in the fridge already) If I want an easy day, I want it to be really simple.

    I know my friend go it and wanted vegetarian (and maybe she did vegan?) options and said it just wasn’t very “healthy.” She got Korean Rice Cakes, which are yummy, but totally refined carbs. She got a salad that was a lot of work for a salad, and it went bad. And the other dish was just so gross she threw it out.

    AND WHAT THE HECK!? They sent fresh peas to shell?! I get shelled peas from my CSA, and they are amazing, but I rarely actually eat them fresh. I usually shell all those suckers bag them, maybe make one meal with them, then just freeze the whole bag. You it once, and get the painful part out of the way.

  19. I tried all three big ones (Plated and HelloFresh as well as BlueApron). I was most disappointed with Plated (ingredients like canned chickpeas and foil-wrapped pats of butter really weren’t worth the convenience for me), most impressed with HelloFresh (though their website was confusing for me, mostly due to a fish allergy and trying to figure out whether the fish dish was included), and found BlueApron to be best for one reason — more exciting “try new things” experiences. I found that they used more ingredients and recipes that were exotic and things I might not usually be able to find or try (like you mentioned with the non-button mushrooms). If extra convenience is what you’re looking for though, I would definitely try HelloFresh. The boxes they package in make things easier, and they’re great with pre-portioning and cutting. Delicious, easy-to-reproduce meals too. They’re more about doing new, exciting yet simple things with what you can already find.

    Also, HelloFresh uses a lot more recyclable/reusable packaging and I found that I often had leftovers from some of their meals (like a shells and cheese meal once, I think I got 4 meals out of it just by whipping up a quick side to go with it)!

  20. We’ve had very positive experiences with Blue Apron. My husband hates leftovers so that is actually a plus for us since it means less odd science experiments growing in the back of the fridge. I like trying new things; for example I’m excited to try the one dish this week which uses grains of paradise something which was very popular in medieval cooking and I’ve wanted to try, but not wanted to purchase a whole container of in case I didn’t like it. It also forces us to try things the other like, but we thought we didn’t such as it has gotten me to eat more fish and him more veggies. Plus my husband who is the one who cooks (I’m more into baking) has enjoyed learning some new techniques. Our four year old is going through a picky phase so it is always hit or miss getting him to eat anything so even when we make “kid” friendly stuff he’ll turn up his nose so we often just have some easy alternatives for him on hand.

  21. it’s not that good? you mean… you mean all of my favorite podcasters are lying to me?

  22. Like many others, I also prefer HelloFresh over Blue Apron. I thought the Blue Apron recipes weren’t written nearly as well, the food wasn’t as good, the packaging was worse, and it took way longer.

    I’ve loved HelloFresh. Not having to plan out most of our meals and knowing we always have something to cook at home means we eat out less often. So we do end up saving money. In a perfect world we’d just cook at home all the time anyway, but that’s not reality for us. We’re also eating much healthier, and a WAY larger variety of foods. I am super picky, so being “forced” to eat things I’d otherwise shy away from (or can’t find) is nice. I’ve also learned a lot about cooking. I’d never cooked a steak or pork tenderloin, and now I know how to cook both.

    I also love that the 2 person plan is enough for us to share with our 2 year old. She’s getting a much better variety of foods than I did when I was a kid, so maybe she won’t be as picky as I am.

    It’s definitely not for everyone – I can totally understand if you keep a lot of ingredients on hand that it would be wasteful. But I don’t keep a large variety of things on hand because they always end up going bad. This has solved that problem for me.

    Because I’m picky though, there’s certain ingredients I just leave out. So I have a small pile of teeny jars of mustard and mayo sitting in my fridge. I pawn them off on guests.

  23. I did Home Chef and I loved it for the months when my work just got crazy. I was a husk of myself and completely incapable of doing anything outside of work, so it was nice to just have food there and not have to use any brainpower on deciding things like what to eat. But my god, the packaging waste! For two months worth of meals, I ended up donating nearly 50 ice packs to Meals On Wheels, because I could not throw them away in good conscience. But that was a month after work died down, and it was an added hassle I never foresaw. So now I refuse to participate in more of these meal in a box services until I find one that has some sort of buy-back program for their packaging. But we’ll see if I’m saying that in the future when those 60 hour weeks start popping up again like bad zits.

    • That is a great idea about donating the ice packs to meals on wheels! I suggested that my brother list them on freecycle or Craigslist.

    • Blue Apron has a recycling program like this. They give you a label to print and you send the packaging back to them to recycle. They claim to work with the shipping company to use existing routes, but I’m not sure how that pencils out in reality.

  24. Just to make a point, if the peas in the original recipe is not fresher than 36 to 48 hours they actually are not healthier than frozen

  25. My partner and I tried Hello Fresh for a free one-week trial and realised that, whilst I can see it being really convenient for someone else, it really didn’t gel with how we live. For starters, my partner and I ended up being really busy that week so we didn’t even get a chance to cook all the meals in the intended time frame, and some of the fresh greens spoiled before we could use them.

    Second, I was disappointed that there were no left-overs from each meal. About 50% of the meals my partner and I eat are left-overs (often after a big fortnightly batch cook). I was disappointed to put in 30 minutes of effort into something I would end up getting a single meal out of, when in an hour I can make 5+ servings of something else.

    Similarly to that, the cost ratio. $70 for three dinners between two people? For $70, I can purchase a week’s worth of food between two people. Hello Fresh is for people with a reasonable amount of money, a medium amount of time (I didn’t always have 30 minute to whip up a meal that night) and very little imagination.

    I enjoyed that it taught me a few new recipes and pushed me out of my comfort zone a bit, but these box-meals just don’t suit my lifestyle.

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