When I walk around my Brooklyn neighborhood, I see more folded-up cardboard boxes with meal kit logos than I can ever remember seeing before. That may come as no surprise since meal kits make cooking at home easier and more fun — especially for those learning the ropes — and many of us are doing much more cooking at home and impending cold weather will only serve to bolster the trend. Home Chef is one of many meal kit services in 2021 but one of few that has really cracked into the mainstream joining Blue Apron, Sunbasket and HelloFresh.
While some meal kit services are looking to hone in a particular audience, Home Chef recipes are aimed at families with crowd-pleasing meals and lots of customization allowed. Not all meal kit services tick the same boxes but Home Chef, one of the best-known and most popular meal delivery services, really looks at how to make mealtime as easy as possible with more quick and easy meal kits and fewer complicated recipes.
The best meal kit service is, of course, the one that works best for your schedule, taste and budget. Home Chef tries to tamp down on the fancy, rigorous recipes and aims to make the meal kit concept as easy and approachable as possible. By comparison, some more involved meal kit operations — Sunbasket, Martha Stewart & Marley Spoon and Green Chef among them — have taken a more gourmet approach, procuring high-end ingredients and rather complex recipes to entice more experienced chefs. Other more budget-friendly meal delivery services such as EveryPlate and Dinnerly stress quick and easy recipes or oven-ready meal kit dinners that can take as few as 20 minutes to prepare.
Home Chef aims to be the best meal kit service for tailoring recipes to your preference, diet and lifestyle. That means cooks with particular tastes and parents with picky eaters can swap out the protein in most recipes, change the serving size or skip a meal kit delivery if your schedule changes. Home Chef prides itself on having both a ton of lunch and dinner options every week, but also the most versatile and customizable meal kits around. And let’s face it, meticulous modification to food is something we’ve come to expect in 2021. You might call it the “fast-casual effect.”
As a fan of meal kits and a man in perpetual search of time-saving dinner hacks, I wanted to know how Home Chef meal kits with preportioned ingredients and easy-to-follow recipe cards compared to other meal delivery options. Over the course of a week, I ran a tongs-on test of Home Chef’s recipes, cooking a variety of dinners across the brand’s various meal plans and recipe categories. Find out what I learned, loved and what I could have lived without in my Home Chef review.
How does Home Chef work?
In a sea of competitors, Home Chef has emerged as a leading meal kit delivery service with an emphasis on flexible and customizable meal plans. Home Chef is a subscription service, so you sign up via the website and choose how often you’d like meal kits delivered, as well as how many you’ll be cooking for — two, four or six people. You can also choose your own meals each week or let the Home Chef team pick a selection for you. You’re free to skip a week anytime you’d like and can add meals or servings (at cost) to your delivery as you go.
I found the meal plan selection and ordering process very simple, clear and intuitive. As promised, I was able to customize just about every meal in one way or another. Meals are delivered once a week in neatly packaged cooler boxes, with each ingredient preportioned and ready to go. I also received recipe cards with helpful information including nutrition by the numbers, spice level and cooking times, so you know how long each meal will take. Step-by-step directions to guide you through each Home Chef recipe.
What are Home Chef meals like?
Home Chef meals are largely easy to prepare and don’t require a ton of technical skill. The company aims to please a wide range of eaters, and that means a lot of comfort foods and dishes that are familiar to American diets. You won’t see a ton of unfamiliar flavors either, with lots of classic dinner recipes including baked chicken or pork tenderloin with vegetables and a savory sauce, pasta dishes, teriyaki steak and peppers over rice or chicken tacos. That’s not to say you won’t find some more creative menu items such as the prosciutto and butternut chowder or bruschetta and shrimp risotto.
Home Chef offers premium meals it refers to as the “culinary collection,” but they are priced differently (more on that below). A good many of Home Chef’s seafood options, such as crusted ahi tuna and pan-seared mahi-mahi, fall into the premium meal category — as do higher-end cuts of beef. In sticking with the theme of flexibility, you can pop one of these premium meals into your weekly order anytime (at cost) if you’re feeling fancy.
How easy are Home Chef meal kits to prepare?
The meals I tried were easy to prepare, which is one of the calling cards for this popular meal kit service. Home Chef has quick-fire meals using fresh, preportioned ingredients that take just 15 minutes or so to make. There are also some more complicated dinner projects that can take as long as 45 minutes. It’s completely up to you which type of meals you’d like to have sent but beware: If you let Home Chef choose your meals, you might get some of the 45-minute meals in your box. There is also a category of oven-ready meals that only require assembling the fresh ingredients in an aluminum baking tray (provided) and popping it into the oven with almost no chopping or prep. These are about as quick and easy as meal kits get, but your bragging rights for a home-cooked meal stay firmly intact.
As mentioned, each meal comes with a comprehensive description, nutritional facts, prep time and recipe card with ingredients and directions. The recipe card features a nice, big, glossy image so you can visualize the dish and know what to aim for. There’s also a Home Chef mobile app that is helpful and easy to use. On it, you can see your order, make changes, log the meals you’ve cooked and bookmark the ones you liked. The support materials weren’t noticeably better or worse than Blue Apron, Sunbasket or any of the others meal delivery services I tested.
Home Chef allows you to swap proteins and change portions
Home Chef‘s big claim to fame is that its meal kits and plans are highly customizable to suit you or your family’s rhythm. You can swap or upgrade the protein in most of the weekly meals. If a meal includes a “customize it” button, that means you can jump in and swap the chicken for pork, for instance. Some proteins, like salmon, steak and plant-based proteins, trigger an up-charge of $3 per portion.
You can also double the total portion of any meal kit, also for $3 per portion. So, let’s say you’re having the Schwegmans over for a socially distanced dinner next week. You can double the portion of one of the meal kits and not have to change your entire subscription. The dashboard showing all your meals is user-friendly and gives you a good view of what’s on deck. You can skip a week, swap meals, make changes or add meals until the last minute. You can also track your package easily to monitor its journey
Who is Home Chef good for?
I’d suggest Home Chef for anyone trying to learn to cook from scratch or lighten their meal-planning or grocery shopping load. Because many of Home Chef’s meals are fast and easy to prepare and can feed up to six people, this is one of the best meal kit services for families. It’s also good for people who are fairly specific about what they like to cook and eat since you can make so many changes and swaps. Because Home Chef makes it so easy to skip weeks — and won’t charge you for skipping — it’s great for those who travel or have unpredictable schedules.
Who should probably skip Home Chef?
There are not a ton of vegetarian options when you order meals through Home Chef. In fact, the company only offers three plant-based meal kits a week so I wouldn’t recommend this service for vegetarians, vegans or anyone looking to add plant-based meals in heavy rotation. Home Chef is also probably not ideal for experienced chefs looking to improve their skills.
How much does Home Chef cost?
Most of Home Chef’s meal kits are about $9 per serving, but there are categories like easy lunches and entree salads that are as low as $7. Some are more expensive — between $11 and $18 per serving — and often include nice cuts of beef or seafood recipes, but it’s completely up to you which ones you’d like. Shipping is free for any order over $45 — which is most of them, though it varies depending on your selections. A box of three meals that serves four people each will cost about $120. You can also order meal-planning protein packs of raw meats including beef, steak, chicken and salmon. Those range from $60 up to $75.
What I cooked and how it went
Moo shu pork tacos: This recipe was a super-fun, quick and easy meal kit to execute. It took less than 20 minutes and the flavors were balanced and interesting, thanks to the toasted sesame oil and spicy sriracha.
Honey sriracha chicken with crispy wontons was an oven-ready meal, meaning all I really had to do was assemble the chicken breast, precut vegetables and edamame in a baking tray (provided) and cook for 20 minutes. The temperature and timing were on point and the chicken came out perfectly tender, while the vegetables kept their snap.
Bruschetta shrimp risotto: This recipe was the most complicated Home Chef meal kit I cooked. Risotto famously requires a bit more attention than most dishes, but it was still fairly easy to make and a delicious meal in the end. I might have wanted a bit more detailed instruction on tending to the risotto, especially if I were a beginner learning the ropes of the rice dish.v
Home Chef packaging and environmental friendliness
The cooler box and ice packs were mostly recyclable. While there is always some waste in packaging the individual ingredients, it wasn’t egregious. I did notice that each meal was packed in large plastic bags, unlike most of the other companies which use more eco-friendly paper bags.
I’ve tested a good many meal kits at this point and thoroughly enjoyed Home Chef. The meal delivery service struck a nice balance with consistent dinner kits that were unpretentious and easy to prepare but also sprinkled in enough recipes that were interesting with several meals I hadn’t considered making before but was glad I did. Take the delicious moo shu pork tacos and bruschetta shrimp risotto as examples.
I would contend that some of the culinary collection meals aren’t quite worth the price per serving, but at just $9 per serving for most of the meals, it’s definitely cheaper than takeout, easier than hunting down all the ingredients at the grocery store, and a low-stress way to get homemade meals on the table, sometimes in less than 30 minutes.
And if your crew has specific tastes, you’ll save yourself a ton of grief later by choosing the most customizable meal kit delivery service we’ve yet to try.
Want to know more about other meal delivery services? We’ve written about the best prepared meal delivery services for 2021 and the best vegetarian and vegan meal delivery for 2021. And if you’re getting ahead on your holiday shopping, check out the best kitchen gifts for a home cook or foodie.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.