Home Chef Review :Home-cooked meals at a good price
Founded in 2013, Home Chef was one of the first subscription meal kits introduced to the United States. It is a weekly subscription meal kit service that includes a mix of preportioned fresh ingredients and premade sauces and seasonings for easy cooking and assembly. The menu is a mix of comfort classics as well as more modern, chef-inspired offerings. In addition to the core menu items, Home Chef offers Oven Ready Meals, 15-Minute Meal Kits, Carb Conscious Meals, and Calorie Conscious Meals. There is also a Fresh and Easy plan featuring low- and no-prep meals.
When choosing a meal service, it is important to think about what you value most when planning and selecting your meals—whether that’s flavor alone or other factors such as ingredient sourcing standards, dietary specifications, customization options, cost, variety of meals offered, packaging, and more. This review outlines our experience using Home Chef’s meal delivery service so you can determine if this is the right program for you.
Table of Contents
- 1 How It Works: Fast and Simple
- 2 Support Materials: Recipe Cards
- 3 Home Chef Is Good For
- 4 Home Chef Is Not Good For
- 5 Methodology
How It Works: Fast and Simple
Home Chef is a meal kit subscription service that allows customers to select between two basic plans and then sign up for a certain number of meal kits to be delivered each week. The two plans offered are the Home Chef and Fresh and Easy. Home Chef comes with preportioned ingredients and cooking instructions, while Fresh and Easy features meals that require little or no preparation for those with busier schedules or less interest in cooking. Both plans can be customized further for different dietary preferences, including calorie-conscious, carb-conscious, or a selection of ingredients and allergens customers can opt to avoid.
Once those basic items are selected, customers simply enter an email address to start the signup process and answer a few more simple questions about meal delivery preferences, including how many servings per meal (two, four, or six), and the number of recipes per week (between two and six) they want.
After entering a shipping address, customers select a first delivery date, which includes a list of options from the coming weeks, enter payment information, and then begin selecting meals for the first delivery. Making changes is very straightforward and easy, and deliveries can be skipped or canceled via the online portal. All meals are delivered in an insulated box; preportioned ingredients are all packaged in recyclable plastic bags, grouped and labeled for each corresponding recipe, while perishable proteins are packed in vacuum-sealed bags at the bottom of the box.
Choosing Meals: A Large Selection but Easy to Follow
Meals can be chosen online or through the Home Chef app and can be selected up to five weeks in advance. New menus are posted every Friday. In fact, all meals for weekly menus can be viewed in advance by anyone, not just customers, so you can see what kinds of meals to expect prior to committing to a subscription plan.
There are over 25 different meal options, each tagged for a different meal style including the primary Meal Kit dishes, along with Culinary Collection, 15-Minute Meal Kit, Grill-Ready, Oven-Ready, and Fast & Fresh, along with a selection of a la carte items that include one breakfast, one bread, one dessert, and a variety of add-on proteins. After your first order, Home Chef will recommend meals for your subsequent deliveries based on your initial preferences, but meals can easily be modified or swapped. Along with customizable serving sizes for each meal, customers can substitute proteins or add extra meals to orders.
The deadline for modifying or canceling a subscription is always noon CT on the Friday prior to that delivery week.
What We Made
We chose six meals of two servings each from the Home Chef plan. For a few of the meals, we elected to substitute proteins; for example, we upgraded to organic chicken for one meal, substituted salmon for chicken in another, and substituted ground turkey in place of ground beef for a burger recipe.
Mediterranean-style steak strip wraps with tzatziki (oven-ready)
Goat cheese juicy lucy burger with tomato jam and garlic aioli frites (Culinary Collection): substituted turkey burger
Fried chicken tacos with Brussels sprout slaw (Classic Meal Kit)
Shrimp rigatoni with creamy tomato sauce and garlic bread (Classic Meal Kit)
Garlic pepper chicken and lemon herb butter with parmesan and pea risotto (15-Minute Meal Kit); substituted salmon
Steak and bordelaise sauce with creamy parmesan potato gratin (Classic Meal Kit)
Chicken Kiev with goat cheese butter and garlic broccoli (Classic Meal Kit)
Support Materials: Recipe Cards
Each box contains a set of double-sided recipe cards to correspond with the kits inside the box. The cards are three-hole punched and are meant to be saved in a binder for repeat use. Each card has a large image of the finished dish, the list of ingredients that should be included in the box, and any additional ingredients and equipment you will need to supply from your own kitchen.
Nutrition information, prep and cook time, shelf life, difficulty level, and spice level are also highlighted on the front of the card. The back of each recipe card includes detailed preparation instructions with photos, along with any recommended advanced prep. A convenient “Customize It Instructions” box is included for any customized proteins. All recipe cards are also available for download online.
Packaging: Recyclable Plastic Bags
All items were delivered in a cardboard box, made from partially recycled cardboard with an insulated liner made of recycled cotton and denim. The insulated liner is fully recyclable but may need to be deconstructed to separate the film and the liner filling. The box is also curbside recyclable. The box contained ice packs, which can either be reused or cut open, drained, and recycled with other plastic. The proteins for the meal kit were all vacuum sealed and packed together in a plastic bag; however, one of the packages of chicken in our box did have a leak, which required all packages of protein to be fully wiped down and sanitized.
All premeasured ingredients for meals were packaged individually in plastic bags and grouped together by meal in a resealable plastic bag with a handle, making it very easy to see what is inside and pull from the refrigerator when ready to prepare. Each resealable bag was also labeled with the recipe name. We found that the plastic bags were not clearly labeled as being recyclable on the bags themselves, but the FAQ section of the Home Chef website indicates that all plastic bags found in the box can be recycled at locations that accept plastic bags.
That said, not all cities and towns accept plastic bags with curbside recycling, so a lot of this packaging may end up in the trash. Recipe cards are meant to be saved in a binder but are curbside recyclable if you do not choose to keep them.
The Cooking Process: Straightforward
The recipe cards were very easy to follow with clear instructions on any additional prep needed prior to cooking, along with step-by-step cooking instructions with visuals for each step. There also were clear instructions on how to modify cooking time for any substitute proteins. All the cards were labeled with a skill level from easy to expert, and we found most of these to be appropriate.
Most of the recipes Home Chef offers require minimal existing skill, with the exception of some basic knife skills and knowledge of basic culinary terms (i.e. mince, dice, sift, etc.). The biggest potential challenge for a beginner home cook would be to understand how to adjust cooking times for proteins that may vary in size compared to what is stated in instructions. For example, in a package of two steaks that we prepared, one was thin and one was thick, so each required different cooking times. A simple kitchen thermometer would be helpful for someone who is not familiar with cooking meat, poultry, or shrimp on their own. Other basic ingredients to have on hand include salt and pepper, olive oil, or cooking spray, although oil is provided for recipes that include fried items requiring larger amounts of oil.
Basic kitchen equipment to have on hand includes a knife and cutting board, non-stick pans, one or two pots, a baking sheet, an oven-safe casserole dish, mixing bowls, a colander or strainer, and some other basic cooking utensils. For those with minimal cooking equipment, there are also Oven-Ready meals, which are one-pan-style meals that come with an oven-safe aluminum baking pan, so no additional equipment is needed.
Flavor, Freshness, and Quality: A Mixed Bag
Most of the menu items we tried would be very appealing to those who want some nostalgic Americana food and classic comforts such as chicken Kiev and steak and bordelaise sauce with potato gratin. A few menu items have some global influences, such as the Mediterranean-style steak strip wraps with tzatziki we made, but even that had familiar flavors that were reminiscent of a fajita with a twist.
The chicken Kiev was a crowd-pleaser with both adults and kids. The steak and bordelaise sauce was good but was very standard “meat and potatoes,” so we added an additional non-starchy vegetable for a more balanced family meal. The oven-ready steak strip wraps couldn’t have been easier and were also a good meal for the entire family to enjoy. There was more filling than could fit in the wraps, but the filling was also easy to eat on its own and was good as a leftover, alongside cooked rice or in a different wrap you may already have.
We found most of the produce to be fresh and the ground turkey and steak we prepared were both good quality. The chicken, however, was less appealing; one package was leaking and, according to the label, the chicken contains a solution of up to 10% of water, food starch, and salt. The shrimp also contained an added sodium solution and did not appear to be of very high quality. Overall, all of the meals were good but also very salty and usually required less added salt than indicated in the recipe for our taste.
Nutritional Value: High in Protein but Also High in Sodium, Saturated Fat
The basic Home Chef menu includes dishes higher in calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium, and are generally low in fiber—which are not typical components of a nutritious, balanced diet. They are also high in protein, which may be appealing to some. There are also options to customize for lower calories or lower-carb recipes, but this does not necessarily indicate they are balanced dishes overall.
All meals were very high in sodium—the recipe with the lowest sodium content that we tried still had 1,435mg per serving, and the meal with the highest had 1,816mg per serving. The lowest calorie meal we tried from the regular menu contained 595 calories, and the highest contained over 1,000 calories per serving. Protein content ranged from 40g-50g per serving for all of the meals we tried. Carbohydrate content varied considerably depending on the meal, but fiber content was consistently 2g-5g per serving. Fat content ranged from 26g-54g per serving, all containing high percentages of saturated fat from the butter and full-fat dairy products used in many of the recipes.
Meals can be filtered to avoid certain allergens or dietary preferences including meals without pork, beef, poultry, fish, shellfish, mushrooms, tree nuts, or peanuts, but Home Chef does not otherwise cater to a specific diet. Based on the nutrition information, meals under 625 calories are labeled as Calorie-Conscious and meals with under 35 grams of carbs per serving are labeled as Carb-Conscious.
Home Chef Is Good For
Home Chef is good for semi-homemade meals that are built around a protein, a side, and a sauce. Home Chef is good for singles or couples as well as families; serving sizes go up to eight per meal and could, therefore, provide leftovers for singles or couples who order for two or four as well as for a family of four or five that orders for eight. Home Chef is also good for those who prefer higher-protein meals (primarily animal protein) and a selection of meals that are on the richer side.
Home Chef Is Not Good For
Home Chef is not good for customers who prioritize clean labels, organic or sustainable ingredient sourcing, or those who are focused on health and wellness. While there are calorie-conscious and carb-conscious meals, there are no other clear parameters around nutrition and most meals are very high in sodium and saturated fat. And while the plant-based Impossible Burger can always be a protein substitute, there are just a few vegetarian or plant-forward options made from whole foods.
Add-ons: Extra Protein
Every week, there are some available a la carte add-ons that include breakfast, bread, and dessert options, along with additional protein portions for every protein offered for every single meal. There is also a Surf and Turf pack and Essential Protein Pack Plus, which offers larger portions of a la carte proteins.
Customer Service: Could Be More Informative
Customer service information and support are available by searching informative FAQs and via email and phone. We called customer service to inquire about whether or not Home Chef does not deliver to certain states. The FAQ section indicated delivery is available to 98% of the U.S. and we wanted to clarify what the remaining 2% includes.
While response time was prompt and the agent was friendly and tried to be helpful, the agent was not able to provide any additional information beyond what was found on the website. After being put on hold, we were ultimately advised to provide a ZIP code that the agent could cross-check to see if delivery is available to that area—something that’s easy for any customer to do on the website. The agent did not seem to have the knowledge to answer this specific question.
We were later able to confirm, via our own research, that Home Chef delivers to all states except Alaska and Hawaii.
Making Changes and Canceling: User-Friendly
Modifying meals, making substitutions, or making changes to delivery dates is very easy through Home Chef’s online account portal. It is also easy to cancel online. All changes must be made online prior to noon CT on the Friday prior to the delivery week. After the cutoff, changes can be made by calling customer service throughout Friday afternoon. Note that it does not matter what the delivery day is that following week—whether delivery is scheduled to arrive Monday or Thursday, all changes must be made by that preceding Friday.
The Competition: Home Chef vs. HelloFresh
Home Chef and HelloFresh both offer meal kits with pre-portioned ingredients for simple preparation at home. Pricing is comparable, but HelloFresh offers slightly more variety in terms of internationally inspired flavors and more modern ingredient combinations as well as more add-on items. The meals from Home Chef are more straightforward and familiar, good for less adventurous eaters. Both Home Chef and HelloFresh offer similar filters for meal selection, including lower-calorie meals, vegetarian meals, quick and easy meals, and several others. Meal selections and modifications are easy to make on the companies’ websites and apps. HelloFresh offers more information about ingredient sourcing and its commitment to social responsibility.
We spent hundreds of hours looking through 46 meal delivery services’ websites, ordered meals and cooked them at home, photographed the process, spoke with customer service representatives from the companies, filled out detailed surveys about each company and their meals, and wrote in-depth reviews and comparison articles. Our expert panel includes dietitians, chefs, and longtime food writers. The one thing they all have in common is their love and knowledge of food.
The criteria we used to evaluate each company included:
- The ordering process
- Meal selection
- Packaging and support materials
- The cooking process
- The flavor, freshness, and quality of each meal and ingredient
- Nutritional information
- Customer service