• Dinnerly's roast potato risotto or The Dinner Ladies' vego Bolognese? (Dinnerly, The Dinner Ladies)
What are the meals like? Would cooking this way free up my evenings? Would my children like the meals? We road-tested the major players for you.
By
Dilvin Yasa

14 May 2018 - 4:05 PM  UPDATED 15 May 2018 - 9:19 AM

We doubt you haven’t noticed, but meal delivery kits are BIG business. According to Neilsen, food boxes and prepared meals still represent a small portion of the grocery e-commerce market in Australia (1.6% of value sales), however meal kit delivery service has ballooned to over $5 billion in sales in the US alone, says market intelligence firm, Packaged Facts. 

I have always been just a little bit curious about these meal delivery services, and the launch of a Dinnerly last month got me thinking. What are the meals like? Would cooking this way free up my evenings? Would my children like the meals? Do they cater for minority groups? In the end I decided there was only one way to get some solid answers to my questions and that’s to go online and start ordering…

HelloFresh

Perhaps the best known of all the meal kit delivery services, HelloFresh is a weekly, auto-renewing subscription service where you can choose from classic, vegetarian or family-friendly recipes before you select how many meals you require and for how many people.  Meals are chosen for you based on your preferences, although you can make changes if you so desire. We choose a family plan for four people for three meals - a plan which comes to $109.95 for the box.

My experience: Delivery occurs during the early hours of the morning (ours was dropped off at 3AM) so paranoia the box was going to be stolen kept me from sleeping properly. The Styrofoam box was filled with enough icepacks to withstand a hot day under the sun, and the box contained three packages with different coloured labels, recipe cards with correlating colour-coded labels and separately packaged protein.

The recipes were family friendly (our kids gave each meal a massive thumbs up), but what I loved was how easy – and quick – the cooking process was. All ingredients are pre-portioned so you never need to measure, and there are no leftover spices, vegetables or grains at the end.

My biggest fear going into this was that the portions would be small (a no-no in a Turkish household), but our four-person dinner easily made enough for five so we always had an extra lunch ready to go each day.

Dietary considerations: You will be asked about dietary requirements when you sign up. You can choose the vegetarian box, or you can tick the no pork or no beef box (for example) and be assured you will not receive these proteins in your delivery.

Marley Spoon

Like HelloFresh, Marley Spoon is a weekly subscription service, but its major advantage is that you can customise what you’d like to receive each week. Each week you’ll receive an email with suggested meal choices based on previous preferences and you can swap or pick and choose from around 12 recipes for that particular week. You can choose a two-person or four-person meal plan and enjoy between two to four meals a week. A three-meal plan for a family of four comes to $114.

My experience: With Marley Spoon, you can select a delivery time and ours arrives bang on midday with the delivery driver calling to let me know he had just dropped our box. Again, the ingredients for each meal were packaged similar to that of HelloFresh, with easy-to-understand, six-step recipe cards and pre-proportioned everything else.

Cooking was easy and quick, and we all enjoyed the dishes immensely. Win!

Dietary considerations:  Marley Spoon customers can set up a taste profile which tells the company what they do and don’t like so that their pre-selection function knows what to avoid, says Marley Spoon co-founder, Rolf Weber. “The taste profile includes things like beef, pork, shellfish and spicy and there is also the option to set the account to vegetarian,” he says. “As all ingredients for recipes are listed, it is easy for people to identify whether they need to sub out an item.”

YouFoodz

For those who truly want to steer clear of the oven comes YouFoodz, a delivery service of fresh, pre-made and custom meal plans which can be curated to either help you lose weight, gain muscle, get healthy or just enjoy more free time.  The meals are all individual serves (not quite right for feeding families although the cost is the same) but you can choose a meal plan (breakfast, lunch and dinner) for five or seven days, and decide whether you want to get into clean eating, go vegetarian, bulk up, or just have some nutritious, tasty meals in the fridge ready to go. The range includes snacks and juices and can also be purchased at various supermarkets such as Harris Farm. A meal plan of ten individual serves is priced from $99.50. You can also create meal plans based around your budget.

My Experience:  I’m not sure what to think when the Styrofoam box packed with ready meals is delivered (bang on time) since I’ve never eaten pre-prepared meals before. I heat up my first dish in microwave, peel back the plastic cover and fall immediately in love. It’s delicious and I immediately know I’ve found a go-to for times when I just don’t have the time (or inclination) to cook yet still want something healthy. That said, it does feel strange heating four individual dishes in the microwave and serving it up to the family so I quickly realise it’s less a family dinner meal service, and more of a healthy lunches for me while I’m working service. The juices and snacks are a welcome addition.

Dietary considerations: Although you can select meals based on your preferences, YouFoodz is constantly diversifying to meet the needs of a wide range of Australian consumers, says YouFoodz general manager, Kane Sala. “Our customers are asking for more vegetarian option so that’s a big focus for our menu development team right now and we even introduced our first vegan meal last year,” he says.

“While most of the meats used are halal-certified by suppliers, they are prepped, cooked and stored in the same facilities as non-halal products, which unfortunately means our meals do not meet the full halal guidelines.”

YouFoodz is currently working through plans for their future facility expansion which will include product segmentation, which means they will ultimately be able to cater to a wider range of cultures and beliefs.

 I walk away from the table each night feeling like the kind of mother most kids dream about.

The Dinner Ladies

Imagine a freezer stocked to the brim with mouth-watering, home-cooked meals you haven’t actually had to make yourself. This is the premise behind meal delivery service, The Dinner Ladies, which promises exactly that: freshly-made pies, lasagnes, curries, chooks, strews and fish cakes – all snap frozen and ready for you to reheat (or in some cases cook) for a meal in a hurry. Select small, medium or large servings depending on your family size (a small lasagne for example is $15 and a large is $28) and then navigate the multitude of icons next to each dish (kid-friendly, contains pork, gluten-free, needs cooking etc) to decipher whether it’s right for you. There is a minimum order of $100 and a $15 delivery charge if your order is under $200 (delivery is free if over $200).

My experience: The delivery driver hides my Styrofoam container a little too well – so well I believe the box has been stolen for all of five minutes. But upon finding it, happiness is truly mine, and when I open it, I’m thrilled to discover containers of frozen vegetarian lasagnes, curries and salmon patties. Placed immediately in the freezer, I simply defrost and reheat most evenings, or just place a lasagne in the oven. The kids love the dishes (as do we) and I walk away from the table each night feeling like the kind of mother most kids dream about.

Dietary considerations: With this service, the customer is in complete control of what they order, says Sophie Gilliatt, director of The Dinner Ladies, who explains they work hard to provide plenty of options on the menu for people of every cultural group. “We have a prominent pink P next to products containing pork and customers can also sort by categories so they will only, for example, see the vegetarian, chicken or seafood options,” she says. “We also provide a complete list of all ingredients so customers can double-check if they’re concerned.”

The chicken The Dinner Ladies uses is halal, however the other meat is not.

Dinnerly

Welcoming the new kid on the block, Marley Spoon’s budget-friendly sister company, Dinnerly, which launched to much excitement last month. The service works on a weekly subscription service like Marley Spoon, however what really makes this meal kit service stand out is its price point – all meals are priced from $5 per serve. Although Dinnerly uses the same fresh produce as Marley Spoon, it keeps its prices down by focusing on dishes that use fewer ingredients and by doing away with expensive packaging, recipe cards and fancy marketing campaigns. Instead, you get quality food with digital recipes, plain packaging and six options to choose from.

My experience: My box is due to be delivered between noon and 6PM and it arrives at my door at 2PM, the press of the doorbell quickly followed with a text. Everything is measured and packaged beautifully, however when I go to cook, I realise I’m not so great with having to read a recipe on my phone and have to print out the recipe cards. That said, the meals themselves are lovely and enjoyed by the whole family. Each recipe claims to be five steps each and I’m thrilled to see that is indeed accurate. Dinnerly quickly proves to be a winner.

Dietary considerations: As with Marley Spoon, you can create taste profiles, however vegetarians will be thrilled to find there are plenty of delicious meat-free options each week.

In the end, we took a family vote and decided meal delivery services are exactly what we need right now. Making a decision on which service to actually go with is still being hotly debated at the time of writing, however.

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