Recipe boxes are in particularly high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, with so many people in self-isolation or avoiding the shops wherever possible. Early on during the lockdown this meant that all bar Mindful Chef stopped taking on new customers. While Morrisons Eat Fresh and Abel & Cole have suspended the recipe box service in favour of straightforward food box delivery, big hitters like Gousto and HelloFresh and welcome upstart Feast Box are now accepting orders once again.
What’s the worst thing about cooking? If you answered “peeling vegetables” you’re close – peeling vegetables is terrible – but you’re still wrong, because it’s a trick question. The worst thing about cooking isn’t part of cooking at all: it’s planning meals and shopping for the ingredients.
Those two things will suck up time like nobody’s business, but you can skip them and still enjoy the fun part of cooking – the bit in the kitchen (aside from peeling) – by getting recipe boxes delivered to your door.
Recipes boxes have become so popular of late that companies have been popping up all over the place, making it somewhat tricky to pick between them, so we’ve been trying as many brands as possible to help you make an informed decision. The key factor for many people will be cost, which varies widely between brands, but there are other things to consider as well. Dietary preference is obviously important as well – most brands will cater to vegetarians and vegans, but others go the extra mile and offer packages to suit free-from diets, or quick low-hassle recipes for midweek dinners, or meals designed to support general health goals such as bulking up or losing weight.
From our experience, we also think the amount and type of packaging a company uses is worth taking into account too, because getting a whole load of ingredients divided into serving size portions can lead to a lot of plastic going in the bin. Ideally a company will use recyclable materials and take the packaging back to use again.
When testing recipe boxes we also rate how repeatable the recipes are. If premade spice mixes or hard-to-find ingredients are used, the chances are you’ll make it once and never again, so we grant extra credit to companies sending recipes that are easy to make with ingredients from even a small supermarket. Part of the appeal of the recipe box is expanding your culinary repertoire, after all.
With all that in mind, here are the best recipe boxes we’ve tried in alphabetical, with the best of the best given Editor’s Choice badges.
Abel & Cole (Service Currently Suspended)
If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of having all your food delivered and parcelled up into single-serve packaging, then Abel & Cole will ease your conscience. The food is packaged up almost entirely in cardboard that you can return to the company to be re-used when your next delivery arrives, and those deliveries are done in rounds so each area is served on a given day to minimise the amount of driving involved.
The food is also excellent, with a terrific range of meals available made with seasonal and organic ingredients. The Abel & Cole menu is divided into sections to suit your preferences, whether that’s vegan or vegetarian dishes, or easy or low-calorie options. We tried a variety of the meals over two weeks with the service and found all of them to be simple and quick to make – and also easily repeatable, since they used ingredients that are easy to find in even a small supermarket.
This recipe box company focuses on Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine, which for us at least meant a significant broadening of our culinary horizons when making the meals that were delivered, with Vietnamese prawn rolls and tandoori fish wraps on the menu.
They were a tad harder to make than recipes from companies like HelloFresh, and Feast Box’s meals aren’t designed for speed, taking between 30 and 90 minutes to make. If you’re using recipe boxes to make it easier to cook a proper dinner in the little free time you have after work, Feast Box won’t help, but when you have time to create something a little more special in the kitchen, it’s an excellent option. The recipes are delicious and exciting to make thanks to their unfamiliarity.
Feast Box’s menu has 12 recipes to choose between each week, with at least four of those being vegan. While they are listed as costing from £4pp per meal, you might find the cheapest option each week is actually more like £5 or £5.50, and some of the meaty meals can cost over £10.
There’s a lot to like about Gousto’s recipe box service. The range is huge and you can pick individual recipes to suit your tastes or dietary requirements, including vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free, and there are meals that take just ten minutes to make. All the recipes are well thought out and easy to cook without rushing or having to focus on three different pans at once.
Gousto gets extra credit by tending not to use premade spice mixes, at least in the recipes we’ve tried. Instead you get all the spices needed listed (and packed separately), which means you can find the ingredients more easily to remake the recipes yourself. And you will want to remake the recipes, especially if you dip into the Everyday Favourites range, which includes simple, quick versions of classic dishes like chicken curry, a three-cheese pasta bake, and chilli con carne. These aren’t the healthiest meals available from Gousto, but they do contain at least two of your five-a-day and are likely to please everyone, which is pretty crucial if you’re using the recipe box to feed a family.
The latest addition to the range is a series of Lean In 15 recipes from Joe Wicks. These aren’t all 15-minute recipes, but many are, and even the ones that take longer are fairly quick and easy. The recipes come in two types, high and low carb, and the low-carb ones ditch bread, rice and pasta entirely, often replacing them with more veg – think lettuce instead of wraps, for example. The high-carb meals are great for active days, and we’ve found the quicker recipes from the range are perfect for knocking up after a hard run.
If you are really looking to take out all the preparatory steps of cooking, HelloFresh’s recipe boxes are an appealing proposition. You don’t even need to bother with the measuring, because all the ingredients – even the chopped garlic – are shipped in the precise amounts needed. The recipe instructions are so clear that they are almost entirely foolproof.
HelloFresh has options to suit most dietary restrictions, although not vegan. The classic box comes in regular or vegetarian form, and the new preferences menu lists gluten-free, dairy-free, veggie and low-calorie recipes. If you’re always short on time, you can also opt for the rapid box, which contains recipes that can be made in 20 minutes or less.
The classic recipes are reliably tasty, though not always as healthy as some other options on this list, but HelloFresh has a range of low-calorie options on its menu, each of which come in under 550 calories. Generally there’s a couple of portions of your five-a-day in each meal, though adding some veg on the side will be a worthwhile move for some of the more indulgent classic options.
The Mindful Chef website has some slightly dubious messaging about carbs and gluten (all their meals are gluten-free, which is great for people with coeliac disease and of no proven health benefit to anyone else), but the meals themselves are top-notch – with plenty of vegetables and some interesting recipes. We found eating a rich beef bolognese with a side of sweet potato instead of pasta rather refreshing.
The Mindful Chef recipes are a little more complicated than in other recipe box services, but the extra concentration required during cooking is rewarded with more novel flavours once you’re tucking in. The Persian mint chicken with pomegranate was a highlight from the recipe box we tried, even if we did spray pomegranate seeds all over the kitchen in attempting to prise them loose from the fruit. The instructions are generally clear, but if you’re very new to cooking you may find they take some things for granted that probably shouldn’t be taken for granted. For example, the instruction “trim the purple sprouting broccoli” suggests they have unreasonable expectations of how many people are familiar with trimming purple sprouting broccoli. On the other hand it seems like it’s a tricky veg to trim incorrectly, so no biggie.
There are vegan recipes available (the jerk jackfruit is a guaranteed winner), along with options that fit with nutritional targets you might have like high protein or low calorie (but not high carb, obviously). All the recipes are designed to be made in 30 minutes or less – with a new line promising 15-minute options – and we had no trouble completing them in time. Apart from the occasion when we paused cooking to spend five minutes sweeping up pomegranate seeds, but that’s on us.
The family recipes, on the other hand, failed to hit the mark with a three-year-old and a five-year-old. In fact the amount of preparation required for the miso and cashew aubergine buddha bowl almost caused a lockdown-fatigue-induced meltdown. The final result was greedily wolfed down by the adults, however, as was the case with the creamy veggie moussaka with green beans, plus there was plenty left over from both dishes. If you have ravenous teenagers with a taste for something other than breaded protein and ketchup, then you may have better luck with this part of Mindful Chef’s offering.
Mindful Chef has also launched a next-day delivery service for its Mindful Chef Care Box. Order before 7pm for guaranteed next-day delivery of a three-meal recipe box for two people. The idea is that it can be sent to any loved ones struggling in the pandemic, but we won’t tell if you just order a box for yourself. The vegan version of the box is £34 (plus £3.95 delivery), while the meaty box is £42. The recipes rotate weekly with this box containing smoky pork kebabs, barbecue beef bibimbap and nori-wrapped salmon.
Buy from Mindful Chef | From £5.12pp per meal
Morrisons Eat Fresh (Service Currently Suspended)
Supermarket behemoth Morrison stormed into the recipe box market in late 2018 with a pretty compelling sales pitch – its recipe boxes were cheaper than the rest, with a three-meal box for two people clocking in at £4.14 per serving.
That wouldn’t have mattered if the meals weren’t up to snuff, but when we tried the Eat Fresh service we found them well suited to midweek dinners. The recipes weren’t extremely novel or out-of-this-world delicious, but they were easy to make and reliably tasty.
There is also a wide range of meals available no matter what your dietary preferences are, including pescatarian, vegan, low-calorie (under 550 per serving), and other healthy meals that might not cut calories but provide plenty of veg for a well-balanced plate. The latter are especially good for people doing a lot of exercise who need the calories but don’t want to load up on junk.
Morrisons doesn’t divide up ingredients to fit the recipe to quite the same extent as other companies, instead sending out own-brand products like an entire tub of cream cheese when you only need 150g, for example. This can make it slightly trickier to make the meals, but does mean you get some extra ingredients as bonus.