Recipe boxes are gaining popularity among urban kitchen novices. We experiment with five – and discover a new world of convenience

Reviewed by Absolutely

Gousto

Gousto’s model allows us to choose recipes week by week from the appealing selection on their website, so you’re sure to get food you actually fancy eating. Everything arrives beautifully boxed up, portioned out and chilled by a miraculous wool-and-ice combo. Recipe cards are well-designed and easy to follow, as well as being robust enough to keep. The suppers were quick to make; among our choices were a satisfying feta and roasted grape salad with freekeh, and a one-pot African wonder with chicken thighs, nuts, sweet potato and rass el hanout. It’s an admirable service, not only for the convenience but also for the variety of ingredients and ideas you can add to your own repertoire. The only real issue we had was with the meat portions: one chicken thigh each wasn’t enough for us so I’d recommend keeping a large bag of oven chips on standby for those with larger appetites.

£5.83 per portion, gousto.co.uk

Abel & Cole

Abel & Cole’s light recipe box is the ideal set up for time-poor city workers wanting to cut calories without the faff. All recipes are under 500 calories – we tried turmeric rubbed pork with green rice, winter vegetable chilli with cavolo nero crisps and baked hake, cauliflower and kale tahini bowl – and come in a neatly packaged cardboard box. The instructions are easy to follow and the ingredients packaged to make the cooking process more efficient, however those wanting a speedy cooking experience should look elsewhere, as Abel & Cole’s recipes contain a fair amount of processes and components. The final result was a warming and nourishing plate of food, packed full of veg and lifted by fresh notes of ginger, turmeric and tahini – ideal for new year diets with added cold-weather comfort.

£6.50 per portion, abelandcole.co.uk

Mindful Chef

Describing anything as ‘mindful’ began to feel a bit clichéd some time ago. But behind The Mindful Chef’s slightly annoying tone (there’s a bit of trite information about ‘natural’ foods) is a concept that’s based on quality. They are all about provenance, with all meat and fish coming from small West Country farms that supply places like Harrods, and healthy eating, with a focus on low-carb and dairy- and gluten-free foods. Recipe cards are elegant and while the ingredients don’t expect much input from your kitchen, we were expected to possess a spiralizer for Thai pork meatballs in courgetti soup (we did). Meals for two work out at £7 per head, and they offer lonely boxes for one at £9 per head. We enjoyed honey and ginger salmon skewers with rainbow slaw and brown rice, and next week’s recipes looked tempting too.

£6 per portion, mindfulchef.com

Hello Fresh

Friends have raved about Hello Fresh lately. They say it’s lifted them out of a dinner rut and expands their children’s dietary repertoires. What’s not to like? Our family box is huge and contains four complete meals for four. Literally all they expect your kitchen to contain is salt, pepper and oil. So for instance Monday’s ‘chef-created recipe’ for minced lamb koftas with coconut pilaf and minty yoghurt includes a single clove of garlic, a tablespoon of curry powder in a tiny plastic pot, a lone cinnamon stick and a stock cube as well as one onion, one shallot and a measured four portions of basmati rice. All of these are surely staples in most family kitchens, but part of the point here is to eliminate the need for staples. Instructions are much more precise than regular recipes. They tell you, for instance, how to chop an onion as if the target audience has never sliced a vegetable before. Which maybe they haven’t. These instructions are so easy to follow that you can divert your whole brain to focus on something else while you’re cooking, which is no bad thing. Everything is tasty and portions large enough to accommodate leftovers.

£4 per portion, hellofresh.com

Riverford

Ethically farmed and 100% organic, Riverford are champions of seasonal British produce. The vegetarian box aims to deliver flavourful recipes that are fresh and nourishing. Quinoa paella with peppers and onions packs a smoky punch while fennel and olive tagine with spicy cous cous delivers an interesting mix of textures. Each recipe is easy to follow and results in a rich, hearty and satisfying country kitchen meal – which can’t be said for a lot of vegetarian cuisine – though they are time-consuming. Parsnips Molly Parkin requires multiple pans and dishes, numerous processes as well as both stovetop and oven cooking. We’ll try their Quick box next time.

£5.65 per portion, riverford.co.uk

THE VERDICT

If you can stomach the packaging – admittedly most of it, across the board, is recyclable – these recipe boxes are undoubtedly an easy option. We’re not convinced that anyone interested enough in food to order one wouldn’t already be in possession of a garlic clove or a bottle of balsamic, but in a world where people are apparently entering adulthood without ever having cooked an actual meal, they clearly have a place. Saving you the effort of planning and shopping comes at a price – around £6 per head doesn’t sound bad but an amateur stab at costing these ingredients will reveal that markups are pretty hefty. But there’s the price of convenience. Overall, Hello Fresh probably wins for its idiotproof instructions and variety.

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