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 order, with the best of the best given Editor’s Choice badges.
For the most part, recipe box services are designed to make cooking easier and often healthier to boot. That’s not The Cookaway’s MO. The meal kits it sends out are designed to introduce new flavours and stretch your culinary repertoire. All of which is to say we found them a lot harder and more time-consuming than other recipe boxes we’ve tried, but far more exciting and satisfying as well.
The Cookaway offers meals broken down into six different cuisines: Pakistani, Indian, Japanese, Italian, Spanish and Healthy. All the meals come with an accompaniment like a salad or rice, and you can order extra side dishes. Although there is a Healthy range, we wouldn’t call the meals in the other brackets unhealthy. They are all well balanced and the ones we tried had a decent portion of veg, either in the main or the side that came with it.
Unlike with other services, all three meals tested were new to us (to some degree, at least). The sticky ginger meatballs from the Japanese category and orecchiette with squash and chimichurri paste dish from the Italian both used less well-known spices and techniques. The lobia masala was a more familiar curry dish, but the accompanying jeera rice was new.
This meant a lot of time poring over recipe cards and frequent flusters trying to time everything correctly – a very different experience from other recipe kits we’ve tried, and there were some frustrations too. The black-eyed beans used in the masala came dried, and it took a lot longer than the recipe card indicated to cook them to palatable softness even after a long soaking.
Of the three dishes, the masala was the least novel and tasty, but the other two were superb – in fact the Japanese meatballs (pictured above) proved the best meal we’ve ever made from a recipe box. The Cookaway is not a smart choice for people looking to make life easier on busy evenings and it’s more expensive than most other companies. But if you have a little time to spare, a special occasion planned, or find yourself confined to your house for some reason, we’d highly recommended treating yourself to The Cookaway’s meals.
Buy from The Cookaway | From £5.50pp per meal
This vegan and vegetarian recipe service has a unique feature that makes it far more environmentally friendly than other recipe box services. Rather than pack in numerous plastic sachets of spices and serving-size bottles like the others, it sells the Essentials Box of 12 spices in refillable jars, plus big bottles of things like white wine vinegar. The spice jar box is so nice we’d be tempted to spend the £14.99 to purchase it even if you weren’t planning on buying recipes from Dishy. And, of course, that gives you the option of skipping it entirely and simply filling your cupboards with the listed ingredients.
We tried three recipes: a black bean stew, a halloumi and lentil salad, and a sweet potato dahl. All were tasty enough, and certainly healthy given the multitude of veg and pulses packed in. The servings sizes were OK, but given we’re very active we needed to add in an extra side sometimes.
While the recipes didn’t wow us as some services have, they didn’t disappoint either, and we did pick up a couple of new techniques and ideas to bring into our own cooking. The meals were easy to put together too, though you only get a digital recipe card to download. While better for the environment, we do prefer a physical card to use in the kitchen rather than risk splashing a laptop or tablet.
Buy from Dishy | From £8.99 a meal
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.
The USP here is that Green Chef caters to people following the low-carb, high-fat keto diet, with meals that keep the carbs under 20g per portion. However, there’s a lot to enjoy here even if you’re not on that bandwagon, with other meal plans including vegan, balanced and low-carb (under 35g per portion). Even though we are card-carrying members of the carb club, we still enjoyed all the meals, thanks largely to the plentiful servings of vegetables. The variety of vegetables used was also welcome – we’ve been trying to expand our horizons because the different types of fibre in different vegetables can keep your gut healthy. The three recipes we tried – one each from the keto, vegan and balanced plans – were easy to cook within 30 minutes, and if you’re handy with a knife it’ll be even less.
The website is also extremely clear and easy to use, and Green Chef is up front about its pricing, which isn’t always the case with recipe box services. It is marginally more expensive than well-established players like HelloFresh or Gousto, and meal options are somewhat limited at the moment. However, it’s just arrived on these shores after success in the US, so we’d expect it to increase the choices available to UK consumers soon.
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.
Mindful Chef’s meals manage to pull off the tricky balance between being pretty easy and quick to make while still introducing interesting flavours and preparations. They’re slightly more complicated than HelloFresh and Gousto meals, but most can be done in under half an hour and there are 15-minute options – and you are rewarded for that extra concentration during cooking with fantastic flavours.
The menu changes regularly, but some of our past favourites include Persian mint chicken with pomegranate, even if we did spray pomegranate seeds all over the kitchen in an attempt to prise them loose from the fruit, and the jerk jackfruit. There are always several vegan options available and you can easily sort the recipes on the website according to your dietary preferences, or ranking them by how high in carbs or calories they are.
While we have no intention of adopting Mindful Chef’s “no ‘stodgy’ carbs” approach in all our meals, the fact that its recipes never contain white rice, pasta or bread means that you will get to experience some novel carbs, like black rice, or interesting carb alternatives – beetroot chips anyone? They certainly got our seal of approval.
The family recipes on offer, however, failed to hit the spot for 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 creamy veggie moussaka with green beans, and there was plenty left over from both dishes. If you have ravenous teenagers with a taste for something other than breaded protein and ketchup, you may have better luck with this part of Mindful Chef’s offering.
You can browse a library of the company’s past recipes on the website for free, which is particularly welcome if you’re concerned the preparation may be beyond you. You also get a booklet containing 20 recipes in the current range when you order a box. Mindful Chef also sells frozen meals, which are a handy, healthy option to have ready on days when you can’t face cooking.
Mindful Chef also offers a next-day delivery service, which began as a way to help those who were struggling in the pandemic. Order before 9pm for guaranteed next-day delivery of a three-meal recipe box for two people (£42). The recipes rotate weekly with the current box containing chicken pasanda curry with toasted almonds, Asian fish papillote with roasted sweet potatoes, and harissa pork meatballs with parsley millet.
Buy from Mindful Chef | From £5.12pp per meal
Morrisons Eat Fresh
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.