Friday, December 13, 2013

Hello Fresh Review

"Cooking made easier for everyone!"

Hello Fresh is a service that provides home cooks with recipes and fresh ingredients. Hello Fresh buys the recipe ingredients and delivers them to your house.

Hello Fresh provides the recipes and ingredients; you provide the pots and pans and plates and utensils, you provide a few ingredients (olive oil and butter were two I used from my own pantry) and the cooking and the clean-up.You need basic skills to prepare the recipes, peeling, cutting, dicing, slicing, stirring. We used both the stovetop and the oven.

Shoppers order a week ahead and boxes arrive on Wednesdays. Shoppers choose each week between meals for two people or meals for four people and between a "classic box" option (with meat) and a "veggie" option for meals that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less.  Shoppers receive three meals for two or four people in a subscription service that can be paused or cancelled at any time (there is no contract, no minimum subscription length).

Setting up an account was straightforward. NOTE: Hello Fresh charges a dollar to your credit card or pay pal to ensure it is a working card and then donates that dollar to charity.

DISCLAIMER: I received this box for free in exchange for a review on this blog. I did have to pay a dollar to register on the Hello Fresh web site. I was not paid for this review and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

The box arrived on a Wednesday morning. I was not home; Fed Ex left it on my front steps. I like that I didn't have to be home to sign for it. (My homeschooler had a doctor's appointment for a Special Olympics physical that we'd scheduled several weeks before; I did not want to reschedule it to sign for a box, and was happy that I didn't have to.)
The freezer packs arrived still frozen and the box was well insulated. My husband and I are impressed with the packaging.

I was given three step-by-step picture recipe cards (here's one) and the ingredients to make each recipe. I do like the visual piece here-it is great for our kids with special learning needs. The cards are sturdy and stand up to drips and messy kitchen work.
This Sweet Potato Quinoa Bowl is the only recipe in our box that contained no allergens for my child with the long list of food sensitivities. I made it by myself. All of the ingredients were present and accounted for. (The lemon was hard and appeared dry/old. I would not have bought it. It did have plenty of flavorful juice inside, though.)
The directions were simple, straightforward, and I was able to follow them and make the dish with no problems. I liked not having to measure the quinoa. Just rinse it and go. Not having to measure ingredients is a time saver. I have to tell you that I was doubtful about that avocado - I figured it would be hard as a rock - but I was wrong -  it was perfectly ripe.
And it was delicious! We omitted the hot pepper and the dish was still spicy. My 16 year old, my husband and I all love this one, the garlicky parsley with the cool avocado alongside the sweet potato and quinoa is a winning combination. I loaded my fork with a little bit of everything in each bite to get all the flavors at once. While the dish was supposed to feed two people, it easily stretched to feed three of us and I felt filled for a long time. Six thumbs up from the three of us.

The other two dishes contained allergens and if I could have exchanged them for other recipes and ingredients I would have. Hello Fresh does not allow any substitutions on the veggie box. I would not choose or buy these two dishes/ingredients/recipes because there are too many allergens in the recipes. I am looking for recipes we can all eat together instead of my having to make separate meals for different people in  my house.

My 16 year old helped me make these two dishes, and we spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the pot of salted water was for in the tofu dish. The instructions were not clear and we were frustrated:

The owner of Hello Fresh is making changes to this card based on our questions about the directions, so this recipe will be clear in the future.

We made this recipe six days after our box arrived. The broccoli, the tomatoes, the garlic were all still lovely and fresh. Each ingredient is packaged separately and sealed. However, from an allergy standpoint, I don't know if the cashews came in contact with other food products during packaging. Our finished tofu dish contained several allergens (tofu, soy sauce, cashews and gluten in the veggie stock cube). It smelled wonderful, but we are not tofu eaters. The broccoli was good. We prefer rice cooked in water instead of a veggie stock cube.

The polenta-chick pea-tomato recipe card was easier to follow than the tofu recipe.

I love that Hello Fresh sent organic tomatoes!

We waited until Tuesday night to make this dish, six days after receiving the box. The basil was slimy - so we left it out of the recipe. All of the other ingredients - including the other fresh herbs - were perfect.

The finished product:

The recipe was easy to prepare and we had all of the ingredients in one place, quantities measured, everything ready to go. We'd never had polenta before and none of us liked it. Chick peas, onions, tomatoes are not our thing, a personal non-preference. One of my children is allergic to legumes, so chick peas are not something I'd cook with if I had a choice.

The short story: If you have no food allergies in your family and your family is adventurous in eating, you may appreciate Hello Fresh. If you're cooking around food allergies, Hello Fresh has too many challenges for our situation to recommend it to those with allergies or food intolerances. Study the web site, study the other reviews, decide if the service will work for your particular situation. Read what other reviewers had to say about Hello Fresh here:

I know people who spend a week or two at a time at a condo or timeshare in Florida every year who cook some meals in the condo rather than eat in a restaurant every meal. I think a Hello Fresh box would be perfect for a vacation where you have access to a kitchen.

Please go here to read the experiences of other reviewers who cooked from other box choices.

My Experience

When I browsed the web site, my mind saw, "You choose what you like and we send you the ingredients" and "Cooking made easy for everyone!" and "Do you offer plans for people with special dietary requirements? While we don't offer specific dietary plans, because our ingredients are delivered to you in separate packets, if you have any specific dislikes you can simply omit or replace these ingredients from a recipe."and "But if there's a recipe you're just not sure about, you can choose another meal! Don't eat fish? Swap it for a beef recipe. Not a fan of coriander? You have options!"

I thought I had a winner.

A delivery service that sends you ingredients and recipes - right to your door. Substitutions for picky eaters and allergies?! Reality was different from the way I interpreted the web site. Hello Fresh is more like the school cafeteria when I was a kid- take it or leave it. I thought there would be more options and I feel misled by the web site. However, in fairness to Hello Fresh, please know that I studied the web site not as a typical home cook, but as a mother of a child with a very long list of food allergies and four picky eaters in the family. My filter is not the norm.

Unfortunately, the week assigned to me was full of menu items I would not choose to buy or make on my own. The web site says all ingredients are packaged separately so shoppers may omit ingredients they don't like or are allergic to, but how do you omit chick peas from a chick pea dish? How do you omit soy from a tofu dish? For my review box, both the classic box ($69) and veggie box ($59) choices were incredibly allergen heavy: Shrimp. Gluten. Cashews. Soy. Dairy (sour cream). Legumes. The ingredients we need to omit (because they are allergens) are critical to the success of the recipes.

The vegetable stock cube arrived unlabeled and I went to Hello Fresh for ingredients. It contains wheat, an allergen and MSG, something we try to avoid (an excitotoxin). Hello Fresh suggested I make my own stock in place of the cube next time.

I asked Hello Fresh about packaging. Are the nuts packaged in a separate area? The answer: "...we cannot guarantee 100% non-cross contamination although the nuts are packaged separately. For anyone with a very serious nut allergy we would sadly not advise them using our product."

The web site says substitutions are allowed in the ordering process. I spent some time trying to decide which recipes that I disliked the least - and it was a tie. (Please read other reviews as other reviewers are assigned to different weeks and had different recipe choices. Perhaps I was assigned the only week of recipes so unfriendly to those with food allergies.) I used the eeenie-meenie-miny-moe method to choose the veggie box - and entered my ordering information only to be told that no substitutions are allowed. I learned the hard way that substitutions are allowed on the classic box but not the veggie box. That information is in the FAQ. I missed that important information in my hurry to order during a chaotic week where I was preparing to leave with my daughter's band Bands of America Grand Nationals, a three-day, 91 band marching competition. Don't study the web site in a hurry like I did.

I thought I'd be able to substitute quinoa or rice for pasta in a dish to make it gluten free, or to remove shrimp and add tilapia to a recipe. Hello Fresh does not allow shoppers to do that.  In the classic box (with meat), from what I understand, there are three main recipe choices with two alternate choices and shoppers may choose from any three of them, and that is what Hello Fresh means when the company says that substitutions are allowed.

BOTTOM LINE: If your family is not picky and if you have no major food allergies in your family, you might love Hello Fresh. The registration and ordering processes were easy; stopping your subscription is easy. The box arrives at your front door without needing a signature and you didn't have to shop for ingredients. The ingredients arrive pre-measured, separately packaged,, well insulated with big freezer packs and are well organized within the box and are packed in a way to take up minimal space in the refrigerator. The recipes are creative, yet brief in terms of preparation time; the ingredients are (for the most part) fresh (we waited six days to make two of the recipes with all ingredients but one still fresh), and $10 per person per meal is reasonable, in my opinion, for a restaurant quality meal at home. You'd pay more than $10 per person for these meals at a restaurant and you might wait longer at a restaurant than the recipes take to make at home. You do have to wash the dishes but  you don't have to leave a tip. ;)

If you are interested in Hello Fresh, please use this referral code to receive $20 off your first box: 6MZ4QS.

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