independent– The virtues of recipe boxes are almost endless. You get a food shop delivered to your door; you often don’t have to think about measuring or even chopping ingredients; food waste is minimal; it makes it easier to get your hands on top-quality produce; you can get specific diets and allergies catered to; and the recipes are often loved by kids both big and small. To many busy Brits, they make perfect sense.
Offerings range from classic boxes from the likes of organic produce stalwarts Riverford and Abel & Cole, who have been delivering fruit and veg to people’s doors for years, to bright frozen vegan meals from newbie Allplants, or homemade Indian cooking dropped off by bicycle by the pioneering, East London-based DabbaDrop.
There is literally something for everyone, whether you’re a calorie-conscious city dweller or cooking for a family in the suburbs.
And at a time when shopping in supermarkets is becoming more difficult in the light of the coronavirus pandemic, these delivery boxes will provide an important lifeline for many.
One comment for almost all the products is the amount of non-recyclable packing that was used. There’s been a massive reduction in single-use plastic across the board, but tiny measures of sauces and spices still arrive in plastics, many of which aren’t recyclable.
It makes us question why recipe box suppliers don’t offer a starter pack of cupboard staples for when you subscribe to a recipe box service, or being provided with a list you can buy yourself.
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Pasta Evangelists feels like a recipe box for grownups. A letterbox-friendly parcel gets posted through your door, containing two different fresh pasta recipes – you can choose from 10 different recipes each week, and you can also get next-day delivery, which is a big tick.
It’s an incredibly clever idea because pasta is so easy to transport and takes so little prep – as the sauces are premade, you’ll never have to spend more than 10 or minutes cooking, and you get up with near-restaurant quality food. Dietary requirements are well-catered for: we had vegetarian cacio e pepe and vegan orecchiette with pesto and a pistachio crumb (we ended up adding a fair amount of salt and pepper to this, but that’s a very minor complaint). Now all you need is a nice bottle of wine…
£ 6.50, Pasta Evangelists
Feeds: One or two adults, or four adults, or two adults and two children
Delivery: Two-three recipes, delivered once a week
Cost: From £22
B Corp-certified Mindful Chef operates with impressive sustainability credentials: founders Myles and Giles visit each supplier first to make sure they maintain the same values of transparency, quality and sustainability with their produce. The company also works with charity One Feeds Two, runs a packaging returns programme, and encourages its employees to get involved with charity and sustainability initiatives. Not only this, but they continue their domination of the recipe box market with new services, this year expanding to offer frozen meals, family recipe boxes and an increase in vegan options.
You get a recipe booklet with your order with all the recipes and three different ingredient kits arrive, neatly packaged in three different brown paper bags, while fresh ingredients are insulated in wool. Everything was measured out and ready to go, which is obviously convenient but there was quite a lot of unnecessary plastic involved. We had chicken jambalaya and courgette and lentil bake, but you could be eating dishes like South African-inspired bobotie (curried meat) with turmeric rice and tenderstem broccoli, or flat iron beef steak stroganoff.
You did need to slice some of the items (unlike some of the other services out there), but the recipes were straightforward – we managed to cook while entertaining and chatting to guests. Portions were just right for one helping per person and a spoonful more, and were hearty enough to satisfy, despite the healthy feel to the branding.
£ 22, Mindful Chef
Feeds: One or two
Delivery: Whenever you like
Cost: From £29.94
New kid on the block Allplants allows you to choose six pre-prepared totally vegan frozen meals (there are 22 dishes to choose from), with delivery to suit you. Each dish is as vibrant as the last: choose from the likes of three mushroom risotto, teriyaki udon, a bbq jackfruit burrito bowl and more, with new recipes being added all the time. We particularly liked that the oven and microwave-friendly packaging is also recyclable, if you give it a rinse, and you can send the cardboard box it all arrives in, along with wool insulation, back to Allplants for free through Collect+. They even ask you to fill in a feedback survey, and plant a tree on your behalf if you do so. It’s an admirable commitment to sustainability.
We loved the rainbow-bright dishes, and the easy way to make things more sustainable, although admittedly the food could have been more flavoursome. In fact, this was ideal to order as a one off and keep six dishes ready to go in the freezer for busy weeks. We also liked that you could order for one rather than two, although doing so sets you back a bit more (£7.67 per serving rather than £5.67, although if you subscribe you get a slim discount).
£ 29.94, Allplants
Riverford recipe box
Delivery: Once a week, on a day when the Riverford van is in the area
Cost: From £12.45
Like Abel & Cole, Riverford is a brand rightly associated with the highest quality organic produce, farmed with the highest standards of sustainability and ethics – so you know it’s going to be good. All the ingredients in your recipe box are fresh from the farm in Devon and are seasonal and organic; the recipes themselves are developed by a team of leading chefs, and change on a weekly basis; and the box gets delivered the same day the Riverford van is in your area to minimise carbon emissions.
It gets an extra thumbs up for including a leaflet with explicit instructions on how to recycle every last bit of packaging, and they reuse their ice packs, wool liners and chill bags.
The week we tested the boxes, we tried the light range (under 550cals), mainly because we found a lot of the recipe boxes revolved around pretty substantial dishes. We made a cashew stir fry on a bed of spiced cauliflower rice, and a tofu tom yum with “noodles” made out of ribbons of vegetables. Both were brilliant, ticking all the boxes of being easy to follow but enough to feel like “real” cooking, with flavoursome results. The price is pretty reasonable, too, especially when you consider the quality of the produce – this is one for foodies who want an organic, interesting meal without the fuss.
£ 12.45, Riverford
Feeds: Two or four
Delivery: Up to four recipes kits delivered once a week
Cost: From £24.99
Last year’s winner Gousto offers more than 40 recipes that change weekly, with different types to choose from: we sampled the 10-minute lemony chicken and pea spaghetti; the health “kitchen” spicy chicken and greens grain bowl; the further-flung “global kitchen” Goan fish and spinach curry; and the meat-free kofte with Greek bulgur salad.
With your first order you get a small binder that you can clip your weekly recipes into so you can use them again, should you like them enough. And you may well do – these recipes balanced interesting ideas and simple techniques to create mid-week recipes that would satisfy keen cooks. Food arrived pre-packaged and pre-sliced, keeping cooking and faffing times down, although of course this results in additional packaging. The seasonal meals were great for both kids and grownups, and the company spent the past year working to reduce the amount of plastic it uses by 50 per cent, a goal it met comfortably, and it will soon roll out an eco chill box made out of recycled paper and zero plastic.
The food was good, if not mind-blowing – but when it comes to delivery, this offered an impressive all-round service.
Feeds: Two, three or four
Delivery: Three, four or five recipe kits arrive once a week
Cost: From £5 per meal
HelloFresh is one of the best and biggest companies in the recipe box world, with technology to match. This means its service is one of the most convenient and best-thought out there: you pick a plan – family, classic or rapid – how many people you want it for and how many recipes you want a week, and away you go. It’s also one of the best value, with three recipes a week for two people ringing in at £5 a meal.
The company has dedicated itself to making wholesome homemade food accessible to all, which means that alongside keepings its meals affordable, it works hard to source produce from brilliant suppliers like The Tomato Stall on the Isle of Wight, or the Kepak beef farmers in Ireland. As for the recipes themselves, each one genuinely took 20 minutes and was super simple to follow: mushroom and chicken crumble, lamb linguine and vegetarian tacos with feta, mushroom and chipotle mayo.
Lots of the pre-measured ingredients were wrapped up in plastic, which felt a bit unnecessary. For getting a delicious meal that’s far from boring on the table mid-week, HelloFresh more than did the job.
Abel & Cole recipe boxes
Feeds: Two or four
Delivery: From every week to every eight weeks
Cost: From £12
The seeds for Abel & Cole were planted more than 30 years ago, and since then the company has led the way when it comes to get organic produce into people’s homes up and down the country. Each week, Abel & Cole offers 15 seasonal recipes that can range from veggie stir fries to Dijon chicken casserole. New for this year are the veggie family favourites, designed to feed a family of four. If that’s not for you, there are several recipes categories to choose from, although they often overlap: meat, fish, veggie, vegan, simple, foodie, 20 minutes or less than 500 calorie recipes.
Our rosti-topped “shepherdess” pie – made with lentils and earthy mushrooms instead of meat – was fragrant and flavoursome, and brought an interesting update to a family classic . While all the recipes we tested were good, this is a recipe card we’ve actually kept to make again later – which is a very good sign indeed.
There’s a lot to love about Abel & Cole’s recipe boxes. Plastic packaging was minimal (only tomato and Worcestershire sauce and the blocks of cheddar came in non-recyclable packaging), and Abel & Cole runs a return programme for the rest. Prices start at £6 a plate, which is pretty unbeatable in the world of organic food.
Since 23 March, Abel & Cole has paused its recipe boxes, but keep an eye out for when it introduces them again.
Honeywell Biscuit Company bread bakers club
Delivery: Once a month
Cost: From £14.99
One for the many Bake Off acolytes out there, Honeywell Biscuit Co’s monthly bread-baking recipe box brings something a bit different to the table. All the dried ingredients are measured out and sweetly wrapped up in paper (bonus points for very little plastic), alongside a collectable recipe card with your step-by-step instructions which all comes in a letterbox friendly box. Almost all the ingredients are supplied, although any fresh ones you need to add are clearly marked with an asterix, and swaps for allergens and dietary preferences like dairy, gluten and veganism are handily provided. If you fancy cakes or want something to do with the kids, there’s the straight up Bakers Club, or the Young Bakers Club.
This is such a lovely idea, especially when sweet bakes tend to get all the attention, and it’s a way to discover totally different breads. We made mosbolletjies with garlic and sage butter, a traditional Cape Dutch sweet bread traditionally made by wine producing areas in South Africa’s Western Cape, something we’d never heard of before. The recipe was simple enough for the whole family to follow, but make sure you read it thoroughly before starting, as otherwise you could end up waiting for the dough to rise in the middle of the night. It’s also worth watching how it gets on while it’s baking as ovens can vary so much.
£ 14.99, Honeywell Bakes
Feeds: Two or four adults
Delivery: Weekly or fortnightly, ready to heat or ready to eat
Cost: From £28
There’s always something a bit sad about a takeaway, all packaged up in soulless plastic and polystyrene – it can take the shine off even a Deliveroo from your favourite restaurant. But order your dinner from premium service DabbaDrop, and you get something else entirely: a dabba – a stack of traditional Indian boxes – thoughtfully wrapped in a cloth and delivered by some brave soul on a bicycle. If you sign up to the subscription you pay £15 for the tins, which are exchanged each week, meaning there’s no waste or plastic used. It’s also important to note that you need to live in a certain postcode in London to be eligible.
The bottom box contains rice, then there are two curries and on the top is a veg or a salad dish, and there are a couple of samosas, chutneys and roti tucked away in there, too. But this knocks your average Indian takeaway out of the park. Food is prepared by home cook Anshu, who polishes up her family’s favourite recipes from around India. She and her neighbour Renee are the Hackney residents behind DabbaDrop, the idea being to deliver utterly delicious, plastic-free takeaways.
Service is faultless. You can order your dinner ready to eat (these have a later delivery slot), or ready to heat, and you pop your dabbas in the oven for 20 mins to warm them through. The week we sampled, food was inspired by Sri Lanka, with kottu roti (a seasonal veggie stir fry with fried roti strips), a rich and unctuous tomato and aubergine pol curry, a vibrant beetroot dal, red rice and handmade roti. Depending on the week, you could be eating food inspired by Kerala, Pakistan, Kashmir and beyond. The portion fed two, but because it was so delicious, we easily could have eaten more…
Kurami signature meal path
Delivery: At least two days of food a week
Cost: From £42.20
Kurami is one of the newest food delivery services on offer, with a focus on gut health. You choose from two “meal paths”: signature (1,600 calories) or calorie-controlled (1,300 calories), and you get breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner and drinks. Everything from the website to the food itself feels super luxe and beautiful, which really sets it apart from some of the other services, which feel kid-friendly.
The food was undeniably lovely, and portions were enough to satisfy: we had a punchy hibiscus white tea and a berry smoothie bowl topped with seeds for breakfast, along with a generous mediterranean cauliflower salad for lunch, as well as some incredible moreish signature chocolate truffles. It did feel super healthy where many of the other offerings are fairly pasta heavy (presumably for time and cost reasons). And even though it is beautiful, it does seem quite pricey…
The verdict: Recipe boxes and food deliveries
For sheer convenience, our best buy went to Pasta Evangelists. It comes through the letterbox (no panicking about delivery) and you can whip up a restaurant-quality meal in minutes. An honorary mention goes to the new kid on the block Allplants for its commitment to sustainability and for making it easier to eat vibrant vegan food.
Eat the rainbow and discover new foods with our round-up of the best veg boxes that deliver fresh produce to your door
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