What We Like
Very flexible plans can accommodate even large families
Lots of options to swap, skip or double the protein
Delicious and easy recipes
Shipping is usually free
Some of the packaging is handy and reusable
What We Don't Like
Only three vegetarian options per week
No options for restricted diets such as vegan, keto and allergy-free
Organic, wild-caught and antibiotic-free meats cost quite a bit extra
Shipping isn’t free for two-person, two-meal plans
Home Chef aims to corner its piece of the meal kit delivery market by offering customers lots of options, whether that’s in meals delivered per week, servings per meal, or customizable proteins. Combine this “any way you like it” spirit with recipes that feel familiar and non-challenging, and Home Chef seems like it’s the service for common denominator cook. We gave it a try to see if this middle-of-the-road approach resulted in delicious and fresh meals that are worth the price, or if a TV dinner would be a step up. Read on to find out if Home Chef hits a home run.
How It Works: Sign Up in Minutes
Home Chef is a meal kit subscription service. Customers sign up for a plan depending on how many meals they want per week, and how many servings they want from each meal, and then either let the company pick the meals or choose from the weekly selection. The kits contain almost all the ingredients to prepare a meal, plus the recipe, and customers cook them at home. Signing up is easy, as is making changes, skipping weeks or canceling.
Like most meal kit subscription services, Home Chef delivers meals once a week in an insulated cardboard box. We could pick between just two delivery days — Wednesday and Friday — and the box could arrive anytime. Ours arrived via FedEx in the late afternoon and was left on the porch. We didn’t have to sign for it. We waited until 6 p.m. to open the box and the ingredients were still cold.
Choosing Meals: Many Ways to Customize
Picking recipes is easy. No matter what plan you choose — two-, four- or six-person — everyone gets the same 14 different dinner meals to choose from, three of which are vegetarian. There are also three “Five-Minute Lunch” options that are slightly cheaper at $7.99 per serving and require no cooking. The company says there are 26 meal options, but that’s a bit of a stretch. It seems it’s taking into account all the possible meat customizations.
So what about those meat customizations? If you select a recipe with a “Customize It” symbol (and most of them have it) you can swap out the default protein. Just click the Customize It link and a drop-down menu appears with other protein options the chefs think will work with the dish. Some options cost extra, such as doubling the meat, upgrading to organic, or adding meat to a vegetarian recipe.
The company says there are 26 meal options, but that’s a bit of a stretch. It seems it’s taking into account all the possible meat customizations.
Premium meals feature luxe ingredients and cost quite a bit more. The Bistro Filet and Truffle Frites cost $19.95 per serving — basically what you’d pay at a restaurant. But most of the recipes are geared toward making weeknight dinner easy not fancy. Those labeled Home Chef Express are ready in 15 minutes. Recipes labeled Oven Ready mean all you have to do is mix the ingredients in the provided foil pan and bake. Dishes mostly follow a pretty predictable format. They don’t use interesting global or “gourmet” ingredients like some other services we’ve tried.
Symbols on the recipes offer insights like calorie-conscious and vegetarian. Clicking on a recipe reveals all the details so you know what you’re getting into before selecting it, including allergen and nutrition information, prep and cook time, skill level and spice level. If you like letting the service pick your meals for you, you can set your food preferences when you sign up and can change them anytime in the Taste Profile section, so you don’t get an ingredient you don’t like.
- Creamy Spinach and Artichoke Penne Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes (which we “customized” with boneless, skinless chicken breasts)
- Summer Salmon Tostadas with Corn Salsa and Queso Fresco
- Pulled Pork and Enchilada Skillet with Lime Crema (a Home Chef Express recipe)
Support Materials: Recipe Cards, App and Bonus Recipes Online
The recipe cards are very informative and easy to follow. They even include a box with cooking instructions and internal temperatures for the alternative proteins that were available through the Customize It menu. The company even supplied a three-ring binder with our first order, where we could store the hole-punched recipe cards in case we wanted to use them some other time.
All of the recipes, plus many bonus recipes not available as kits, are searchable and downloadable on the website. The Home Chef blog features articles like recipe round-ups, ingredient spotlights, and how-tos. However, it’s not updated very frequently and the short instructional videos are pretty basic and minimal.
All of the recipes, plus many bonus recipes not available as kits, are searchable and downloadable on the website.
The app is very simple and straightforward. The main page just shows each week’s recipes as a sliding carousel, with options to add or change just like you would on the website. The My Cookbook tab stores recipes we cooked or favorited. The My Account tab allowed us to change settings, pause the account or message customer service.
Packaging: Handy and Reusable
Home Chef’s packaging is a bit plastic heavy, but at least some of it can be reused. The kits all come with a couple of gel packs in a big cardboard box lined with recycled fiber insulation encased in a plastic bag. The box, of course, is curbside recyclable and the insulation can be recycled wherever clothing can be recycled. But our city doesn’t allow curbside recycling of film plastic, so we had to throw the plastic bags in the trash.
The ingredients for each dish (except the raw meats) are conveniently packaged in zippered plastic bags with a handle. We loved how this kept everything organized and easy to fit in the fridge. We could also see re-using the bags to tote lunch to work, but paper bags would be more environmentally friendly. The raw meats were vacuum sealed and then placed in a large ziptop bag, which we washed out to reuse.
The box, of course, is curbside recyclable and the insulation can be recycled wherever clothing can be recycled.
We appreciated that some of the produce was loose in the bags, instead of also wrapped in unnecessary plastic. And some ingredients, like black beans, came in nifty screw-top plastic containers that we washed and saved for other uses.
The Cooking Process: Speedy and Streamlined
The Home Chef Express dish was labeled “easy” and it really was a no-brainer. The other two were labeled “intermediate” but we found them easy enough even for beginners. The recipe cards were easy to follow and there were no tricky techniques or vague instructions. We used a minimal amount of dishes, usually one skillet and one pot or baking sheet, however, we did have to use about four or five little prep bowls to hold the ingredients we chopped.
The meals came with all of the ingredients aside from olive oil, salt, and pepper. We found the cook times to be accurate and there was plenty of food for four people, though we had no leftovers.
Flavor, Freshness and Quality: Crowd-Pleasing
The vegetarian Creamy Spinach and Artichoke Pasta we tried was bright and flavorful with cream cheese and parmesan in the sauce, plus sundried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. We “customized it” with boneless skinless chicken breast, which the recipe recommended we cube and sauté before adding to the dish at the end. This allowed us to serve some of the pasta as-is for the vegetarian diners and serve the pasta with chicken to everyone else.
The Home Chef Express dish we tried, a Pulled Pork Enchilada Skillet with corn kernels, black beans, and lime-spiked sour cream, came together in minutes since the only prep work it required was dicing tomatoes and slicing green onions. Guests demolished it and the kids in the group loved it.
The most involved dish was the Summer Salmon Tostadas. This time the corn was still on the cob and we had to shuck it and cut the kernels off ourselves. The dish still only took 30 minutes to make and the results were fantastic. The key was the flavor-packed mojito-lime seasoning which gets sprinkled on the cooked and flaked salmon. The spicy-tart-salty fish combined with the toasted corn and tomato salsa, cotija cheese and chipotle mayo on a crisped flour tortilla was a knockout. Granted, two tostadas per person didn’t feel like a complete meal on their own so we added a salad.
Overall, the ingredients were fresh and in great shape. One ear of corn had some discoloration at the base of the kernels but it tasted fine.
Who it’s Good For?
Home Chef is great for anyone who craves familiar yet flavorful recipes and wants to have more control over their meals than most other meal kit services allow.
Who it isn’t Good For?
Customers who want organic, wild-caught, antibiotic-free meats will pay several extra dollars per serving, which is more than they’d pay when subscribing with other companies that use these premium meats by default.
Add-Ons: Smoothies and Lunch
There’s no wine pairing option with Home Chef, but customers can add on a rotating selection of smoothies for $4.95 per serving, or select the Five-Minute Lunch options for $7.99 per serving. The website also features a Marketplace page with Amazon links to cookware they recommend.
Customer Service: Slightly Limited
The Frequently Asked Questions page is informative, searchable and answered all of our questions. There’s no chat service, but customers can fill out a form online or in the app to contact a representative or call during business hours (Central Time).
Making Changes and Canceling: Trouble-Free
Because Home Chef doesn’t offer a bunch of different niche plans, it’s super easy to make changes. After selecting the recipes that look good and hitting “Save,” we clicked on “Details” to bring up that week’s order summary. There we could change the serving amounts and even the delivery day, and see how much extra we were spending by customizing a recipe with a pricier protein. If we changed our mind we just clicked Remove on the main menu page and hit Save again to update the order.
A button at the bottom of each week’s menu page allowed us to skip that week’s delivery. Click another button to unskip. On the account page, we could click a “Pause” button to cancel our subscription indefinitely. To start back up again, we just had to log in and click “reactivate.” Clicking the “Pause” button also brings up the option to change the subscription frequency to bi-monthly or monthly, or pause for a specific period of time and pick a specific date to restart.
Any changes must be made by noon Central Time on the Friday before the scheduled delivery date.
The Competition: Home Chef vs. Blue Apron
Home Chef and Blue Apron offer similar recipes, but Home Chef offers more — 14 dinner recipes per week (not including customization options) compared to six or eight with Blue Apron. The Home Chef recipes don’t use as many interesting global ingredients, but they are still delicious. Home Chef is better at accommodating large families and allows subscribers to customize the protein in a recipe by swapping it out, upgrading it, or doubling it. Dishes are essentially the same price per serving with free shipping on orders over $45. Smoothies are the only add-ons available.
Tasty, customizable meals that are easy to whip up.
Home Chef won’t win any awards for cutting edge cuisine, but the recipes hit the spot on busy weeknights because they’re familiar, flavorful and truly fast. The company gives customers dozens of ways to customize their meals with different proteins — even organic choices — and large families or those who want leftovers for lunch will be happy to see they’re not limited to just four-serving meals.