Best recipe boxes and fresh food deliveries
Order online and have fresh meat and vegetables - or full meal kits - delivered to your door
The second national lockdown has given another boost to the recipe box industry, and encouraged a growing number of small suppliers to parcel up their finest meats, vegetables and cheeses and send them out for delivery.
Online shoppers now have access to an unprecedented range and quality of produce - either on subscription or in one-off purchases.
Health and convenience are the twin guiding principles of Balance Box, a comprehensive meal service which delivers breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks per day. You can choose between a lighter plan, with meals adding up to 1,200 calories per day, or an 1,800-calorie “market plan”.
Everything comes ready prepared: cold meals - smoked salmon and tomato ceviche salad, for example - can be eaten straight from the pot, while hot meals just need a couple of minutes in the microwave. It’s all fresh, seasonal and ethically sourced - and very tasty.
This is not a budget option, with one-off boxes starting at £80 for three days worth of food - but you won’t have to buy any other food and you won’t have to spend any time preparing your meals. If you value your time highly, it may be a worthwhile investment.
Balance Box, from £7.66 per meal, not counting snacks
Wagyu beef - the marbled, fat-rich meat from a select few species of Japanese cow - has been a staple of luxury steakhouses for many years now, but is still a relative novelty for the home delivery market. The Worstead Estate in Norfolk, which delivers blast-frozen meat nationwide, raises full-blood and wagyu-cross cows to the exacting welfare standards expected by the guardians of the lineage. The result is tender, deeply flavoured fillets and fantastically juicy burgers, as well as a full range of steaks and joints. Worstead’s Christmas wagyu box includes two fillet steaks, two ribeyes, four second cut steaks, one roasting joint and six burgers - a generous selection for even the most carnivorous family.
Worstead Estate, Christmas wagyu box £90
Sitting somewhere in between a restaurant-at-home service and a recipe box, The Cookaway provides one-off deliveries with all the ingredients and instructions for a premium meal for either two or four people.
You choose from an extensive menu that draws inspiration from several national cuisines - examples include soy and ginger chicken with soba noodles or spicy linguine with smoked haddock. The next day, everything will arrive in a chilled box, ready for your attention.
Unlike most box services, Cookaway includes extra virgin olive oils and premium vinegars with its recipes - the kind of touches that will raise your meal to the next level. Recipes are easy to follow and easily replicated if you want to buy the ingredients yourself.
Prices are at the more expensive end of the scale, but as a non-subscription service it’s perfect as an occasional treat - or a way to broaden your home-cooking repertoire.
The Cookaway, from £6 per meal
Winning the prize for the most eye-catching name - if not necessarily the most appetising - is Mobile Newt, the home delivery offshoot of a hotel, estate and farm shop called The Newt in Somerset. It offers a wide range of produce, from boxes of fresh vegetables grown in the grounds of the hotel to select cuts of meat from local butchers and even artisan cheeses made in their own creamery. These include English favourites such as a beautifully tangy cheddar, but also their own mozzarella and halloumi, produced with milk from a local herd of buffalo. Non-perishable goods can be sent out nationwide, while timed deliveries of fresh produce are available across London and much of Somerset.
Newt in a Box, vegetable selection £18, cheese selection £24.50
Provenance Village Butcher
Although its deliveries are limited to the western half of London, Provenance’s catchment area is ambitious for a self-styled “village butcher”.
Demand surged during the first lockdown and beyond, as cooking “has become even more of a form of entertainment and an avenue for creativity as well as a necessity”, according to Tom Gibson and Struan Robertson, the co-owners. In the past few months they’ve built up their online business “to serve people who can’t get out to physical shops or don’t have a great butcher in their local area”.
You can order a la carte from an extensive range of fresh and cured meats, or opt for one of the pre-selected boxes. The Provenance BBQ Box, for example, comes with a spread that would grace the most ambitious socially distanced barbecue: a 500g T-bone steak, two ribeyes, two Iberico pork chops, a whole deboned chicken, two lamb kebabs, four burgers, ten sausages and a bottle of barbecue sauce. Just add fire.
Provenance BBQ Box, £100
Gousto offers a huge range of recipes that include vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free options.
The Everyday Favourites range is great, too, offering recipes that are simple, quick versions of classic staples like chicken curry and chilli con carne. Those who are really strapped for time can opt for ten-minute recipes.
Every meal is thoughtfully conceived, and easy to cook, with barely any multi-tasking of pots and pans, or the like. It’s easy to repeat meals on your own too: none of the ingredients are pre-mixed, so you’ll know exactly which ones to buy the next time you’re at the supermarket
The only real drawback is that ingredients don’t come pre-arranged, so if you order a four-recipe box, you’ll have to sort through four jumbled sets of ingredients.
Gousto. From £4.37pp for two-person meals, £2.98pp for family meals
Feast Box focuses on Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine. Meals that we tried included Vietnamese prawn rolls and tandoori fish wraps.
These recipes were a little more complex than the others considered here, but Feast Box is not selling itself on convenience: while some meals should take just 30 minutes to cook, others take as long as 90 (Middle Eastern food is notoriously labour-intensive).
The menu offers 12 recipes per week, including an impressive four vegan choices. The cheapest Feast Box option is £5 and the most expensive £9.70, but most are around the £7 mark.
Feast Box. From £5.40pp per meal
Abel & Cole
Abel & Cole is a recipe box company with a conscience: the ingredients - all organic and seasonal - arrive mostly unpackaged, in a single cardboard box that can be returned when your next one arrives.
The meals themselves are swift and straightforward to make, as well as tasty to eat. It’s easy to find what you want on the menu, too, thanks to sections catering to vegans, vegetarians and people looking for simple or low-calorie meals.
Since the recipes all use easy-to-find ingredients, if you want to repeat them but source them yourself, you’ll have no trouble at all.
Abel & Cole. From £6pp
If you’re set on doing as little prep as is possible without ordering a takeaway, take a look at HelloFresh. There’s not even any measuring involved: all the ingredients arrive in precise amounts, right down to the chopped garlic - and instructions are clear to the point of being idiot-proof.
Recipes cater for most dietary requirements (though not vegans) - as well as those looking for especially speedy meals, although these take 20 minutes rather than Gousto’s ten.
While most options contain at least two portions of your five-a-day, not all HelloFresh meals are as healthy as the others on this list - but you can rely on them to be tasty. If you’re counting, there are always some under 550 calories.
HelloFresh. From £3.44/meal
Mindful Chef’s recipe boxes have one unique selling point: they’re all gluten-free. That’s great news for coeliacs and the gluten-intolerant, but the unafflicted will find the meals delicious too.
Some of the quirky recipes will delight foodies - and may well make some reassess their choice of carbs: rich beef bolognese with a side of sweet potato proved just as good as pasta.
The recipes are slightly more demanding than those of most other box services, but the extra effort resulted in some seriously fun flavours. One we enjoyed was a mouthwatering Persian mint chicken with pomegranate. Vegan options like the jerk jackfruit impressed us too.
The instructions assume you’re not a total novice in the kitchen, but challenging doesn’t mean time-consuming: all recipes are intended to be made in 30 minutes or less, and there are 15-minute options to choose from as well.
Mindful Chef. From £5.25pp per meal