Tried and tasted: best recipe boxes and fresh food deliveries
Order online and have fresh meat and vegetables delivered to your door
The benefit of home-delivered recipe boxes such as Mindful Chef is obvious for time-poor families or working people who want to make dinner from scratch but just don’t have the mental energy to dream up a new meal every night. They are also a godsend for those who don’t have much experience in the kitchen.
But for people who think of themselves as fairly imaginative chefs, the whole thing can seem a bit mysterious. Why would you want pre-portioned ingredients when you could buy more from the supermarket for less? Why would you pay to have a sachet of oregano sent to you when you could buy a whole jar in the supermarket? Only through having tried out Mindful Chef does the benefit become obvious. Namely that even if you are a confident cook, recipe boxes such as these can push you outside your comfort zone and get you to try something new.
Such was the case with the excellent Mexican-style bavette steak with avocado salsa we ordered. Not a complex thing to cook, but unfamiliar and delicious. Similarly, the harissa-roasted aubergine with garlic and chilli chicken was lovely and not a recipe we had tried before.
Eagle-eyed readers might spot something about these recipes - the near total absence of carbs. This is the main USP of Mindful Chef recipes, which all aim to help you reduce your intake of sugar and refined carbs. The result is healthy, veg-filled food that is still incredibly tasty. Plus each box will help expand your culinary horizons no matter how experienced a chef you are. A genuine double win.
Mindful Chef; one person from £8 per portion, two person from £5.50 per portion (£11 meal), four person/family from £4 per portion (£16 meal)
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 £24.99 per day
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 Estate, from £95
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
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, from £75
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 £3.25 per meal
Grubby, the UK’s first 100% plant-based recipe kit, features simple yet creative meals like sweetcorn fritters with mango salsa and pan-fried gem lettuce, and Italian pesto bulgar wheat with courgette, aubergine and fava beans. Unlike some other recipe boxes, this one arrives in 100% recyclable packaging which, in 95% of cases, is produced in the UK. All London deliveries are made on bike and any food waste is offset via Grubby’s partners, further reducing the company’s environmental impact. Recipes generally feature six or more fresh vegetables and come with clear instructions, as well as a thoughtful Spotify playlist to cook along to. Grubby, from £5.75 per meal