We Road Test Ready-to-Cook Meals

Sometimes you just want to walk in the door and not have to think about what’s for dinner, let alone whether or not you have the right ingredients in the fridge. Sure, you could call the local Chinese place and have them deliver, but you don’t even want to know how many calories are packed into that carton of Sweet and Sour Chicken.

Why not try a different approach to weeknight nourishment with one of these ready-to-cook meal kits? They arrive at your door with recipe cards and all of the ingredients you need (some even include salt and pepper!), so you can whip up a delicious home-cooked dinner—sans stress. How easy is that?

1If you want to cook like a chef…


Plated works with chefs to design their meals, and the website helpfully showcases the foodie-brain behind each recipe. I tried the Tarragon Roasted Chicken with Spring Vegetable Gratin and the Pork with Caramelized Onion, Dried Plums and Bourbon Jus. I felt like an Executive Chef, following the clear, detailed directions to prepare meals. In the case of the chicken, I could have used a Sous-Chef, since there was a decent amount of chopping and prep work and I have two small children, but the portions were generous and the meal was very well received. The pork dish was far less work, and I practically licked the bourbon sauce off my plate.

Cost: About $15/person

Bottom line: Plated ingredients are premium and the meals are sophisticated. They are an amazing coup for food lovers who have—or want to spend—the time on prep. But the end result is well worth it!

2If you prefer all-organic ingredients…


I was eager to get cracking on the Summer-Style Pork Tenderloin with Grits and Peach, Cabbage and Radish Salad. The pictures on the enclosed recipe card looked light and fresh and perfect for a healthy summer dinner. I was surprised to find apples in my box instead of peaches, but found a note explaining seasonal substitutions may be made. The recipe card was not extremely detailed, which is likely because Chefday! has great how-to videos online, but I was cooking while watching the kids, so the computer just wasn’t accessible. The salad did require a lot of chopping, but everything else was so easy, I didn’t mind. The pork was perfectly tender, the salad was fresh and crunchy, and the grits were creamy and comforting.

Cost: $15/person

Bottom line: My husband declared he would eat this Chefday! meal once a week! I loved the gorgeous organic ingredients and that even salt, pepper and olive oil were included, so I never had to worry about missing pantry items.

3If you’re new to cooking…


Opening the HelloFresh box is the answer to most of your weeknight meal woes. The Classic Box arrived filled with ingredients for three different meals. These are simple, streamlined recipes adapted from Everyday Food, the Martha Stewart magazine. There are fewer ingredients compared to the other services, which cuts down prep time considerably. I started the week with Chicken with Mushrooms, which was simple enough to prepare, but it was too heavy on chicken and too low on the mushrooms. I preferred the Pasta with Snap Peas, Basil and Spinach, which was a satisfying dish that even my 3-year-old ate.

Cost: $11.50/person

Bottom line: HelloFresh offers family-friendly recipes that are easy to prepare and likely will appeal to adults and kids, but not to those with more sophisticated palates.

4If you hate cooking…

Fresh Direct

The Fresh Direct Smart and Simple meal kits are practically done as soon as you open the package. I almost felt like I wished there had been a bit more “work” involved. The health quotient here is high—all dishes are under 500 calories per serving—so anyone watching their calories and sodium intake will appreciate these portion-controlled, balanced meals. I tried the Verlasso Salmon and Green Tea Soba Noodles for a change of pace. The Asian-inspired noodles and dipping sauce were already made, so all I had to do was microwave the broccoli and carrots and cook the salmon. By the time the oven was done preheating, the meal was 95 percent prepared!

Cost: $8/person

Bottom line: The Fresh Direct Smart and Simple meal kits are super easy to prepare—even for novice cooks—and are helpful when you need to whip up a meal in no time. The recipes are likely good for the whole family, but not necessarily for foodies or people with big appetites.

5If you feel like splurging…

19 Charles Street

19 Charles Street delivers New York City and Brooklyn residents top-notch ingredients for seasonal meals. My mouth watered when I opened the chic reusable tote to find a hefty portion of fresh crabmeat (from my favorite seafood vendor) for the Crab Cakes with Tomato-Avocado Salad and Baguette. I was not as thrilled to find out that the meal required me to make mayonnaise and bread crumbs—from scratch. After a long day with two kids, those are probably the last two tasks I want standing in between me and my dinner. After powering through, I was delighted (and exhausted!) to tuck into two succulent crab cakes over a simple salad of mixed greens, tomato, basil and avocado, plus a piece of a crusty baguette. Diet be damned, I indulged in every last morsel.

Cost: $30 per person

Bottom line: You’ll find exact portions of high-quality produce at a price that you will only be able to justify on special occasions.