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A Breakdown Of Build-Your-Own-Meal Delivery Services

By Erika Kubick in Food on Oct 10, 2014 9:30PM

Cooking a wholesome meal for yourself and your family is an edifying experience and a great way to unwind and relax after work, but the process of choosing a recipe, cultivating the right materials and then the actual act of cooking is daunting for anyone with a tight schedule or novice skill level. Build-your-own meal delivery services offer convenience and efficiency, while still keeping you in touch with your kitchen and your food. For the home cook who’s just starting out, these services can play an instrumental role in the development of essential skills, or simply diminish dinner prep time for the busy parent with mouths to feed. The services deliver all the ingredients and instructions right to your door. The incredible ease of it all begs the question: is this the new wave of home cooking?

The whole idea seems too good to be true, so I took it upon myself to sample and evaluate three local meal delivery services: Home Chef, Madison & Rayne and Meez Meals. Each company sent me a couple complimentary meals, so I cooked them up and documented my experience.

My findings didn’t surprise me: each service had their strengths and each had their weaknesses. The best dishes involved my own prep work, as opposed to vegetables that were already peeled and chopped. The best experiences, however, involved detailed recipe cards that listed the equipment-needed, tips and tricks and accurate cooking times. Overall, very little cooking knowledge is actually needed in preparing the dishes, which means even the least kitchen savvy can come out with a successful meal. Is this the new era of home cooking? It’s a step in the right direction, but all three services have some kinks to smooth out.

Check out our breakdown of these three Chicago meal services and flip through our slideshow to see what we made.

Home Chef
Delivers Tuesday - Friday
About $10 a plate
8-item menu rotates weekly

What we made: Hoisin-glazed salmon with snow pea stir-fry; Walnut chorizo tostada with black bean and sriracha crema (vegan).

What we thought:The salmon was pretty good, though it wasn’t the best quality of fish. The recipe suggested using the entire lime in the stir-fry, which proved a little overpowering. I loved the walnut chorizo in the tostada and am now seeing walnuts in a whole new light. This service is best for those looking for inspiring and healthful meal ideas.

  • The recipe cards have great product photography, calorie counts, and drink pairings.
  • The meals are creative and inspiring.
  • Foods are not prepped, leading to fresher ingredients albeit longer cooking times.
  • This delivery had the most packaging by far.
  • Some of the ingredients were old: the tortillas were stale and the lettuce was beginning to wilt.
  • The recipe cards don’t list the required equipment. While making the tostada, I used my food processor twice and had to clean it in between uses.
  • There is still some food waste. I got a huge onion with the tostada and was instructed to dice the whole thing. I ended up only needing half and had to toss the rest because it was already diced.
Madison and Rayne
Delivers Tuesday and Fridays
$12-19 a plate, $4-8 for sides and extras
12- item menu: 4 seasonal rotates every 2 weeks, 4 mainstays and 4 sides

What we made: Seared white fish with potato puree and crispy potatoes; Five-spice pho with meatballs.

What we thought: These are certainly the most impressive dishes, but there were a few questionable elements. For example, while I loved the potato puree and the crispy potatoes, the fish was dry and a little fishy. This service is best for people who are short on time but want a quality meal made right in their own home.

  • Madison and Rayne offer a hotline Tuesday - Friday from 5-9:30 p.m. to assist you in your cooking endeavors.
  • Highly customizable: they’ll accommodate your gluten allergy, vegan or paleo lifestyle—whatever you want. They also offer both vegetarian and meat options!
  • Recipe cards have drink pairings and equipment listings. Calorie counts are found on the website.
  • Everything is prepared in Ukranian Village. The chef is Josh Jones, former chef de cuisine at Spring.
  • The most explicit instructions of the three: the recipes explained just how to brown your food and each card had great tips. The containers are all labeled with letters for clarification.
  • The easiest to cook: the ingredients are all prepared and measured, so you’re really just assembling the dish.
  • They will recycle all of your containers and your tote and pick it up when they deliver your next meal.
  • Some of the ingredients were in a poor state upon arrival. For the pho, the lime was pithy and the broth was a little over-spiced, almost bitter.
  • Everything is already prepped so the ingredients aren’t as fresh. The fish was also rather dry and a little mealy.
Meez Meals:
Delivers on Monday
5-item menu rotates weekly, plus sides and dessert add-ons.
$12.50 per serving (depending on how much you order)

What we made: Yucatan Rice bowl (broccoli and beans rice bowl) with cilantro crema and tortillas. Sides: Thai salad; roast sweet potatoes with mango vin.

What we thought: The broccoli needed some more salt and a little acid, but overall it was a delicious vegetarian dish. I loved the basil peanut dressing on the Thai side salad. The sweet potatoes had a great flavor profile, but came out mushy. This service is best for people with a time crunch and those who are looking for vegetarian options.

  • Meez offers a hotline from 5:00 - 8:00 PM to assist you in your cooking endeavors.
  • Recipe cards offer “cook by” dates, equipment listings, calorie counts, cooking tips, light eating tips, and generous time predictions.
  • Highly customizable: they’ll accommodate your gluten allergy, vegan or paleo lifestyle—whatever you want.
  • Healthful eating is the focus, but the food is still tasty.
  • Less waste: Meez had the least amount of packaging and most of it is recyclable or reusable. Meez is the first meal kit delivery service in the country to receive certification from the Green Restaurant Association
  • The dishes are only vegetarian, so if you want to add meat you have to get it yourself. Some recipes have suggestions.
  • Recipe cards for sides and desserts do not list calorie counts and are generally incomplete. The card for a roast sweet potato side did not have a roasting temperature listed.
  • Foods are already prepared, which can cause problems. For example, the sweet potatoes were very moist and chopped rather small. The resulting dish was a little soggy.