eating in food & drink

vegan recipe box review: from 1 to 100% of choices

16 March 2019 | By Cassell

Recipe boxes have become a huge business in the last few years, so it seemed a good time to do a vegan recipe box review.

These meal kit suppliers claim to be able to help you save money, eat healthier and learn cooking skills.  Just simply order their pre-planned, pre-measured, pre-packaged recipe boxes, and all your problems will be solved!

But how true is that?!  In this vegan recipe box review, I weigh up their pros and cons through some of their key selling points.

Be sure to get to the end, as there’s an infographic (my first, enjoy!), comparing what 9 UK recipe box companies currently offer vegans.

In alphabetical order these 9 are: Abel & Cole, Hello Fresh, Feast Box, Gousto, Morrisons, Mindful Chef, Riverford, Simply Cook and The Vegan Recipe Box Company.

So are recipe boxes worth the hype? Let’s take a free-flowing look at their general pros and cons.

Do recipe boxes live up to their claims?

1. “Can’t cook?  Bored of the same meals? We’ll help you…”

three white spoons containing spices on a slate background

Everything they send you is measured out, exactly!

Pros:

  • Kits contain the exact quantities of ingredients that you’ll need.
  • Included recipe cards are designed to be as clear as possible so your meals should turn out perfectly.
  • Step by step approach makes cooking easier for cooks that lack confidence.
  • Exposure to new spices and cooking techniques that you otherwise might not try.  Especially true of meal kits that explore exotic cuisines.
  • Keep the recipe cards to make successful dishes again in the future.
  • Recipes come in various levels of difficulty, but are mostly aimed at beginner-medium cooks.

Cons:

  • Where are the starters, desserts and sides?!  Meal kits typically only cater for main meals.
  • Recipes are on rotations, so your favourite meals may not come around again if they weren’t popular enough the first time.  If ever.

2. Meal kits hope to make your life easier: claiming to save you time, effort and stress

kitchen equipment thrown in the air against a pink background

If your kitchen feels like this when you cook, maybe a recipe box delivery service is for you!

Pros:

  • Pick your meals in advance to be delivered to your door.
  • Told in advance what kitchen equipment or ingredients you’ll need to have at home to make the dish, so no nasty surprises.  (Usually such ingredients are basics like oil, water, sugar etc.).
  • No need to go to the supermarket if you have the basics and all ingredients are supplied.
  • Generally recipes require around 30 minutes cooking time; but this varies.
  • Having home delivered kits can be a real blessing for people who can’t get to the shops due to a remote location, illness, disability or busy schedule.
  • Nutritional values are usually provided when booking your choices; perfect if you are trying to lose weight, or generally be healthier.

Cons:

  • Dud ingredients turned up?  You’ll still have to go out and replace them even though you weren’t expecting to, which can be inconvenient.
  • Not all meal kits supply all the required ingredients.  For some you’ll need basic store-cupboard items and others, you’ll need to get all the fresh items.
  • The cooking time is not guaranteed…  30 minutes can easily stretch on to 45+ if you’re not reasonably efficient in the kitchen.
  • Your preferred meal can sell out before you get a chance to order!
  • Each service has specific delivery day options and few deliver 7 days a week; this isn’t like doing online shopping for next day delivery throughout the week.
  • If you don’t have a safe space for a box to be left outside you may be more restricted to time-based delivery services.

3. Can recipe boxes satisfy your unique household and style of living?

screenshot of The Vegan Recipe Box Company showing the box options

The Vegan Recipe Box Company offers 2 box sizes and a choice of meals – (website screenshot)

Pros:

  • Boxes are widely available for 2 or 4 people.  Some schemes offer 3 people kits or family boxes.
  • Don’t want to cook but don’t want a takeaway?  This is the in-between option.
  • A choice of organic meal boxes are available.  You can also find gluten-free options.

Cons:

  • You can’t tell what portions you’ll get in advance.  One person’s mountain is another’s molehill…
  • If you don’t live in a household of 2 or 4, you might find it harder to find a recipe box to suit your needs.
  • Single people get a rough deal; out of the 9 companies I looked at, only Mindful Chef sells kits designed for one person.  Though of course, a kit for 2 means 2 meals or 1 person instead of one meal for 2 people…
  • If you are a family with more than 1 or 2 children, you’ll have to order multiple boxes and likely end up with a lot of leftovers.
  • You are restricted to the exact quantities provided.  If you like to freeze ahead or make more for lunches, you may have to order more recipe kits.
  • There is not always flexibility on the number of meals you can order.  Some require a set number of 2, 3 or 4 meals.  Others allow you to order a minimum of 1 or 2.  See the infographic below.

 

4. “Buying our recipe boxes will save you money! Everyone thinks of cost in terms of per person per meal, don’t they??!”

piggy bank in people's hands with coins below

If you’re watching your spending, knowing in advance exactly what your meals are costing can really help

When you first see prices like £6.50pp for a meal box, you think, wow what a bargain!  Except that is per person, PER MEAL.  Hence then why the cost for a box of 3 meals will actually be £39, and not £13.  Anyway, once you’ve got the actual costs worked out…

Pros:

  • You know exactly how much you’re spending on each meal in advance (if each kit comes with all the ingredients).
  • Most schemes provide every ingredient you need in the right quantity.  So, no buying a pack of 6 tomatoes, when you only need 2.  Also, less food waste!
  • You don’t waste money on buying excess produce, as you are given the exact quantities you need.  Any unwanted, uneaten or unnecessary food that would otherwise end up in the bin is not bought in the first place.
  • You don’t end up at the supermarket and falling for their tricks to make you buy more. (Years ago I went to Tesco literally for just mushrooms.  Somehow I spent over £100 on random junk including a digital camera).

Cons:

  • You need to be shrewd and weigh up how much ingredients would cost you at the supermarket for many of the simple meals the recipe boxes offer.  I would be surprised to spend £13 on a meal for 2 that I was cooking from scratch that did not give me any left over ingredients.  Are they really any cheaper?  Some dishes are devilishly simple (think pasta with a tomato sauce) and could arguably be made cheaper by buying ingredients from a supermarket.
  • What if you just don’t fancy cooking that meal choice when it turns up?  You can hardly turn the pre-prepared ingredients into something else unlike with regular ingredients from the supermarket.

By now you’ll be have a sense if ordering recipe boxes is generally for you.  But can vegans can get in on the action, and which are the most vegan-friendly?

Lets review the 9 recipe boxes for their vegan options

As a reminder, the 9 recipe boxes I looked at, (in alphabetical and not any sort of recommended order), are: Abel & Cole, Hello Fresh, Feast Box, Gousto, Morrisons, Mindful Chef, Riverford, Simply Cook and The Vegan Recipe Box Company.

1. Do vegans get enough choice and variety in meal kits?

screenshot of Gousto's plant-based recipes

Gousto allow you to filter on their “Plant-Based” recipe collection – (website screenshot)

Meal kit suppliers say they’ll bring more variety to your meals.  However, that really depends on how many meals you want them to provide for you in a week, and what your tastes are like.

Vegan meals are usually clearly labelled on the suppliers’ websites, and in the course of my research, a few really impressed me, and others confused me.

Naturally I was thrilled to discover the wholly plant-based, Vegan Recipe Box Company. It’s genuinely exciting to see a 100% vegan company getting in on this growing food trend.

However, the big names like Hello Fresh and Simply Cook left me wildly disappointed. Why’s that?  Well, let’s look at how many meals they offered, and how many of them were vegan.

In order of meals offered:

  1. The Vegan Recipe Box Co: 14 out of 14 (100%)
  2. Mindful Chef: 6 out of 16 (38%)
  3. Gousto: 4 out of 10 (40%)
  4. Feast Box: 4 out of 12 (33%)
  5. Abel & Cole: 4 out of 16 (25%)
  6. Riverford: 3 out of 12 (25%)
  7. Morrisons: 3 out of 19 (16%)
  8. Hello Fresh: 1 out of 21 (5%)
  9. Simply Cook: 1 out of 31 (3%)

For brands like Hello Fresh and Simply Cook to only offer a single vegan dish is astonishing, especially given that they offered the largest ranges of menu choices (21 and 31 respectively).  I don’t like to be negative, but I have to say that I wouldn’t be tempted to try those two out in the slightest.

Besides they both require you choose 4 meals for a delivery.  I’m just not going to order coconut dal or Iranian vegetable stew for 4 meals in one week…  Nope, not gonna happen.

Remember that many of these dishes will be one night stands

Most companies see it as a plus to not repeatedly offer the same menus.  This is supposed to prevent boredom and keep us excited with the next new thing.

However in real life, we do tend to like having the same enjoyable meals again and again.  So, if you like a particular recipe, you may have to wait a while for it to come back around in the options, if it ever does.

This is both a pro and a con of the boxes, but especially for vegans who generally have less choice than the omnivores.  So be sure to keep hold of the recipe cards and stock up on the ingredients yourself at the supermarket another time.

2. Are the vegan meals they supply actually any good?

broccoli on a plate

Errrrrm. I think you’re missing the rest of my meal! And can it be cooked please…?!

It’s all about the food at the end of the day, eh?!

Admittedly, there can be something of a lack of imagination when it comes to the vegan options.  If you don’t like curries, or are bored with pasta you may as well forget most of them!  However, this really does come down to personal preference.

Interestingly, Morrisons was the only recipe box to offer more traditionally hearty vegan fare. Their 3 options were ‘hatchet’ pie, portobello burger and bhajis.

 

screenshot of Morrisons Eat Fresh recipe boxes

Morrisons make it easy to find their vegan dishes. Just wish there were more of them considering you have to choose 2!  – (website screenshot)

Not having many vegan options makes it tricky for subscription based services.  You may find that the limitations mean that you can’t rely on finding enough dishes you like each week. A combination of subscription and single delivery services might be better for you if you want to regularly rely on recipe boxes.

3. Are the vegan meals value for money?

Screenshot of Mindful Chef vegan dishes

Mindful Chef offered the most range of vegan dishes out of all of the non-100% vegan companies. They are also all gluten free. – (website screenshot)

First, how do the recipe boxes charge?

This is where it gets interesting.  Some companies charge different prices according to the dish and others charge based on the number of people.

Frankly, I find it a bit cheeky to pay the same as a meat-eater for a box that is naturally cheaper due to being 100% plant-based.  For example, Gousto uses this pricing. They charge flat rates for their boxes depending on the number of people and number of dishes.

Morrisons, Hello Fresh and Simply Cook all charge a flat rate for an inflexible number of meals.  These could be vegan or meat-based, yet you pay the same.

Abel & Cole, Feast Box, Mindful Chef and Riverford all charge according to the dish you’ve chosen. So vegan dishes are priced differently, and more fairly, than their meat counterparts.

These were their vegan options and prices at the time of doing this review:

  • Abel & Cole:
    • Cheapest: £6 per person (Creamy Leek, Kale and Roast Tomato Orzotto / Peanut Butter & Broccoli Noodles)
    • Priciest: £6.50 per person (Pan Fried Gnocchi & Pesto / Hot & Sour Jackfruit Stir-Fry)
  • Feast Box:
    • Cheapest: £5.55 per person (Gujarati Stir Fried Okra)
    • Priciest: £7.40pp (Middle Eastern Flatbreads, topped with veggies and chickpeas).
  • Mindful Chef:
    • Cheapest: £5.38 per person (Baharat Chickpeas, Apricot & Coriander)
    • Priciest: £6 per person (Spicy Chickpea Taco Bowl / Spiced Tofu Tagine with Apricots & Quinoa)
  • Riverford:
    • All: from £5.60 per person (Vegetable Madras Curry with Quinoa Sprouting / Broccoli & Jasmine Fried Rice / Chestnut & Mushroom Casserole) [prices change with quantity discounts]
screenshot of Riverford's website showing vegan meal options

Riverford’s vegan meal options. All priced the same, but differently to the meat. – (website screenshot)

What do I get for the cost?

These prices might seem expensive if you don’t typically buy processed meat and cheese replacements, and lives on cheap veggies and staples like rice and pasta.  I certainly am pretty damn sure that I don’t spend over £10 on a home-cooked meal for two.  Especially if that meal is basically a slightly fancy pasta in pesto.

I checked out The Vegan Recipe Box Company’s vegan mac & cheese with smoked mushrooms and roasted red peppers.  This is the sort of meal I would want to order as a ‘treat’ meal.

screenshot of vegan recipe box company website

Pretty much as it says…

They charge £39 for a box for 2 that contains 3 meals.  So, essentially for £13, you get the following:

  • cashews
  • field mushroom
  • soy sauce
  • liquid smoke
  • smoked paprika
  • macaroni
  • vegan single cream
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • mustard powder
  • red pepper
  • nutritional yeast
  • breadcrumbs

Buying each of these in the supermarket would cost a bit more than £13, but you would be left with any remaining ingredients to use in the future.  But the question is, would you?  Would you realistically use liquid smoke, nutritional yeast and mustard powder again?

Perhaps recipe boxes are an ideal way for people to dip their toe into trying new ingredients, recipes and ways of cooking, before fully committing to it with money and kitchen space.

These recipe boxes are somewhat pitched as a healthier alternative to a takeaway, and certainly in that respect it is cheaper.  I’d be lucky to ever get a takeaway for 2 for £13, because I can’t hold myself back from ordering starters and sides which all add up.  Delivered, meticulously portioned recipe kits offer a more restrained alternative which, depending on your appetite could be a great alternative.

So are they worth exploring for vegans?

The short answer is, yes.  I’m sure that there is a place for the delivered recipe box and I have definitely warmed to ordering some myself as a result of researching for and writing this post.

I am particularly interested in The Vegan Recipe Box Company (obviously), Mindful Chef, Abel & Cole and Riverford.  I’ve used the latter 2 many times for veg boxes so am confident that I would get a quality product, and besides, I always prefer organic produce.  I’d give Mindful Chef a go because they uniquely avoid heavy carbs, have gluten free meals and come very well rated on TrustPilot.

So which would I recommend?

I won’t give a recommendation for 2 reasons.  1) I haven’t yet ordered any of these myself and 2) We all have very different needs and requirements.  What I look for in a household for just my husband and I would be very different if I were a single, working mother of 3 kids.

I hope that I have given you plenty to think about and consider so that you can make your choice in the best way possible!  Check out my infographic for a summary of what we’ve learnt through this vegan recipe box review.

 

infographic on 2019 recipe boxes for vegans

How do UK recipe boxes stack up in 2019 for vegans? (infographic by vegan365)

One last word of warning for vegans

If you order chilled or frozen food online from sources other than supermarkets you may be familiar with Woolcool.  Woolcool is an insulation product used by many firms to keep fresh ingredients chilled.  Many veg box and recipe box suppliers use this; including Feast Box, Riverford and Abel & Cole.

Woolcool reduces reliance on plastic wrapped ice packs and increases claims of sustainability credentials.  After all wool is “compostable”, “biodegradable” and merely “a by-product of the sheep-rearing industry”.  Well, isn’t that just great.

So vegans be warned, as you may not appreciate your plant-based meal kit turning up with the distinct smell of sheep!

The future of recipe boxes:

Hopefully the bigger names in the recipe box business will catch up and offer more vegan options.  In the meantime, there are plenty of viable options for vegans, that should accommodate most situations and preferences.

Besides, it’s only a matter of time before the supermarkets catch up and offer their own in-store kits.  Instead of their dinner packages consisting of processed meals, they will send you home with the exact ingredients to create your home cooked meal.  (Scratch already do this online with Waitrose, but there are no vegan meals.)

Until then, I hope you this vegan recipe box review has been useful for you. Let me know if you decided to try any, and importantly, were they any good?!

Cassell x
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