Prior to the pandemic, I wouldn’t have exactly considered myself adept in the kitchen. Sure, I was able to feed myself—especially those days I was testing pre-made meal kits—but more often than not, I was either dining out or making a basic chicken-and-veggies dinner at home.
Enter the pandemic, and suddenly restaurants were closed and trips to the grocery store were feeling increasingly overwhelming. I lasted six months cooking on my own before hitting a wall.
Then, in September 2020, I signed up for Home Chef, the best meal kit we’ve ever tested. Since then, I’ve reduced my grocery trips down to small trips for simple breakfast and lunch items, saved money on dinners versus eating out, and amassed a repertoire of culinary skills simply by following Home Chef’s beginner-friendly instructions.
Two years and more than 200 meals later, as restaurants continue to ease restrictions, I have no intention of giving up my meal kit habit—here’s why.
About Home Chef
Home Chef is a meal kit delivery service made up of fresh, pre-portioned ingredients and easy-to-follow recipe instruction cards. After creating an account and selecting a weekly delivery day, users simply peruse the upcoming week’s menu, make selections, and wait for the package-tracking emails to arrive.
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I opt for my deliveries to arrive on Mondays so I know I’m starting the week off with healthy, home-cooked meals. And, because I typically pre-select my meals in the app up to six weeks in advance, each delivery feels like a treat to myself—a great dinner with minimal brainpower required.
There are currently seven major categories of meals to choose from:
- Meal Kits: This is the classic offering complete with pre-portioned ingredients (that you typically still need to prepare) and a cook time of around 30 to 40 minutes.
- 15-Minute Meal Kits: Pre-portioned ingredients in this meal are also typically already prepped as well. Compared to the standard meal kit, you’ll receive pre-chopped veggies instead of whole ones, for example, so you can have dinner on the table in 15 minutes. Here's our full review of 15-minute meals.
- Fast & Fresh: With all ingredients sliced and diced before they arrive, just mix them in the provided tray and pop them in the oven or microwave—with the latter getting dinner on the table in under 10 minutes.
- Oven-Ready: Most ingredients in this category come pre-prepped, allowing you to pop them in the oven in the provided oven-safe tray for a hands-off dinner in typically 20 to 40 minutes. Here's our full review of oven-ready meals.
- Grill-Ready: Once ingredients are prepped, add them to the provided grill-safe bag to cook on the grill.
- Family Meal: Recipes are similar to those in the Meal Kit category, but make four servings instead of two, which is perfect for feeding more people or, in my case, building in a leftovers night for busy weeks.
- Culinary Collection: If you’re in the mood for more premium ingredients, like steak, or a more advanced cooking preparation, this category delivers with a slightly higher price tag per meal and a cook time closer to 50 or 60 minutes.
Home Chef also stocks pre-made breakfast, salad, pizza, snack, and bread options that can help fill your pantry and save you a trip to the grocery store. There’s also an option to bulk-purchase meat, poultry, and seafood in Protein Packs that could keep your freezer full for weeks.
What I like about Home Chef
Meals are high-quality—and filling
As much as I love my newfound culinary skills, going out to a nice restaurant is one of my favorite activities. I have high standards for how I want my food to taste, and I’ve disappointed myself in the past with how subpar my own dishes have turned out. That said, I’ve rarely missed with Home Chef. Ingredients are high-quality and taste great. I’ve gotten the very occasional wilted green onion, but thanks to the ice packs and insulation in shipping, there has never been an issue with rotten produce or questionable protein.
The meals are also large enough to comfortably feed me and my fiancé, who works on his feet all day and is usually starving come dinner time. Unless we’re making a Family Meal selection, there are no leftovers, but we’re never left feeling hungry, either.
There’s a great variety each week
The main reason I signed up for Home Chef in the first place was the lack of variety in my repertoire of meals. I had a few chicken dishes down pat, but we tired of those early on in the lockdown period.
Home Chef offers more than 20 individual meal options each week, featuring ingredients that I wouldn’t already have in my pantry. Not only can I try out new flavor combinations without committing to a pantry full of just-opened spices, but the variety keeps each week interesting. Some dishes are similar—you can always count on some sort of rice bowl or taco appearing in the options—but I’ve never had the exact same meal twice.
As a bonus, each recipe card is immediately ready to be added into a three-ring binder once you’re done. I’ve saved my favorites and even referred back to them on nights I’ve cooked on my own, recreating entire meals or even just a great garlic-blue cheese butter topping on a steak I made with my sous vide.
Customer service is transparent and helpful
Most of the customer service communication is automated yet reliable. Emails are sent out if an ingredient is slightly different that what the recipe card says. For example, perhaps the box contains whole peanuts that need to be crushed when the recipe assumes you have a pre-chopped version.
I was most impressed when I had to reach out about a specific issue—the only time I’ve done so in over two years. One week, I received beef strips instead of salmon for a particular dish. When I emailed, I received not only a prompt reply, but a credit to my account that was far more generous than the cost of the salmon I went out to purchase separately at the store.
What I don’t like
Delivery times can vary week-to-week
In the two years I’ve gotten weekly Home Chef deliveries, I can count on the one hand the number of times they’ve missed the delivery date entirely. In those cases, it was related to major weather- or supply chain-related events, and it was well-communicated from the customer service team.
However, boxes can sometimes arrive as early as noon on the delivery date, or as late as 8 or 9 pm. There’s up-to-date tracking, but it’s not helpful once the box has been loaded on the truck. If you’re fine potentially eating a late dinner on your delivery date, you won’t have a problem, especially since it’s rarely that late. But, there have been some days my stomach starts rumbling at 5, and I’m left debating between waiting or ordering take-out.
There is a lot of (recyclable) packaging
Breaking down boxes is one of my least favorite chores. So, even though Home Chef uses recyclable and reusable packaging, it can be a pain to get rid of it all.
Plus, with all of the individually packaged ingredients (even produce sometimes, like a single bell pepper wrapped in plastic), I’m aware of how much waste I’m generating. Home Chef already assumes you have olive oil, cooking spray, and salt and pepper at home, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more items added to that list. Soy sauce and sriracha, for example, come up quite frequently in the meals I order, so I wish there was a way to opt out and use the bottles I already have instead of the many tiny packets.
How much does Home Chef cost?
Home Chef pricing depends on the specific meals and number of portions you have chosen for a particular meal. Meal Kits hover around $8.99 per serving, Family Meals can be more like $6.99 per serving, and a Culinary Collection meal could be $13.95 or more per serving. Shipping is typically fixed at $6.99 for the order, but has fluctuated at times.
Each week, I typically order four dinners of two servings each. Depending on the meals selected, this has cost anywhere from $55 to $94, with the majority falling in the $75 range. Using $75 as an example, that’s $9.38 per person per meal.
For us, it’s far cheaper than take-out or dining out at a restaurant. Sure, I could more cheaply feed us that many dinners through grocery shopping alone, but not without sacrificing variety of ingredients and time spent making a list and going to the store.
Is Home Chef worth it?
I couldn’t have gotten through the pandemic without Home Chef—and that’s no exaggeration. I signed up at a time when I was bored of the same three meals in my wheelhouse, when stepping outside my house still felt scary, and when I had some time to kill learning a new skill. In lieu of a commute, Home Chef became my opportunity to step away from my computer at the end of the day and unwind.
All that aside, the food is delicious, and I’m still impressing myself with the restaurant-quality dishes I’m whipping up on a Tuesday. Plus, I can plan six weeks worth of meals on my couch while I’m watching TV and then not think about dinner for the next month. It’s turned a stressful task into an activity I look forward to each day—and that’s worth its weight in gold.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.