April 13, 2021
Home Chef meal kit review: Customizable, hearty, healthy and fast

Home Chef meal kit review: Customizable, flexible, simple and fast


home-chef

Home Chef

With dozens of meal kit and meal delivery services to choose from, standing out from the pack with a unique offering to help home cooks get good food on the table fast is the name of the game. Some meal kits companies like Blue Apron have taken a gourmet approach, procuring high-end ingredients and involved recipes to entice more experienced chefs. Other meal delivery operations like EveryPlate stress quick and easy, oven-ready dinners that take as few as 20 minutes to prepare and have been able to keep meal kit subscriptions budget-friendly. 

Home Chef has set itself up to be the most flexible meal kit service, allowing you to swap out proteins in a given recipe according to your preference, change the serving size each week or skip a delivery easily if your schedule changes. Home Chef prides itself on having both a ton of lunch and dinner options every week, but also the most versatile and customizable meal kits around. And let’s face it, meticulous modification to food is something we’ve come to expect in 2021. You might call it the “fast casual effect.” 

Read more: Best meal kit delivery service for 2021: Freshly, Home Chef, Blue Apron and more

As a fan of meal kits and a man in perpetual search of time-saving dinner hacks of all shapes and sizes, I wanted to know how Home Chef meal kits with preportioned ingredients and easy-to-follow recipe cards compared to other meal delivery options. Over the course of a week, I ran a tongs-on test of Home Chef’s recipes, cooking a variety of dinners across the brand’s various meal plans and recipe categories. Find out what I learned, loved and could have lived without in my firsthand review of Home Chef.

Like

  • Meals and weekly menus are highly customizable.
  • You can easily skip a week at no cost or penalty.
  • Lots of options for quick and easy meals.

Don’t Like

  • Premium meals were a tad overpriced.
  • Some recipes lacked creativity.
  • Too much plastic used.

How Home Chef works

In a sea of competitors, Home Chef has emerged as a leading meal kit delivery service with an emphasis on flexible and customizable meal plans. Home Chef is a subscription service, so you sign up via the website and choose how often you’d like meal kits delivered, as well as how many you’ll be cooking for — two, four or six people. You can also choose your own meals each week or let the Home Chef team pick a selection for you. You’re free to skip a week anytime you’d like and can add meals or servings (at cost) to your delivery as you go.

I found the ordering process very simple, clear and intuitive. And as promised, I was able to customize just about every meal in one way or another. Meals are delivered once a week in neatly packaged cooler boxes, with ingredients preportioned and ready to go. You also receive recipe cards with helpful information including nutrition by the numbers, spice level and cooking times, so you know how long each meal will take. Step-by-step directions are also included to guide you through each recipe. 

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Before photo of Home Chef’s garlic bruschetta and shrimp risotto meal kit.


David Watsky/CNET

What are Home Chef meals like?

Home Chef meals are largely easy to prepare and don’t require a ton of technical skill. The company aims to please a wide range of eaters, and that means a lot of comfort foods and dishes that are familiar to American diets. You won’t see a ton of unfamiliar flavors either, with lots of classic dinner recipes including baked chicken or pork tenderloin with vegetables and a savory sauce, pasta dishes, teriyaki steak and peppers over rice or chicken tacos. That’s not to say you won’t find some more creative menu items such as the prosciutto and butternut chowder or bruschetta and shrimp risotto. 

Home Chef offers premium meals it refers to as the “culinary collection,” but they are priced differently (more on that below). A good many of Home Chef’s seafood options, such as crusted ahi tuna and pan-seared mahi-mahi, fall into the premium meal category — as do higher-end cuts of beef. In sticking with the theme of flexibility, you can pop one of these premium meals into your weekly order anytime (at cost) if you’re feeling fancy.

Read more: Catch the best seafood delivery services of 2021

How easy are Home Chef meal kits to prepare?

The meals I tried were easy to prepare, which is one of the calling cards for this popular meal kit service. Home Chef has quick-fire meals using fresh, preportioned ingredients that take just 15 minutes or so to make. There are also some more complicated dinner projects that can take as long as 45 minutes. It’s completely up to you which type of meals you’d like to have sent but beware: If you let Home Chef choose your meals, you might get some of the 45-minute meals in your box. There is also a category of oven-ready meals that only require assembling the fresh ingredients in an aluminum baking tray (provided) and popping it into the oven with almost no chopping or prep. These are about as quick and easy as meal kits get, but your bragging rights for a home-cooked meal stay firmly intact.

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Honey sriracha chicken: One of Home Chef’s 15-minute, oven-ready meals, assembled and ready to be baked. 


David Watsky/CNET

Supporting materials

As mentioned, each meal comes with a comprehensive description, nutritional facts, prep time and recipe card with ingredients and directions. The recipe card features a nice, big, glossy image so you can visualize the dish and know what to aim for. There’s also a Home Chef mobile app that is helpful and easy to use. On it, you can see your order, make changes, log the meals you’ve cooked and bookmark the ones you liked.

Home Chef allows you to swap proteins and change portions

Home Chef’s big claim to fame is that its meal kits and plans are highly customizable to suit you or your family’s rhythm. You can swap or upgrade the protein in most of the weekly meals. If a meal includes a “customize it” button, that means you can jump in and swap the chicken for pork, for instance. Some proteins, like salmon, steak and plant-based proteins, trigger an up-charge of $3 per portion. 

You can also double the total portion of any meal kit, also for $3 per portion. So, let’s say you’re having the Schwegmans over for a socially distanced dinner next week. You can double the portion of one of the meal kits and not have to change your entire subscription. The dashboard showing all your meals is user-friendly and gives you a good view of what’s on deck. You can skip a week, swap meals, make changes or add meals until the last minute. You can also track your package easily to monitor its journey.

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Home Chef

Who should consider Home Chef?

I’d suggest Home Chef for anyone trying to learn to cook from scratch or lighten their meal-planning or grocery shopping load. Because many of Home Chef’s meals are fast and easy to prepare and can feed up to six people, this is one of the best meal kit services for families. It’s also good for people who are fairly specific about what they like to cook and eat since you can make so many changes and swaps. Because Home Chef makes it so easy to skip weeks — and won’t charge you for skipping — it’s great for those who travel or have unpredictable schedules.

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Honey sriracha chicken after 15 minutes in the oven. It was incredibly tender and the vegetables kept their snap.


David Watsky/CNET

Who should probably skip Home Chef?

There are not a ton of vegetarian options when you order meals through Home Chef. In fact, the company only offers three plant-based meal kits a week so I wouldn’t recommend this service for vegetarians, vegans or anyone looking to add plant-based meals in heavy rotation. Home Chef is also probably not ideal for experienced chefs looking to improve their skills.

Read moreThe best healthy meal delivery services for 2021: Blue Apron, Sun Basket and more

How much do Home Chef meal kits cost?

Most of Home Chef’s meal kits are about $9 per serving, but there are categories like easy lunches and entree salads that are as low as $7. Some are more expensive — between $11 and $18 per serving — and often include nice cuts of beef or seafood recipes, but it’s completely up to you which ones you’d like. Shipping is free for any order over $45 — which is most of them, though it varies depending on your selections. A box of three meals that serves four people each will cost about $120. You can also order meal-planning protein packs of raw meats including beef, steak, chicken and salmon. Those range from $60 up to $75.

What I cooked and how it went

Moo shu pork tacos: This recipe was a super-fun, quick and easy meal kit to execute. It took less than 20 minutes and the flavors were balanced and interesting, thanks to the toasted sesame oil and spicy sriracha. Honey sriracha chicken with crispy wontons was an oven-ready meal, meaning all I really had to do was assemble the chicken breast, precut vegetables and edamame in a baking tray (provided) and cook for 20 minutes. The temperature and timing were on point and the chicken came out perfectly tender, while the vegetables kept their snap. The Bruschetta shrimp risotto was the most complicated Home Chef meal kit I cooked. Risotto famously requires a bit more attention than most dishes, but it was still fairly easy to make and came out great. I might have wanted a bit more detailed instruction on tending to the risotto, especially if I were a beginner, and there was a bit too much garlic for me. 

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Bruschetta and shrimp risotto was one of the more complicated Home Chef recipes I made.


CNET / David Watsky

Home Chef packaging and environmental friendliness

The cooler box and ice packs were mostly recyclable. While there is always some waste in packaging the individual ingredients, it wasn’t egregious. I did notice that each meal was packed in large plastic bags, unlike most of the other companies which use more eco-friendly paper bags. 

The verdict 

I’ve tested a good many meal kits at this point and thoroughly enjoyed Home Chef. The meal delivery service struck a nice balance with consistent dinner kits that were unpretentious and easy to prepare but also sprinkled in enough recipes that were interesting with several meals I hadn’t considered making before but was glad I did. Take the delicious moo shu pork tacos and bruschetta shrimp risotto as examples. 

I would contend that some of the culinary collection meals aren’t quite worth the price per serving, but at just $9 per serving for most of the meals, it’s definitely cheaper than takeout, easier than hunting down all the ingredients at the grocery store, and a low-stress way to get homemade meals on the table, sometimes in less than 30 minutes. 

And if your crew has specific tastes, you’ll save yourself a ton of grief later by choosing the most customizable meal kit delivery service we’ve yet to try.



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