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After a long day at work, the last thing you want is to come home with an empty stomach and see an empty fridge. There’s not much you can do with a half-full carton of milk and jars of marinara sauce and maraschino cherries.
During a busy week, when you’ve got to-do lists to the sky and an inbox filled with unanswered emails, you probably don’t feel like cooking up a new recipe or going to the grocery store.
That’s where meal kits and even prepared meal delivery services might come in. With meal kits, you get all the ingredients you’ll need for dinner delivered to your door and detailed instructions on how to make a dish. From HelloFresh to Blue Apron, there’s a meal kit service for almost anyone. (Prepared meal services like Freshly and Daily Harvest, on the other hand, send you fresh meals fully prepared, and all you have to do is heat them.)
One of the meal kit brands that has been popular with HuffPost readers is Home Chef. The shopping experts at HuffPost Finds were sent Home Chef kits to try out, so they decided to put them to the test.
Let’s get cooking. Check out our shopping experts’ Home Chef reviews below.
How does Home Chef work?
Home Chef is a weekly meal kit subscription service — which means you pick out the recipes you want to try from a list and then you get sent all the ingredients and instructions on how to cook each recipe up.
When you sign up for Home Chef, you fill out a questionnaire that asks you how many people you’re cooking for (there are three options: two, four or six) and how many meals a week you want to cook (you can pick from two to six). Keep in mind that you have to receive three meals or more a week in order to receive free shipping.
Home Chef meals start at $6.99 a serving, and the price depends on both the menu options and customizations you make. (For some recipes, you can choose between different proteins.) Three meals a week for two people can cost $60, without customization.
There are additional, optional questions you can answer, too, like if you’re a vegetarian, if you have a dietary preference (i.e. low-calorie) and if there are any foods you want to avoid ( i.e. milk, mushrooms or nuts).
Once you’ve made your selections and put in your shipping and payment information, you can pick out your meals for the week. With Home Chef, there are 11 or 12 recipes to choose from a week. You can filter the recipes through four different categories: calorie-conscious, carb-conscious, vegetarian and ones that take less than 30 minutes. Each week also has the option of an “add-on,” like a snack or smoothie.
Plus, Home Chef offers “protein packs” each week, which include only meats like steaks, shrimp or salmon fillets.
If you’re not feeling the recipes on the menu, you can skip a week or pause your account at any time. Home Chef lets you see menus for future weeks so you can plan ahead, too.
Ambar, the novice in the kitchen:
I have to preface this by saying that I’m not a cook at all — chopping an onion or cutting up a clove of garlic is a lot for me. Unfortunately, I don’t have the magical ability to know when something needs more time or thyme.
So, from the get-go, I liked the idea of Home Chef — especially since the recipes are meant to be easy and all the ingredients are already there for you. And I’ve never tried a meal kit before.
I have to preface this by saying that I’m not a cook at all — chopping an onion or cutting up a clove of garlic is a lot for me. ... And I’ve never tried a meal kit before. Ambar Pardilla, writer, HuffPost Finds
I got my box on a Tuesday. (I could change my picks until noon on the Friday before.) All the ingredients for each recipe came in the same bag, with the exception of the meats. (They were all in one separate bag.) I put everything in the fridge to make over the next several days.
The box included the recipes that were three-hole punched to fit into a cookbook binder, which had a little more information about Home Chef and was meant to be like a recipe book for all the meals you’ve made.
The first recipe I tried out was for a prosciutto and hazelnut flatbread with mozzarella and a hot honey drizzle. I made it after work, and it was the perfect post-work recipe since it was savory and spicy. The time went quickly, especially since the recipe called for multitasking steps like toasting onions and crisping up the prosciutto while the flatbread was in the oven. It wasn’t complicated to make and didn’t take long to finish, clocking in at around 35 minutes.
I ended up making my second recipe (steak and garlic thyme butter with balsamic Brussels sprouts and Parmesan twists) and third recipe (chicken breasts with béarnaise sauce with roasted fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts) on the same day for my dad, mom and brother. We can be a picky family sometimes and surprisingly, everyone ended up liking the dishes. The steak took the longest to cook, but I had the Brussels sprouts and Parmesan twists (a favorite from my Home Chef experience) in the oven at the same time.
The béarnaise sauce really lifted up the otherwise unseasoned chicken, and it was so buttery. Now I can say that I made one of the most foundational sauces in French cuisine — and I can barely hold a knife. I really loved that the recipe called for making the sauce in the same pan that you cooked the chicken so I didn’t have an extra dish to wash.
For my first meal kit ever, I was surprised at how well it went — cooking didn’t feel like a chore, and it was fun to try recipes that I wouldn’t necessarily think to make on my own. The recipes were easy to follow, and I appreciated how Home Chef emphasized reading the recipe until the end to get a sense of what would come after a step. If you don’t love cooking like me, Home Chef is a great alternative to just ordering takeout once again.
Danielle, the busy professional and student:
When it comes to cooking, I like to keep things pretty simple. And, between a full-time job and graduate school, I don’t really have a choice. I usually meal prep my dinners by cooking in bulk at the beginning of the week, portioning them to last me for four dinners, so I can just come home and reheat them. And I hate extensive, complicated recipes.
Like Ambar’s delivery, my Home Chef box arrived on a Tuesday with four bags (three with all of the ingredients, and one just for the meats). There was also a binder to hold the recipe cards and keep things organized. The recipes were straightforward, with a lot fewer steps compared to other meal kits I’ve tried like Blue Apron. I also liked that many of the recipes instructed me to reuse pots and pans in different steps, which meant less clean up for me at the end.
The recipes were straightforward, with a lot fewer steps compared to other meal kits I’ve tried like Blue Apron. Danielle Gonzalez, Associate Editor, HuffPost Finds
My first meal was the mojo shrimp and plantain rice bowl. It’s a dish I actually grew up eating, so I was curious to see the Home Chef take on it. The shrimp in my delivery was huge, and was already peeled, deveined and tail-off, which was a huge time saver. I sautéed the shrimp in the same pan I used to warm up the plantains, which also saved time and cleanup. The shrimp was flavorful and the plantains were very similar to the maduros my mom makes — but the rice and beans could have used some seasoning, in my opinion. This was probably my least favorite dish — but it’s hard to live up to my family’s authentic version.
My second recipe, the salmon and brown butter hollandaise risotto was by far the most involved dish to make — but also the most delicious, and my favorite. I made it with a friend who said, “This tastes like it came from a restaurant,” which did a lot for my amateur chef ego. The butteriness of the risotto blended beautifully with the roasted Brussels sprouts, and the sliced almond garnish gave it a great texture. This meal was a 10/10 and I ate everything, short of the ceramic plate it was served on.
The ciabatta steak sandwich with bacon aioli was the last meal I made, and while I am a fan of steak, a steak sandwich isn’t something I would typically make at home. The steak was pre-sliced, which cut down on a lot of the prep time. The sauce and seasonings made the steak juicy and moist enough for a sandwich, and the accompanying parmesan potato wedges were a great addition. Part of me wished there was another side that was a healthier veggie, because this meal was definitely a comfort food. While it felt super simple, the flavor was out of this world.
Home Chef was probably the most practical meal kit I’ve tried. I liked how easy the recipes were to follow, and that they all took less than 50 minutes to make. The recipes were delicious (I’m still thinking about that salmon risotto dish) and offered a lot of variety without overcomplicating the cooking.
Would we recommend?
Our shopping experts agree: Home Chef is probably best for someone who’s looking to sharpen their culinary knife skills.
It’s also a good option for someone who’s trying to get into the habit of cooking at home because the organized ingredients, easy-to-follow recipes and streamlined use of pots and pans make it convenient for weeknight meals.
It offers a good balance of healthy and indulgent meals that can be planned ahead, from weeknights to weekends.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.