As a food writer and home cook, I’ve always been a bit wary of ready-to-eat meal subscriptions. Most seemed too expensive (convenience is pricy, y’all). And despite the time a heat-and-eat meal saves in the kitchen, I wasn’t convinced that it’d be that much tastier than something I could make myself in 30 minutes or less. But when I got an opportunity to try a week’s worth of meals from Factor_, a dietitian-designed, chef-prepared meal service that boasts fresh (never frozen) dinners, I set out to challenge my own assumptions, one bite at a time.
What Is Factor_ and How Does It Work?
Factor_, an offshoot of HelloFresh—one of the leading recipe-driven meal kits on the market—is a ready-to-eat meal subscription service. Every week, subscribers can choose from a new batch of more than 20 dietitian-designed, chef-made dinners made with wholesome ingredients. Once you confirm your menu, based on your current diet and food preferences (there are options for various different lifestyles, including keto, low-carb, plant-based and dairy-free dishes), the fully cooked meals are shipped straight to your door. Once they arrive, all you have to do is store them in the fridge until mealtime, then heat them in the oven or microwave to enjoy. The concept? To make eating nutritiously more attainable by cutting out most of the work.
Starting at about $11 a meal, Factor_’s dinners are free of hormones, antibiotics, gluten, added sugars and GMOs. (There are also a handful of breakfast and dessert options available, like their tasty, protein-rich smoothies and shockingly satisfying keto cheesecake.) Better yet, each subscription includes a 20-minute consultation with a dietician, who can help you choose the best meals for your wellness goals and lifestyle.
Read on to hear about each dinner in my meal plan (and see unedited photos of what the food *really* looks like).
Day 1: Peruvian Shrimp Bowl
Wild-caught shrimp with house-made aji verde sauce; red pepper organic cauliflower grits; roasted broccoli with chili-garlic butter
Nutrition: 560 calories, 48g fat, 14g carbs, 24g protein, 5g sugar
If you couldn’t tell from the stats alone, this dish is keto-friendly, since a bit of fiber brings the carb count down to 10 net carbs. And honestly, it was probably my favorite of the lot in terms of flavor. The cauli grits were tender, decadent and creamy with the slightest bit of heat, thanks to the red pepper sauce. The shrimp were *huge* and just the right texture (not at all rubbery, like you might expect from a ready-to-eat meal). Dunked in the garlicky, citrusy aji verde, they were even tastier. The most underwhelming part was definitely the broccoli; it tasted like plain steamed broccoli rather than roasted. The chili garlic butter helped but could’ve been more flavorful.
Day 2: Chickpea Curry with Forbidden Black Rice
Chickpea vegetable curry; forbidden black rice and basmati rice blend
Nutrition: 530 calories, 26g fat, 65g carbs, 14g protein, 8g sugar
This dish is a great example of Factor_’s plant-based, vegetarian offerings, and it was hands-down my favorite meatless meal of the three I sampled. The curry had pleasant, subtle heat and bold, warm-spiced flavor. In addition to the chickpeas, which were tender yet firm, there were also greens, red bell peppers and coconut milk in the mix. While I was happy about the rice’s texture (reheating cooked rice is a tricky feat), its flavor was pretty bland; so, I spooned the curry on top and mixed it all together.
Day 3: Smoked Peppercorn Braised Beef
Braised grass-fed beef chuck; creamy celery root purée; roasted Brussels sprouts and pearl onions
Nutrition: 560 calories, 29g fat, 28g carbs, 53g protein, 8g sugar
This comforting dish is neck-and-neck with the Peruvian shrimp bowl in terms of deliciousness. It’s soul-warming and cozy in a rustic, homey way. The mashed celery root purée is super creamy and cheesy, while the beef is impeccably juicy and tender. I did expect it to be a tad spicier or smokier because of the name, though. The Brussels sprouts are solid but nothing exceptional; on the other hand, I’m a sucker for pearl onions, and these offered a nice textural element to the dish.
Day 4: Saffron Risotto with Roasted Carrots
House-made saffron risotto and roasted carrots; red wine tomato sauce; roasted green beans with hazelnut gremolata
Nutrition: 590 calories, 37g fat, 58g carbs, 13g protein, 17g sugar
The aroma of red wine smacked my senses the moment I took it out of the oven. If you’re wondering where the risotto is, it’s buried under all that tomato sauce. It had a great texture but was sort of one-note in flavor, since the tomato sauce basically dominates the plate. I was impressed at how toothsome and fresh tasting the carrots were, unlike mushy reheated or frozen veggies I’ve had in the past. The green beans were buttery and crisp.
Day 5: Creamy Parmesan Chicken with Roasted Broccoli
Marinated, antibiotic-free chicken breast; house-made creamy Parmesan sauce; roasted broccoli and tomatoes
Nutrition: 670 calories, 49g fat, 17g carbs, 41g protein, 6g sugar
This keto dish clocks in at 13 net carbs, since it’s essentially all protein and produce. The chicken had a nice char that offered a barbecue-inspired smokiness to it. The sauce was creamy, garlicky and cheesy, but I felt it could have used just a touch more salt. The broccoli was like that of the shrimp bowl, but I was so happy to have the juicy blistered tomatoes there for a burst of sweetness.
Day 6: Salmon with Roasted Mango Salsa
Fresh salmon with blackened seasoning; house-made roasted mango salsa; coconut-lime black beans and rice
Nutrition: 500 calories, 18g fat, 46g carbs, 40g protein, 13g sugar
Both seafood dishes whole-heartedly impressed me. The salmon fillet itself was super flaky with a buttery, tender texture. The rub on the fish was slightly spicy, so it was just the match for the sweet, summery salsa made with mangoes, tomatoes and bell peppers. The rice had a really mild coconut flavor and was slightly undercooked for my taste; I also didn’t detect any citrus, despite the name. It would have been nice if there were more beans in the rice, too.
Day 7: Keto Chorizo Chili
Pasture-raised pork chorizo chili; shredded cheddar cheese; sour cream
Nutrition: 570 calories, 44g fat, 13g carbs, 34g protein, 5g sugar
I honestly can’t complain much about a savory heap of meat, cheese and sour cream. (Though I wouldn’t have minded a vegetable in that spare compartment—the empty section of the tray held the cheese before I sprinkled it on top of the meat.) It’s tomatoey, indulgent and comforting. I didn’t notice too pronounced a difference between the chorizo and ground beef chilis I’ve had in the past, but the chorizo did impart some additional heat to the dish. The chili was made with lots of green bell peppers, and I was happy to find sliced scallions in the sour cream.
Day 8: Mujadara (Lentils and Rice)
Green lentils and spiced brown jasmine rice; house-made zhoug sauce (spicy cilantro sauce); caramelized onions; toasted pine nuts
Nutrition: 610 calories, 41g fat, 55g carbs, 14g protein, 7g sugar
This plant-based pick was my least favorite of them all. To be honest, I felt that it would be pretty flavorless without the zesty, herbaceous chimichurri-like cilantro sauce. The toasted pine nuts added crunch and texture, but they weren’t as crispy as they would’ve been if I’d toasted them in the oven myself (after all, they’d been sitting in the fridge all week with the rest of the meal). Some of the lentils were also a bit undercooked.
The Bottom Line
Price is a major deciding factor. You can score meals for $11.50 a pop if you subscribe for a dozen. If you opt for eight meals a week, they come to $12.38, and for four meals a week, they’re $16 each. At the very least, that’s $64 for four dinners, while the best bang for your buck gets you 12 meals for $138. Personally, $138 gets me about two weeks’ worth of groceries, so Factor_ is on the pricey side for my budget. But I will say it was so nice not having to think about what I was cooking for dinner (and being left with zero cleanup).
My one general complaint would be that every meal took longer to cook than the package read. While the instructions said it should take about 7 minutes tops, each one took about twice that long to be heated through.
At the end of the day, the convenience and price are only really worth it if the meals are actually tasty. IMO, all of them tasted pretty darn good to me, and it was a bonus that they’re made with nutritious, high-quality ingredients. I loved that I didn’t have to worry about my freezer giving the food a funny texture or taste either, since they’re stored in the fridge. If Factor_ is within your budget, the meals’ flavor definitely won’t disappoint.
I’ll also say that if you’re on a low-fat diet, your menu options may be limited. For instance, I used to be on Weight Watchers (now WW) and decided to track some of the dinners in my app to see how many points they’d clock in at—most were at least 19, about 60 percent of my daily allotted points. Alternatively, if you’re on keto or another high-protein, high-fat diet, Factor_ could save you a ton of grocery planning and cooking time. It all comes down to your budget, wellness goals and dietary preferences.
*Our final taste score was based on the average of the taste scores of each individual meal.
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