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We compared a local meal delivery service to Blue Apron and Hello Fresh

If there is one thing that Washington does extremely well, it's being busy. Telling everyone who asks (and even those who don't) just how busy you are seems to be a point of pride with most Washingtonians. And all of this busy-ness can leave little time for grocery shopping and cooking dinner. Sure, there are plenty of nights where ordering form your favorite local thai/chinese/sushi/pizza joint will do just fine, but what about those nights where you actually want to cook a healthy meal for yourself, minus the time-consuming shopping part? Enter do-it-yourself meal delivery services!

You've probably heard of the big companies dominating this market, but did you know we have a local option as well? Baltimore-based Terra's Kitchen was founded in February 2015, but the service actually first launched on the West Coast; they launched East Coast operations March 1, 2016. "[Terra's Kitchen] believes in sourcing clean, sustainable ingredients that are antibiotic- and hormone-free, as well as non-GMO and organic, when possible," according to the philosophy statement on their website.

We put Terra's Kitchen to the test to see how it compares price-wise, time-wise and flavor-wise against two of its biggest competitors, Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. While all three companies offer meals for two or a family plan, we all ordered meals for two. Each one of us ordered from a different company at the exact same time on the same day and selected the first available delivery date to see which box would arrive first. Read on to see how the three companies stack up!

Laura ordered: Terra's Kitchen

  • Ordered: February 2 at noon
  • Delivered: February 8 around noon
  • Price: TK prices each meal individually, starting from $9.99/meal, and your order must be a minimum of $62.99/week-- my first order was regularly $65.94, but first time buyers receive $30 off the order

I have several friends in the city who use Blue Apron and Hello Fresh so I was familiar with the concept of meal delivery services and had always been intrigued to try one. Of course, if there is a local company I can support, I will always take that route! Getting started with Terra's Kitchen is pretty simple and took me all of 10 minutes. You sign up with your email and zip code, select a meal plan (three meals for two people, four meals for two people or two meals for four people) and say whether you are a vegetarian or "like it all" --- don't worry, there will be many more preferences available later like low calorie, paleo, gluten-free or vegan meals. Next, select which day of the week you would like your orders to be delivered on and you get to the fun part -- customizing your weekly menu!

Terra's Kitchen will make three meal suggestions for you based on your preferences, but you can customize it with more than 50 meals to choose from each week. Each meal shows you the cost per serving, the categories it fits into (paleo, low calorie etc.), all the ingredients it requires, an image of the finished meal and the recipe card, which will be sent to you in your box as well. You can also choose to add on salads/smoothies, proteins/sides or snacks/juices for an additional cost each week. If you subscribe to Terra's Kitchen, make sure you pay attention to your emails as they will notify you of the deadline to customize your menu (otherwise you'll be sent the three they choose for you) or the option to skip a delivery for a week. Finally, you put in your payment info (shipping is free!) and voila, it's time to wait for the box of goodies to arrive!

My box arrived exactly when they said it would, and all the ingredients come pre-chopped in individual containers inside of a climate-controlled vessel. Each reusable climate-controlled vessel is sanitized when it’s returned and upcycled up to 100 times, in order to be as eco-friendly as possible. Terra's Kitchen instructs you to transfer all the instructions from the vessel into your fridge, and then box the vessel back up, put the return label on and place it back outside where it will be picked up the very next day and returned for free -- idiot proof and seriously simple! I also loved the recipe cards that were sent with each meal (and can be downloaded for free online) as they told you the estimated time to prepare, calories per serving, what equipment you'd need, what ingredients you'd need to provide on your own (usually just spices like salt/pepper and olive oil), what Terra's Kitchen had sent you, simple step-by-step instructions for preparing the meal, beer and wine pairing suggestions and pro tips to up your cooking game.

I wanted to try and keep my order as close to the minimum order amount as possible, and I wanted my meals to fit into a variety of categories. I chose the garlic mushroom smothered chicken (paleo meal, $11.99/serving), a vegan power bowl (vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free, $9.99/serving) and butternut squash pasta (vegetarian, $10.99/serving). I had selected the three meals for two people meal plan, but found that the portion size was large enough to get three servings out of each meal -- a benefit my roommates enjoyed! I made the butternut squash pasta meal first and it only took me about 25 minutes to prepare total. It was a good and filling meal, but I found that it was a little dry and lacking in flavor -- my roommate chose to add ranch dressing to amp it up and when I reheated the remaining serving, I added a bit of butter and garlic and found it be infinitely better! My next meal selection was the garlic mushroom smothered chicken and oh-em-gee was this good! It took slightly longer to prepare, given that a meat needed to cook, but it was definitely worth the wait. I did add a dash of hot sauce and balsamic vinegar to the meal, but the flavor profile on this meal was much improved even before my additions; it was definitely my favorite meal. Lastly, I whipped up the vegan power bowl which was the easiest meal to prepare, but my least favorite. I think it would be better suited as a lunch than a dinner as I didn't feel full for very long and again the flavor just wasn't quite there. Overall, I would definitely recommend Terra's Kitchen and would use the service again, but probably on a monthly basis rather than weekly and I would be prepared to add ingredients.

  • Convenience: 10
  • Ingredients: 9
  • Deliciousness: 6
  • Freshness: 8

Tina ordered: HelloFresh

  • Ordered: February 2 at noon
  • Delivered: February 7 at 8:40 a.m.
  • Price: $59.94 (First order is $39.94)

If you follow any celebrity on Instagram then you have probably seen them posting pictures of their HelloFresh meals and talking about how easy and convenient it is. Well, I tried out HelloFresh and I am here to tell you the truth -- you're welcome!

If you haven't heard of HelloFresh, it is a meal delivery service that delivers weekly recipes and ingredients straight to your door, so you can cook "delicious, quick, and healthy meals at home," according to their website. I would agree the meals are delicious, and somewhat healthy, but not so quick. I don't know if it was because I was having a busy week at work and in my personal life, but I felt like I didn't have the time to actually chop up vegetables and measure out seasonings to make the recipes. I would've preferred everything chopped and measured for me.

I signed up for the Veggie Plan for two (they don't have a solo option) and in my box I received the ingredients for a Jammy Fig and Brie Grilled Cheese with Arugula Mushroom Salad, Tunisian Freekeh Stew with Roasted Chickpeas and Greek Yogurt, and Colorful Confetti Salad with Corn, Beans, Feta, and Cajun Spices.

The grilled cheese was by far my favorite and the easiest to put together. It was delicious and since I had a box for two it lasted me two meals (perk of being single!). In second place was the confetti salad. This was delicious and the serving size was very generous! It was easy to make - it took me about 30-35 minutes. And in third place was the Tunisian stew. This stew had a lot of ingredients and took about 45 minutes to make. The end result tasted good, but I wouldn't make this on a busy weeknight.

  • Convenience: 10
  • Ingredients: 7
  • Deliciousness: 9
  • Freshness: 10

Amanda ordered: Blue Apron

  • Ordered: February 2 at noon
  • Delivered: Feb 9 around noon
  • Price: $29.97 (with a coupon)

I love cooking, but Blue Apron had me longing for take-out.

I share a house with three roommates, so I felt like a jerk when I saw how much space the ingredients took in our refrigerator. Worse still, a lot of that bulk was from packaging rather than actual products, sparking a long debate with my roommates about whether or not the environmental impact of the packaging and delivery outweighs the food waste I’d normally produce.

I was excited to try out the crispy barammundi recipe, but one fish fillet was a lot smaller than the other and a lot of the recipe required that I handle several tasks at once. Sadly, I only have two hands and a small kitchen, so by the time I plated my fish over the broccoli-potato-and-horseradish sauce base, half of the meal was cold. In Blue Apron’s defense, the meal was filling and the flavors were fairly well balanced. However, I had to repeatedly check the comments section of the online guide for preparation tips.

I consider baking one of my stronger culinary suits, so I thought I would nail the cauliflower pizza recipe. However, the instructions were poorly-thought out. Big hunks of cauliflower are hard to eat, so I broke them into smaller chunks than suggested. The recipe seemed thoughtless at times – cauliflower has a high water content, so when I cooked it down with tomato paste and had to add in two more cups of water the flavor was diluted. I compensated by adding a lot of garlic and more red pepper than Blue Apron provided.

While the mixture thickened – which took way longer than the instructions said – I decided to tackle the dough. Letting it rise was a good call, but rolling the dough out was painful. For the life of me, I couldn’t get it to stretch or roll out into the rectangular shape Blue Apron required. Overworking your dough is a baking sin, but at one point I was so frustrated I threw all of my weight onto the rolling pin, hoping I could at least flatten my dough ball slightly.

With my pizza mix rapidly reaching the correct consistency, I resorted to hanging my dough out and settling for an amorphous, but relatively flat, blob. I threw all of my ingredients together and slid my pizza in the oven, but I skipped the golden raisins Blue Apron included – cauliflower is already slightly sweet so it seemed unnecessary.

The pizza was done cooking well before the recipe called for and my plate didn’t look pretty, but even tweaking the recipe by adding stronger flavors couldn’t bring it to life. The crust was hard in some places and weirdly salty, but adding even more pepper and a fried egg made the recipe palatable for a few more nights.

I had every intention of making the seared chicken and pan sauce after my pizza adventure, but I’d had a stressful day and my commute home took over an hour– before I was stopped by the motorcade. I couldn’t bring myself to make yet another meal that required a second set of hands to make in a cramped kitchen. When I get around to making it, I think I’ll enlist a friend to help – and maybe a couple glasses of wine!

  • Convenience: 4
  • Ingredients: 2
  • Deliciousness: 6
  • Freshness: 8