This Meal Kit Costs Only $5, and Now We Know Why
In the summer of 2017, Dinnerly was launched into the $4.6 billion meal kit delivery service market. There are tons of competitors out there including the trusted Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and Plated varieties, so why would anyone ditch their go-to for the new guy? At just $5 per person, Dinnerly is the “most affordable meal kit” on the market. I spent three days out of my week in the kitchen (almost causing a conflagration) to answer one burning question: Is it worth it?
On Dinnerly’s website, customers can sign up to order a two-person or family-sized kit. Consumers choose three out of six recipes offered each week, and then use the recipes listed online once the kit arrives. I requested pasta carbonara, broccoli cheddar soup, and cheesy black beans with crispy rice and tomatoes.
Having tried other meal kits before, Dinnerly’s box made a pretty unsatisfactory first impression on me. All of the ingredients were thrown together in the box rather than being organized according to each meal. More importantly, I didn’t even receive several key ingredients — the spaghetti, Parmesan, and bacon called for in the pasta recipe were all missing. Instead, my package came with some random ginger, ground turkey, a jalapeño pepper, and one head of lettuce.
After doing a little digging, I found that those extra ingredients actually belonged to another recipe that I hadn’t ordered, so I scrounged around my fridge and threw together some makeshift tacos.
I did not follow a recipe for this meal because it had disappeared from Dinnerly’s site — which is fine, because tacos are easy to make and I’m not sure whether or not I was actually given all the ingredients for this dish anyway. So I used the ground turkey and half an onion recommended for another dish, my own mushrooms and guacamole, and leftover shredded cheddar from a Hello Fresh box (because they almost always send more than you need).
My carnivorous roommate sautéed the poultry, but she was cautious about eating it because the package didn’t have an expiration date and the meat looked a little questionable (red and smushy). After throwing it on the pan and adding a little taco seasoning, she gave it the stamp of approval and said it smelled nice, “like ramen.”
After everything was cooked, we scooped the ingredients into lettuce cups and chowed down. By the way, subbing romaine for a taco shell might be healthier, but it’s completely impractical and messy. So after we took the photos for this recipe, we dumped the taco guts into some tortillas we found floating around the fridge. Much better.
I didn’t receive the spaghetti, Parmesan, or bacon promised for this recipe, so I was simply unable to make it.
This recipe was a lot more complicated than it needed to be because it had the most basic ingredients ever: rice, beans, garlic, tomatoes, sharp cheddar, and taco seasoning. How could anyone possibly mess that up? I’ll tell you how.
First of all, I had to Google “fine-mesh sieve,” which is basically a strainer. Maybe it’s just me, but some of the language used in these recipes is a little foreign for a $5 meal kit. I’ve never rinsed rice before because I’ve always cheated the process with Minute Rice, but I guess it’s probably just as important as washing vegetables.
I was sent two bags of rice. They weren’t pre-portioned or labeled to let you know how much you have, so I used only one and that was way too much. The instructions said to cook the rice for 17 minutes — but within seven, all of the water had been soaked up and my food was burning to the pan.
One thing I did really appreciate was the above-average quality of the cheese included in this package — a nice, wax-coated sharp cheddar brick from Cabot. Alas, the coating is a little difficult to get into and you have to shred the fromage yourself. I don’t own a cheese grater because if I need shredded cheese I just buy it that way, so I chopped this block up into little pieces with a chef’s knife.
Basically everything from this point on was a disaster. The recipe card said to brown the rice in a sauce pan for 10 minutes, but nearly five minutes in my fire alarm started going off, sending my dog fleeing to hide in the bathroom. I even had the heat reduced because my spidey sense had told me something bad was going to happen.
After opening two windows and fanning the alarm with a pillow, order was restored and I finished baking everything. The dish ended up looking attractive, and I really liked the crispy rice, but I’m not sure why anyone would order this in a meal kit when each basic ingredient is available for the same price at the local grocery store.
Thank God for soup, because this was a breeze and a breath of fresh air. Even still, I was a little thrown at first that this recipe called for a Dutch oven. I’m sorry, but consumers in the market for a $5 meal kit are most likely going to have basic cooking utensils. You can get a cast-iron pot for just over $20 at Home Depot, but others can cost up to $380. I just used a bigger pot, and that worked just fine.
One drawback: I couldn’t broil anything because the pot I used was not oven-friendly and I wasn’t going to pour soup into a cake pan or a casserole dish. I also don’t own a potato masher because I’m a 24-year-old with a full-time job who doesn’t have the time or energy to mash my own potatoes (isn’t the point of a meal kit to make things easier for the consumer?), so I used a mojito muddler to break up the cooked broccoli.
I’ve never made soup before, but I think this one turned out well. I enjoyed the taste and really liked that this recipe included croutons (a ciabatta roll that I cut up, tossed in oil, and baked in the oven). This option sure beats saltine crackers or even Goldfish (a very underrated soup and salad topper). I’m not sure whether or not onion is a traditional ingredient for broccoli cheddar soup, but I happen to be in an open relationship with white onion, so I was very happy to see it on the list.
My only problem with this meal was that it wasn’t cheesy enough for my liking. I could eat a wheel of Brie in one sitting, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but 4 ounces of cheese is not nearly enough for a soup that quite literally is called broccoli cheddar soup.
It’s a nice idea that people can get food delivered to their door for $5 per person for each meal. The most basic package is for two people, so between three recipes and an $8.99 shipping fee, the total price per box amounts to $38.99. I wasn’t very impressed with the food, though, and I can’t justify paying almost $40 for pantry staples that are readily available at corner stores.
Furthermore, a lot of the cooking times were incorrect, and it was off-putting that the perishable items weren’t labeled with expiration dates. Most meal kits advise consumers to eat everything within a week, but for people who are especially careful about what they’re eating, it’s nice to know your food is fresh.
Another issue I had with this product (besides not receiving three out of five ingredients for the pasta dish), was that it called for oddball cooking instruments. If people are trying to save money by ordering the “most affordable meal kit,” then I can only assume that they don’t have nonessential equipment. Or maybe that’s just me. Maybe I’m uncivilized.
I used to have a subscription to Hello Fresh, so if I had to pick between that and Dinnerly, I would choose the former. Hello Fresh nixes the delivery fee, so it’s truly only about $20 more. Plus, they send you labeled, pre-portioned ingredients, which is a lifesaver if you’re clueless about ounces of weight versus fluid ounces and so forth. If they send you more than you need, they tell you.
If you’re really trying to budget and don’t mind the issues stated above, Dinnerly could be the best option for you. But I think other kits are worth the extra moolah. Want to do your own dang shopping? Fine! Here’s the best grocery store in every state to get you started.
This product was provided by Dinnerly at no cost to the writer.
UPDATE April 16 11:15 a.m. ET:
A spokesperson for Dinnerly has addressed the issues I experienced with this meal kit. Regarding not receiving correct ingredients, she said this can sometimes happen, but that the company will reimburse customers for any meals they were unable to cook if they contact the customer care department. I had also noted that several cooking times were off, and the spokesperson said that these times were only estimates, which can "vary give-and-take on someone's level of experience in the kitchen, and also their stove and equipment." In reference to recipes calling for a Dutch oven and sieve (fancy cookware IMO) — these items are merely recommended, but "any good pot with a tight fitting lid works, and any strainer for the sieve would also work."
One of the most off-putting features of this experience was the appearance of the raw, ground turkey, which didn't have an expiration date. A spokesperson for Dinnerly says products are monitored closely through lot codes in the company's facitilies, "plus all our proteins undergo shelf life tests, both internally and by extrernal agencies. We also communicate to the customer that we recommend that all meat is consumed within four days of receipt of the box."
Lastly, I mentioned that the ingredients weren't organized by recipe or pre-portioned, to which the spokesperson said: "Even though not packaged together by recipe, all ingredients are still delivered pre-portioned. Dinnerly is able to keep costs low by cutting down on excess packaging (dish bags, stickers, etc.) inside the box and not printing recipe cards. This will in turn help to reduce some packaging waste."