Price: From $10 per servingBottom line: Green Chef Meal Kits are the best option for dieters with special needs but the recipes and ingredients don't justify the higher price
- Unparalleled specialization
- Best gluten-free options
- Very fresh fish and meats
- Vegetables arrive pre-cut
- Sauces mostly pre-made
- Recipes boring and repetitive
With So Many Options
Among the growing number of meal kit companies, Green Chef has long distinguished itself on the bona fides of its ingredients. Everything is organic. Gluten-free recipes come with the approval of the Gluten Intolerance Group, and Green Chef is the only meal kit with such designation. Keto fans can find Keto plans; vegans can eat without remorse. While competitors fight with lower prices and celebrity food partnerships, Green Chef is the best service to find a menu that caters to a highly-specialized, restrictive diet.
I've been using a variety of meal kit services for the last 5 years and I was excited to try the all-organic Green Chef menu. I expected a focus on fresh produce to show off the organic label, as well as a nice variety of impressive menu options befitting the higher price. After all, a Green Chef box for a week of recipes can cost about $20 more than a box from a lower-priced competitor.
I cooked three weeks' worth of recipes across the spectrum of Green Chef offerings. I cooked Keto and Paleo recipes, gluten-free and vegan recipes, as well as every protein Green Chef offers and two cuts of fresh fish. I cooked nine meals with two servings each, and I tried to stretch a few meals to feed drop-in guests where I could.
What I Like
Meal Kits got me back into the kitchen after I transitioned from Freewheeling Bohemian to Adult-With-Responsibilities, but cooking lavish meals three times a week comes with a price, and that price is calories, salt, and fat. Meal kits ask for a dollop of oil and a sprinkling of salt with every step, and calorie counts reach four-figures often. Green Chef doesn't even brag about its low-calorie options, which is too bad because it offers an astonishing array of dishes that are 400-500 calories per serving across every menu, not just the low-carb Keto and Paleo plans. The recipes don't recommend excessive amounts of extra salt or require sugary sauces, either.
I don't usually order fish with my meal kits because my palate is sensitive to aging seafood's funk. I tried barramundi and sole recipes, and I waited a few days before I cooked them just to test the fish's freshness. In both cases, I was delighted with the results: light, flaky filets with no funkiness at all. I'll definitely be going back for more, probably branching into shrimp and salmon.
While I'll take issue below with some of Green Chef's shortcuts, I appreciate that recipes were snappy to prepare and usually took less time than Green Chef proscribed, a rarity among meal kits. Other services will promise 35 minutes for a meal that needs an hour or more, but most Green Chef meals could easily reach the table within 30-40 minutes flat.
Finally, I love the dedication to specialized diet needs that Green Chef takes so seriously. The Gluten Intolerance Group hasn't bothered to certify any meal kits after Green Chef, so for some, this is the only meal kit option. Vegan and vegetarian eaters get individual respect, and vegans can filter for recipes that omit animal products completely. If you're keeping a ketogenic diet, the Green Chef Keto plan is one of the only meal kits that restricts carbs so completely, but the food is tasty and satisfying enough to order even if you usually frequent the Balanced Living menu.
What Needs to Improve
Green Chef has the specialization aspects down cold, but the 'meal kit' part of the meal kit service needs to improve significantly. If Green Chef weren't organic, with so many options for gluten-free, Keto, vegans, low-calorie dieters, etc., I would have rated them lower on the weakness of the recipes and ingredients alone. The service gets a better grade because of all of its extra credit work, which is still a respectable way to win.
For an organic service with "Green" in the name, I expected more ... green? I wanted an array of fresh and seasonal vegetables. Instead, I mostly got peppers, onions, and scallions. Rather, I got part of a pepper, a bag of chopped onions, and a scallion. I don't mind Green Chef being strict on portions, but sending a pre-cut green pepper, with a slime coating from oxidizing on the journey, is very unappealing. So are sweaty onions in a bag. So is wilted kale, or browning cabbage with "rainbow" carrots. The ingredients tasted fine, but they were on the far edge of fresh and some wouldn't last a whole week.
Equally unappealing was squeezing out sriracha aioli from a plastic bag on top of my bibimbap. Or squeezing lemon-pepper dressing out of a bag onto my salad. Or squeezing a glop of chopped, roasted red peppers into my pan of vegetables. Too many recipes ask you to cook the meat and veg, then dump whatever sauce or seasoning was provided, no more effort from you.
Ask What You Should Do For Your Meal Kit
The cooking styles were also bland. Meat is seared, or rubbed then seared. Vegetables are sauteed. A promising flatbread arrived with two naan in a bag, a far stretch from the raw dough that Blue Apron will send. Perhaps Green Fresh is aiming for cooks who want to do less cooking, but I would have liked a bit more creativity, and more of a challenge. I don't mind putting in more effort for a meal if it pays off in the eating.
A meal kit should require I chop my own vegetables because the sacrifice in freshness of pre-chopped vegetables is not worth the convenience. A meal kit should teach me to make my own sauces and salad dressings because it's easy and good technique and tastes vastly better than the plastic packet. A meal kit should have me roast my own red peppers because that is crazy delicious and makes my house smell like roasted red peppers.
A great meal kit service that charges more than all the others should do all of that and more with great recipes that are unique and varied and fun. Green Chef gets the technical award for being the only service to offer recipes to eaters who need serious restriction, but misses the artistic award for lack of inspiration.
Should You Buy It?
If you suffer from Celiac Disease, absolutely. If you need to eat low-carb to remain in ketosis for your Keto diet, definitely. If those don't apply to you, maybe not. Passionate organic-only eaters and Paleo fans may enjoy the comparatively large selection, but other services like Sun Basket also offer organic ingredients and a Paleo plan. Meat and fish were exceptionally fresh, so protein-forward folks will appreciate the menu, but if you want real variety in the recipes and concepts you should look elsewhere.
I would keep subscribing to Green Fresh for it's low-calorie options. There are other services that aim for low-cal eaters, but I like that Green Fresh just keeps its normal recipes at a reasonable calorie level without sacrificing flavors. Still, it is an expensive option if low-calorie is my only priority, so I'd also try other services before I commit long term.