Home Chef Review: A Meal Kit Service That Lets You Create the Recipes (Sort Of) – CNET

Like

  • All recipes are customizable
  • You can easily skip a week at no cost or penalty
  • Most recipes are easy to execute
  • Affordable if you order family meals

Don’t like

  • Premium meals are overpriced
  • Many recipes lack creativity
  • Quality of ingredients could be better
  • Too much plastic used in packaging
  • $11 for shipping

Product details

  • Pricing Starting at $8/serving
  • Type Meal kit, pre-made
  • Regional Availability 98% of United States
  • Number of Meal Options per Week 30
  • Menu Options/ Diet Types Calorie-conscious, carb-conscious

Home Chef is among the most popular meal kit services in 2023, joining the likes of Blue ApronSunbasket, EveryPlate and HelloFresh. With upwards of 10 meal kit services now vying for your dinnertime dollars (and many more prepared meal subscriptions), Home Chef looks to distinguish itself with the most customizable recipes of any of them, allowing you to swap out one protein for another or replace meat with a plant-based alternative. Home Chef meal kits are also some of the easiest to execute, with certain dishes eating up no more than 20 minutes of your precious time. 

To test the popular service for myself, I cooked two weeks’ worth of meals from scratch. The Home Chef service delivered on many of its promises but, in the end, many of the recipes in my recent two-week trial were clunky, unrefined and not worth Home Chef’s per-serving cost ($10 to $12, depending on your plan). 

Here’s my firsthand review of Home Chef meal kit delivery in 2023. 

What is Home Chef and how does it work?

In a sea of competitors, Home Chef has emerged as a leading meal kit delivery service with an emphasis on flexible and customizable meal plans, and recipes that can be tailored to your taste. The service launched in 2013, just a year after Blue Apron, and was acquired by grocery giant Kroger in 2018. Since the buyout, individual Home Chef meal kits can now be purchased in most Kroger stores in addition to a mail-order subscription.

Home Chef is a subscription service for weekly meal kits, so there is no online option to buy one or two meal kits. New customers sign up via the website or app and a short quiz helps determine which meal plan is best for you, as well as which recipes and ingredients should be avoided. 

home chef quiz question

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="27"></p> <p>Home Chef&#8217;s quick quiz helps in determining an optimal meal plan.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Home Chef/Screenshot by CNET</span>

Then you’ll choose the number of recipes per week — as few as two or as many as six — as well as how many servings you’d like per recipe: two, four or six. Subscribers can opt to select their own meals each week or let the Home Chef team pick them. You’re free to skip a week anytime you’d like and can add meals or servings (at cost) to your delivery as you go.

home chef meal plans

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="29"></p> <p>Every meal plan except for one (the smallest) breaks down to $10 per serving, plus $11 for shipping.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Home Chef/Screenshot by CNET</span>

I found the meal plan selection and ordering process simple, clear and intuitive. When selecting meal kits, a major differentiator between Home Chef and others is that you can swap the protein in just about any recipe. Alternative ingredients include several steak cuts, chicken, shrimp, scallops, mahi mahi and Impossible meat. Certain premium swaps will incur an upcharge of a few bucks, while others won’t.

list of protein swaps

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="28"></p> <p>If this recipe sounds good but you&#8217;re not a fan of salmon, you can swap the protein for another.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Home Chef/Screenshot by CNET</span>

Meals are delivered once a week in neatly packaged cooler boxes, with each ingredient preportioned in seperate plastic bags and ready to be cooked. Meals should be made within a few days of arrival, as many ingredients are not suitable for freezing. 

What are Home Chef meals like?

Home Chef meals are largely easy to prepare and don’t require a ton of technical skill. The company aims to please a wide range of eaters, and that means a lot of comfort foods and dishes that are familiar to American diets. You won’t see a ton of unfamiliar flavors either, with lots of classic dinner recipes, including burgers with potatoes, baked chicken or pork tenderloin with vegetables and a savory sauce, pasta dishes, teriyaki steak and peppers over rice or chicken tacos. That’s not to say you won’t find some more creative menu items, such as prosciutto and butternut chowder or bruschetta and shrimp risotto. 

img-2597

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="27"></p> <p>Home Chef&#8217;s garlic bruschetta and shrimp risotto meal kit.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">David Watsky/CNET</span>

Home Chef offers premium meals it refers to as the “culinary collection,” but they are priced differently (more on that below). A good many of Home Chef’s seafood options, such as crusted ahi tuna and pan-seared mahi-mahi, fall into the premium meal category, as do higher-end cuts of beef. In sticking with the theme of flexibility, you can pop one of these premium meals into your weekly order anytime (at a cost) if you’re feeling fancy. Below is an overview of Home Chef’s meal categories. 

  • Culinary Collection: Premium meal kits with higher-quality ingredients.
  • Express: Ready in 15 minutes or less.
  • Fast & Fresh: Oven-ready meals that require almost no prep.
  • Oven-Ready: Meals that arrive in an oven-ready tray.
  • Family: Dishes that are only available in 4 or more servings.
  • Plus: Include premium ingredients and recipes.

Read more: Purple Carrot Review: Healthy Plant-Based Cooking Made Simple

How easy are Home Chef meal kits to prepare?

The meals I tried were easy to prepare, which is one of the calling cards for the meal kit service. Home Chef has quick-fire meals using fresh, preportioned ingredients that take just 15 minutes or so to make. There are also some more complicated dinner projects that can take as long as 45 minutes. It’s completely up to you which type of meals you’d like to have sent, but beware: If you let Home Chef choose your meals, you might get some of the 45-minute meals in your box.

stuffed peppers ingredients

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="27"></p> <p>The ingredients for cheesy keto bell peppers stuffed with pork and tomato sauce.&nbsp;</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">David Watsky/CNET</span>

There is also a category of oven-ready meals that only require assembling the fresh ingredients in an aluminum baking tray (provided) and popping it into the oven with almost no chopping or prep. These are about as quick and easy as meal kits get, but your bragging rights for a home-cooked meal stay firmly intact. Some meals labeled express plus take only 20 or 30 minutes to prepare and those labeled family meals can be assembled simply in one pot and are designed to feed up to six people.

honey-sriracha-chicken

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="30"></p> <p>Honey sriracha chicken: One of Home Chef&#8217;s 15-minute, oven-ready meals, assembled and ready to be baked.&nbsp;</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">David Watsky/CNET</span>

Support materials

Each meal kit comes with a comprehensive description, nutritional facts, prep time and a recipe card with ingredients and directions. The recipe card features a nice, big, glossy image so you can visualize the dish and know what to aim for. There’s also a Home Chef mobile app that’s helpful and easy to use. All Home Chef recipes can be found online in a pinch. The instructions for each dish I made were easy enough to follow but, at times, a bit wordy. Home Chef tends to give even more information than the average home chef will need, perhaps with true beginners in mind.

homechefcustomize-lead

<!----> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Home Chef</span>

Home Chef allows you to swap easily proteins 

Home Chef’s big claim to fame is that its meal kits and plans are highly customizable to suit you or your family’s rhythm. You can swap or upgrade the protein in most of the weekly meals. If a meal includes a “customize it” button, that means you can jump in and swap the chicken for pork, for instance. Some proteins, like salmon, steak and plant-based proteins, trigger an up-charge of $3 or $4 per portion. 

home-chef-honey-sriracha-chicken

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="28"></p> <p>The honey sriracha chicken after 15 minutes in the oven. It was incredibly tender and the vegetables kept their snap.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">David Watsky/CNET</span>

Who is Home Chef good for?

I’d suggest Home Chef for anyone trying to learn to cook from scratch or lighten their meal-planning or grocery-shopping load. Because many of Home Chef’s meals are fast and easy to prepare and can feed up to six people, this is one of the best meal kit services for families. It’s also good for people who are fairly specific about what they like to cook and eat since you can make so many changes and swaps. Because Home Chef makes it so easy to skip weeks — and won’t charge you for skipping — it’s great for those who travel or have unpredictable schedules.

How much does Home Chef cost?

ingredients on table

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="29"></p> <p>Some recipes are better deals than others. This meal kit breaks down to about $20 through Home Chef. If you were to buy the necessary ingredients at the store, it would be less than $10.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">David Watsky/CNET</span>

Home Chef’s meal kits are purchased per kit and you can order as many as six per week. The per-serving price is $10 for nearly every plan except for the smallest — two meal kits with two servings each — which clocks in at $12 per serving. This puts Home Chef right in the middle when compared with other services. Home Chef is a few bucks more expensive per meal than Blue Apron and EveryPlate, but cheaper than premium services like Sunbasket and Green Chef.

Shipping is an extra $11 per delivery, no matter which plan you choose. That’s one of the more expensive surcharges of any meal kit service.

What I cooked and how it went

I cooked six Home Chef recipes in total. Ingredients arrived fresh and intact with no spills or spoilage. Most of the meals I made were sufficient and some were better than that. But a few proved to be a bit clunky or overly simple and not worth the cost, especially considering you can buy the same ingredients for about 50% less (I did the math). 

Here’s a full breakdown. 

One-pot pork chili con carne with bacon bits: This pork chili seemed overly simple at first but turned out to be one of my favorites of the bunch. Let’s just say I will be adding bacon to my chilis from here on out. 

chili con carne

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="27"></p> <p>Home Chef&#8217;s pork chili with bacon and sour cream was a winner for me.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">David Watsky/CNET</span>

Sweet potato bowl with poblano pepper and cilantro-lime rice: This recipe was very clunky and definitely not worth the per-serving price. The poblano was far too big. I only added three-quarters of it after dicing and the finished dish was still way too hot, even for a spice lover like me.

home chef potato bowl

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="27"></p> <p>My Mexican-style sweet potato bowl with poblano peppers and cilantro rice.&nbsp;</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">David Watsky/CNET</span>

Moo shu pork tacos: This recipe was a super-fun, quick and easy meal kit to execute. It took less than 20 minutes and the flavors were balanced and interesting, thanks to the toasted sesame oil and spicy sriracha. 

skillet with pork and mushrooms

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="27"></p> <p>You&#8217;ll need little more than a skillet and a chef&#8217;s knife to make Home Chef&#8217;s moo shu tacos.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">David Watsky/CNET</span>

Keto-friendly pork stuffed peppers: I liked these low-carb Italian-style peppers but, again, with such simple ingredients, it’s hard to see how paying $10 to $12 per serving is worth it. 

peppers

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="28"></p> <p>The Italian stuffed peppers were super simple, requiring very little effort.&nbsp;</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">David Watsky/CNET</span>

Honey sriracha chicken with crispy wontons was an oven-ready meal, meaning all I really had to do was assemble the chicken breast, precut vegetables and edamame in a baking tray (provided) and cook for 20 minutes. The temperature and timing were on point and the chicken came out perfectly tender, while the vegetables kept their snap. 

shrimp risotto

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="28"></p> <p>Home Chef offers some more challenging recipes, including the decadent shrimp bruschetta risotto.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Home Chef</span>

Bruschetta shrimp risotto: This recipe was the most complicated Home Chef meal kit I cooked. Risotto famously requires a bit more attention than most dishes, but it was still fairly easy to make and a delicious meal in the end. I might have wanted a bit more detailed instruction on tending to the risotto, especially if I were a beginner learning the ropes of the rice dish.

Home Chef packaging and environmental friendliness

In a recent study, Home Chef got the worst green score of four major meal kit services that were tested for plastic waste in packaging. Each recipe is housed in its own plastic bag, and there are numerous small plastic bags and containers within them. Besides the excessive plastic associated with each recipe, most of the rest of the packaging is recyclable, including the boxes, insulation sheets and ice packs. 

home chef meal kit in bag

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="29"></p> <p>Some plastic is necessary for meal kits to work, but Home Chef uses more than the average service.&nbsp;</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">David Watsky/CNET</span>

The final verdict on Home Chef

This user-friendly service struck a fair balance with consistently good meal kits that were unpretentious and easy to prepare. I appreciate the ability to change proteins in nearly any recipe and I’m sure families with picky eaters will too. In the end, many of the meal kits I prepared just felt unrefined and some of the recipes were a bit clunky. I could let that slide if Home Chef meal kits cost less than they do, but at $10 to $12 a serving, many of the meals I made just didn’t seem worth the price. 

Compare that with Blue Apron, another meal kit service I tested recently, which offers high-end recipes such as bistro steaks and roasted trout, for a cheaper price per serving than Home Chef when you factor in shipping. That said, Blue Apron and other meal kit services don’t allow for as much customization as Home Chef. If that’s important for you and the crew you’re feeding, Home Chef could be the right fit to make your dinner routine a snap. 

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