Recipe Boxes: a student perspective

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Ever wondered whether life would be simpler if you simply had a recipe box delivered striaght to your door? Deputy Food Editor Holly Penhale explores the new craze for recipe boxes...

The key to success for recent food trends has been simplicity. The fastest selling recipe books of 2017 were those that promised minimal ingredients, prep and time in the kitchen. It is unsurprising then, that recipe boxes are on the rise. More and more people are opting to have a pre-packed box of recipes and ingredients delivered to their homes rather than spending time planning meals and shopping for their components.

Intrigued by this craze, I recently subscribed to two of the most popular companies offering the service, Hello Fresh and Simply Cook. I’ll admit that my subscriptions only lasted the duration of the free trial, but nonetheless they gave me a pretty good insight into how it all works. My aim was to find out whether or not the service they were offering justified paying a premium for ease. After all, all they really do is relieve you of the obligation to spend your Sunday evenings flicking through your cook book and painstakingly adding each ingredient to your shopping list or online basket. But even that would be an organisational stretch for most of us students who wander into Sainsbury’s without any semblance of a plan and pick up whatever takes our fancy. Whilst my trials didn’t leave me entirely convinced of their value for money, they did push me to cook three or four new recipes each week which is a lot even for the most enthusiastic of foodies.

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Hello Fresh offers a more extensive service, sourcing all the fresh ingredients for you and delivering them on a nominated day to be cooked that week, whilst Simply Cook provide only the dry ingredients, namely stock, spices, dried herbs etcetera, and leave you to shop for the rest. As a result, the difference in price is sizeable. Each of my Hello Fresh boxes cost £34.99 and contained three different meals each of which served two people. The Simply Cook boxes which contained the store-cupboard ingredients for four different meals each of which served two people, cost £8.99.

Initially I expected to find that Hello Fresh trumped Simply Cook on the convenience front. This was until I realised that once that box was delivered I was forced to cook each meal on consecutive days that week or else the ingredients would go off. This left me with no flexibility and made spontaneous meals out or house take-aways impossible. Whilst I accept that students are probably not the target audience for Recipe Box companies, I found the lack of routine that characterises student life to be somewhat incompatible with a stringent weekly meal plan. What’s more, despite being provided with dinner ingredients, I soon realised that I still had to shop for breakfast and lunch supplies and other weekly food staples. Given that I had to food shop regardless, I wasn’t much more hassle to bring along the handy tear-off shopping list attached to all the Simply Cook recipe cards. This meant that I had the freedom to pick and choose when I wanted to cook their meals and shop for the ingredients accordingly. It also meant that I could search for deals on products and likely get more bang for my buck than the carefully portioned food supplied by Hello Fresh.

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Epigram / Holly Penhale

In terms of the Food itself, I have to admit that neither company disappointed. All the meals were delicious and pushed me into trying recipes I wouldn’t necessarily pick out of a cookbook myself. The Soy and Orange Pork with Mediterranean Vegetables and Couscous was my personal favourite from the Hello Fresh box. Whilst I wouldn’t normally opt for pork medallions, I would definitely cook it again and will certainly be making the vegetable Couscous which makes for a delicious lunch even without the meat. Some recipes were more complex than others. This one, for example, required you to roast a tray of veg and prepare three other elements on the hob, the Couscous, the pork and the caramelised onion and prepare a marinade for the pork in a separate bowl. If you don’t enjoy cooking I wouldn’t recommend Hello Fresh as what they don’t supply is a quick stick-it-in-the-oven fix after a long day. But if you’re prepared to put in the work, the results are definitely worth it.

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Epigram / Holly Penhale

The Simply Cook recipes certainly made mid-week cooking less of an ordeal. The prospect of making a Goan Fish Curry one Wednesday evening had me bracing for a big clean up. However, the convenience of having all the spices and dry ingredients in pre-measured pots significantly reduced both the stress and the mess. It was simply a case of chopping a few vegetables, getting a pan on the heat and throwing in the appropriate spices at various intervals. There was no faffing around with measuring cups while the rice lay down its roots on the bottom of my saucepan. In terms of flavour, the final product did not disappoint but if you aren’t partial to spice I would recommend adding the whole tin of coconut milk rather than half and going easy on the fresh chilli as this dish packs a punch.

Overall, I really enjoyed my free trials of Hello Fresh and Simply Cook. Both companies offer great recipes which create delicious meals and have without a doubt expanded my recipe repertoire. The services are ideal for a busy foodie with limited time but a reasonable amount of disposable income as they keep you cooking even when the ready meal aisle is calling. However, for the average student who doesn’t quite meet that criteria, the bottom line is, they don’t offer anything that you couldn’t do yourself if you set your mind to it. The most valuable thing that the recipe box companies offer is the encouragement to cook from scratch on a regular basis. If this is something that appeals to you than grab a cook book or better still hit up a search engine! The internet is teeming with free foodie inspiration and I’m willing to bet that you can source all your own ingredients for far less than £34.99!

Featured image credit: flickr / Harriet Rogers

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