Recipe boxes have been extremely popular here in the UK and an in many other places worldwide. They exist in all sorts of shapes and variations and promise a wide range of benefits from cost & time savings to environment preservation and healthy eating. But exactly how beneficial are these recipe boxes and how to save money with a recipe box in the UK? Our CEO personally tried a couple of boxes on the market and will share her experience to help you decide if you should consider giving recipe boxes a try.
I truly enjoy cooking, but grocery shopping and meal planning definitely do not make it to my top 5 list of time spending… or any top list for that matter. But without either of those things our dinner conversations turn into more of a ‘what pasta should we cook today’, since the usual content of my cupboard doesn’t really leave room for imagination. This is when I saw an advertisement of a recipe box: dishes I only wish I could cook or I could never imagine I could eat and all in under 30 minutes cooking time. That sounded magical and very appealing!
Besides searching for options on how to save money is sort of a guilty pleasure of mine. And, to be absolutely honest, I thought if recipes are easy to follow then maybe, just maybe, my dear partner will put on an apron and cook an occasional dinner. So recipe boxes could be an answer to all my prayers!
Thus I bravely decided to give recipe boxes a try! I chose two providers (Gousto and HelloFresh) and ordered boxes with a couple of meals for two with 1 week difference. I was looking at several criteria:
- What is a price per meal when cooking with a recipe box as opposed to alternatives? How to save money with a recipe box and is it even possible?
- What is effort distribution? Do I spend more time or less time? Do recipe boxes release my ‘meal planning’ head space for something more wonderful?
- How healthy and varied are the dishes? Will I end up eating more carbs or pretty much kale every dinner a week?
- Last but not least, are they actually any good? Do I, and more importantly my partner, enjoy a meal from a recipe box as much as we would enjoy our regular dinners?
I am not going to compare Gousto and HelloFresh here, as it’s sort of beyond the point and there might be better recipe box providers in your part of the world. I will just try to evaluate the whole concept based on the criteria above.
Price and how to save money with a recipe box
All recipes I have calculated turned to be about 3 times more expensive than if I bought the ingredients separately in a regular supermarket. However, one cannot really buy exact amount needed for one dinner in the UK, for example, buying 1 spring onion or 15ml of rice wine is not something I can easy do. If you end up buying all the ingredient from scratch just for this meal, you are likely to pay at least double compared to the cost of the box (and quite often triple).
There is a middle ground though, if we assume that your fridge and cupboard are already full of basic ingredients and you only need a very few extras. In this situation incremental cost will vary, but it may very well be more affordable than a recipe box. For example, sweet and sour chicken from Gousto costs about 12.5GBP per meal for two. If I use the content of my cupboard today and buy a couple of missing ingredients then the cost comes to about 11GBP, which is only 1.5GBP cheaper compared to recipe box, but it’s actually 12%! If everything suddenly became 12% cheaper, it would be amazing right?
We made a simple template for your to do the math for your recipe. If you like spreadsheets and templates, we also have a budgeting spreadsheet here for your larger cost cutting objectives.
Do you get any time back with recipe boxes?
The answer is maybe.
I found that the cooking and preparation time does not really differ much and while the instructions are very simple and detailed, it still takes some effort to read and comprehend them. And if you have all the food already in the cupboard, then you will most certainly save some time without recipe boxes. We often neglect the time it takes to get used to a website, place an order, handle any issues with a support team, read all the endless emails and notifications they send, schedule your week to accept the delivery etc. However if you do need to do grocery shopping to start with, recipe boxes are a good deal.
When looking for a single recipe and ignoring content of my cupboard I needed to go through 3 different stores just to pick all the right ingredients. If we calculate just 5 minutes per ingredient (we all know we can spend hours in a good supermarket), then grocery shopping for a dinner comes anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes. If you calculate this on a basis of minimum wage in the UK, just time spent on shopping itself will cost you more than the recipe box meal. If you are on a higher pay band, then no need to read further: recipe boxes will save you a lot of money.
If keeping your family together is your job, then I would compare it with the other things you won’t get to do if you spend 90 minutes grocery shopping.
Will we eat healthier with recipe boxes in the UK?
Most probably. For starters, the portions are just the right size and there is no leftovers to dig in. I noticed we ended up eating less than we usually would, but without feeling hungry. Then every meal included something green: kale, beans, salad – you name it. I cannot say that our regular diet is equally rich with healthy carbs.
Besides, if environmental health is something you factor in your wellbeing: there is literally no food waste coming from recipe boxes. I mean, there is plenty of waste coming from the packaging (even though it’s biodegradable and recyclable) and all the delivery itself, but not the food: we ate it all.
When it comes to the taste, I found it differs a lot. It’s sort of understandable: you take years and decades to master your recipes to your liking, there is no way a mass packaged recipe box could satisfy your sophisticated palate from the get going. Out of 6 recipes we tried, we really liked 3, tolerated 2 and had to skip one altogether. The mentioned sweet and sour chicken turned to be nothing like we are used to: not sweet, not sour, not tasty… Edible though.
So to answer the original question “How to save money with recipe boxes” here is my advice:
- Buy bigger boxes/packages and freeze: when you buy meals for 4 people they come to about half price compared to meals for 2. So if you found the dish you like, just order double and you will end up saving.
- Prefer recipe boxes when travelling or moving house. If your food cupboard is not already 80% stocked, recipe boxes are not only time & space, but also money saver.
- Think carefully what you like and what you don’t. If you like experimenting, consider what would you do if the meal does not meet your expectations? Will you have to eat something else? Takeway maybe? You might end up spending even more money, so be careful with experimenting if cost saving is something you are after
- Make sure you factor opportunity cost and the cost of your ‘labour’ when cooking, meal planning, grocery shopping etc. If you are on anything above minimum wage you might be doing false economy if you prefer to do shopping and cook from scratch.
- Make sure you try out new boxes, they all have introduction deals, so you might end up paying pennies for the first couple of meals. Do remember to cancel on time though, since all your savings can be eaten by a forgotten cancellation.
- Make sure you schedule delivery according to our convenience. If you have to move things around just to make the recipe box work, you might be spending both more time and more money, missing opportunities at work or simply overloading your already busy headspace. If you are not there to receive it, the food might go to waste. All the delivery is well insulated, but the boxes spend often 12 hours in transit before they make it to your door. So 6 hours more by the door and you wasted quite a bit of money.
This is all I have to share with you today. Do let us know how you feel about recipe boxes and read more about managing your spending in our blog.