Blue Apron review: How the original meal kit service holds up in 2021

There are literally dozens of meal kits and meal delivery services available in 2021, but the full-to-bursting category all started with one. Blue Apron has been at it the longest and we’ve been watching (and tasting) every step of the way. You might think Blue Apron would have one formula by now, but the original meal kit service is constantly reinventing itself with new offerings, curated beverage pairings and a sprawling market of kitchen tools and cookware. Blue Apron is also consistently launching brand partnerships and limited-time offerings such as the popular Super Bowl party meal kit and niche diet menus.

The restless and curious eater in me loves all the new wrinkles, add-ons and co-branded activations that Blue Apron churns out. It helps to keep the stalwart meal kit brand from getting stale, even if not all of them are total winners. I jumped at the chance to review one the latest iteration of Blue Apron to whip up this updateed review of the classic meal kit company. 

Like

  • Good balance of comfort food with interesting recipes inspired by world cuisine.
  • Produce and other ingredients were fresh.
  • Fun special offerings like wine pairings and a Super Bowl spread.
  • Affordable for what you get, especially if you order meals for four.

Don’t Like

  • Recipes were hit or miss, and some were downright bad.
  • More single-use plastic than other brands.
  • Doesn’t allow for much customization.

Editor’s note: I tried Blue Apron back around 2015 but for personal use and not for the purposes of reviewing the service. I had a positive experience then but read on to find out what I thought of Blue Apron’s current meal kit delivery.

Read more: Best healthy meal delivery services for 2021

How Blue Apron works

If you’ve used any meal kit service, Blue Apron operates quite similarly to most others in the category — a category it kicked off, I might add. You’ll start by plugging in your email and selecting a plan. Blue Apron meal plans are simple and straightforward: You can choose meals for two or four people and either two, three or four recipes per week. Meals get cheaper the more you order. 

You can only log dietary preferences such as vegetarian or wellness but only if you’re ordering meals for two. The four-portion or family-size meal plan is not as accommodating for special diets, but it’s significantly cheaper.

meal-plans.png

Blue Apron

Meal kits include everything you need to make dinner (besides salt, pepper and cooking oil) and are then delivered on a day of your choosing, other than Sunday. Remember, this is a subscription so if you don’t pause or cancel, meals will come every week and you’ll be charged for them. If you don’t select the recipes manually through the website or app, Blue Apron will choose meals for you based on your initial plan. 

Blue Apron pricing

Recipes per week Meals for two Meals for four
2 $10 (plus $10 shipping) $9
3 $10 $8
4 $10 $7.49
*Price per serving *Price per serving

Choosing meals with Blue Apron

There are roughly 12 meal kits to choose from per week if you select the Signature Meal Plan which encompasses all recipes. Of those 12, one or two is labeled a premium meal and features a higher-end cut of steak or seafood and will incur an added cost. Roughly three of the 12 meals are plant-based so if you choose the Vegetarian Plan, those will be your options. Four or five of the 12 meals fall under the Wellness category.

What Blue Apron meals are like

Most Blue Apron meals are fairly healthy with lean proteins, fresh vegetables and healthy grains. If you want to splurge a little, there’s always a pasta dish or two along with comfort foods such as meatloaf with mashed potatoes or French bread pizza.

Blue Apron uses some interesting ingredients and side dishes that you might not find with other meal kit services. Photogenic Romanesco broccoli is paired with tofu Banh Mi sandwiches, for instance, or a pan-seared steak dish is served with crispy gnocchi instead of been-there-done-that mashed potatoes. 

The Blue Apron culinary team takes some chances with spices and sauces too. While a lot of the flavors and dishes will be familiar, you’ll likely run into some you’ve never seen or tasted before too. For me, that’s half the fun of meal kits but for less adventurous eaters it might not be so enjoyable. If you fall in that category I’d suggest HelloFresh or Home Chef.

cauli-schwarma-before

All the makings for cauliflower shawarma; one of Blue Apron’s hearty plant-based recipes.


David Watsky/CNET

How easy are Blue Apron meals to prepare?

Blue Apron meals are mostly easy to prepare and don’t require any fancy cooking training or prolonged kitchen experience. Some more involved recipes take up to 45 minutes but most are between 25 and 35 minutes from start to finish. 

I also tested Blue Apron’s Super Bowl meal kit recipes which were meant for a group and so some of those took a bit longer such as the chicken bacon ranch flatbread pizza. Others from the Super Bowl spread, including the spinach and artichoke dip and steak lettuce wraps, took less than 25 minutes to whip up.

Blue Apron Market

Blue Apron recently added a market of cooking supplies — mostly cookware, gadgets and gear — along with some proprietary spice blends. Prices from the market are fairly reasonable. And yes, you can buy a Blue Apron blue apron

I might have liked the market better if it had more helpful grocery items or pantry staples like Sunbasket’s which I’d found convenient for adding on to weekly orders, especially during those busy times or, you know, a global pandemic.

Read moreThe best wine club for 2021

Blue Apron wine pairings

For an extra $66 a month (includes shipping), you can score six bottles of wine that are chosen to pair with your Blue Apron recipes. You can select red, white or a mix of both depending on your existing preferences. I have yet to try Blue Apron’s wine selections.

wine

Blue Apron

The Blue Apron recipes I cooked and how they went

I tried six Blue Apron recipes in total. Three were from the Signature Meal plan and three were from Blue Apron’s special Super Bowl menu released in late January of this year. The latter was meant to feed a small group of football fans so the portions were larger than normal. 

My Blue Apron box arrived undamaged with everything neatly packaged. Produce, fish, meats and other ingredients all seemed very fresh — which is not always the case. I did notice a lot of plastic (more on this later) but that is to be somewhat expected with meal kits. The recipe cards all squared with the ingredients included in my box. The Super Bowl recipes included some added information from the beer cosponsor Stella Artois. Other than that, everything appeared as it should be and I was ready to get the cooking underway. 

Here’s how each meal went.

Super Bowl recipes

Chicken, bacon and ranch pizza: This recipe took a little longer to prepare since you had to cook the chicken and bacon first, assemble the pizza and cook it again, but it was worth it. The result was like something you’d get at a gastropub or upscale sports bar. Perfect game-day food.

flatbread-pizza

A very tasty chicken bacon and ranch flatbread pizza.


David Watsky/CNET

Spinach and artichoke dip with pita bread: I’m a sucker for “spin dip” and this version delivered, plus it was simple to make, creamy and tangy with a nice balance of ingredients. I liked that I could add salt to taste because sometimes premade or restaurant dips are too salty for me.

Chorizo quesadillas: Another crowd favorite, but certainly not WW-approved. I liked this game-day dish, although it was a tad greasy and heavy in the end. 

quesadilla

Chorizo quesadilla with cilantro sour cream.


David Watsky/CNET

Signature recipes

Shawarma cauliflower grain bowls: I liked this recipe. Any time a recipe can make me forget I’m eating something healthy, I call it a big success and that’s what happened here. It did take a solid 35 minutes to prepare, but the portions were plentiful.

cauli-schwarma

David Watsky/CNET

Gochujang steak lettuce cups: This one was also tasty and easy as heck. The steak was tender and the Gochujang (a sweet and spicy Korean barbecue sauce) was a total smash. It took less than 20 minutes from start to finish.

Pan-seared scallops with caper butter, pickled peppers and fresh orange salsa (premium meal): If this recipe sounds like a chaotic mess of competing flavors all jousting for dominance, that’s because it was. It’s a clear-cut example of one of Blue Apron’s big swings but it was a big swing and a miss for me. On the bright side, the scallops were fresh. On the flip side, I ruined fresh scallops.

scallops

Special skills include searing scallops. 


David Watsky/CNET

scallops-2

David Watsky/CNET

Blue Apron support materials 

I found Blue Apron’s recipes to be some of the best. They’re clear, concise and easy to follow, with pictures and an intuitive layout. There’s some nice background on the ingredients too. If you’re following the WW integration, you can scan the barcode on each recipe to log points. All recipes are available online as well. 

You can do just about anything you need through the Blue Apron app, including change and cancel orders, track shipments and log those WW points to stay on track. 

What makes Blue Apron different from other meal kit services?

Blue Apron has the most going on of any meal kit services I tried. It has a market of cooking tools, wine pairing options and limited-run menu offerings such as the creative Super Bowl kit. The recipes themselves aren’t especially unique when compared with other meal delivery services but Blue Apron probably takes more chances with unique recipes and bold flavors than the average meal kit company.

Who Blue Apron is good for

Blue Apron meal kits are great for families since the price per serving drops under $7.50 a portion if you choose four recipes for four. With a WW integration built into the menus and app, it’s a good choice for someone following that plan (but not for most other diets).

Who is Blue Apron not so good for?

With only three plant-based meals per week, I would not recommend Blue Apron for vegans or vegetarians. There also isn’t a lot of modification to be done within recipes or much catering to diets, so someone on a strict one like keto or paleo might have issues with Blue Apron. For the same reason, I’d say this isn’t a good meal kit service for picky eaters.

There are other meal kit companies such as Green Chef, Sunbasket and Home Chef, which service these niche diets and eating habits much better

How much do Blue Apron meal kits cost?

If you’re a couple looking for two, three or four recipes per week, Blue Apron meals break down to $10 a serving. If you choose two or three recipes Blue Apron will cover the shipping. Otherwise, it’s $8 a box.

Choose recipes for four people and the price per serving starts at $9 a serving for two meal kits. Order four meal kits for four people and it’ll be just $7.50 a serving with free shipping. 

Packaging and environmental friendliness 

Despite its many years in the business, Blue Apron still has as much or more single-use plastic than any other meal delivery service I’ve tried. Because some of the recipes are intricate, it means lots of different ingredients — like an ounce of oil or dash of seasoning — and most require their own small plastic bag or jar. On the plus side, all of Blue Apron’s cooler boxes and ice packs are recyclable or could be disposed of safely down the drain.

blue-apron-box

David Watsky/CNET

Changing, skipping or canceling your Blue Apron meal kits

Between the website interface and mobile app, Blue Apron spoon makes it easy to skip weeks, change out recipes or pause your subscription. Any changes must be made six days before the next delivery date.

The final verdict

Blue Apron circa 2021 was a mixed bag. I liked the majority of the recipes I made, though I wasn’t over the moon for many of them. The scallops in particular were as jumbled a meal kit recipe as I’ve encountered. (To do that to fresh scallops was nothing short of heartbreaking.) 

In the pro column, Blue Apron offers some of the most sophisticated recipes you can get at a budget-friendly price. Outside of premium meals, the most you’ll pay is $10 a serving and if you order enough servings for a family of four, it’s even less. There are cheaper meal kit services out there, like Home Chef and EveryPlate, but neither have recipes as interesting or refined as Blue Apron. The recipes are somewhat limited, but they’re a good mix of healthy fare, unique recipes featuring interesting spices and sauces along with plenty of comforting classics. 

The highlight for me in my testing was actually Blue Apron’s Super Bowl menu which featured easy-to-assemble meal kits that all really hit the mark. If I were hosting a big watch party, I’d definitely spring for Blue Apron’s $100 box of preportioned game day recipes and let everyone else fight it out at the supermarket. Blue Apron regularly launches special holiday boxes for the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and other big food holidays — so keep an eye out for the next one. In general, you don’t need to be a subscriber to order those.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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