We reviewed a HelloFresh recipe box a fortnight ago and loved it. The team at HelloFresh was kind enough to send another one, so we decided to really put it to the test and see how far a 3-meal box could stretch with a little ingenuity.
Our goal was to retain the HelloFresh ideal of “Making home cooking easy” whilst experimenting with a few addons or substitutions to see how versatile, inclusive and cost-effective it could be with a few minor changes anyone could easily do at home.
The recipes in our box were:
The signature trait of the HelloFresh brand is fresh meals, freshly cooked without any of the hassle – no mealplans, no decisions around which recipes to choose or what to cook, no shopping trips, no measuring of ingredients – it’s all done for you and arrives at your door once a week. It isn’t versatile – it doesn’t leave you with much choice or flexibility, but removing this option turned out to create versatility in a different way.
We cooked delicious family meals with foods we wouldn’t normally have chosen for ourselves. We learned new ways of cooking, new ways of combining ingredients and had a variety we never would have selected if it was up to us.
The Ergohacks experiment
We focused on trying to make meals that were suitable for a wide range of circumstances and would suit a wide range of people.
We started with common food intolerances: lactose, casein, soy and gluten. Only 3 ingredients contained lactose and casein and only two gluten. To make this box dairy free, substitute the goats’ cheese with a lactofree cream cheese (or omit), the Crème Fraîche with a dairy-free alternative, and omit the Parmesan. To make it gluten-free: substitute the couscous with quinoa and the pasta with gluten-free penne pasta. There was no soy (and no soy allergen warning on the recipes). As ingredients are individually wrapped and packaged by suppliers, it arrives in the HelloFresh kitchen sealed and this reduces the chance of cross-contamination significantly.
Next up were allergens – The stock contains celery. It is individually packed, so substituting with your own shouldn’t be a problem. One recipe contained nuts – they were individually packaged. Another contained sulphites, which was the Parmesan cheese, also individually packaged. The Parmesan cheese was the only common migraine trigger.
We would never recommend that anyone with a severe food allergy experiment with possible cross-contamination, but for those who can tolerate small amounts of an allergen, all the allergens were individually packaged and easy to substitute.
The meals do taste better served hot, but we bulked up a few ingredients and made really tasty lunch box meals that could be served hot or cold.
The calories per serving are between 500 – 800 calories, perfect for the biggest meal of the day. To add a bit more versatility we adjusted what we added to either increase or decrease the calorie value. Remove some of the carbohydrates and replace with low calorie vegetables to retain the same size of meal but with less calories. Or add more carbohydrates to increase the calories. We tried both and it worked really well without making a huge difference in the texture or taste of the meal.
Our biggest challenge was not what we added, but the decision not to adapt the recipes too much. We thought it seemed like too much spinach in the chicken recipe and too much mint for the pasta, but it wasn’t. We also assumed our 4-year old would not enjoy more sophisticated meals and we were wrong. The lesson we learned: Be bold, be brave and embrace what the box has to offer.
Making meals from scratch in a standard kitchen can be demanding and a challenge particularly for anyone with chronic pain, fatigue or dexterity issues. It is less about the ingredients and more about the instructions, utensils and work space. The advantage of a recipe box is that less equipment is needed – the recipes are easy to prepare with a small kitchen kit – but do require a hob, oven and grill. Additionally, there is no heavy lifting and no air-tight containers to open.
Ergohacks Experiment: What we did
The first big obstacle was the chopping. We use a Kenwood mini-chopper, available from Amazon for £21.88 and it worked out really well. It chopped mint, onion and tomatoes perfectly and will also chop meat, nuts and most vegetables in small quantities.
We use a good set of knives, utensils that are easy to grip and the workspace is in between the sink and cooker. Get a good perch chair if fatigue is a problem and cook as a family dividing jobs based on skill and ability.
Kitchen counters are often the wrong height for almost everyone, which leads to back pain and fatigue. For taller people – get a stool and think about ways to raise the surface to a good standing height and for shorter people and children – get a stool or a step. Wheelchair users can use a table if there is no dropped counter.
Environment & People
The HelloFresh ingredients are seasonal, fairly locally (nationwide) sourced from ethical suppliers and packaged in 100% recyclable material and shipped within the same country. A recipe box cuts down on foot wastage both at home and for the supplier who know exactly how much to source in advance.
Ergohacks Experiment: What we did
We have a modest vegetable patch in the garden and supplemented our meals from home grown ingredients to reduce on packaging, energy consumption and food miles. We also used some ingredients from our weekly organic fruit and veg box delivery and whole grain couscous and pasta from our food cupboard.
For the Refreshing Pasta we added a green salad with mixed leaves and cherry tomatoes (from the garden).
For the Pan fried chicken, we supplemented with cucumber and courgette as well as adding a pear from our weekly organic Fruit and Veg box.
For the Moroccan salmon, we added sweetcorn, a garden salad with mixed leaves, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and carrot and some organic blueberries for the little one from our weekly fruit and veg box.
To make lunches, we saved one portion of the evening meal, cooked extra pasta, couscous and potatoes (from our Fruit and Veg box) and added a simple salad from our garden.
The HelloFresh box is a cost-effective choice, but it is not a budget choice – there are cheaper foods and cheaper ways to eat healthy. We love its convenience and gentle nudge to be more adventurous in the kitchen and so we did our best to make it a bit more affordable.
Ergohacks experiment: what we did
We added vegetables. We prefer growing our own from seeds, but for those who do not grow food, adding more vegetables, particularly cheaper veggies like carrots and potatoes, easily adds at least one more portion to each meal.
We then added more carbohydrates – couscous, pasta, bread and potatoes – all cheap foods – to turn one meal into two meals (a cooked dinner and a packed lunch). For lunch we made a pasta salad, a couscous salad and a potato salad with a chicken sandwich on the side.
A word of caution: Don’t mess with a good thing unless you have to. The recipes are fantastic and very well balanced with full flavours and complementary textures. Messing up a chef’s recipe does not always have a happy outcome. However, if you’re not a complete cooking novice, it isn’t all that difficult to know where to tweak and how to do it without hugely compromising the result.
The HelloFresh Recipe box is something we have enjoyed. It was wonderful to have 3 healthy, hearty evening meals a week that we could prepare and enjoy without much effort involved. It is a great product, good value for money and an excellent way to move away from ready meals and take-out as solutions for an easy dinner.
It is not something everyone could afford, it may put off those with a food intolerance because there isn’t a gluten-free or dairy-free box and it may not seem accessible enough for those with a disability or who experience chronic symptoms like fatigue, pain and dexterity issues that prevent them from cooking a meal from scratch. None of those are obstacles that cannot be overcome.
Adapting the HelloFresh box by substituting some 2-3 ingredients, adding a few ingredients and stretching the value by using leftovers to make lunches, can make it even better. Our Ergohacks experiment provided six meals that were straight forward to prepare and did not require a shopping trip, meal plan or any further thought or organization. The meals were fairly easy to prepare in less than 30 minutes.
If the price tag seems beyond your budget or the thought of cooking from scratch is too daunting, taking a recipe box and making a few changes can make it an affordable, sustainable and ergonomic way to have a healthy meal at least once a day.
This article is based on a Classic Box for 3 kindly provided by HelloFresh.