An Honest Review of 3 Meal Kits: Boneless, Skinless Chicken Edition

published Sep 28, 2017
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(Image credit: Plated/Susanna Hopler)

Looking to ease the dinnertime dilemma with a meal kit sent right to your door? You’re in luck, because you’ve now got more than a dozen companies to choose from — and counting. Deciding which one to choose is the hard part. They’ve all got the packaging and delivery down pat, but it’s what’s inside the box that counts. The big question is: Do the contents satisfy your cravings or leave you wishing you had ordered takeout? That’s why each month we’ll put a few meal kit services through their paces in order to see which ones deliver more than just efficiency.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are the tofu of the meat world: high in protein, low in fat, and bland enough to be versatile. But just like tofu, they can be a delight or a drag, depending on how you treat them. They need flavor, lots of it, and preferably without relying on a ton of high-cholesterol ingredients that negate the point of eating them in the first place.

So this month we’re reviewing three meal kits to see which one can make a plain hunk of white meat actually taste delicious.

Since Americans overwhelmingly prefer white meat to dark, it’s no surprise that just about every meal kit service has at least one dish that relies on it each week. To narrow things down, we tested options from the three biggest companies: Blue Apron, HelloFresh, and Plated. Here’s how they stacked up.

(Image credit: Plated/Susanna Hopler)

When dealing with a piece of meat as lean as a chicken breast, you have to employ a few tricks to keep it from becoming a dry, tough lump of dinnertime sadness. Braising, used in this dish of chopped chicken breast simmered in a spiced tomato sauce, is one of the most foolproof tricks out there.

Check it out: Blue Apron

A mix of fresh garlic, ginger, and onion forms the backbone of the sauce, with sweetly spiced Moroccan ras al hanout (usually a blend heavy on cinnamon, cumin, and coriander) giving the sauce its North African flavor.

What I liked: Overall this was a pretty speedy and easy-to-execute recipe requiring only two pots. The flavor was balanced and tasty. I appreciated the splash of vinegar, which added brightness, and the dates gave it natural touch of sweetness — and the kids liked it too. It stayed in line with chicken breast’s healthy bent, relying on flavorful, instead of fatty, ingredients to liven things up.

What I didn’t like: It’s not the most interesting tagine I’ve made, and it did leave me wishing for some other vegetable besides tomatoes to up the nutrition factor. Also, there was a tiny plastic bottle or plastic bag for every single thing.

A global note on Blue Apron: The recipes have a weird habit of requiring certain ingredients, usually tomatoes, to be placed in a bowl and seasoned. It gets another thing dirty and is entirely unnecessary because they’re added to a seasoned dish. I think it’s an attempt to keep the mis en place organized, but I’d much rather slice them when needed and save washing yet another bowl.

(Image credit: Plated/Susanna Hopler)

Another great way to keep chicken breasts moist? Slather them in something flavorful before baking. That’s exactly what this recipe is all about. The top of the boneless, skinless breasts are generously coated in pesto, then topped with a crunchy panko crust. The secret is in the hefty handful of shredded mozzarella that’s added to the panko, plus a little olive oil to make sure it all browns up nice and golden.

Check it out: Hello Fresh

What I liked: The bright, herby pesto plus the crunchy cheesy crust made these super-flavorful and fast-to-prepare chicken breasts my family’s favorite.

What I didn’t like: The directions wanted me to roast the potatoes first, then the chicken, which is odd because they cook at the same temperature. I knew my oven could handle cooking two sheet pans of food at once, so I ignored the directions and cooked them at the same time, getting dinner on the table 20 minutes faster.

(Image credit: Plated/Susanna Hopler)

Anyone who’s ever tossed roast chicken in their green salad knows that vinaigrette is one of the best ways to wake that mild-mannered meat right up. It just soaks in all that flavor like a sponge.

Check it out: Plated

The chicken was given the simplest preparation: Just salt and pepper, and a stint in a hot sauté pan. But it didn’t need gussying up, because that was the dressing’s job. In this case, it was an Asian-inspired mix of soy sauce, sambal oelek, peanut butter, and lime juice. It had enough flavor to stand up to the Lacinato kale and shredded red cabbage, and make the chicken interesting. Slices of crisp green apples and crushed peanuts added even more flavor and texture.

What I liked: This recipe packed the most nutrition out of the bunch. It was tasty, but in that really-good-for-you kind of way.

I also appreciated that the recipe added a few helpful tips, like the peanuts can be lightly crushed in the bag if you don’t want to chop them.

What I didn’t like: But then again, it didn’t advise me to dry the kale after washing, which I knew was important or the dressing wouldn’t stick. Also, the cabbage didn’t quite soften as much as the kale, making some bites a bit tougher to chew.

And I found myself craving something to give it some lusciousness, like more peanut butter in the dressing, or maybe fried shallots — something to make it feel a little less “lean.” Then again, I’m sure my waistline was better without.