If everyone could have a vegan personal chef, there would likely be less excuses for why it’s too hard to adopt a plant-based lifestyle. While that scenario is a pipe dream, we are encouraged that meal delivery services, perhaps the next best thing to having a personal chef, which are certainly on the uptrend, are offering plant-based meals on their menu— and some are completely vegan.
The global “meal kit” market topped $1 billion in 2015 and is positioned to change the way consumers think about food at home. The U.S. market alone is projected to increase tenfold in the next five years and grow to a multi-billion dollar market, according to Technomic, a research and consulting firm for the food industry.
Today there are more than 100 meal delivery services in the United States, and new ones are springing up all the time. The idea behind meal-kit companies—you may have heard of the big ones like Blue Apron, Plated or Hello Fresh—is that each week you're sent a box with perfectly portioned ingredients and step-by-step instructions that show you how to cook a meal from scratch.
Even the New York Times has bought into the trend— over the summer it partnered with meal-delivery startup Chef’d and has begun selling ingredients for recipes from its NYT Cooking website. Ingredients are sent to readers within 48 hours. What’s intriguing about this trend is that many of the delivery services market themselves as healthy and fresh alternatives to the typical last minute, microwavable or take-out dinner many Americans fall back on.
The companies offering plant-based, cruelty-free meals also claim they make transitioning to a vegan diet a little easier because they offer pre-planned options and step-by-step instructions to guide customers through the sometimes daunting process of adopting a plant-based lifestyle. It’s easy to be skeptical of these services but given the fact that they’ve become ubiquitous and that entirely vegan meal delivery services are now taking off, we decided to think outside the box and take a look inside the box of a few popular meal delivery kits that contain vegan meals, as well as examine the companies that sell them:
This is an entirely vegan company that provides natural, plant-based food and recipes to customers on a weekly basis. Interestingly, 30-year career journalist and noted New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman left the paper to join Purple Carrot to put some of his principles into action. Vegans aren't Purple Carrots’ only demographic: The company, which received a “very good” from Consumer Reports, aims to provide flavorful, filling and creative meals to anyone interested in incorporating nutritious and cruelty-free meals into their diets, vegan or not. The meals are delivered straight to your door (you have a window of several days to choose the arrival of your delivery, which is nice for planning purposes) and the items are separated and labeled based on recipe. Everything is portioned already, but you do need basic kitchen equipment: cutting knives, pots, pans, etc. This is not the meal plan service for you if you don't want to get messy in the kitchen. A lot of the recipes require multiple cooking appliances and not all of the recipes are for total beginner cooks, but the photos do help. There are also only two options to choose from currently for The Purple Carrot: three meals for two people, two meals for four people. This might be limiting — especially if you live by yourself.
SAMPLE MENU: Creamy polenta with awesome bolognese, falafel hash with grapefruit-arugula tabbouleh, crispy rutabaga rosti with garlicky balsamic spinach
WHAT CONSUMERS ARE SAYING: “I switched to a vegan lifestyle in June of 2016, but as a busy professional, was finding it difficult to plan, shop and cook. I signed up for TPC in November 2016 and couldn't be happier. Even though there have been one or two meals I didn't care for, I love the variety. I love trying things I would not normally eat or cook with (like sweet potatoes and fresh fennel). I love that all the prep work is done. I love the peace of mind knowing I have all the ingredients needed. I love not having to do the grocery shopping and then throwing away the unused stuff.”
“Note of caution about Purple Carrot: You have to be an experienced cook to prepare the meals in the time specified on the recipes. Also, recipes do call for specialized gadgets such as blenders, food peelers, etc., so if you do not own them, it may not be possible for you to prepare some of the meals. Finally, this service is not cheap—buying the same ingredients at the store would cost much less. However, if you can afford it, TPC will save you a lot of time by doing the shopping and looking for recipes for you.”
Green Chef, which got an “excellent” from Consumer Reports, is actually one of the most expensive meal delivery options currently on the market, but it only uses certified organic and sustainably sourced ingredients, which sets them apart from other services. It is not entirely vegan but offers a vegan menu. Green Chef offers more “done for you” ingredients, which means the meal requires less work—things like salad dressings, marinated veggies, and sauces arrive pre-mixed (but fresh). This also means fewer dishes in the sink when you’re done. One thing that stood out about Green Chef is that it packages ingredients in sustainable materials, unlike other companies that seem to use unnecessary amounts of plastic to ship their ingredients.
SAMPLE MENU: Maple-glazed tofu with veggie-studded couscous and apple-celery root salad; chorizo seitan flautas
CUSTOMER COMMENTS: “Green Chef food is good. However their customer service is terrible. Unlike other delivery companies, they do not provide an email reminder when a delivery is about to ship. If you have an unexpected business trip pop up or friends who visit, you cannot modify or skip your order. And it's more expensive than other companies.”
“The natural flavors pop a tiny bit more, probably because everything is organic and the meals are created more to exploit the natural tastes rather than trying to layer on deep multidimensional flavors. A lot of the sauces are already made and come in a plastic jar so that cuts on prep time but also means that you may not learn how to make the sauce for yourself. We've gotten pretty good at making these such that we can get everything done in under 20-25 minutes. There will be some chopping and often a bit of finishing in the oven at the end but in general, you're working on 2 or 3 aspects of preparation.”
Veestro is a little different from the other services mentioned above because it provides the option of having fully cooked vegan meals delivered to your door. According to its website, the company uses ingredients that are “all organic, no preservatives, and non-GMO. Chef-prepared meals and juices are delivered right to your door, ready to heat and eat when you are.” Veestro claims that it takes the pain out of living a healthy lifestyle by providing three different methods of ordering. Customers can choose from more than 40 meals a la carte, selecting their favorite meals personally or with a preset meal pack, such as a high-protein meal plan or a low-calorie pack.
Alternatively, busy customers can subscribe to Veestro’s meal subscription service, with meal packs delivered every two weeks, either for three days a week, five days a week, or seven days a week. Veestro costs more than your average frozen dinner and some customers have complained about varying pre-heating instructions that come along with the meals. Veestro also does use plastic packaging, although it is working on a more sustainable way of delivering meals.
SAMPLE MENU: Lentil meatloaf; portobello steak dinner; golden chickpea stew; veggie pesto pizza.
CUSTOMER COMMENTS: “This is vegan, yes, but not vegetable-forward. I wanted more vegetables versus consuming processed meat/dairy substitutes. I think the ’WHY PLANTS’ section of their page turned into ’WHERE PLANTS.’ I feel I barely had any vegetables on Veestro. Maybe that's a lot to ask from frozen food delivered from across the country?”
“Bottom line: We are saving money and time and stress. We are eating healthier and smarter. The food is great. We have not had one single ‘bad’ item. The service is quick and convenient.”