Save time, improve dinnertime variety and skip the supermarket with the best recipe subscription boxes and meal delivery kits
The best recipe boxes are aimed at food lovers with big ideas and little time on their hands. Every week, the food fairy delivers to your doorstep a box of perfectly measured ingredients and cooking instructions for a new, tasty and seasonal dish. No more food waste – and no more dragging yourself to the shops.
But while recipe boxes are convenient and inspiring, they’re not particularly cheap. Prices start at around a fiver per meal – a meal you have to cook yourself. Do the pros outweigh this fairly sizeable con?
To find out, we ordered a box from several providers and cooked up a storm. We compared them on factors including tastiness of meals, quality of ingredients, range of recipes, ease of following instructions and packaging, with points deducted for pointless plastic.
In a moment we’ll reveal which nine recipe box services won our Great British Box-off. First, here’s why and how to find your ideal recipe box.
Best recipe box: At a glance
|Gousto (From ~£25)
|Order now from Gousto
|Best prepared meal delivery
|Chefly (From ~£45)
|Order now from Chefly
|Best for variety
|Simply Cook (~£9.99)
|Order now from Simply Cook
|Best for novice cooks
|Hello Fresh (From ~£29)
|Order now from Hello Fresh
|Best for low-carb meals
|Mindful Chef (From ~£34)
|Order now from Mindful Chef
How to choose the best recipe box service for you
But it’s a raw takeaway, what’s the point?
Takeaways do nothing to brush up your cooking, impress your loved ones or improve your diet, and you generally haven’t a clue what’s in them or how they were prepared. It’s a great way to eat better, cut down on prep time or learn new skills with minimal effort.
Recipe boxes are a Masterchef-era version of the food box delivery schemes made popular by companies such as Abel & Cole (whose recipe box features in our top six). With those schemes, the company decided what went in the box, depending on what was in season. Ingredients were top quality and you were spared a trip to the shops, but you were left to make up your own recipes.
Companies soon realised they were missing a trick. With a few tweaks, boxes became the ultimate culinary answer for busy, time-poor people who could afford to pay for the convenience. So instead of just sending a mystery box of seasonal ingredients, they began to offer a range of recipes based on those ingredients, then invited customers to choose meals online and order a box containing only the required ingredients, plus cooking instructions.
There are many other benefits, especially if you subscribe to a service. You and your family get a wider and more exciting diet, without having to put much thought into it. If you’re vegan, vegetarian, trying to lose weight or simply picky, you can still get a huge range of recipes from our top picks.
Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy ingredients from the supermarket?
Yes, but recipe boxes aren’t really out to cut your food bill, they’re designed to save you time, help you eat better or improve your cooking.
Then there’s the matter of food waste. Recipe boxes free you from the supermarket side-effects of unwanted veg rotting in the bottom of your fridge, and big jars of spices that went out of date years ago because you only needed a pinch for one dinner (which you didn’t like anyway). Recipe box services only send exactly what you need, measured down to the teaspoon.
How we test recipe boxes
Our recipe box testing process is fairly straightforward: we try a selection of meals and assess whether they’re really worth it. From start to finish, we note and rate the service’s performance in a number of areas. Recipe boxes that offer a diverse selection of meals, especially ones that cater well to different dietary requirements and preferences get top marks. We also like subscriptions that offer healthy choices, with a good balance of proteins, carbs and vegetables. Above all else though, we look for boxes that provide meals with high-quality ingredients which are tasty and enjoyable to eat.
Other things we consider when selecting recipes boxes for our roundup include, how easy the meals are to prepare, whether or not they can be frozen and saved for another time if need be and the frequency and cost of the deliveries. Ultimately, we tend to recommend boxes that excel on some level in terms of flavour and freshness, convenience and value for money.
The best recipe boxes you can buy in 2024
1. Simply Cook: Best recipe box for variety
Price when reviewed: £9.99 | Order now from Simply Cook
Simply Cook’s recipe boxes fit through your letterbox because they don’t include any meat or veg. Instead, each four-recipe box includes the herb and spice blends, stocks, marinades and more that you’d struggle to find locally, plus instruction cards. You buy the fresh ingredients yourself.
We love this idea. There’s no pressure to cook immediately because the kit contents won’t go off in the next couple of days. You also save money because it’s the fresh ingredients that tend to ramp up the price of other recipe boxes. And there’s much less packaging. With no seasonal ingredients to provide, Simply Cook can offer a much wider range of recipes than other services. There are more than 100 “20-minute” recipes to choose from, from African peanut stew to Scandi-style salmon, all with recipes and reviews on the website. The lowest-rated kits are kicked off the site each month and replaced with new ones.
The 20-minute cooking promise is a bit optimistic, but we were mightily impressed with the kit ingredients, which elevated our boring old fish supper. You can get your first box free and then it’s £10 per weekly, fortnightly or monthly box with each containing four recipe kits that you choose.
Key facts – Price per meal (per person): 62p to £1.25 (with subscription; fresh ingredients not included); Delivery: Free; Delivery days: Monday to Saturday (via Royal Mail); Special diets catered for: Vegetarian, gluten-free, light
2. Chefly: Best meal delivery service
Price when reviewed: £7 (per meal) | Order now from Chefly
Chefly isn’t your standard recipe kit, in that you don’t have to prepare anything yourself. Instead, you choose a set number of meals to be delivered each week, which can then be heated from fresh or frozen in as little as three minutes. There are 29 different options to choose from and these change every three weeks.
Asides from convenience, the most notable thing about the dishes we tried was how well balanced they were. Every meal has nutrition in mind, with plenty of high protein and high fibre options available. What’s more, every option comes in at 641 calories or less – ideal if you’re watching your weight. The ingredients are fresh, well-cooked and free from preservatives but due to their vacuum-sealed packaging, the shelf life is still an impressive seven to ten days.
The only big qualm we have is with the price. At £7.49 per meal (you need 6 meals per box), these aren’t going to be for everyone. However, the taste, convenience and nutritional benefits do justify this somewhat – it’s not your bog-standard ready meal by any means. Plus, ordering 12 meals per week brings the per meal cost down to £6.99 too, so it’s beneficial to buy in bulk.
Currently, you can order six, nine or 12 meals per week meanwhile delivery can be scheduled for any day you like between 9am and 5pm and boxes can be left out of the fridge for up to 48 hours if you happen to be out.
Key facts – Price per meal (per person): £7-£8.24 Delivery: £3.99; Delivery days: Every day; Special diets catered for: Vegetarian, Lactose Free, Keto
3. Gousto: Best all-round recipe box
Price when reviewed: From £25 | Order now from Gousto
Gousto hit the jackpot on all counts. The quality of the ingredients was outstanding, recipe instructions were clear and just detailed enough (and on cards for easy storage), and the resulting meals were so tasty that we wished we had ordered more, despite being generous portions.
As with all the boxes in our test, we sidestepped red meat and ordered one or two veggie or fish-based dishes from Gousto, although there’s also a wide range of meat if that’s your preference. Gousto’s excellent website made the ordering process easy; the hard part was choosing from the almost 80-strong recipe range offered each week, in categories including Everyday Favourites, 10-Minute Meals, Beef & Pork and Dairy-Free. The site also gives recipes in full, all illustrated with step-by-step photos.
You get to see exactly what’s in your box before ordering. Not just a list of contents, but nutritional and allergy info, big photos and user reviews, too. Even so, opening the box was exciting and fired us up with cheffy enthusiasm. Like the other services on our list, Gousto wrapped our fresh ingredients in a cool-bag made from recycled plastic and left our box in our designated safe place. There was some single-use plastic, for exact measures of chilli powder and so on, but we didn’t feel the plastic usage was over the top.
We also like Gousto’s wide range of delivery options. You can order a one-off box; subscribe to get weekly, fortnightly or monthly boxes; and pause your subscription whenever you want.
Read our full review of Gousto for more details
Key facts – Price per meal (per person): £2.38 to £6.24; Delivery: Free; Delivery days: Seven days a week; Special diets catered for: Vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, light
4. Hello Fresh: Best recipe box for new cooks
Price when reviewed: From £29 | Order now from Hello Fresh
“The UK’s leading recipe box” provider is our top choice for families who want to improve their cooking skills together. We found the recipes particularly quick and easy to follow thanks to illustrated, step-by-step instruction cards. Ingredients were top-notch and the results were delicious.
As with Gousto, Hello Fresh has a weekly menu of dozens of recipes in a decent range of categories, including Quick Meals, Low Calorie Meals and World Cuisines. Annoyingly. there’s no one-click way to see just vegan or gluten-free recipes, and the site tries hard to get you to sign up before showing you any food (“You’ll choose your recipes after checkout,” it says when you click View Our Boxes). Tip: you can read the recipes here online without subscribing.
Hello Fresh’s subscription options could be more flexible. You can’t order a one-off box; the minimum number of recipes you can order per week is three; and it’s hard to find an alternative to once-weekly delivery. However, you can skip a week whenever you want, and you can contact Hello Fresh to set up a fortnightly or monthly delivery if you prefer.
Key facts – Price per meal (per person): £3.15 to £5; Delivery: £4.99; Delivery days: Monday to Saturday; Special diets catered for: Yes, but they don’t have their own categories
5. Mindful Chef: Best recipe box for low-carb meals
Price when reviewed: From £34 | Order now from Mindful Chef
To paraphrase a 1970s Remington advert, Andy Murray liked Mindful Chef’s health-focused recipes boxes so much he bought a bit of the company. His patronage is a good illustration of what Mindful Chef is all about: body-conscious eating, with no dairy, gluten or refined carbohydrate. Meat is 100% grass-fed and British; fish is sustainably sourced; veg is seasonal, and every meal is approved by a nutritionist.
But does it taste good? In our experience, yes. We could have done with a little less packaging but the quality of ingredients was very high, and the recipes were surprisingly easy to follow. We took a little over half an hour to prepare a tasty mushroom, walnut and lentil risotto.
Unlike its rivals, Mindful Chef doesn’t assume everyone’s got a family – so it’s the only UK recipe box service to offer a one-person option. There are 20 new recipes to choose from each week, with weekly or twice-weekly deliveries.
Key facts – Price per meal (per person): From £4; Delivery: Free; Delivery days: Seven days a week; Special diets catered for: Dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, low-carb
6. Abel & Cole: Best recipe box for experienced cooks
Price when reviewed: From £12 | Order now from Abel & Cole
Abel & Cole’s recipe boxes only ever contain responsibly sourced ingredients. You’re offered 12 new recipes each week, in categories including Meat, Foodie, Speedy and Light (under 500 calories), and you can choose as many as you want for your box; the price depends on how many you add.
We found some Abel & Cole recipes a little tricky, which may be an advantage or disadvantage for you. But its ingredients tasted outstanding and it scored top marks for recyclable packaging. Even the plastic-wrapped herbs came in zip-style bags that we could use again.
You can order a one-off box or sign up to get a delivery weekly, fortnightly or even every two months. Abel & Cole also does Simply Cook-style meal kits, starting at £15, plus organic veg and meat delivery boxes without recipes.
Key facts – Price per meal (per person): From £6; Delivery: £3.50; Delivery days: Seven days a week (depending on postcode); Special diets catered for: Dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, light
7. Riverford: Best organic meat and veg recipe box
Price when reviewed: From £15 | Order now from Riverford
Don’t be fooled by the meat-free vision of green bursting from the box in our photo. Riverford farm, one of the veg box pioneers, also offers 100% organic and free-range meat plus wild fish in its weekly recipe list. If the excellent-quality ingredients in our veggie box are anything to go by, you’re in for a treat whatever your eating preferences.
With 13 weekly recipes to choose from, the emphasis here is on quality over quantity. Categories include Foodie, Simple and Meat, and most recipes offer an international flavour without being pretentious (lemon paprika chicken, new potato bhuna and so on). Prepare to spend an hour or so in the kitchen to get the most out of these fantastic ingredients.
Riverford’s customer service feels more like personal service. The company even rang with a courtesy call the day before delivery, like the old-fashioned local grocer everyone wishes they still had. And the Riverford driver, who delivered our box first thing on a Sunday, was politeness personified.
Delivery options are up to you. You can set up a regular order for delivery every week, fortnight, month (or somewhere in between), or order a one-off box whenever you like. The excellent Riverford website offers recipes and nutritional and sourcing info, and also has a shop for individual ingredients.
Key facts – Price per meal (per person): From £4.59 (incl 10% off when ordering three or more recipes); Delivery: Free; Delivery days: Seven days a week (depending on postcode); Special diets catered for: Vegan, vegetarian, light
8. Pasta Evangelists: Best recipe box for last-minute date nights
Price when reviewed: From £13 | Order now from Pasta Evangelists
A box of authentic Italian fresh pasta and sauce from Pasta Evangelists is no harder to prepare than beans on toast, but feels much more special and tastes divine. This isn’t a recipe box for brushing up your chef skills, but it’s ideal for a date night when you want to impress without plumping for a takeaway or spending ages in the kitchen.
Each week you get to choose from ten recipes (well, combinations of fresh pasta and sauce, plus garnishes). Conchiglie alla puttanesca with tuna, fettuccine with sausage and mascarpone, pea and mint triangoli with wild rocket pesto… it’s all way ahead of spag bol. You need to select at least two recipes per order, but the whole lot needn’t come to more than £13.
Portion sizes aren’t huge, but we found the quality to be so high that the pricing is reasonable. Our three recipes turned up by courier the morning after we ordered, carefully wrapped in eco-friendly packaging and with a reusable ice pack to keep the food cool. The pasta and sauces can be frozen within a day of delivery, so waste is minimal. The food took us minutes to prepare and was absolutely delicious. It was far superior to a takeaway – or indeed anything we’ve tried to cook from scratch!
Key facts – Price per meal: From £6.50; Delivery: Free; Delivery days: 7 days a week; Special diets catered for: Vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free
9. Lions Prep: Best meal delivery service
Price when reviewed: From £4 (per meal) | Order now from Lion’s Prep
Some recipe boxes require you to prepare and cook your meals from scratch but services like Lions Prep take it one step further by pre-preparing and portioning your meals for you, If you’re looking to increase your protein consumption, keep an eye on your weight or just eat healthier, this meal delivery service allows you to do so without having to worry about meal prep and bulk cooking on a Sunday afternoon.
Meals from Lions Prep start from £4 and you can order from a changing weekly menu of breakfast, lunch, dinners and snacks. The website allows you to pick your own meals and choose from your favourite proteins, with vegan options available. You can even filter choices to only include meals under 500 calories or ones that have a high protein content. Most impressively, you’ll be able to choose from “balanced” or “low carb” versions of most meals on the site, allowing you to cater your delivery to a preferred diet.
Meals took just three minutes on average to heat through in the microwave and came out perfectly cooked. Unlike traditional ready meals, it was clear from taste tests that Lions Prep uses super fresh ingredients. Vegetables and fish tasted fresh and had a good bite to them, while meat and carbs were perfectly seasoned. While this delivery service is more expensive than some other options on this list, we think it’s worth every penny. Everything is perfectly balanced and portioned for you – all you need to do is heat and eat.
Key facts – Price per meal: From £4; Delivery: Free (over £45); Delivery days: Sundays and Wednesdays; Special diets catered for: Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, low-carb, high protein