Food box services compared: Dinnerly, HelloFresh, Marley Spoon and Pepper Leaf


We review popular meal delivery services for ease of ordering, freshness, recipe accuracy and more.

No time to shop?


Sometimes doing the grocery shopping and cooking meals from scratch just isn't an option. You might be juggling work and study, at home with a new baby, convalescing from an illness or simply time-poor. Maybe you're sick of trying to decide what's for dinner week in and week out. Or perhaps cooking just isn't your thing.

You could settle for eating toast or takeaways, but an increasingly popular alternative is to use a meal delivery service. So which one is best?

In this review:

For a more detailed comparison, see our full meal delivery services review.

Which food box delivery service is best?

Our testers ordered and cooked two meals each from HelloFresh, Marley Spoon, Pepper Leaf and Dinnerly. We rated the services for ease of ordering, presentation and temperature on delivery, ingredient freshness, recipe accuracy and more. Prices provided are the base prices for meal plans at the time of publication, including delivery costs. It's worth keeping an eye out for promotional price reductions and discount vouchers as they can offer significant savings, at least for your first order.

Meal delivery service Overall score Cost 2-person box
three meals/week
(including delivery)
Cost 4-person box
three meals/week
(including delivery)
Meal choices/week Delivery areas
HelloFresh 87% $69.95 (classic; vegetarian) $124.95 (classic; vegetarian)
$109.95 (family)
10 (classic)
6 (family)
5 (vegetarian)
NSW, NT, Qld, SA,
Vic, WA
Marley Spoon 86% $69.90 $114.00 20 ACT, NSW, Qld, Vic
Dinnerly 85% $47.95 $77.95 8 ACT, NSW, Qld, Vic
Pepper Leaf 83% $69.90 $118.80 8 (classic)
8 (family)
3 (vegetarian)
ACT, NSW, SA, Vic

The services we tested all achieved scores over 80%, and Fiona Mair, CHOICE home economist and tester, says she'd be happy to recommend them – and not just for those who already know their way around a kitchen. 

135A0227
CHOICE home economist Fiona Mair testing a recipe

"Meal delivery services are predominantly marketed to time-poor families, and subscribing to them goes some way towards alleviating the perennial stress of having to decide what to cook for dinner. But if you have limited cooking skills and want to eat home cooked food they can also be a great way to learn how to cook," she says. 

Fiona found that the recipes are generally simple and relatively easy to follow, the ingredients are already portioned, there's usually a utensil or tool list of what you need in your kitchen and a list of the pantry staples you'll need.

"After a month of preparing a few meals from a meal delivery service you'll have a repertoire of recipes under your belt that will give you confidence to shop and cook for yourself. You will also become familiar with flavours and cuisines that you may not have tried before," she adds.

Food box delivery services: what we tested

Hello_Fresh_box_335px

We cooked:

  • Chicken piccata and roasted vegies with buttery sauce
  • Cheat's Italian pork and vegie bolognese with penne and parmesan.
HELLO FRESH OREGANO CHOOK135A0364
HELLO FRESH pork veg bolHello Fresh penne pine nuts135A0332

Cost (including delivery):

  • 2-person box (three meals per week): $69.95 (vegetarian; classic)
  • 4-person box (three meals per week): $124.95 (vegetarian; classic), $109.95 (family)

Meal choices each week: 

  • 10 (classic), 6 (family), 5 (vegetarian) 

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details:

  • Recipe cards detail the ingredients provided, the additional pantry staples you'll need and nutrition per serving. No specific allergen information on the recipe card. Website states "We are unable to cater for special allergies or intolerances at this early stage." 

Delivery area:

  • NSW, NT, Qld, SA, Vic, WA

Good to know:

  • A delivery fee may apply in some postcodes. 
  • There's no vegetarian meal option in the 'family' plan. 
  • It has an associated app which you can use to manage your account. 
  • Ingredients are delivered in colour-coded bags that correlate with the recipes.
Marley_spoon_box_335px

We cooked:

  • Pumpkin ravioli and caramelised onion with walnuts and wilted spinach
  • Chicken-avocado burrito bowls with beans, rice and cheese.
Marley Spoon Pumkin Ravioli135A0387
Marley Spoon Chook Avo Burrito0S0A0364

Cost (including delivery):

  • 2-person box (three meals per week): $69.90
  • 4-person box (three meals per week): $114.00

Meal choices each week:

  • 20

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details:

  • Recipe cards detail the ingredients provided and additional pantry staples you'll need. Nutrition per serving is detailed. Common allergens are highlighted but recipe card also states "May contain traces of other allergens."

Delivery area:

  • ACT, NSW, Qld, Vic.

Good to know:

  • It has the largest number of weekly food choices of all the services.
  • It has an associated app which you can use to manage your account. 
  • Ingredients for each recipe are placed in separate paper bags.
  • 'Packed in Australia' grading system indicates percentage of Australian ingredients used.
Dinnerly_box_335px

We cooked:

  • Peri Peri chicken tray bake with rocket
  • Indian potato hash with haloumi, capsicum and peas.
Dinnerly PeriChook Bake135A0281
Dinnerly IPH135A0294

Cost (including delivery):

  • 2-person box (three meals per week): $47.95
  • 4-person box (three meals per week): $77.95

Meal choices each week:

  • 8

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details:

  • Recipe cards detail the ingredients provided and additional pantry staples you'll need. Nutrition per serving is detailed. Common allergens are highlighted but recipe card also states "May contain traces of other allergens."

Delivery area:

  • ACT, NSW, Qld, Vic

Good to know:

  • The advertised prices for meal boxes don't include delivery (we've incorporated the $8.95 delivery fee into the costs above).
  • Simple recipes with few ingredients, this is the cheapest service for a family of four on a three-meals-a-week plan, but it requires you to be well stocked for pantry staples.
  • There's no recipe card in the box; you need to print it out or view online.
  • It has an associated app which you can use to manage your account. 
  • Ingredients are combined in the box, so you'll need to sort them into meals.
Pepper_Leaf_box_335px

We cooked:

  • Middle Eastern chicken with quinoa tabouli
  • Curry cauliflower fritters with salad.
Pepper Leaf chook quinoa tabouli0S0A0572
Pepper Leaf Caullie frit0S0A0589

Cost (including delivery):

  • 2-person box (three meals per week): $69.90
  • 4-person box (three meals per week): $118.80

Meal choices each week:

  • 8 (classic), 8 (family), 3 (vegetarian)

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details:

  • Recipe cards detail the ingredients provided and the additional pantry staples you'll need, but don't provide nutrition or allergen details. Website states "If you have an allergy or intolerance to any ingredient, we can't guarantee that our recipes don't contain it. You can swap out those ingredients, but that will be up to you."

Delivery area:

  • ACT, NSW, SA, Vic

Good to know:

  • Delivery days/times are limited.
  • It's the only company to offer meal plans for one.
  • The service offers a fresh fruit snack option and you get a free bag of fresh fruit with the first two orders.
  • Recipes can be a bit confusing, and in our test the meal prep took longer than the claimed time.
  • There's no separate pantry staple or equipment list, so you need to read through the recipe to find out what is needed.
  • You can't view the recipe online.
  • Ingredients are combined in the box, so you'll need to sort them into meals.

Food box vs prepared meal delivery services: what's the difference?

There are essentially two types of meal delivery services: food box (meal kit) delivery services and prepared meal delivery services. To help you decide which would suit you best, we've prepared a general user guide, along with some tips and traps, for each type.

This information is based on the feedback from 420 consumers who participated in our 2016 survey about their awareness and use of Australian meal delivery services.

Food box delivery services – a user guide

Benefits

  • minimal food waste
  • easy to follow recipes
  • ingredients local and pre-measured

If you enjoy cooking, but meal planning gives you a headache, you're lacking inspiration or you find it hard to make time for the weekly shop, then food box delivery services such as HelloFresh, Marley Spoon, Dinnerly and Pepper Leaf can be a good option. Each week these subscription services deliver recipes and the precise quantity of the predominantly fresh ingredients you'll need to cook them.

Kathy, a HelloFresh customer, told us, "I used them because I was studying and working and didn't have much time to shop."

Marley spoon_9405
 
Portioned ingredients for two Marley Spoon recipes

A major drawcard for our survey respondents who use these types of services is the minimal food waste associated with being supplied with the exact quantities of ingredients required for each recipe. This is particularly beneficial with ingredients you're unlikely to use frequently. One respondent gave the example of "a pinch of paprika – I don't have to buy a whole bottle of spices that I won't use again". If you've ever bought a huge bag of fenugreek for a recipe only to use one teaspoon of it in four years, then you'll be able to relate.

The majority of users said they found the recipes to be simple and easy to follow, and obviously cooking with pre-measured ingredients means you can turn the meal around in less time than if you were starting from scratch. The use of locally sourced Australian ingredients, promoted by these services, was an attraction for many. And Pam, also a HelloFresh subscriber, was pleasantly surprised by the knock-on effect it had on her husband. "My male partner has started cooking!" she said.

Tips and traps

pantry staples
Check ahead that you have the required pantry staples
HELLO FRESH pork veg bolHello Fresh penne pine nuts135A0341
Leftover packaging from one Hello Fresh meal we cooked
  • When using these types of services you'll need to have to hand a range of everyday ingredients which frequently feature in the recipes. These include pantry staples such as soy sauce, white vinegar, salt and pepper, honey, oil, butter, milk, eggs, flour and sugar – so it's worth checking you have them before your first delivery so you're not caught short.
  • You can check out the following week's menu in advance, but there's little scope to make changes to what you'll receive. "There was no way to choose meals based on our likes or dislikes," said one user. This could be an issue, particularly for people with allergies. However certain allergens are identified on the recipes, and because you're cooking it yourself you'll have the opportunity to remove or substitute ingredients that aren't suitable.
  • Some people also commented that the amount of packaging – each pre-measured ingredient comes in its own bag or container – was a deterrent. For more on this issue see How sustainable are meal box delivery services?

Prepared meal delivery services – a user guide

Benefits:

  • Minimal prep
  • Can keep in freezer for future

Services such as Youfoodz, Gourmet Dinner Service, Dinner Ladies and My Goodness Organics sell predominantly fully prepared meals. Ordering is simply a matter of choosing from the range of meals displayed on their websites, and the chilled or frozen meals will arrive at your door in a coolbox on your nominated delivery date.

What users of these services told us they liked most is the minimal preparation required – in most cases, little more than heating then eating. Another benefit is being able to stockpile meals in the freezer to use later. 

Tips and traps

  • The meals from some of these services focus predominantly on the protein component, with nary a vegetable in sight. They suggest you add a salad or vegetable side dish – and usually offer these to buy – but this will obviously bump up the total cost. This is worth bearing in mind when comparing meal prices (see Cost of convenience).
  • Some of these services offer a good selection of freshly prepared, chilled meals, while others sell predominantly frozen meals. If this difference is important to you, make sure you're clear on what they're offering before you order. We've provided this detail in prepared meal delivery services compared.

They have been great, especially when I had a baby and two small children and cooking wasn't a priority. I could guarantee something relatively healthy for the family to eat.

(Belinda, Gourmet Dinner Service customer)

Prepared meal delivery services compared

The following companies offering prepared meal deliveries are among the most recognised and widely available. Prices and details are correct as of February 2019.

the_dinner_ladies_logo_220px

Fresh/frozen: Both fresh and frozen (this detail is provided for each meal).

Meal options: Weekly changing menu of main meals, soups/snacks, salads/sides, sauces and desserts.

Cost: Meals for 1–2 people range from $6 or $7 (for soups) to $23. Minimum order of $50 for deliveries. Delivery is free for orders of more than $100, or $7.50 for orders between $50 and $100.

Meal examples: Lamb roghan josh with cauliflower and spinach; Potager pie.

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details: An ingredients list is provided for each meal. Vegetarian, nut-free, dairy-free, gluten-free and pork-free meals are identified by a symbol.

Areas available: NSW (Sydney), Vic (Melbourne).

gourmet_dinner_service_logo_335px

Fresh/frozen: Main meals are frozen.

Meal options: Mains, sides, salads and desserts. Menu plans available.

Cost: Mains for 1–2 people range from $14.50 to $24. Minimum order $50, excluding delivery. Delivery costs around $12 depending on delivery area.

Meal examples: Roasted lamb shanks; Chicken, feta and black olive pie.

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details: Each meal comes with an ingredients list and full nutrition information per serve and per 100g. Vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free meals are identified by a symbol.

Areas available: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and surrounds.

my_goodness_organics_logo_220px

Fresh/frozen: Fresh.

Meal options: Menu items include breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, smoothies, juices, soups and broths. Paleo, vegan and other 5-day meal plans available.

Cost: Dinner meals for one person range from $11.99 (for soup) to $26.30. Serve sizes are about 430g. Minimum order $90 excluding delivery. Delivery is $17 for metro areas, $24 for greater metro.

Meal examples: Middle Eastern orange chicken; Zucchini fritters with wild rice tumble.

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details: Each meal comes with an ingredients list. Nutrition and allergen information is provided on the website if you click on each item.

Areas available: Vic (Melbourne).

youfoodz_logo_220px

Fresh/frozen: Fresh.

Meal options: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, snacks, drinks and customisable meal plans.

Cost: Most lunches and dinners cost $9.95. Delivery is $20 to Perth, $10 to Cairns, Darwin, Townsville, Southwest NSW and the NSW border, and free to all other locations.

Meal examples: Satay chicken with stirfry vegetables; Rosemary roast lamb with roast vegetables and mint-infused pea mash.

Ingredient/nutrition/allergen details: Each meal comes with an ingredients list and full nutrition information per serve and per 100g. It's largely up to you to check the ingredients list of each meal for any allergens before ordering. When viewing a particular meal, the broad category it falls into is stated just above the customer reviews – dairy-free, gluten-free or vegetarian, for example.

Areas available: NSW, Vic, SA (Adelaide), Qld, ACT (Canberra), WA (Perth), NT (Darwin).

I use them so I don't have to think about meal planning, plus their meals are interesting – not always the same boring staples I'd cook.

(Jessica, HelloFresh customer)

The cost of convenience

Food boxes

We compared the price of the popular Hello Fresh Classic Plan food box ($69.95 for three meals per week for two people) with the cost of buying the ingredients for those three meals (in the same or similar quantities) from Coles and Woolworths. 

We found you don't actually pay much less at a supermarket, and sometimes you pay more once you factor in delivery costs. 

But in reality when doing your weekly shop you're more likely to take advantage of special offers or buy larger packs which are better value for money – a 1kg tub of Farmers Union Greek Style natural yoghurt (50c per 100g) rather than a 200g individual tub ($1.10 per 100g), for example. And as long as you end up using the leftover ingredients before they reach their use-by or best-before dates and need to be discarded, then it's cheaper doing the shopping yourself. 

  • 87% of subscription food box users rated food quality, freshness and taste as good, very good or excellent.

Prepared meals

People who used prepared meal services were more likely to consider them good value for money than those using food box services. But how do they compare in price with the equally convenient supermarket ready-meals?

We compared the cost of two different dishes from prepared meal services with similar supermarket ready-meals and found the meal service dishes to be more expensive – and that's before you factor in delivery costs. 

A single serve of butter chicken from meal delivery services ranged in price from $9.95 to $23.99, but the Woolworths chilled version was just $6.90. The cheapest single serve lasagne offered by the meal delivery services we looked at cost $8.95 (300g) but the equivalent from Woolworths (fresh, single serve) was just $6.90 (400g). 

  • 93% of prepared meal service users in our survey rated food quality, freshness and taste as good, very good or excellent. But whether or not the quality of ingredients warrants the higher price is hard to say.

Want to know which Greek yoghurt to buy? We test 22 different products in our Greek yoghurt reviews.

Feeding kids

If you're planning on using a meal delivery service to feed a family that includes young kids you might want to proceed with caution. While overall ratings for meal services were generally positive, their meals aren't guaranteed to win over a fussy toddler. 

"Nothing targeted to toddlers," commented one respondent about Gourmet Dinner Service

"I would like to see more small kids' meal options like the pasta with sneaky veg," said another about Dinner Ladies.

What about weight loss?

Weight loss was a key motivation for users of some meal delivery services, including the popular service Light 'n Easy, Eat Fit Food, Muscle Meals Direct and Dietlicious (sister company to Gourmet Dinner Service). While we did collect responses from people who'd used these services, the focus of our survey was on the pros, cons and experiences of using meal delivery services more generally.

Motivations aside, people's experiences of these meal delivery services with an emphasis on weight loss were overall positive.

  • 98% of survey respondents who had used weight loss meal delivery services rated their delivery reliability as good, very good or excellent, and 77% of users rated food quality, freshness and taste as good, very good or excellent overall.

Does Lite n' Easy help you lose weight? See our Lite n' Easy review for the lowdown, and read our journalist's experience of a week on a Lite n' Easy diet.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Email us at factcheck@choice.com.au or read more about fact checking at CHOICE.


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