What It Is: A service that lets you order as you go or receive once- or twice-a-week deliveries through a discounted subscription that automatically renews every month or year. Each box contains ingredients for at least four plates of food. Choose from seven recipes, with options for vegetarians and pescatarians.
Cost: $15 / $12 a plate nonsubscribers / monthly subscribers (plus a $10 monthly fee).
Delivery days: Varies by Zip code.
Sample recipes: Cauliflower-spinach empanadas; shrimp scampi with pecorino-roasted broccoli.
Cooking time: About 45 minutes.
Level of cooking difficulty: Easy. A lot of chopping but no complicated techniques.
Quality of ingredients: Decent, with the exception of a bag of rancid shrimp that reeked of sulfur.
Calorie counts: Our recipes ranged from 540 to 920 calories a serving.
Best recipe we tested: Skirt steak with carrot hash and chimichurri.
Verdict: We appreciated the ease of recipes, order-as-you-go model, and Latin and Asian accents, but sloppy packing—a lime was missing from one recipe, honey from another—marred the experience (along with that nasty-smelling shrimp). Also, portions were either too big—five empanadas for one person?—or skimpy.
Best for: Beginner cooks, although that shrimp made us wary of recommending it at all.
What It Is: Subscribe for once-a-week deliveries—you can pause or cancel up to a week in advance. Each kit contains ingredients for three meals. Vegetarians and meat eaters can each select among five recipes.
Cost: $69 / $59 a week for two portions of each meal / two vegetarian portions of each meal.
Delivery days: Wednesday
Sample recipes: Balsamic beef with broccoli and polenta; chicken paillard with rosemary potatoes and gremolata.
Cooking time: 45-60 minutes.
Level of cooking difficulty: Intermediate. One dinner required julienning vegetables and cooking fish en papillote, and there tends to be a lot to pay attention to for each recipe.
Quality of ingredients: Good, with ripe produce and fresh fish.
Calorie counts: Our recipes ranged from 450 to 600 calories a serving.
Best recipe we tested: Balsamic beef with polenta.
Verdict: The low calorie counts were a plus, but the recipes we tried were unexciting (we thought of Lean Cuisine one too many times) and not terribly attractive on the plate.
Best for: Waist watchers.
What It Is: Another weekly subscription service that lets you skip weeks or cancel, as long as you remember to do it six days before your next scheduled delivery. Each box contains the makings of three preselected meals for either meat eaters or vegetarians. You can specify that you don’t want shellfish, pork, or other ingredients.
Cost: $59.94 a week for two portions of each meal.
Delivery days: Varies by Zip code.
Sample recipes: Chicken pot stickers with hoisin dipping sauce and tatsoi; tilapia with kumquat glaze, Brussels sprouts, and freekeh.
Cooking time: About 60 minutes.
Level of cooking difficulty: Intermediate. Recipes included making dumplings and reducing sauces.
Quality of ingredients: Very good, with fresh veggies and fish, plus meats from Pat LaFrieda, a favorite supplier for many high-end New York restaurants.
Calorie counts: Our recipes ranged from 645 to 680 calories a serving.
Best recipe we tested: Pork chops with caramelized onions and blue-cheese grits.
Verdict: This is the service we’d go back to, thanks to top-notch ingredients and eclectic, restaurant-quality recipes we’d actually make again. Still, you have to be willing to devote some time and effort to making dinner.
Best for: Food lovers looking for new ideas to add to their repertoire.
This article appears in the May 2014 issue of Washingtonian.