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Kitchen & Cooking

Freshly’s family-size servings make for easy dinners

All you need is a microwave.

Freshly Protein & Sides packages of, from left, steak, mac and cheese, and turkey meatballs Credit: Freshly

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Meal kits have long been popular for the convenience they bring to the dinner table—no grocery shopping, no recipe research, and no complicated techniques. Pre-made meal kits take that ease to the next level, nixing the cooking entirely. Just pop a chef-prepared meal into the microwave and dinner’s on the table in under 10 minutes.

However, they’ve never been especially conducive to feeding more than one or two people at a time. And typically the entree and sides come as a package deal, so if you love steak but turn your nose up at green beans, you’re out of luck.

That is, until the debut of a large format proteins and sides offerings from Freshly, the best pre-made meal kit we’ve tested. We tried it out during a busy week to see how it compared to our usual dinner routine.

About Freshly Proteins & Sides

A pot filled with cauliflower rice
Credit: Freshly

Freshly's cauliflower rice is a great side on its own, or base for a grain bowl.

Freshly is a meal subscription service that delivers chef-prepared meals that are never frozen. Reheating in the microwave or stovetop is as easy as making a TV dinner from the supermarket, but the flavors, ingredients, and overall texture of the food is of a higher quality than anything you’d find in the frozen food aisle.

Proteins & Sides is Freshly’s first expansion beyond single-serve meals as it aims to provide even more flexibility to already-quick dinners. Portions include two to six servings, and still only require a microwave (or oven or stovetop, if you choose) to reheat.

How we tested Freshly Proteins & Sides

Left: a close-up of steak; right: a close up of a spoon stirring macaroni and cheese
Credit: Freshly

We paired offerings like steak and macaroni and cheese together to make full meals out of the proteins and sides.

We ordered six out of the eight available meals: Carb Swap Cauliflower Rice, with tomato, basil, and oregano (16 oz.); Masterful Mac & Cheese, with butternut squash and two cheeses (13 oz.); Masterful Mash, with cauliflower, potato, and chives (16 oz.); Baked Turkey Meatballs (8 meatballs, 9.98 oz.); Herb-Grilled Chicken Breast (3 breasts, 9.75 oz); and Grilled Flat Iron Steak (3 steaks, 9.75 oz).

Freshly also offers Baked Beef Meatballs (eight meatballs, 9.2 oz), and Grilled Chicken Strips (12 oz.).

We paired the proteins and sides for three hearty weeknight meals for two that ended up leaving some leftovers for lunch the next day. It was a particularly busy week at work, so it was a true test to see how quick and easy the meals could really be.

What we like

Cooked steak on a wooden cutting board
Credit: Freshly

Freshly's pre-made steak consistently wows us.

Portion sizes are generous

It’s one thing to promise multi-serve portion sizes, but it’s another to actually deliver. There was enough food for two adults to have three nights of substantial dinners, plus two lighter lunches with leftovers. Families with kids would be able to stretch a couple dishes into an entire meal, and the little ones will gobble up dishes like the mac and cheese.

Flavors are top-notch

When I first tried Freshly back in 2020, it was pre-pandemic and at a time when I rarely cooked for myself at home. Fast-forward to the end of 2021 and I’ve been cooking at least four or five nights a week and impressing myself with the dinners I whip up. With my improved skill set, I wasn’t sure the taste of a pre-made Freshly meal would wow me as much as it had originally.

I’m happy to report that I was wrong. The steak that sold me on Freshly in the first place tasted as good as I remembered. I could’ve eaten the entire tray of creamy mac and cheese, and the turkey meatballs were juicy and delicious. My only complaint was a slightly dry chicken breast, but nothing that a little barbecue sauce couldn’t fix.

It really is as simple as it sounds

I cannot stress enough how easy Freshly makes it to have dinner on the table in under 10 minutes. Microwaving each dish is simple, and instructions are clear for reheating on the stovetop or in the oven. I opted to make the turkey meatballs and cauliflower rice on the stovetop—it was just as easy as the microwave and only dirtied one pot and one spoon.

There’s room to make each dish your own

Because you order each protein and side individually, you can mix and match to create the best meal for your specific tastes. I combined the steak with mac and cheese, the turkey meatballs with cauliflower rice, and the chicken breasts with mashed potatoes.

Each package even comes with customization suggestions. I followed them for the turkey meatball and cauliflower rice combo, adding marinara sauce, green peas, and parmesan cheese as I heated it up on the stovetop to create a sort of risotto. The best part was that I had all of these ingredients already in my pantry, so it was a simple way to add veggies and additional flavors.

What we don’t like

Freshly mac and cheese in packaging
Credit: Freshly

Resealable packaging would be helpful for some of the more decadent sides, like macaroni and cheese.

Packaging isn’t resealable

The packaging instructs you to heat only what you want to eat, keeping the desired portion in the microwave-safe tray. However, the trays are covered only with a sheet of plastic that is ripped off and not able to reseal, so you’ll have to have food storage containers on hand for anything you don’t eat.

It’s a minor inconvenience, but one that feels like an oversight considering the aim of these meals is multiple portions. If you’re eating it all in one night, it won’t be a problem, but if you want to save any for lunch the next day or two nights’ worth of dinner, you’re on your own.

You need to add your own veggies

Proteins & Sides take care of exactly what it sounds like, as long as those sides don’t involve vegetables. Sure, cauliflower and butternut squash serve as the base for some of the dishes, but these aren’t the meals to choose if you want a green veggie on your plate.

I ended up adding some broccoli to my plate of chicken and mashed potatoes, and I snuck peas into the turkey meatball and cauliflower rice dish. While I had frozen broccoli and canned peas on hand already, this may require a trip to the store.

How to order Freshly Proteins & Sides—and how much it costs

You must have a Freshly subscription subscription to access the Proteins & Sides offerings.

Proteins & Sides can be added to any existing Freshly meal plan (starting at $8.99 per meal) for an additional cost that ranges from 99 cents to $10.99. Or, you can count these dishes as the meals themselves, eliminating the need to add on with an upcharge.

For six Proteins & Sides, our total came to $81.37, including a $5.99 shipping cost. We got six dinners and two lunches out of it, making the average cost about $10 per meal.

Should you order Freshly Proteins & Sides?

Freshly proteins and sides in packaging
Credit: Freshly

Freshly's multi-serve options are an easy way to have dinner on the table fast.

Yes. The simplicity alone could be enough to make this worth your while, but coupled with ingredients and flavors that taste fresh and high-quality, it’s a no-brainer.

I’m already a fan of traditional meal kits—I cook with Home Chef four nights a week—so it was surprising and refreshing to achieve the same high quality food in less time with Freshly. While I personally prefer to cook food from scratch most of the time, this is an excellent option for busy weeks when I might otherwise opt for takeout.

If you’re interested in learning more about what’s on the market in this space, check out the best pre-made meal kits we’ve tested.

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