I tried HelloFresh 20-minute meals—here’s how it went
We put these quick meals to the test.
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A public health alert has been issued due to concerns that ground beef products in HelloFresh meal kits shipped to consumers from July 2-21, 2022 may have been contaminated with E. coli. There is no recall because the products are no longer available for purchase, but customers who froze the beef should dispose of it. See more details here.
After a long day of work, sometimes the last thing I want to do is trudge over to my local Trader Joe’s to pick up a few ingredients (or everything needed for dinner), and sometimes I don’t even have the creative energy to imagine my evening meal. So when I heard about the new HelloFresh 20-minute meals, I was thrilled to get my hands on them—quick dinner and no extra work for my brain! A true win-win.
We’d previously tested the best meal delivery services, and since HelloFresh ranked high on our list I had a feeling I was in for a treat. However, the real test here would be timing: Could these recipes beat the clock?
How does HelloFresh work?
Like other offerings from HelloFresh, 20-minute meals are available on the rotating weekly menu. I was disappointed that I was only able to select 20-minute meals for two of the five meals I ordered that week, but three of the five were still “Quick and Easy,” listed as 30-35 minute cook times.
If you’re new to meal kit delivery services, there are lots of options out there and each one works a bit differently. But when it comes to HelloFresh, you pick a plan—between two to six meals per week, serving two or four people, with the option to specify some dietary preferences—get your delivery, then get to cooking.
HelloFresh allows customers to easily skip weeks, which is a great feature assuming you can remember to skip or unskip a week ahead of time. (If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably want to set a reminder on your phone so as not to forget!)
How much does HelloFresh cost?
For testing, I selected a two-person, five-meal plan with their “Quick and Easy” recipes preferred. The base price was $89.99 total plus $9.99 shipping—not including any add-ons or premium recipes (which can run up your final bill).
Other plans—like Fit & Wholesome or Family Friendly—range from $7.99 to $11.99 per serving (depending on servings and frequency), and HelloFresh even goes so far as to claim you’ll save 68% on your food budget when you shop with them instead of going to the grocery store. While we haven’t conducted testing to confirm this statistic, we can say with certainty that they’re pretty affordable compared to similar meal kit food delivery services.
What it’s like to cook HelloFresh’s 20-minute meals
I went into this testing very skeptical. Never in my adult life have I managed to cook a dinner in under 20 minutes unless it was a box of Annie’s Mac and Cheese or a frozen pizza. Would HelloFresh be able to do what I, the daughter of a professional chef and caterer, was unable to achieve on my own? Could they really optimize my dinner?
I pulled up the clock app on my iPhone and readied the stopwatch function. Next, I laid out the ingredients for the first meal I’d be testing and gave the instructions a solid read-through, as should be done with every recipe before you start cooking. I immediately noticed a red flag: The additional five minutes allotted for prep would automatically put me at a solid 25 minutes for this recipe from start to finish. Feeling a bit wary, I forged ahead.
Pork and Cabbage Stir-Fry
Full disclosure: I’ve been a vegetarian for eight years, and was pretty bummed when none of the 20-minute meals for the week I ordered were veg-friendly. That said, my husband and our roommate are devout carnivores and they were very excited to be the official taste testers for this particular test.
First up was HelloFresh’s Pork and Cabbage Stir-Fry. As a non-meat eater, I’d say I’m least intimidated by ground meats as they always seem to cook up no problem. (Steaks and particularly thick chicken breasts have proven to be more trouble for me.)
I hit start on my stopwatch as soon as I read the instructions because, well, I consider this part of overall cook time. That took me about a minute, then it took about another two minutes to locate the appropriate cooking vessels. I started cooking around three minutes by washing the produce (a step actually included in their directions) and setting the rice-water-salt mixture to boil.
Everything for this recipe came together fairly easily and I was impressed with the readability of the instructions. Seemingly, HelloFresh was optimizing my dinner! I ran into a snag with the packet of vinegar as the recipe only called for half for two servings and it was awkward to stand up a plastic packet filled with liquid without it tipping over. Nevertheless, I persevered and no vinegar was spilt.
This recipe clocked in at 26 minutes from start to finish, including the few minutes of recipe reading and vessel sourcing I accounted for in the beginning. The only critique from my esteemed taste testers (read: they are total amateurs) was that the recipe would’ve benefited from an extra oomph, perhaps some added spice. Overall they found the flavors to mix together well, loved the crispy fried onion garnish, and said they’d be super happy if they were served this dish at a restaurant.
Mexican Chicken and Rice Bowls
Night number two of my testing featured HelloFresh’s Mexican Chicken and Rice Bowls. Again, I wouldn’t be able to taste this one, so I’d have to rely on taste testers.
When it came to making the rice, I was skeptical of the ¾ cup water the recipe called for. And sure enough, that wasn’t nearly enough water and I had to add another ½ cup about halfway through cooking. I also accidentally added the entire packet of turmeric, meant for four servings instead of the two I was cooking… love a little user error!
The directions were easy to follow as they’d been with the previous meal and my only qualm with the ingredients was a particularly dry lime. My taste testers were once again pleased with this dish. They finished their plates quickly, complaining only that the portion could’ve been bigger. This dish took me approximately 25 minutes from start to finish.
Are HelloFresh 20-minute meals worth it?
Both recipes required over 20 minutes to cook, even for a proficient home cook like myself. In this case, I feel it would be more accurate to file these recipes under “Quick and Easy” along with the 30-minute and 35-minute recipes and call it a day. Because, in reality, both recipes I tested were closer to 30 minutes.
As usual, HelloFresh delivered quality ingredients and user-friendly instructions, so I can’t really fault them for attempting to go a step further in recipe optimization. I would happily select the 20-minute meals as part of my weekly HelloFresh box, assuming they add some vegetarian options to the forthcoming menus.
Master the kitchen.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.