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Are you or a loved one feeling exhausted after all the holiday cooking? We hear you. Enter the: a simple, practical ready-to-go dinner project to bestow upon a food lover for the new year or lighten the burden for a burnt-out home chef. Meal kits aren’t just great for exhausted chefs, either: They’ve proven to be a fantastic way for newbies to hone their kitchen skills or even help those starting from scratch to learn cooking basics. With perfectly portioned ingredients all bundled together and easy-to-follow recipes with helpful tips that you might not find in advanced recipes, most meal kits are like interactive Cliffs Notes for chefs. Plus, they eliminate trips to the store, which is a gift unto itself right now.
As someone who has tested just about every meal kit service under the sun, I can tell you that not all of them are right for every type of home cook, and thus certain meal kits are perfect for certain people while others miss the mark. Blue Apron is the original meal kit and still my pick for the best meal kit for an experienced chef, but the category has ballooned in recent years. That just means there are meal kits designed specifically for beginner chefs, more adventurous eaters, vegan and vegetarian chefs and more. Meal kits also run the gamut, price-wise, to fit most budgets. There are even some meal kits that cater to ultra picky eaters or folks with specific dietary needs.
If you’re looking to start the new year off right or to give a loved one a post-holidays pick-me-up, these are five of the best meal kits out there.
Blue Apron has been doing the meal kit thing longer than anyone, which might explain why its meal kits are of a particular quality and refinement. Blue Apron recipes span from very easy to slightly more complicated meal kits such as Togarashi steamed duck buns. In my experience, Blue Apron has some of the most interesting recipes along with the highest quality ingredients which they take care sourcing from respected producers. All this amounts to a slightly higher price per serving than some other meal kit options, but a more experienced chef will appreciate the variety in recipes and attention to detail.
You can buy Blue Apron gift cards online in any amount. A gift of $60 covers one week of two-serving meals.
Purple Carrot has carved out a niche in the space as the best meal kits for vegans and vegetarians. With satisfying plant-based recipes like vegan sausage jambalaya and crispy quinoa cakes, Purple Carrot is a great meal kit to gift a vegetarian chef, but also a meat-eater looking to add more plant-based meals to their current rotation. For $72, you can gift three Purple Carrot meal kits, each with two servings per meal.
Perhaps you suspect someone on your list would like to learn to cook but you’re not quite sure. HelloFresh is the most affordable meal kit, with tons of easy recipes that don’t require loads of cooking skills or experience, making it the best meal kit to gift a beginner chef. HelloFresh recipes may be easy to execute, but that doesn’t mean they’re boring, with recipes for things like country beef and mushroom pot pie and coconut chicken curry. HelloFresh also has the most weekly menu options of any meal kit company — sometimes as many as 25 — so your giftee is bound to find something they like.
HelloFresh gift cards start at $65, which covers a week of meals (three) for two people and then goes up from there.
Read more: Our full review of HelloFresh meal kits
Whereas some meal kit companies stick to the familiar when it comes to recipes, Gobble isn’t afraid to incorporate bold flavors. On any given Gobble weekly menu you’ll find lots of curries, latin-spiced dishes and a healthy selection of plant-based entrees too. The recipes also vary greatly in skill level, so the person who receives it can stick to super simple 15-minute recipes or try their hand at more complex culinary endeavors like chicken katsu with pineapple fried rice.
Gobble gift cards come in any denomination and subscriptions can be paused or canceled at any time.
If someone on your list schedules with getting food on the table due to an overactive schedule or work life but strives to eat well, Daily Harvest would make the perfect gift. With mostly ready-to-eat vegan smoothies, harvest bowls, breakfast bowls, soups and flatbreads that require little more than to be heated or blended, Daily Harvest is as simple as it gets. Easy doesn’t mean bland, either. Daily Harvest integrates lots of spice and some very trendy superfoods and other ingredients into its ever-changing lineup such as in the pineapple, kale and matcha smoothies or the red lentil, cumin and coconut harvest bowl.
Daily Harvest is priced per item, with snacks and breakfast bowls starting at $6, soups and smoothies for $8 and harvest bowls and flatbreads for $9. You can order and send a box of nine meals you’ve selected ($75) or simply send a gift card from $50 up to $200 and let them choose.
Read more: Our full review of Daily Harvest