Are recipe boxes worth the money?

Are you overpaying for convenience when you order a Gousto, Hello Fresh or Simply Cook box?

I get the appeal of recipe boxes. You get to try new meals, you don’t have to buy more ingredients than you actually need, and importantly, you don’t need to go to the supermarket.

They can also help those with specific diets or those wanting to keep an eye on things like calories.

And with the various lockdowns during the pandemic they’ve partially compensated for being unable to eat out – even in some cases coming from the kitchens of top restaurants.

The problem is, they aren’t cheap. The normal price can easily be between £5 and £8 a portion.

Possibly cheaper than a takeaway, definitely cheaper than eating out. But surely buying the ingredients yourself works out far cheaper?

I’ve taken a look to see just how much of a premium you’re paying for the convenience.

recipe boxes worth the money

How recipe boxes work

The recipe box format has exploded over the last year. They’re now available from specialist companies, supermarkets and restaurants.

Subscription recipe boxes

The most popular at home kits are from dedicated companies. You can either order boxes with all your ingredients, like with Gousto and Hello Fresh. Or you can just get the dry ingredients with Simply Cook, and buy the fresh food needed separately.

Most are subscription-based, but some let you order one-off boxes. You can often choose between just one meal a week or month through to something every single day. The cost gets cheaper per meal the more you order. You can usually also tailor the boxes for how many people you need to feed.

Via their websites you get to choose the meals you’d like for the week – from a preset selection that changes each week. Your ingredients and recipes are then delivered to your door ready for you to cook.

Supermarket recipe boxes

These DIY meals are not really that different to the subscription boxes – you simply pick up your kits at the supermarket rather than have it sent to you.

There are two types of recipe boxes. The main ones are off the shelf kits where you add the fresh ingredients. These range from the old school fajita ones through to make your own Bao buns.

The second type, though less common, are all the ingredients for complete meals, such as the Scratch kits on sale at stores including Iceland and Waitrose.

One downside though is that the range is a lot smaller, so you’ll be repeating yourself more often than you would with a subscription.

Restaurant recipe boxes

The newest addition has developed as a consequence of lockdowns. Many restaurants, big and small, have adapted their menus to allow you to order online.

Some of the kits are simply just reheating and assembling, others require you to do more of the cooking.

These are a lot more expensive than the other options, so really they’re a treat closer to takeaways or very occasional order while restaurants are closed. In fact when they can reopen I’m sure many of these will end.

I’ve tried two – a build your own bacon naan roll from Dishoom and for Becky’s birthday a three course meal from Smokestack. Both were really good quality.

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How much do recipe boxes cost?

The first price you’ll probably look at is cost per box, which is outlined in the table below. Of course, if you order more than one box a month you’ll increase your spend.

A few might offer cheaper boxes if you go full or partially veggie.

Recipe boxMost expensive box Cheapest box
Dishoom Naan Roll£23 (one meal for two people – weekend)£21 (one meal for two people – midweek)
Hello Fresh£68 (five meals a box for four people)£30 (three meals a box for two people)
Gousto£47.68 (four meals a box for four people)£25 (two meals a box for two people)
Mindful Chef£75 (three meals a box for four people)£34 (two meals a box for two people)
Morrisons Eat Fresh (Subscription)£40 (four meals a box for four people)£21 (three meals a box for two people)
Pasta Evangelists£11.90 (one meal for two people)£10 (one meal for one person)
Scratch (in store at Waitrose)£6 (one meal for two people)£6 (one meal for two people)
Simply Cook (online)£24 (£9.99 kit for four meals for two people plus fresh ingredients)£48 (£9.99 kit for four meals for two people plus fresh ingredients)

But I think a better way to compare how much these boxes cost is to look at price per portion. As you’d imagine, the more meals you buy, the cheaper things get per portion.

Here are the most and least expensive options for a selection of recipe kits. These don’t take into account introductory special offers which can of course make things cheaper. I’ve listed the best of these further down the article.

Recipe boxCheapest meal per servingMost expensive meal per serving
Dishoom Naan Roll£10.50 (one meal for two people midweek)£11.50 (one meal for two people weekend)
Hello Fresh£3.40 (five meals a box for four people)£5 (three meals a box for two people)
Gousto£2.98 (four meals a box for four people)£6.25 (two meals a box for two people)
Mindful Chef£6.25 (three meals a box for four people)£8.50 (two meals a box for two people)
Morrisons Eat Fresh (Subscription)£2.50 (four meals a box for four people)£3.50 (three meals a box for two people)
Pasta Evangelists£5.95 (one meal for two people)£10 (one meal for one person)
Scratch (in store at Waitrose)£3 (one meal for two people)£3 (one meal for two people)
Simply Cook (online)£3 (£9.99 kit for four meals for two people plus fresh ingredients)£6 (£9.99 kit for four meals for two people plus fresh ingredients)

How much do recipe boxes cost compare to the supermarket?

However, just because you’ll save money per meal by having them more often, you could well be spending a lot more overall when compared to your usual supermarket shopping.

Back in 2018 as part of the Channel 5 series Shop Smart Save Money, I visited Frankie and Scott in Peterborough to help them cut their expenses. One thing I spotted was they received a regular Gousto box.

They were spending £47.75 a month, so £573 a year, to get four servings of four meals. This is actually the cheapest box per portion, working out at £2.98 a meal per person. Which doesn’t actually sound that bad. The prices are the same in 2021.

So we had a look at the ingredients of their latest box and compared it to buying all those at a Tesco. I’ve updated the figures to check if things have changed.

We compared the prices in two ways. First, gram for gram, so what you’d be paying per portion. And then the actual spend in the supermarket to get all the ingredients.

Obviously with both this is assuming you’re paying full price for your supermarket supplies and Gousto box.

Comparing prices for a two-person, two-meal box

MealGousto cost per portionTesco cost per portion (gram for gram)Tesco cost per portion (actual spend)
Chicken and Hummus Bowl  with Sweet Potato Wedges£6.25 (2 people having 2 meals)£3.41£6.27
Chinese style Beef and Green Pepper Stir Fry£6.25 (2 people having two meals)£3.58£7.69

Comparing prices for a four-person, four-meal box

MealGousto cost per portionTesco cost per portion (gram for gram)Tesco cost per portion (actual spend)
Chicken and Hummus Bowl  with Sweet Potato Wedges£2.98 (4 people having 4 meals)£3.41£3.80
Chinese style Beef and Green Pepper Stir Fry£2.98 (4 people having 4 meals)£3.58£5.13

Gram for gram cost compared

This comparison is if you bought all ingredients but just costing out what you use.

The supermarket was significantly cheaper per portion than people getting just two meals in each Gousto box. Averaging the two recipes I looked at, it’s 44% less, saving £5.51 a box. Do that weekly, and it’s £286.52 more a year.

Of course, the more meals you order, the lower the Gousto price goes. But you’re still saving money with supermarket prices on the other combinations.

In fact, there’s only one box available from Gousto that works out cheaper, the huge four meals for four people box. This works out at £1.03 less a week, or £53.56 a year.

Actual spend compared

Of course, in real life you’ll need to buy all the ingredients in the size the supermarket sells them. So you have to get more than you need for many of the recipes.

The actual cost to buy everything for a two-person, two meal shop for these meals at Tesco would be £29.32. That’s versus £25 from Gousto.

With a four-person, four meal shop, that increases to £71.46. That’s a lot less per person as you’re really only buying the fresh meat and veg extra – the herbs and spices costs remain the same.

The same number of meals would cost £47.75 from Gousto if you ordered the four people, four meal box- a huge amount less.

Yet for two people ordering two boxes of four recipes (to get the equivalent number of meals), you’d pay £69.98 – only a couple of quid less.

So the boxes are better value on actual spend? Well you need to remember that extra spend at the supermarket will also mean there are leftovers on dry ingredients. Rice, paprika, soy sauce – all things you’ll likely use again, and therefore not need to buy again. So the more you cook these recipes, the lower the cost would be from the supermarket.

Are recipe boxes good or bad?

Andy’s analysis

I was surprised that the boxes could actually be cheaper than home-cooked! But to achieve this you need to order a lot of meals.

They’re still more expensive than the supermarket alternatives for anyone other than a family of four ordering four different meal a box.

And that’s also only when you are comparing like for like. How many of us actually do this kind of dinner that often? Sometimes, you’re more than happy with a simple pasta or sausage and mash, which will all have a cheaper per portion cost.

So in all likelihood, most people will spend less per week cooking at home than using the boxes.

Personally I would avoid them if you live in a small household as you will be paying well over the odds.

Ok you don’t get the recipes selected for you, but there are literally thousands of new ideas to be discovered online at the likes of BBC Food and Good Housekeeping. That’s essentially doing the same thing!

And the extra spices etc are no bad thing – especially when you think about the plastic packing these are split into on most recipe kits.

Recipe box special offers

If you do order the boxes, it’s worth taking advantage of the special introductory offers – this will also let you try all the different brands. You can often get between 25% and 50% off your first order.

From my research, the best deals tend to be where you get those promo codes and additional cashback from the likes of Quidco and TopCashback. For example a £47.75 Gousto box could only cost you £8.65. Plus, if you’ve never used either of these sites before you can claim a welcome bonus on top, worth up to £17.

I’m always on the look out though for other savings, and I’ll list the best offers on my food & drinks deals page.

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Recipe box vs supermarket cost breakdown

If you’re interested, here’s how much the two Gousto recipes I compared would cost gram for gram at Tesco.

First is the total spend at the supermarket, then price for what you’ll actually use in the meal, then price per portion. Obviously with many of the items you’ll have herbs, spices and oils left over to use on future recipes.

Chicken and Hummus Bowl  with Sweet Potato Wedges

Supermarket SpendPrice per mealPrice per portion
4 garlic cloves£0.25£0.13£0.06
2 lemon£0.60£0.60£0.30
4 tbsp tahini x (18g/tbsp. =72g.)£2.60£0.62£0.31
2 tsp dried chilli flakes x 2.8g£0.85£0.09£0.04
2 tsp smoked paprika = 4.8g£0.90£0.09£0.05
2 spring onion£0.37£0.09£0.05
2 tbsp tomato paste= 30g£0.27£0.04£0.02
600g sweet potatoes£1.10£0.66£0.33
2 red onion (200g each)£0.21£0.42£0.21
2 large British chicken breast fillet£3.50 (for four)£1.75£0.88
2 can of chickpeas£1.10£1.10£0.55
4 tbsp ras el hanout x 30g*£1.65£1.30£0.65
TOTAL COST£13.40£6.89£3.41
* Morrisons price

Chinese style Beef and Green Pepper Stir Fry

Supermarket SpendPrice per mealPrice per portion
2 brown onions£0.20£0.20£0.10
6 garlic cloves£0.25£0.13£0.07
2 green pepper£0.90£0.90£0.45
4 tbsp hoisin sauce x 70g£1.89£0.63£0.32
500g British beef mince£3.50£3.50£1.75
4 tbsp (24ml) Shaoxing wine£3.00£0.48£0.24
8 soy sauce sachets (32ml)£0.65£0.14£0.07
2 red chilli£0.60£0.40£0.20
10g toasted sesame seeds*£1.00£0.10£0.05
30g fresh root ginger£0.53£0.16£0.08
260g basmati rice£1.60£0.42£0.21
2 toasted sesame oil sachet (15ml)£1.80£0.11£0.05
BASKET COST£15.92£7.16£3.58
* Ocado Price

8 thoughts on “Are recipe boxes worth the money?

  1. We are using gousto for 3 adults,i think short term ok,get the recipes,use them later,after 3 months,done,no more,back to lidl,we have little bits of gousto recipes in the freezer,which need using,one plus for gousto though,less waste,plus my picky daughter eats the food,i was immediately suspicious of the boxes though cost wise because my lass never researches anything,plus you eventually realise that you can do haloumi burgers for pence,and save.

  2. Just pure laziness, why not just buy a cook book like Nigella Lawsons, choose a meal, order the ingredients for delivery and then cook….Voila! Saved yourself a lot of money. Not only will you no doubt have surplus items leftover to create other meals, you’ll also be kind to your finances, I just don’t get it at all. I’m extremely busy but always find time to cook meals from scratch and also freeze what I have left over.

    1. I usually don’t buy recipe boxes cause I share the same opinion. That being said they are very convenient when you need them to be.
      I just spent the last 10 days in quarantine because one of my fellow housemates tested positive for covid.
      None of us were allowed to go outside for shopping, so I ordered a HelloFresh box.
      And it was tasty… picked up some new recipes I otherwise would have never made.
      But I agree that it wouldn’t be a long-term thing. Too Expensive and it causes people to get even more disconnected from the world they live in.

  3. I have had doubts about recipe boxes succeeding. But if it scales and costs are cheaper than buying our own items and cooking then who knows.

  4. We do Blue Apron, that may be a US only one but its about the same as Hello Fresh over here. It costs $60 USD and that’s for three meals with two servings per meal. However we almost always get four servings per meal so it works out to be only $5 USD per individual meal. That’s more than we’d spend to buy ingredients but we only do it one week a month and those three meals we cook together are very affordable date nights for us. The time together is priceless and it lets me help because it is simple and illustrated whereas she’s an amazing cook and its hard to help her with meals since she makes up her own recipes and cooks on the fly. Plus we’ve already won the financial independence game with surplus millions so the money is inconsequential. It isn’t economical as a food source but it is very economical as a form of entertainment versus dining out.

  5. People can naturally spend their money how they like, but my personal opinion is it’s lazy, stupidly expensive and damaging to our environment and local business. It has been driven home in the past few months with C-19 just how much our local shops and producers matter in times of crisis. I would urge people to go out and support those local producers and traders instead of ordering food packaged in a cardboard box and delivered by DPD. My two-penneth, not mentioning the hard times ahead with many people loosing their jobs. Now we need to save the pennies!

  6. We’ve been doing HelloFresh on a weekly basis for about 6 month’s ( 5 meals for 2 people at £42 per week, so can be up to £245 a month plus buying lunches, and the 2 remaining day’s). The convenience is awesome, but starting to feel the cost, especially when trying to save for things! Hellofresh do a cookbook, so I’m doing an experiment to see how much cheaper I can get monthly food bill by using 4 or 5 of their meals but bulk buying the meat, stocking up in the herbs and buying fresh veg as needed. Do you think that will be a good middle ground and cheaper in long run but still the familiarity of their meals?

    1. Yes, absolutely. There’s no reason why people can’t DIY. It’s just the herbs/spices and more unusual ingredients which could be a barrier – but you should be able to get around those. Good luck!

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