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

I get the idea behind 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. The problem is, they aren’t cheap. Even if you’ve taken out a special offer to try a box, the normal price will likely be between £6 and £8 a portion. Possibly cheaper than a takeaway, definitely cheaper than eating out. But surely buying the ingredients yourself works out far cheaper?

How recipe boxes work

There are a few options. You can subscribe to boxes with all your ingredients, like with Gousto and Hello Fresh, or you can order a box as and when you want one, as with Able & Cole. Or you can just get the dry ingredients with Simply Cook, and buy the fresh food needed separately. These then get delivered to your door ready for you to cook.

Here are some of the main ones, and the most and least expensive options

  • GoustoMost expensive: £6.25 a serving / £24.99 for two meals for two people
    • Cheapest: £2.98 a serving) / £47.75 for four meals for four people
  • Hello FreshMost expensive: £5.83 a serving / £34.99 for three meals for two people
    • Cheapest: £4 a serving / £64 for four meals for four people
  • Abel & ColeMost expensive: £7 a serving / £42 for three meals for two people
    • Cheapest: £7 a serving / £14 for one meal for two people
  • Simply CookA little different – £9.99 a box just for the spices for four meals for two people. You need to buy the fresh ingredients yourself

How much do recipe boxes cost compare to the supermarket?

As part of the Channel 5 series Shop Smart Save Money, I visit families across the country to see if I can find one thousand pounds of savings in just a few hours. When I visited Frankie and Scott in Peterborough I spotted 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.

So we had a look at the ingredients of their latest box and compared it to buying all those at a Tesco (I didn’t have time to crunch the numbers myself so credit for this research really goes to the show’s researcher Ruth). Here’s how it worked out.

Gram for gram cost compared

This comparison is if you bought all ingredients but just costing out what you use. So where Gousto’s Tandoori Paneer recipe requires just 40g of mango chutney, we’ve used the cost per gram to calculate that would be 17p from Tesco. The total cost of the ingredients for those recipes via this method was £19.27. That’s 60% less and a massive saving of £28.48 a box. If you want to see the breakdown of the recipies and ingredients, you can find it at the bottom of this article.

Real cost compared

Of course, in real life you’ll need to buy all the ingredients in the size the supermarket sells them. That mango chutney, for example, comes in a 230g jar and costs £1. The total cost this way was £40.84. Still a decent saving of 14.5%. Plus this is buying everything at full price. There are always aways to cut the cost of your supermarket spend. And remember, you’d also still have a huge amount of spices, herbs and condiments you can use again. Yes you’d need to buy the fresh ingredients, but the savings increase each time you use your turmeric or sesame seeds.

So recipe boxes are a waste of money?

Let’s look at that gram by gram comparison again. The £28.48 saving per family box might not seem too much. But if you buy one box a month like Frankie and Scott, that’s £341.76 over a year. More than £340 just to get it sent to your home.

And remember, that’s only for the best value big box with four meals for four people.  If you get less meals or less people with each box the mark up is going to be even higher. So if you’re just buying these as a couple or on your own then it’s even more of a reason to go down the DIY route.

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.

However, like I said at the top, I get why they are popular. So if you do order the boxes, perhaps you can just cut down how often you get them? Or take advantage of the special offers to try all the different brands. You can often get between 25% and 50% off your first order.

Recipe breakdown

If you’re interested, here’s how much the three Gousto recipes we compared would cost gram for gram at Tesco. You’ll quickly see that some recipies are cheaper than others, but we’ve taken the box value of £19.27 to calculate the savings.

Chicken and Hummus Bowl  with Sweet Potato Wedges

  • 4 garlic cloves 15p (half a head)
  • 2 lemon x 70p
  • 4 tbsp tahini† x (18g/tbsp. =72g.) 58p
  • 2 tsp dried chilli flakes x 2.8g = 9p
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika = 4.8g = 9p
  • 2 spring onion x (half bunch) 28p
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste† c= 30g = 8p
  • 600g sweet potatoes x 70p
  • 2 red onion (200g each) x 42p
  • 2 large British chicken breast fillet x £2.50
  • 2 can of chickpeas x £1.10
  • 4 tbsp ras el hanout x 30g £0.54

Total £7.23

Chinese style Beef and Green Pepper Stir Fry

  • 2 brown onion (200g each) x = 32p
  • 6 garlic cloves x 15p (half a head)
  • 2 green pepper x ¼ pack = 29p
  • 4 tbsp hoisin sauce† x 70g = 30p
  • 500g British beef mince x £2.50
  • 4 tbsp Shaoxing wine† x 26p
  • 8 soy sauce sachets (32ml)† x 12p
  • 2 red chilli x half pack = 30p
  • 10g toasted sesame seeds† x 18p
  • 30g fresh root ginger x 11p
  • 260g basmati rice x 52p
  • 2 toasted sesame oil sachet (15ml)† x 11p

Total = £5.16

Tandoori Paneer and Crispy Chickpea Tray Bake

  • 30g fresh root ginger x 11p
  • 2 garlic clove x 8p (¼ head)
  • 500g paneer cheese†  x £3
  • 2 red pepper x ¼ pack = 29p
  • 2 can of chickpeas x £1.10
  • 40g mango chutney x 17p
  • 2 brown onion x 32p
  • 2 tbsp curry powder x ¼ pack 25p
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric x 5g =9p
  • 2 tsp garam masala x 5g = 5p
  • 160g natural yoghurt† x = 19p
  • 4 mini coriander naans† x £1
  • 2 tomato x 23p

Total = £6.88

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