Plated vs Blue Apron, Part 1

Plated vs Blue Apron -- Which meal subscription service is better? I aim to find out. Here's the Plated box that showed up, on time, at my doorstep. It was well-insulated. Plates vs Blue Apron -- which is better?

I don't cook nearly as much as I should, and here's why: I can't stomach any dinner from my kitchen that's not scratch-made from excellent, fresh ingredients. I'll take shortcuts when the kids are around -- Rao's marina rather than homemade because they prefer it, for example -- but overall I'm all about the sourcing and the mincing and the sautéing. The alternative? Dinner out.

The ingredients for chicken-pineapple fajitas from plated vs blue apron

My sister, by contrast, cooks frequently. Her recipes tend to be straightforward such as broiled lamb chops with a veggie and potato. I like that myself but my husband rebels at nearly anything not sauced. My signature dishes are complex.

When a colleague mentioned that she'd tried Blue Apron and liked it, I decided to surprise my sister with a weeklong subscription as a belated birthday present. I followed her exploits, requesting photos along the way, plus honest reports. Bottom line: She likes it and she tried again on her own dime. She found the ingredients enticing and the recipes clear, but none of the six dishes she's made were absolutely delicious.

Here are my sister's three Blue Apron dishes. Clearly I need to learn how to size photos. That's the next project.

Eager to try it myself, I started to sign up ... only to learn that my neighborhood's deliveries are on Thursday and Saturday only. Since I cook on weekdays but not weekends, that was a deal-breaker, although I'll figure something out so I can write Part 2. I hopped onto a competitive meal delivery service called Plated. and got to work.  Here's what it's like.

Plated vs Blue Apron: The Plated Portion

Plated and Blue Apron are very similar: You choose a certain number of meals for a week. Nearly every ingredient arrives chilled, with detailed recipe cards. The remaining ingredients are staples like olive oil, salt and pepper. You cook and eat.

Plated vs Blue Apron -- These are three Plated recipe cards

I wanted to order two meals, but Plated charges for shipping for an order that size. Shipping is free for three meals, so that's what I got. Each week's choices include vegetarian and meat-based options and it was easy to mix and match. Blue Apron, by contrast, limits the combinations. If you swap out one recommended dish you'll only be able to swap in certain others.

My first box arrived on a Tuesday morning. Since I'm in Florida, I was concerned about the sweltering heat, but the box was well-insulated and included three ice packs -- similar to my sister's Blue Apron box in New York.

Inside were all the ingredients for three recipes. I was impressed. The chicken was an all-natural product from Murray's, the pasta was a good make (none of that bouncy Ronzoni nonsense), and each ingredient was precisely measured yet still whole. My sister and I agree that the exact quantity business is a benefit. As she says, "I can't tell you how many times I need three scallions, so I buy a bunch and eventually throw the others away.  I love getting just the three scallions I need." Ditto, although for a couple of ingredients I would have preferred to use more. Luckily I tend to have a bunch of foodstuffs in my overstocked pantry and fridge.

Plated Vs Blue Apron: Hawaiian-Style Chicken Fajitas

My first Plated endeavor was Hawaiian-style chicken fajitas.

Plated vs Blue Apron Here's one full recipe.

As you can see, the steps are crystal-clear. I marinated, I chopped, I sautéed, and I put the results into nice-quality tortillas. As a side, I made a simple cucumber salsa.

The takeaway: I'd marinate fajitas in pineapple juice again; that was a nice idea. And I loved the simple cucumber salad. I'll be replicating it on my own this week. The flavor was good but not good enough that I'd want the dish again.

Plated Vs Blue Apron: Brown Butter Gnocchi with Pattypan Squash and Asparagus

We went vegetarian, though not low-fat, for Recipe No. 2. I'd never cooked with pattypan squash and in fact didn't realize doing so was as simple and quartering each one and tossing it in the pan. The gnocchi was surprisingly good, not like the mushy ones from the grocery store I occasionally try. I liked the idea of lopping asparagus into bite-size pieces and adding those in; I'd never thought of that before. And the side salad was so easy it reminded me that salad needn't be a chore. I tend to overdo -- or not make one at all. The rinsing! The dressing-whisking! Too much stress after a long day of work.

My husband went wild for this one -- even the pattypan squash, and usually I can't get him near even a heavenly butternut squash. I rated it only OK, as per usual.

Plated Vs Blue Apron: Chicken Rigatoni with Creamy Marinara Sauce

This dish seemed dull, plus it had cream, which I avoid, yet it ended up being my favorite of the trio. The sauce included a decent dash of crushed red pepper flakes and tomato puree; it worked. As for the cream, I'd planned to ignore it, but the jar was small so I poured in all the contents. Again, I had a nice side salad plus the entree.

What's my conclusion? Inconclusive. I liked the Plated ingredients, most of the recipes seemed appealing, the ingredients were fresh and high-quality, the recipes a cinch to follow. As a downside, both companies package their ingredients well -- but not necessarily in an eco-friendly manner. Overall, I like my own, more-labor-intensive-cooking food better -- but then again, sometimes I can't get to the market for days on end. And then a Plated box is welcome, which is why I've placed a second order.

After I try Plated again, I'll take on Blue Apron.

Oh! If you look at these sites and don't sign up right away, you might find a $30 starter coupon on your Facebook page a few days later.

Eat enthusiastically, Rona