Meal delivery services come in many shapes and sizes. While you certainly can sign up to receive a box of ingredients once a week and recipes telling what to do with them, you can also find companies that sell lunches and dinners that are ready to heat and eat. Freshly is one such ready-meal company. It’s a subscription-based service that delivers between four and 12 single-serving, microwavable meals per week. You choose which meals you want to receive from a menu of about 30 options. They ship cold, and you pop them into your refrigerator until you’re ready to warm them up and eat them. All the meals contain meat. You’ll need a microwave, as the containers aren’t safe for the oven. We’d caution potential subscribers to look closely at the nutritional information, as the food tends to be very high in sodium. Freshly is best for people who value convenience above all else, as you’ll be sacrificing some of the flavor you get with meals you prepare yourself.
Among all the meal delivery services we’ve tested, we have four Editors’ Choice that we recommend more highly than Freshly. Blue Apron is our top pick for people who want to learn to cook. If you already know how to cook and are looking to focus on health, Green Chef is the way to go. It sends you meal kits that are plant-forward meals and cater to vegetarian, paleo, and keto diets. HelloFresh is another favorite for its all-around excellent menus and quality. One final Editors’ Choice is Hungryroot, an unconventional service that picks groceries for you based on your eating preferences and includes suggested recipes for some of the items.
Freshly Pricing and Plans
Freshly meals cost between $7.99 and $11.50 each, depending on how many you order at a time. That’s roughly the same per-serving price that you can expect to pay for other meal kit and meal delivery services.
With Freshly, you have the option of buying four, six, nine, or 12 meals per week. When you sign up for an account, you agree to receive a delivery each week, although you can always choose to skip weeks or put your subscription on hold. Each meal contains one serving. The pricing breaks down like this:
Four meals per week costs $46, or $11.50 per meal.
Six meals per week costs $53.94, or $8.99 per meal.
Nine meals per week costs $80.91, or $8.99 per meal.
Twelve meals per week costs $95.88 or, $7.99 per meal.
Shipping costs vary. The larger your box, the higher the shipping fee. The rates are $3.99, $6.05, $9.08, and $12.11, respectively.
Freshly for Businesses
In addition to selling meals to individuals, Freshly has a plan for business subscriptions. The idea is that organizations can stock meals for employees in an office, or have them delivered gratis or at a subsidized rate to employees who work at home. A representative told me that this business offering had been in development for 2020, but that when COVID-19 hit, the company sped up the timeline to offer it.
It would make a decent replacement for employees who are now working from home because of the pandemic, but who previously got free meals in the office as part of their compensation.
How Much Do Other Meal Kit Services Cost?
Most meal-kit subscription services cost between $9.99 and $12.99 per serving. As with Freshly, the price usually depends on how many meals you order at a time.
Blue Apron costs between $7.49 and $9.99 per serving, and shipping is free for all but the smallest orders. HelloFresh and Green Chef charge between $9.99 and $12.99 per serving, and both charge a $7.99 shipping fee. Purple Carrot, a vegan service, charges $8.99 to $10.99 per serving. Dinnerly and EveryPlate are the least expensive and cost on average $4.99 per serving.
All the options just mentioned are cooking kits. It might make more sense to compare Freshly and its prices to other companies that sell single serve ready meals.
Splendid Spoon sells ready-to-consume smoothies, soups and bowls that run $9.50-$13 apiece. Daily Harvest also sells smoothies, soups, and bowls, plus snacks and flatbreads. Some of their meals require adding liquid or blending, but otherwise they are ready to consume. They cost around $6.99 to $7.75 per serving.
Ramen Hero is a more niche meal delivery company that specializes in single-serve gourmet ramen kits. Rather than microwaving the food, you boil water and heat little sous vide pouches containing the ingredients. Ramen Hero is pricey, however, at around $18 per serving. It’s not a subscription service, however, so you can easily buy what you want and not worry about too many ramen soups coming your way.
Sun Basket has options for heat-and-eat meals, but they contain two or more portions per container. Those cost anywhere from $10.99 to $12.99 per serving.
What Kind of Meals Does Freshly Offer?
Freshly’s menu does not change too much or too often. At any given time, you can choose from about 30 meals. They may be the same from week to week, although they do rotate every so often. Freshly has reduced its variety to simplify the production line and keep the business running smoothly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when demand has been high, according to a company representative.
So although the meal choices change occasionally, you shouldn’t expect a whole new menu each week, as you could from other meal kit services, such as Blue Apron and Green Chef. For what it’s worth, other single serve meal delivery services that aren’t kits tend to work the same way that Freshly does. Three examples are Daily Harvest, Splendid Spoon, and Amazon Fresh. They have one big menu, and you pick a few items from it each week. In fact, with Amazon Fresh, you don’t have to sign up for a subscription either. You purchase what you want when you want it.
What can you expect? Each Freshly meal contains meat, vegetables, and usually either pasta, rice, or potatoes. For example, there’s steak peppercorn served over mashed red potatoes with carrots and green beans. Turkey-mushroom meatballs come with zucchini noodles and pesto. Do you like chicken? There’s every kind of chicken imaginable: chicken parmigiana, Buffalo chicken, chicken tikka masala, fried chicken, chicken teriyaki, chicken cacciatore, chicken casserole, chicken gumbo—your chicken choices go on.
Freshly’s menu has no vegetarian options whatsoever. If you want vegetarian meals, try Daily Harvest, Splendid Spoon, or Veestro, which are all vegan. Purple Carrot is another vegan meal delivery service, but each meal from its menu contains at least two servings; plus the meals are kit-style so you’ll have to cook them rather than simply heat and eat.
Among Freshly’s options, you can find a few meals that are dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, or that don’t contain a particular kind of meat, but you aren’t easily going to find enough meals each week that meet the needs of a particular diet. There’s nothing paleo or keto, for example. The Freshly menu steers toward comfort foods, sometimes with a substitution that might make you think the meal is “healthier” for you, like pasta shells made out of cauliflower instead of semolina. But “healthier” is a comparative word, and sometimes not to be trusted.
Read Freshly’s nutritional labels, and it’s apparently that many meals contain a disturbing amount of salt. A plate of Andouille chicken gumbo contains 62 percent of your daily sodium allowance. Tangy sesame-citrus chicken clocks in at 47 percent and chicken tikka masala with vegetable biryani comes in at 45 percent. Plenty of meals had high levels of saturated fat, too. Be sure to review the nutritional information before coming to any conclusions about the healthfulness of these meals and how often you want to eat them.
No meal delivery service gets an A+ for packaging. This is an area where the entire industry could see marked improvement. Even if some packaging materials can be recycled, they still create a lot of waste.
Freshly sent us six meals, all packed into one box, with three gel-based cold packs and a recyclable paper-based insulating liner.
Gel-based cold packs are frozen blocks of liquid contained in a heavy-duty plastic bag. You can reuse them, but if you receive meals by mail regularly, your freezer will be full of them within a month. So, to dispose of them, you must let them thaw, dump the contents into the trash, and then rinse and recycle the plastic, if your local recycling center accepts it. It’s messy and wasteful. There has got to be a better way, although at present, no company seems to have found it.
The meals come in a black plastic container with plastic film on top. A thin cardboard wrapper surrounds each one with the meal’s name, nutritional information, and expiration date.
Heating and Eating
In testing the service, we tried six meals from Freshly:
Olé chicken and smoky chile sauce,
Laredo chicken with fonio grits and charro beans,
Cauliflower-shell bolognese with ground beef and Italian cheeses,
Super pesto and sausage fusilli,
Chicken livorno with white beans and kale,
Andouille and chicken gumbo with dirty rice and veggies.
All the meals have more or less the same heating instructions. You peel back a corner of the plastic film covering to allow heat and vapor to escape; microwave it for however long the instructions say, usually around three minutes; and then let the meal sit for about two minutes before eating it.
Some of the meals, such as Lardeo chicken with grits and charro beans (shown above), have two compartments that keep one part of the meal separate from the other. Others, like chicken livorno with beans and kale, get served all together.
Of the meals my partner and I tried, we liked the gumbo with dirty rice best. It looked watery before going into the microwave but turned into a more appealing consistency once heated. Even though we liked the flavors and appreciated that the rice maintained its form without splitting in the microwave, this dish left us wanting to chug a glass of water because it had so much salt.
We didn’t care for the pasta dishes, which reminded us a little too much of airplane food. The other meals were mediocre, and all of them left us completely parched.
One of the problems with ready meals is that nothing is truly fresh. A meal kit, the kind that requires preparation and cooking, might come with a side salad or a garnish of chopped scallions or minced herbs to give the meal a pop of freshness. You can add sliced tomato to a burger or sandwich. Even something as simple as bean tacos can get a zippy kick from pico de gallo (diced tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and lime juice), which only takes a few minutes to throw together. Microwaved meals, however, end up having the same cooked-through texture with nothing fresh to bring them back to life.
Would You Eat It Again?
Between the high sodium content, entirely meat-based menu, and lack of fresh ingredients, we’re not keen on stocking our fridge with Freshly meals again. If convenience is your number-one priority, Freshly meals aren’t necessarily a bad choice, but do pay attention to the nutritional labels before you decide how often you want to eat them.
You do have other options for single-serve meals that are heat-and-eat ready (or require minimal preparation). Daily Harvest, Splendid Spoon, and Amazon Fresh are all fine choices. Daily Harvest and Splendid Spoon are both entirely vegan, and they offer primarily smoothies, soups, and “bowls,” meaning an assortment of ingredients usually served on a bed of grains. Amazon Fresh offers meat and steers more toward conventionally plated meals. Veestro, which we at PCMag have not yet reviewed, is another plated meal service, and it’s entirely vegan. Factor Meal (also not yet reviewed here) offers a similar service with options for paleo, keto, and vegetarian diets.
Freshly Meal Delivery Service Specs
|Price Per Serving||$7.99-$11.99|