(Source: www.forbes.com)

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As anyone who’s ever made a meal knows, cooking itself accounts for only a fraction of the time required to put food on the table. Precious minutes are spent trolling the Internet for a decent recipe, hunting down the right ingredients, and asking yourself things like “What the heck should I do with a truckload of leftover cabbage?” And then you have  dishes to wash. If you’ve spent the entire day on deadline and in meetings, the whole affair is enough to send you running to the nearest Chipotle and call it a night.

Unless you live under a rock, you may consider subscribing to a meal-kit delivery service. These companies— which ship you the ingredients in the precise amounts needed to whip up a week’s worth of Instagram-worthy dinners—promise to eliminate all the annoyances that come with cooking, so you can focus on, well, cooking.  And eating. What’s more, they often also boast a stable of high-caliber chefs as recipe developers, and offer ingredients direct from sustainable sources—so what you make will probably taste pretty good and is good for the planet, too. Thinking of signing up? We’ve rounded up a sampling to give you a taste of what to expect. Each week expect exactly what you need to cook, along with easy-to-follow instructions requiring typically 30 to 40 minutes and 9 ingredients or less  to complete. Most of the companies (except Plated) pick up the shipping cost. Clean up, though, is still all you. (Sorry.)

Hello Fresh

HELLO FRESH Crispy Fish Tacos

Crispy Fish Tacos

The lowdown: The attitude of this global brand is that cooking should be fun and easy—and its quirky recipe cards (which include basic kitchen tips, like how to slice steak, and a list of the tools you need to “bust out” before starting) convey that notion. The company, which launched in Europe and now serves 9 countries, including the United States, is fanatical about customer feedback, and adjusts their offerings and services accordingly. This August, they’re expanding their family-size recipe options, as a result of the plan’s popularity.

Plan options:Classic (starts at $59.94 for 3 meals per week for 2 people), Veggie (starts at $59.94 for 3 recipes per week for 2 people), and Family (starts at $69.92 for 2 recipes per week for 4 people)

On the menu: Crispy Fish Tacos with Lime Carrot Slaw (shown), Barbecue Pork Meatloaves, Kiwi Salsa and Steak Fajitas

Especially great for: Busy families with picky eaters; novice home cooks

Blue Apron

Blue Apron Chile Butter Steak with Parmesan Potatoes

Chile Butter Steak with Parmesan Potatoes

The lowdown: You’ll up your cooking skills in addition to eating better when you subscribe to Blue Apron (who supplied the ingredients picture, at top), or at least that’s the intent of this brand. The largest meal-kit provider in the U.S. works directly with more than 300 eco-minded farmers and food suppliers (many of whom are exclusive to Blue Apron) and a culinary team that includes alumni from top restaurants, such as Per Se and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. One of many delicious results of such collaborations: the company’s popular ramen dishes, which uses artisanal noodles from Sun Noodles, the same supplier for Momofuku in New York City and Tsujita in Los Angeles.

Plan options: Two-Person Plan (starts at $47.95 for 2 recipes per week; includes vegetarian option, if preferred) and Family Plan (which serves 4 and starts at $71.92 for 2 recipes per week).

On the menu: Chile Butter Steaks with Parmesan Potatoes (shown), Seared Salmon & Lemon-Ginger Sauce, Spicy Lamb & Beef Noodles

Especially great for:People already with a  little know-how cooking-wise, but looking for an easy way to expand their tastebuds and skills.

Plated

Plated Grilled Pork Chops

Grilled Pork Chops

The lowdown: The company places an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients, and, for each dish, you can access a range of info beyond calories—such as fat, carbohydrates, and protein. It also handily notes the chef who created it (so if you like her style you can find more of her meals), and how hard or easy it is to pull off the dish.  While there is no vegetarian plan per se, you can tailor your preferences to receive only vegetarian recipes.

Plan options: There’s only one program, which allows you to choose from two, three, or four servings  (starts at $47.80 per week plus $7.95 shipping for 2 meals per week for 2 people—currently, the first night is free, which brings the price down to $29.85, plus shipping).

On the menu: Grilled Pork Chop with Peach Salad and White Balsamic Vinaigrette (shown), Oregano Chicken Kebabs with Creamy Basil Corn, Fresh Spaghetti with Heirloom Tomatoes and Burrata.

Especially great for: People who relish produce in season and appreciate how different chef-developers can uniquely spin meal.

The Purple Carrot

The Purple Carrot Vegetable PAd Thai with Peanut Tamarind

Vegetable PAd Thai with Peanut Tamarind

The lowdown: The Purple Carrot is the only meal kit to provide completely plant-based meals, yet 70 percent of its customers are not vegan—just folks looking for a healthier way to eat. If the reviews around the Internet are to be believed, carnivorous road-testers have been pleasantly surprised by the flavor and variety. New recipes are provided each week, but, unlike the case with other meal-kit options, you don’t get to choose what gets delivered to you (which seems to turn out fine for most people, since, when it comes to vegan fare,  they don’t realize what they actually like).

Plan options: Purple Carrot (starting at $68 per week for 1-2 people) or TB12 Performance Meals—high-protein, gluten-free meals designed in partnership with Tom Brady; yes, he gets the meals delivered to him, too ($78 for 3 meals per week for 1-2 people).

On the menu: Butternut Mac ‘n’ Cheese with Swiss Chard and Garlicky Breadcrumbs, Vegetable Pad Thai with Sweet and Sour Tamarind and Vegan Egg (shown), Portobello Steaks with Tomato Orzo Salad & Chimichurri (from the TB12 Performance Meals plan)

Especially great  for: Busy vegans or people looking to “try out” the lifestyle at least a couple of times a week; people obsessed with Tom Brady

More Info: www.forbes.com

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