In a perfect world, we’d all have time every week to go to the grocery store, and get all our meal prep done ahead of time so that, on busy nights, we can still eat a fresh, healthy meal at a reasonable time. But it’s not a perfect world, and that’s why sometimes I end up choosing between ordering Chinese or making dinner … but eating it right around my bedtime because, you know, life.
And time isn’t the only hindrance here. Some of our older parents and grandparents struggle to get to the store — and get around the kitchen safely. Plus, following new recipes can be challenging.
All of that is precisely why frozen meals became so popular for so many years. But there were drawbacks to them as well — quality, flavor and nutritional value, namely.
So, what else is there? Top Chef Meals is a New York-based company with a staff of 54 chefs and cooks who prepare meals to order daily — meals that take into account all kinds of allergies and dietary restrictions. The meals are then flash frozen and shipped directly to the customer’s door. And they sent a few samples our way to try out.
Other seriously cool things to know:
- You can customize meals and side dishes however you like, but they have several categories to get you started: gourmet, renal, diabetic, low-sodium, Paleo and weight loss, plus a number of packages catering to specific tastes.
- There are over 50 different main meal options, plus breakfast options.
- They’re affordable: as low as $5.85/meal for seniors, the disabled or homebound, and $6.85 for everyone else.
- Delivery is free over a certain amount
- No automated billing or contracts
My Top Chef Meals Experience
My first piece of advice? Don’t freak out when you see the size of the shipping box. I received seven flash frozen meals, and the box was enormous, but all the meals fit into my rather packed freezer.
Secondly, keep in mind that, even though you don’t need to do much of anything in terms of actual prep, planning is required as meals should be completely defrosted prior to heating for best results — we’re talking 8 to 10 hours in the fridge or more. Meals can be heated in the microwave, but I opted to make mine in the oven and found they typically required about 5 to 10 minutes longer than recommended to be fully heated through (maybe because I always made two at a time).
Another thing that took me somewhat by surprise was the fact that, although the meals arrive frozen, there’s an expiration date that’s not too far in the future on them, so you don’t want to order a bunch of meals and plan on spreading them out over the next month or so. My meals arrived immediately before I left for vacation, so by necessity I ended up making most of them after the suggested expiration date. I don’t know how big a difference it made — everything still seemed fine to me! But it’s the sort of thing you probably want to be aware of before ordering.
Okay, now for the big question: Were the Top Chef Meals good? Overall, the answer was yes, although I have a few notes. The meals I tried were:
- Roasted Vegetable Cheese Lasagna with Broccoli
- Three Bean Vegan Chili with Herbed Brown Rice, Dried Cranberries and Brussels Sprouts
- Spinach and Garlic Ravioli Alfredo With California Blend
- Eggplant Rollatini With Marinara Sauce and Shaved Parmesan With Rotini Pasta and Zucchini
- Wild Mushroom Marsala Ravioli with Italian Blend
- Seared Salmon With Brown Butter Sauce and Herbed Brown Rice with Dried Cranberries and Spinach
- Chicken Cacciatore With Rotini Pasta and Ratatouille
The entrees? All good. Honestly. Some were better than others — like, I found the Vegetable Lasagna to be really, really flavorful and tasty, and my husband was a particular fan of the Spinach and Garlic Ravioli Alfredo, but there wasn’t an entree that we did not like. And with prices ranging from just $6.95 to $7.50 (excluding the salmon, which was $9.30), they were totally worth the cost. Hashtag, would do it all again, fo’ sho.
The sides were a tougher sell, though. The broccoli was edible, but I ended up full on passing on the rest of the veggie sides, opting to steam some fresh veggies I had in the fridge or throw together a little salad instead. To be honest, that could be because we didn’t have a chance to make the meals until after the expiration date, and the fact that I’m quite particular about the consistency and flavor of my veggies probably didn’t help. But, hey — you get to choose your sides, so I guess I’d probably just go with all broccoli, all the time … which isn’t all that unusual for me because I do really, really like broccoli.
Fit Bottomed Line: Overall, I’d give Top Chef Meals a couple of thumbs up. At the end of the day, we’re talking about reasonably priced, totally customizable meals made from fresh ingredients and requiring no skill and very little work on your end. For folks who are busy (or just not interested in cooking) and want nutritious meals without shelling out major bucks every day, Top Chef Meals is a big ol’ win.
What’s your biggest hurdle when it comes to making home cooked dinners? Shopping? Prep? Just don’t wanna? It’s always prep for me. I buy lots of great ingredients with the best intentions … and then life just gets in the way sometimes. —Kristen