There’s no doubt that using a recipe box service is a luxury and for the most part there’s nothing wrong with that – it saves you time, expands your cooking repertoire and generally helps you to eat healthily. All good things that make spending a little extra on your food well worth it.
However, one part of the luxury that sits less well with me is the excessive packaging required. I experience a tinge of guilt every time I unwrap a single serving of seasoning for a recipe and discard its plastic container, not to mention the environmental impact of having meals delivered by car when I could walk or cycle to the supermarket. While food shopping in a supermarket comes with its own pitfalls – just consider the amount of excess food thrown away in the UK – it doesn’t seem as obvious as when chucking or recycling the vast amounts of packaging that comes in a recipe box.
Abel & Cole solves this problem by predominantly using cardboard containers that can be returned to the driver next time you get a delivery, and those deliveries are restricted to once a week in each area to minimise the driving involved. You sacrifice a little convenience as a result – the ingredients aren’t pre-sorted by recipe and you have to accommodate the delivery day for your area regardless of your schedule – but these are small hardships.
The recipes are absolutely terrific as well. Abel & Cole uses organic and, where possible, seasonal ingredients and its recipe line-up is impressively varied. In my first round of meals I tried mushroom satay kebabs, a catch-of-the-day traybake and a sensational asparagus, goat’s cheese and lemon risotto. Second time around the stand-out was undoubtedly a grilled trout with beetroot pesto recipe – the pesto is something I’ll be making again and again.
I found all the recipes easy and quick to make, with clear instructions. Some recipes are marked as simple or speedy, but even those that didn’t fall into those categories were simple and speedy in my experience.
Other categories of recipe include standard options like vegetarian, pescatarian and vegan. There are more novel options under the moniker foodie, which didn’t really seem all that different to the rest of Abel & Cole’s line-up to be honest, and light, which are recipes under 500 calories.
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I was also impressed by the recipe cards, which is probably an indication that I’ve tried too many recipe boxes. The Abel & Cole cards are well designed with colour-coding to indicate the type of recipe it is and extra bits of info like “Eat Me First” on recipes that use the ingredients which will spoil first, and tips on how to make use of any leftovers and what to do if you don’t have a certain kitchen gadget.
Perhaps the ultimate seal of approval, however, came from my mother-in-law, who cooked a couple of the Abel & Cole recipes to help out in the aftermath of the arrival of my first child. Even as a kitchen veteran who has been dishing up delicious meals for decades, she was sufficiently impressed by the Abel & Cole recipes to make them again.
There is, as you might expect, a premium to pay as a result of Abel & Cole’s organic, eco-friendly approach. Meals for two people cost between £12 and £14, whereas with the recipe boxes of rivals like HelloFresh, Mindful Chef and Gousto you’ll pay around £5pp for each meal, while Morrisons’ Eat Fresh service has options that cost as little as £3.33pp. While Abel & Cole undoubtedly stands out for its sustainable approach and organic ingredients, I wouldn’t say its meals are any tastier than the best options from HelloFresh and the like. Whether it’s worth spending the extra money will depend on how much importance you place on the use of pesticides and plastic.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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