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Bennett: Curious about meal kits like Blue Apron or Purple Carrot? These six sites deliver the goods

Bennett: Curious about meal kits like Blue Apron or Purple Carrot? These six sites deliver the goods
Sun Basket is the only service that offers all-organic and non-GMO ingredients for its recipes, like this one-pan shaksouka. (Courtesy of Sun Basket)

If you're anything like me, New Year's resolutions are usually centered on trying to undo the glut of the holidays. Most of the time, this means promises to eat better and exercise more, great ideas that admittedly go out the window as soon as I return to the chaos of post-holiday work mode.

But this year, I'm resolving to give my body something else it's been missing out on (besides low-fat foods and proper cardio workouts): home-cooked meals. And as a busy woman with little time for grocery shopping and creative recipe Googling, I'll be leaning on the glorious First World convenience of meal kit delivery services.

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For the last few years, I've been ordering so-called recipe boxes off and on from many of these companies and discovered that many of them are as unique as we are. The boxes contain all the ingredients you'll need to make imaginative dinners for you and your family each week.

Yes, it's really that easy. Yes, even if you have allergies, dietary restrictions or just plain picky kids.

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So if you're planning to cook more at home in 2017 but don't have the time for shopping and chopping, here are six sites that will help you make it happen, with something for every price range, schedule or lifestyle.

Blue Apron

Blue Apron is the largest of all the meal delivery services out there, with nearly 800,000 meals delivered per month. With those kinds of numbers, Blue Apron is also the cheapest; meals start as low as $8.75 and top out at $9.99. Select your dietary restrictions (there's no option yet to choose specific recipes), and you'll be sent a box filled with ingredients commonly found at the supermarket along with a descriptive recipe card for elevated comfort foods that also includes a link to the recipe's website, which is filled with specific how-to videos (so you'll never get lost) and stories behind the ingredients.

Meal kit delivery services like Blue Apron send you everything you need to cook dinner, from ingredients to detailed recipe cards.
Meal kit delivery services like Blue Apron send you everything you need to cook dinner, from ingredients to detailed recipe cards. (Courtesy of Blue Apron)

Gobble

Ultra-busy families are the primary focus of Gobble, which not only portions all ingredients out for you like the other meal kit services do but also cuts, slices and dices those ingredients too. Without any of the prep work required, total cooking time gets slashed, meaning all Gobble meals can be made in three simple steps, are done in under 10 minutes and will only dirty one pan (sometimes, you have to pop something in the microwave too). It might be just one step away from delivery, but at least you're doing the cooking and learning new shortcuts along the way. The weekly rotating recipes — which are often inspired by the foods of Italy, India, Thailand and Mexico — start at $9 per person.

Purple Carrot

Purple Carrot is the vegan meal kit delivery service built exclusively for the non-vegan. Of course, current vegans will also appreciate having thoughtful plant-based dishes delivered deconstructed to their door each week, but the goal seems to be to show carnivores and cheese eaters that vegan food can be flavorful, exciting and easy to make too. All recipes are created by former New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman (author of "How to Cook Everything"), with the only downside being a limited selection of three dishes per week, meaning every customer eats the same thing and there is no swapping out. Prices start at just over $9 a plate.

Chef'd

Chef'd might be the most expensive meal kit delivery service ($12 to $25 per person), but it's also one of the coolest. For one, it's the only company that lets you order meals on an as-needed basis with no pressure to commit to a weekly plan (whew!). For two, the website amassed its massive bank of recipes by teaming up with some of the smartest affiliates in the business, including New York Times Cooking, Weight Watchers, the James Beard Foundation and dozens of chefs and bloggers from around the country. With high-profile names like Susan Feniger, Ben Ford and Robert Irvine creating custom dishes especially for them, Chef'd makes you feel like a celeb in your own home.

Step-by-step images, like this one for a New York steak with sriracha chimichurri and sweet potato hash recipe created by Robert Irvine for Chef'd, show exactly how the food is supposed to look while you're cooking.
Step-by-step images, like this one for a New York steak with sriracha chimichurri and sweet potato hash recipe created by Robert Irvine for Chef'd, show exactly how the food is supposed to look while you're cooking. (Courtesy of Chef'd)

Plated

For the ultimate combination of flexibility and variety, Plated saves the day. While many meal kit services force you to order a minimum of six meals per box, Plated lets you get away with four $12 meals, a perk that then comes with the difficult decision of choosing between 11 new recipes (plus desserts!) each week, many of them using ingredients not commonly found at the local grocery store. Recipes for original dishes like coconut curry noodles, trout steamed in wax paper and vegetable calzones also make cooking fun by introducing you to new foods while teaching you new techniques that will seriously up your kitchen game.

Plated lets you choose from 11 recipes per week that will teach you new cooking techniques and let you work with uncommon ingredients.
Plated lets you choose from 11 recipes per week that will teach you new cooking techniques and let you work with uncommon ingredients. (Courtesy of Plated)

Sun Basket

If you crave chef-driven dinners made from all-organic, non-GMO ingredients, Sun Basket is your only choice in SoCal. The Bay Area-based company makes the most of the Pacific Coast's fertile bounty by only sourcing local USDA-certified organic products for its one-of-a-kind dinners (think Italian sausages with kale, parsnips and harissa-spiced cashews: $11.49 each) and breakfasts (it's the only service that provides a "Rise and Shine" option), all of which are designed in house by Justine Kelly, formerly of San Francisco's The Slanted Door. From Lakeside Organic Gardens chard to curry from Oaktown Spice Shop, Sun Basket uses responsible purveyors to formulate weekly plans for diets from omnivore to gluten-free to paleo.

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SARAH BENNETT is a freelance journalist covering food, drink, music, culture and more. She is the former food editor at L.A. Weekly and a founding editor of Beer Paper L.A. Follow her on Twitter @thesarahbennett.

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