11 Daily Harvest Subscription Meals, Ranked
When we’re looking to make lifestyle changes, it doesn’t hurt to have some help. Thanks to my husband, who does most of the cooking, our dinners are often balanced renditions of protein and a veggie or two. (Oh sure, some nights feature pasta, delivered Indian food or the occasional takeout burger or pizza, but those things make life worth living, especially during a pandemic.) However, after a death in the family, perpetual insomnia and other stressors, I’d notice that everything I was reaching for was comprised of salt, protein and simple carbs. That might mean bacon and eggs in the morning, whatever leftovers were in the fridge for lunch, a bag of chips at my desk and cocktails in the early evening to shake off the day. I realized that there were some days when a vegetable didn’t pass my lips and, unsurprisingly, I was exhausted all of the time.
Did I know better? Of course; I’ve been a food writer for more than a decade, and I’m an adventurous and fairly skillful home cook when the mood strikes. For some reason, though — perhaps thanks to pandemic-driven depression — I couldn’t seem to find the will or energy to put myself back on a proper, nourishing diet. I gained 10 pounds to my already not-slim frame last year. It was time to get some type of assistance.
I knew I had to eat more vegetables, less meat and start gearing my palate away from salt. A $25-off deal from Daily Harvest was enough incentive for me to give the plant-based meal delivery service a try. The menu options (all of which are gluten-free) consist of smoothies, almond milk (which comes in frozen, triangular pods to which you have to add water), vegetable-focused harvest bowls, flatbreads, soups, oat bowls, chia bowls, “scoops” (coconut milk ice creams), “bites” (round, soft snacks naturally sweetened with dates, cacao, vanilla and the like) and three-packs of little pods for making flavored lattes with either plant-based or regular milk. For my test run, the first week I selected nine items. I didn’t want to order a lot in case the food was bland. With the first-week, $25-off discount, the cost for my nine selections was $42.91. The regular price is $67.91. Even without the discount, that averages to $7.55 a dish. Frankly, the price for the nine dishes easily equates to what I often spend in restaurants just on a meal for two.
In case you’re wondering: This isn’t one of those subscription reviews where the writer was sent free items. I ordered on my own and paid for everything.
I’m cynical by nature and didn’t expect much, but I actually found some of the dishes and drinks extremely palatable. The number one sin I encounter regularly with health-conscious meals is a lack of seasoning. I was pleased to find this wasn’t usually the case with the Daily Harvest selections. At most, some freshly ground pepper and an extra dash of salt was often all that was needed.
Sauces and purées included in the dishes, such as the cauliflower purée needed for the Cauliflower and Leek Stew pictured above, come in little frozen rectangles, which I found both bemusing and clever. It’s like astronaut food landed in my freezer.
If all you’re going to eat is Daily Harvest food, skipping a mealtime isn’t a good idea. Many of the dishes and drinks are low-calorie — some especially so — thanks to the plant-based ingredients. In order from worst to best, here’s what I’ve tried so far.
11. Green Chickpea + Turmeric Soup, 380 calories: Not only was this one of the higher-calorie items in my first week’s shipment, it was my least favorite. The gentle coconut cream-turmeric broth seasoned with black pepper, ginger, cumin and fenugreek was rather good (after a dose of needed salt), but its charms were lost on the heap of bitter chopped kale. (The name of this bowl used to be Green Chickpea + Kale Curry and that’s a much more accurate description.) Diced parsnips were a more fitting inclusion. I was neutral on the green chickpeas. They weren’t bad but didn’t add much, either. According to Daily Harvest, green chickpeas “provides vitamin C and energizing protein”, and added to the 12 grams of fiber. Still, I’m not going out of my way to seek these out.
10. Carrot + Coconut Curry Harvest Bowl, 170 calories: When I opened the package and dumped it into a real bowl for microwaving, my first thought was, “This looks like it could be called Carrot Surprise.” Indeed, were an abundance of shredded carrots and these dominated the flavor. This was also the first time I realized that sometimes Daily Harvest trips up over putting a few too many ingredients in a single dish, so the flavors are muddied. The curry flavor, in this case, came mainly from Madras curry powder, and the red bell peppers not only seemed out of place for an an aspiring Indian-style curry but also clashed with everything else. I won’t be ordering this one again, either.
9. Chickpea + Za’atar Harvest Bowl, 430 calories: Once heated, this bowl with some common flavors from Morocco — chickpeas, zucchini, tomatoes and raisins, among other ingredients — had the most promising scent. Upon a taste, however, it proved to be one of the dishes most in need of seasoning. Once that was fixed up, it was a fairly palatable bowl with a lot of texture, some of which came from white sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds.
I had to look up what one ingredient was — cordyceps — and boy howdy, that will put you off your feed. “Cordyceps is a genus of parasitic fungi that grows on the larvae of insects,” according to Healthline. Um… yum? It’s specifically listed on the label as, “cordyceps mushroom powder”, and the fungus has long been prized in Chinese medicine. Like many natural remedies, the claims of various benefits, such as helping with “fatigue, sickness, kidney disease and low sex drive” are still being researched. I’m not entirely sure that I’d order this again or that it’s worth 430 calories. It’s not a bad-tasting bowl, nor am I particularly squeamish (I’ve eaten both fried crickets and sal de gusano (salt that includes ground worms that live on agave plants and traditionally served with mezcal and orange slices) but parasitic insect fungi is still really off-putting. I don’t think I can bring myself to eat this again.
8. Cauliflower Rice + Kimchi Harvest Bowl, 200 calories: This was better than the Carrot + Coconut Curry and Chickpea + Za’atar Harvest Bowls, but again exemplified the adage that “less is more”. I should have tossed in some of the fresh kimchi in my fridge to amplify those tangy, spicy flavors, and will do so next time. Along with the kimchi was more carrots, which were fine, and kale, which didn’t seem to belong. (Truth be told, there aren’t a whole lot of kale preparations that I like anyway.) The seasoning in this case was proper for a Korean-inspired dish: tamari, toasted sesame oil, garlic, ginger purée and gochugaru chili flakes. While it wasn’t an absolute favorite, I’d order it again.
7. Tomato + Basil Broccoli Flatbread, 340 calories: Confession time: I overbaked this one just a bit. It was still pretty good. There’s lots of greenery: chopped broccoli, kale (unlike in the Green Chickpea & Turmeric Soup, it wasn’t an offensive amount) and basil, all sprinkled over with diced tomatoes. The crust is broccoli purée mixed with cassava root flour, so, like everything else Daily Harvest sells, it’s gluten-free. Black garlic purée was a nice touch, but like some of the other dishes, the flatbread seemed to need a little more seasoning. A dusting of finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano was perfect. A light sprinkling of red pepper flakes would also be right at home.
6. Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl, 310 calories: I’d actually never had a chia bowl before, so I wasn’t entirely sure I’d like this. It turns out that I thoroughly enjoyed the texture of the tiny chia seeds, which reminded me both in look and texture of chocolate Cream of Wheat — only cold instead of hot. The flavors of the other ingredients were highly complementary and included diced apples, Mission figs for natural sweetness, coconut cream, plus pumpkin and hemp seeds for some crunchy texture. Don’t be off-put by the inclusion of cauliflower rice; you won’t even notice it. I’m more of a savory breakfast person than someone who goes for a sweet start to the mornings, but this could sway my opinion.
5. Chaga + Chocolate Latte, 110 calories: A nice, hot mocha is among my favorite things on the planet, so trying this latte was an easy choice, even if it doesn’t have actual coffee. Chaga, or inonotus obliquus, is a fungus found on birch trees in cold climates and it has long been prized in natural medicine. Human studies are lacking, but there’s a lot of promise shown in animal trials for its ability to boost immunity, lower blood sugar and cholesterol and even possibly fight cancer. Even so — once again, here we go with a non-FDA approved supplement. Why? In addition, those with certain health conditions, such as diabetes and autoimmune conditions, need to avoid it. The latte also includes reishi mushroom, which supposedly has other potential medicinal benefits.
Back to the flavors, though: the concoction also includes maple syrup, coconut milk and cacao powder — all organic. To make, all you have to do is get a pod (these come three to a package, making the cost $2.66 each (cheaper than a coffee shop for sure), run it under warm water to loosen the contents, dump the ingredients into a cup, add 1 1/4 cup of your choice of milk and microwave. While the resulting latte had a hint of mushroom flavor, it was overall very chocolatey and is a quick fix for a sweet tooth craving.
4. Cacao + Avocado Smoothie, 570 calories: This was frankly delightful — and incredibly filling. It’s no wonder; this was the highest-calorie item among what I tried. There are 570 quality calories packed into a cup, not including whatever milk you add to it. For this, I whipped up a cup’s worth of the Daily Harvest Almond + Vanilla milk and added it to the frozen combination of zucchini (trust me, you’ll never know it’s there), pumpkin seeds, dates, cacao powder, coconut cream, avocado purée, coconut oil, cacao nibs and a touch of Himalayan sea salt. Thanks to general bad luck, my Viking Professional blender decided to crap out before it was quite done whipping up this smoothie. Despite the few remaining chunks — indeed, perhaps because of these – this drank (ate?) like Rocky Road ice cream. This is not a complaint. 10/10, would buy again. (Side note: I dislike raw bananas, and the fact that this smoothie doesn’t use those as a base ingredient made it even more attractive.)
3. Tomatillo + Pepper Sweet Potato Flatbread, 350 calories: The gluten-free, flatbread crust is made with organic sweet potato and cassava root, and a dose of psyllium husk lends more fiber. It’s covered in seasoned tomato paste then topped with sliced Brussels sprouts, diced red bell pepper, chopped tomatillos and pickled peppers. No additional seasoning was added or needed, thanks to a generous dose of cayenne, oregano and smoked paprika. The vast majority of the ingredients are organic, too. This is not only great for satisfying the munchies, but I’m not likely to try my hand at baking a sweet potato flatbread crust at home, either.
2. Broccoli + Cheeze Harvest Bowl, 370 calories: The “cheeze” is a common vegan substitution of nutritional yeast, which lends some natural umami. Mixed with sweet potato and red bell pepper purées, as well as a bit of potato paste, the resulting color is reminiscent of sports-dome nachos. Does it really taste like cheese? Maybe a little? Either way, it makes the overall dish very saucy — almost luxurious. A more pronounced flavor was the nuttiness of a goodly amount of sunflower seeds. With base ingredients of chopped broccoli and cauliflower, there’s texture to spare and nothing in the overall bowl that I didn’t like. This definitely would go into my weekly box.
1. Cauliflower & Leek Stew, 90 calories: This was more of a soup than a stew, and, as noted above, was one of the dishes that benefitted from a touch more Himalayan sea salt than it already had, as well as freshly ground pepper. That was all it needed, other than the called-for cup of water or broth. (Being no fool, I chose chicken stock for added flavor.) Rather than potatoes, as in more traditional potato-leek soup, the soup had cubed celeriac, or celery root, which I love. The texture is spongier than potatoes, but the flavor works very well. There’s also chopped spinach added for some leafy green-nutrition and fiber. This was a total hit and shockingly satisfying for a 90-calorie dish. (It would also be easy to replicate at home.)
Meals in Minutes: Preparation is extremely quick — usually only four to six minutes — and that’s a huge bonus for my hectic weekday schedule.
Overall Quality: Not only did the ingredients seem wholesome, but well-preserved in the initial freezing process. In addition, nearly all of the ingredients are organic.
Appealing Flavors & Textures: With the exception of one bowl, the ingredient combinations definitely seemed chef-created and the flavors worked well together. Some thought is clearly given to texture, too. A soup, for example, can include elements that are leafy, chewy, crunchy and, of course, brothy.
Shipping Box is Well-Made: The thick, corrugated cardboard box is lined with 1.5-inch-thick paper insulation, and it’s very effective at holding in the cold that’s provided by a plastic bag of dry ice. Other than the plastic bag, plastic food seals and paper dishes, all of the packaging — even the outer labels for the individual food packages — is recyclable. The dishes are biodegradable.
Inspiration: Having these very quick, healthy meals on hand actually inspired and encouraged me to get my act together with home-cooked meals, and my husband kindly was mindful about what my goals were when he cooked.
I Lost Weight and Gained Energy: I lost four pounds in the first two weeks without much of an increase in my activity level. Possibly thanks to improved energy levels, though, I did get back to my daily walks just a few days after my first order.
Long Lead Time on Finalizing Orders: Finding a dish I didn’t like did reveal a weakness in the rather early Daily Harvest order deadline. My order arrived on Friday, and I only had time to try a few things before the Sunday deadline to make final selections for next Friday’s delivery. So, I ended up with a few dishes I’d discovered I’d disliked during the interim, such as the Green Chickpea + Turmeric soup and the “carrot surprise” bowl.
Individual Dish Packaging Has Some Issues: Peeling off the plastic seal often tears the top of the paper containers. For hot dishes, such as the soups, the bowls also seemed to soften a bit. So, I always transferred the contents to real bowls at home, even though the supplied ones are microwave-safe. In addition, the seal of one of the bowls had started coming off on its own, and any extended time in the freezer would have likely led to freezer burn.
It’s Not Supporting Local Small Businesses: More ideal than sending money to a national service is supporting a local one. Here’s a list of local meal preparation services in Houston. Because I am not always in Houston (in fact, I’m currently having to bounce among three different cities), a service that ships is a better fit for my situation.
It Dances a Little Close to “Woo Medicine”: Ingredients such as cordyceps and chaga have long been used in Chinese medicine, but the health claims haven’t been validated by the FDA. More scientific studies on human subjects are needed. While I certainly didn’t seem to suffer any harm from these ingredients, I question how responsible or necessary it is to include them.
Will I Order Again?
I just got my third shipment — but I’ve put a brief pause on the deliveries for two reasons. One, I’m traveling again soon and, two, thanks to the lag between deliveries ordering on Fridays and orders being due only two days later, on Sundays, I felt like I needed some breathing room to figure out the ideal items to order.
I can see myself staying on this program for several weeks, integrating these meals with home-cooked favorites. I was impressed with the quality, convenience and flavors. I don’t know how long I’ll be dependent on Daily Harvest, but I can readily envision that I’ll keep certain items that I particularly like coming regularly. Some items that I like, such as the flatbreads, we’re simply not going to replicate at home. I have no interest in figuring out a vegetable-imbued, cassava-flour crust.
There’s a volume discount, by the way. Increasing the number of dishes per week from 9 to 12 also increased the quantity discount from $5 to $10, which is like getting a dish for free, and then some.
If you decide to give Daily Harvest a try, make sure to stock up on a good-quality chicken stock (or have some homemade on hand) for the soups and your favorite type of milk for lattes, chia bowls or oat bowls. The Harvest Bowls also benefit from the suggested (but not required) two-tablespoon dash of broth.
Disclosure: If you order with one of the links in this review, you’ll get $25 off and I’ll get a $35 credit towards a future shipment. You can also simply go directly to the Daily Harvest homepage. You’ll get $25 off there, too — but you have to order 14 items.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.