By Adair Odom
The age-old question, “what’s for dinner?” is often followed with takeout, ramen noodles or Lean Cuisine for those that don’t know their way around the kitchen. Learning how to cook is often intimidating, with so many opportunities to make a mistake.
The US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service (USDA) found that food consumed in restaurants was higher in nutrients that Americans eat too much, such as fat and saturated fats, and lower in nutrients that Americans don’t eat enough of , including calcium, fiber and iron. While eating at home is better nutritionally, it proves a problem for people who were never taught how to cook.
Enter meal kit delivery: Insulated boxes filled with fresh ingredients delivered straight to the doorstep, promising fresh meals without the hassle of the grocery store. But is it possible for someone who doesn’t know how to cook to use these services?
There are several options on the market when it comes to meal kit delivery, each promising different amounts of flexibility and varied benefits and perks. The bottom line of each service is pre-portioned ingredients packaged in an insulated box and delivered straight to subscribers.
Plated promises “dinner that perfectly fits in your life.” Each week, subscribers choose from 11 recipes, creating their menu and their box. Plated promises responsibly sourced meat and sustainable seafood, as well as farm-sourced seasonal ingredients. The flexibility of Plated is that subscribers can choose how many servings of each recipe to include. The ingredients arrive in pre-portioned amounts in insulated boxes, allowing for some variability if the recipient is not home when the box arrives.
“We love using Plated,” said Mary Ann Detmering, Houston-based mother of three. “If my daughter is in rehearsals and won’t be home for dinner, I can adjust our delivery to reflect that and we don’t waste food. The only downside is that we don’t all love the same meals, so often my son doesn’t want to eat the meals provided for the week.”
Blue Apron promises much of the same perks: Organic sources of meat and seafood, farm fresh produce and vegetables and delivery in an insulated box. However, Blue Apron differs from Plated in that there are only two different plans offered, the two person plan or the family plan, which includes anywhere from two to four servings. While setting up a Blue Apron account, it’s possible to choose what diet you intend to follow (omnivore, herbivore, vegan, etc.) and recipes offered will reflect this choice. Blue Apron subscribers choose a combination of three recipes from six options to create their box.
Very similar to Blue Apron, Hello Fresh offers subscribers the choice between classic of vegetarian, with three meals of two-to-four servings arriving in the insulated box. The service promises quick-and-easy recipes, but does not mention organic or farm-fresh produce, like Blue Apron and Plated do.
Perhaps the most unique is Peach Dish, which focuses on Southern-inspired dishes. Subscribers receive two meals per week with the option of either two or four servings per dish.
Blue Apron because was offering $30 off for the first week, which made it the most price efficient choice for me. After subscribing, I choosing my first three meals, Seared Salmon with Glazed Carrots and Saffron-Yogurt Sauce, South Indian Squash Curry with Jasmine Rice and Seared Chicken with Roasted Honeynut Squash and Garlic Rice.
The insulated box arrived on Tuesday, as promised, just in time for dinner. Unpacking the box was effortless, with the recipe cards on top, followed by the farm-fresh produce and various ingredients individually packaged and pre-portioned. The ingredients are labeled for ease, including
whether it must be refrigerated, helpful to those who aren’t often found in the kitchen. The meat, or in this case, salmon and chicken, was placed under a cardboard divider, directly on the bags of Nordic Ice to separate it from the produce and ensure that it was kept cold.
2 skin-on salmon filets
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
2 cloves garlic
1 navel orange
1 Yukon gold potato
1 bunch cilantro
1 pinch saffron
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon crushed Aleppo pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
For the complete recipe, visit blueapron.com/recipes/1012.
The first step of each recipe is to prepare the ingredients. Being new to the kitchen, this also meant discovering where the cutlery and cutting board were and finding the pots and pans. For any new chef, the instruction came as overwhelming, with so many new commands, such as to quarter, deseed and zest a lemon.
This is where Blue Apron came in handy, with a link to cooking tips at the top of the recipe card, including videos that walk the new chef through each individual step carefully. This is also where I realized that subscribers are expected to have a fully stocked kitchen, including vegetable peelers, a colander and a large number of bowls, something that would’ve been nice to know before beginning this process. It is also expected that subscribers have salt, pepper and olive oil for cooking, which should be included in an email, making sure that subscribers are ready to cook when their box arrives.
“I was frustrated that it never mentioned the need for olive oil,” said Mary Margaret Gilbert, a recent subscriber to Blue Apron. “After preparing my ingredients I had to send my roommate to the store to get some since it was necessary to cook the squash.”
Besides this lack of communication from Blue Apron to subscribers, the directions are straightforward and include pictures to facilitate ease. Between the directions, pictures and cooking videos, the recipe left little room for confusion. About an hour after beginning the process, the sweet scent of honey glazed carrots filled the air of the kitchen and it was time to plate the dish.
The final product
The final product was better than I expected for a first attempt. Each bite presented different flavors and the times suggested for cooking the salmon left the fish cooked to the perfect toughness – not too chewy, but not raw either. Looking at the prep time, which said 15 minutes, and cook time, which said 20-30 minutes, I was definitely moving slow. Peeling and chopping two carrots alone took me 15 minutes and I would guess that the more accurate prep time for a new chef is closer to about 30 minutes, since that includes learning how to do each step and watching the videos on the website.
The amount of time put in for small garnishes and sauces is considerable: Zesting and deseeding a lemon for a garnish seems ridiculous. After the dish was complete, the cleanup was also considerable, with dirty bowls, pots and pans filling the kitchen.
Try, try again
The other two dishes in the box proved more challenging than the first, particularly the South Indian Squash Curry. Not something I would usually pick for myself, the coconut milk in the recipe overwhelmed the dish and it was entirely too spicy for my taste.
The seared chicken was the largest undertaking of the three, which was surprising considering how simple it seemed based on the recipe. Most of the ingredients went into creating a sauce that was good, but not necessarily worth the time and commitment to detail.
Blue Apron delivered what it promised: Fresh produce and sustainably sourced meats and seafood. The biggest downside is that it took entirely more time to learn how to do things than I expected. The combination of the price, approximately $60 per week for two servings, and the ease of not going to the grocery store make this investment worth it for me, and after a week of fresh, at-home meals, I felt better about the way I was eating.
The biggest takeaway for me is that I really felt like I learned how to cook. After one week, I can now say that I know how to sear salmon and chicken, roast squash and mince garlic.