Meal Delivery Services
The Tulsa Hip Mom puts them to the test.
Ah, the first days of school. If you’re anything like me, you are absolutely THRILLED that your darling children are kept occupied for many hours a day (the day I spent well over $100 at the Andy B’s arcade to entertain kids in the cool air conditioning was a showcase for motherly despair). But perhaps you’re adjusting to a new kind of crazy now, which leaves little time for dinner planning. Or grocery shopping. Or even thinking. So when a blogger upon whom I have a girl crush happens to mention she loves Blue Apron, a meal service that delivers farm-fresh ingredients with easy-to-follow directions right to your doorstep, I decide to give a few of these services a try. You have probably seen them in your Facebook feed! How do these services work for families with kids — some who are picky, some who are universally ravenous?
First we try Blue Apron. I order a couple of free meals (FREE! It’s really worth trying just for a the free part — you do need to give them your credit card for the trial, though. If you end up not being interested, just cancel before the next week’s delivery is scheduled). When the UPS guy shows up with a huge, ice-cold box of gorgeous, individually wrapped ingredients, there is a lot of squealing with delight. “Look at THIS CUCUMBER, Mom!” “Wow! Steak!” So we all bring the food to the refrigerator, and I try to sort it all out. I discover the mysteriously wrapped packages of “knick knacks” are measured condiments like Dijon mustard and red wine vinegar. The only ingredients you really need to have on hand are olive oil, salt and pepper.
I give a cursory review to the recipe of the first meal: “Seared Chicken Thighs with Mediterranean Orzo.” Gulp! The recipes are very detailed, and there are a lot of pictures — so many that at first I’m a bit overwhelmed. But when I realize I’m just chopping vegetables to throw in the orzo, I feel a lot better, though you need a bit of cooking mojo to feel comfortable with the recipes.
I get everything cooked up and it is fairly painless. And do the masses eat it? Well, the seared chicken thighs are excellent – the meat is just so high quality it’s hard to mess up. But the kids are “meh” on the orzo. I think what throws them – and my husband – “off” is the vinaigrette on the orzo. It is pronounced “funny tasting.” Pooey! So a lot of the orzo gets discarded, but I’m not completely discouraged; everyone ate a bit and we tried something new. And it should be noted that there is enough food for our family of NINE, even though the plan serves “four hungry adults.” I still have a lot of little kids who don’t eat much (and one still sans teeth), but I imagine that in a few years I would have to order TWO plans. But probably for your average family of four, there is more than enough food.
The next night our recipe is a bit more intimidating: “Cod and Miso Soba Noodles with Multicolored Cherry Tomatoes and Eggplant.” Well, this might be tricky. Fish (some of my kids are vehemently anti-ocean fare), along with pasta that is not your normal white penne, and a new vegetable. Yikes! So I dutifully follow the recipe, and my inner foodie loves playing around with the Japanese-inspired spices: miso, ginger and sesame oil. And the eggplant — a vegetable I adore along with absolutely NO ONE in my family — is marinated with an unctuous ginger/miso paste and then baked. I sear the cod, assemble the soba noodle salad, and serve with the side of eggplant. The verdict? Again, the fish is excellent; we’re not as familiar with cod, but even the fish haters pronounce it “not awful” after their miniscule bites. I think the soba noodle salad is quite good, but everyone else finds it “gross.” I guess a warm noodle salad – brown noodles, no less – with vegetables is just a bit too much to ask. I note to my husband that the recipes might be “too sophisticated” for the kids. He grimaces after a bite of the noodles and says, “For me too.” And no one except me touches the eggplant, which I must have overcooked because it is sadly mushy. So will I try Blue Apron again? Yes. The meat is so good, the ingredients are top notch, and I love experimenting with new recipes and spices that I wouldn’t normally be brave enough to try. But if you don’t like risking that some food will be wasted, or you don’t like experimenting, then stick with delivery.
Feeling like a boss of meal delivery, I try Hello Fresh, a service similar to Blue Apron. Once again, everyone is so excited to unwrap a box full of fresh, cold and delicious food and produce. The recipes seem a bit more simplistic and less intimidating than Blue Apron’s. The Sonoma Chicken Salad with Pecans, Grapes and Garlic Croutons is quite straightforward: mix the dressing, make the croutons, cook the chicken and toss everything together! But this is the whole meal, and since most of my kids will not eat a meal composed primarily of salad, we just end up grilling the chicken (excellent), and eating the salad separately. This isn’t quite enough for my carb lovers, so I end up supplementing with Rice a Roni.
Another meal, Ginger-Marinated Steak Wraps with Jasmine Rice, is entirely too fussy. The recipe calls for chopping up carrots, pickling cucumbers, and stuffing all of this stuff, along with cilantro, rice and steak, in a sleeve of lettuce. Argh! If there is any kid out there younger than 12 who will eat something wrapped up in lettuce, I want to meet him. So we dispense (alas!) of the gorgeous butter lettuce, marinate and grill the juicy steak, and serve up the jasmine rice – all a la carte.
I do get some good ideas, though: homemade croutons, for example. Tear up a baguette, toss it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast for 10 minutes — so easy and so much better than croutons from the bag! Why hadn’t I thought of that? Or homemade pickles — chop up a cucumber, douse with white vinegar and a bit of salt. Voila! Easy peasy and a healthy pre-dinner snack.
Finally we try Home Chef. The first dinner experiment is Marinated Steak with Shiitake Mushrooms and Whipped Wasabi Mashed Potatoes. The recipe is pretty easy and straightforward. Except there are maybe 12 mushrooms, which really isn’t enough even if you have avowed mushroom haters. The steak is pronounced “fatty,” unfortunately, so the dog gets some really nice marinated steak. The mashed potatoes (sans wasabi – I can’t find the wasabi powder in the packet, which is probably a good thing for my crew) are a big hit. Which is great! Except….oh, I could have mashed up potatoes with little inspiration all on my own.
I should note, the meal preparation times on all of these recipes say things like “35 minutes.” Well, maybe, if you are doing nothing except cooking. But if you are tending a fistfight, fielding a request for water or a snack, nursing a baby, and nursing a wine, it is more like an hour. Just FYI.
There are other options too. I sign up for “Plated,” but for some reason my order is cancelled — a fact I discover late that afternoon, which is a bit stressful when you don’t have any other plans for dinner (I never discover why it’s cancelled; possibly client error!) And Green Chef is a similar company which emphasizes their organic ingredients. They also offer Paleo, Gluten Free and Vegetarian options. It all looks delicious, but perhaps a bit more expensive than other companies.
My takeaway? Compare, have fun, and experiment; even if you try just one company once, you won’t be out a lot of money. I had a great time playing around — but I like to cook. If you like to cook, and like a kick out of your rut here and there – give it a try! If you don’t like to cook, have many picky eaters, and/or want things really, really easy, stick with take-out, the crock pot, or a great local company like Dinner’s at 6, which will prepare the family meals of your choice from their many options. All you do is swing by, pick them up and cook them at home. Voila! A home-cooked meal in minutes!
However you get there, here’s to many happy family meals this fall!