Meal delivery companies are proliferating these days. Blue Apron, Green Chef, Purple Carrot, Chartreuse Spatula… ok I made that last one up, but you get the idea. The appeal is undeniable – they mail you the pre-measured ingredients you need to make tasty meals at home and much of the ingredient prep is already completed. Of course, I don’t have to tell you this. You’ve no doubt seen their relentless advertising on social media or heard the spiel on your favorite podcast. The novelty of the meals and time-saving promises of these companies was intriguing to me, but with most plans running a minimum of $70 a week for a 2-person household, my wallet was not on board.
Cut to Christmas, and I became the happy recipient of gift certificates for two of these scrumptious subscriptions. Over the last 3 weeks we received and whipped up 9 meals. Here’s my take on the cooking craze sweeping the upper-middle class, and some feedback for the companies selling the goods.
- Many of the meals we made were really good – the type of meal I’d happily have paid for in a restaurant. My husband always tells me my cooking is yummy, but the compliments for these dishes were on a whole new level (I recall at least two involuntary, audible moans of delight). I attribute it mainly to making more complicated dishes with new spices and special touches than I would do on my own. For example, I typically shy away from recipes that require several spices and garnishes I don’t have on hand and am unlikely to use again. But when you’re delivered these novel ingredients, and just the amount you need for the recipe, culinary nirvana is suddenly within reach.
- On the flip side, the per-meal cost for both services we tried works out to what we would typically pay at a restaurant in our area ($10-$12 a meal)… a restaurant where we don’t have to do any of the work or the dishes. For us, the cost is just too high for it to be realistic beyond our fun free trial. Plus, while it’s convenient that you receive several meals of food, it’s not like these services remove the need for grocery shopping altogether. If you have the disposable income to use these services regularly and really enjoy cooking new meals at home, I totally get it and more power to ya!
- So did we take anything tangible away from our free trials? Yes! Over the course of 9 meals, I learned lots of new techniques I can easily bring to everyday cooking. Chief among them was how to crisp things. I mastered how to make crispy fried onions for topping a veggie burger, sage-infused crispy panko breadcrumbs to add crunch to any savory dish, and oven-baked crispy tofu to step-up any Asian entrée. I discovered a new way to fix broccoli that makes the side as grand as the main course (it involves sautéed carrots, bell pepper, and red onion, all dusted with garam masala seasoning – so warming and addictive). I even made crepes for the first time ever! Considering that we make pancakes every single week, you’d think I’d have made that leap sooner. But that’s just the thing – none of these new-to-me methods were difficult, I just needed an extra push to give them a try. These meal services are a great way to expand your repertoire and take some risks in the kitchen… likely to great reward.
Feedback for the companies:
- If you want to keep your customers, hook them with your proprietary
y spice blends and sauces. One of the services we tried did this really well. They sent little baggies of pre-mixed spices and their sauces were usually pre-made in adorable little bottles. This meant I had no idea what it was that made my meal so dang tasty. If I wanted to recreate the magic, I depend on them. In the case of one spicy peanut sauce in particular, I would have happily forked over some dough for a larger bottle of that liquid gold. The other service we tried did not seem to embrace this concept. They used minimal spices, and what they did send came individually packaged (oregano in one bag, thyme in another). For one thing, this decreased the perceived value of the meal to me as a consumer. I have 2 giant bottles of oregano in my cabinet right now – couldn’t they have used something a little more exotic for effect? The other thing is, since I know exactly what’s in the recipe, I can recreate it easily on my own. That’s good for me, but it decreases my need for a service like this when I can recreate the exact same meal myself for much less.
- Please, don’t make me use special equipment. One recipe I made required both a blender AND a food processor. I only do that level of dishes for federally recognized holidays – certainly not a Tuesday night in. Since we’re operating under the assumption that your service makes cooking amazing meals at home easier, minimizing the number of tools I need and cleanup required will help me feel like you delivered on that promise.
- I’m not your target market, but I could be! I’ll be honest; paying for your service every week is not where I want my hard-earned cash to go. But I would be interested in purchasing the occasional meal for special occasions, and I’d pay a premium for it. If you could give me everything I needed to make a really special dinner for 6-8 people, I would totally give that a shot. If you make it seasonally appropriate and throw in some heirloom ingredients that will make my guests think I’m some kind of purple-carrot-growing wizard, you will have my loyalty.
We had a ton of fun making our 9 special meals. As far as gift-giving goes, this was a perfect choice for us. If you have someone in your life that enjoys cooking, I highly recommend gifting them a week of meals from one of the many meal-delivery companies out there (we were partial to Green Chef). It would also make a great gift for someone recently diagnosed with celiac disease or someone who is going vegetarian or vegan. Most of these delivery services have gluten free and veg options available, and I can’t think of a better way to help someone ease into a new way of eating than making it fun (and less intimidating) than with meals like these.