|Hello Fresh Pineapple Pork Chop|
Enter the MEAL SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE (a very unappealing term, I must say.) This is a booming industry and there are a good few to choose from, including BLUE APRON, PLATED, HELLO FRESH, HOME CHEF, CHEF'D, and SUN BASKET. The way these work is that you choose your meals for the week, and all the ingredients (with recipes) are delivered to your doorstep. The food is all fresh and you don't have to do the shopping. That sounds pretty good, so which one to try?
In my case, it was an easy decision because my daughter gave me a free trial coupon for HELLO FRESH.
These services all have slightly different options on the number of meals you can or must order per week. For HELLO FRESH, it's three two-person meals. (They also have a family option and a vegetarian option.) There are seven to eight recipes to choose from for that week.
I've just finished my third week of HELLO FRESH dinners. Here's my little very unscientific review.
The food is fresh, although there were a couple of vegetable fails. The chicken, beef, and pork seemed to be good quality. We had shrimp twice and it was very fresh, but our one salmon dish was (not so pro) pretty dismal. A friend tried the cod, however, and said it was delicious.
The recipes almost all called for cooking with or using olive oil, which was fine by me, and there was lots of citrus, fresh herbs, garlic, onions, and shallots--all things I would ordinarily cook.
The portions were generous. We almost always had leftovers, at least enough for me to eat for lunch the next day.
My picky-eater husband liked almost everything, although I did make a few substitutions. (No bell peppers for him--he's allergic.)
The recipe cards were easy to follow.
|Recipe card for the pork chops above|
I loved the concentrated stocks.
We had fresh food that was healthier, and probably less expensive, than take-out.
(The meal services prices seem to vary between $9 and $12 per portion. HELLO FRESH was $60 for three two-person meals. Not cheap, but less than decent take-out or eating out, and I didn't waste nearly as much food as I usually do.)
The packaging! You have to dispose of the ice packs and the cardboard and the foil/foam liners for the shipping boxes. This is apparently an issue with all the services, and HELLO FRESH is supposed to be less wasteful than some.
The time. I'm a very competent cook, but I never once got all the prep done in the 10 minutes stated on the recipe card.
These recipes were all easy for me, but although they are categorized as "Level 1" I think they might be challenging for someone who was a real novice. And you have to have decent equipment--good pans and knives and graters, etc.
There was not enough variation in the recipes.
I got bored. I missed doing my own meal planning and experimenting with recipes that I run across.
And I got tired. There were lots of nights when I didn't want to spend an hour cooking and would have been happier with a rotisserie chicken and some steamed broccoli, or whole wheat spaghetti and a salad, or leftovers from a pot of soup.
My conclusion: I'm not ready to cancel, but am going to take a couple of weeks break. (You can stop a week as long as you do it within the service's time limit.) I have, however, been reading lots of reviews of the different services, so I may be tempted to try some others. BLUE APRON seems to get the overall best reviews, has more variety in the recipes, and is less expensive. Their recipes are created by well-know chefs, too. I'd like a two meal a week option, too, if it was available, rather than three.
Overall, I think the meal service plans are a great alternative to eating out or getting take out. My daughter and son-in-law, with a baby and full time jobs, love them. And I think it's a great way for people who don't know how to cook to learn about food and cooking.
What about you, REDS? Have you tried any of these? WOULD you be interested in trying?
LUCY BURDETTE: We have never tried them but hearing so much about this! In fact I just yesterday read an article reviewing this whole trend by a chef--he felt the explanations for beginning cooks were inadequate. Our daughter and her husband love them, and rotate through the different programs according to the deals they get.
I admit I end up rotating through my series of no-fail meals which includes roast chicken, spaghetti bolognese, crockpot pasta fagiole, curried chicken salad, shrimp, French lentil, pasta, and kale soup, and for a splurge, crab cakes. And I do love going to the farmer's market and cooking from what I find there. Since I have to eat lower salt food these days, I wonder how these would work? What do you think Debs?
DEBS: Lucy, all the recipes call for salt to taste and there aren't ingredients with added salt, so I think it would be pretty easy to cook to suit you. How good the meals would be without salt, I don't know!
HALLIE EPHRON: I've never tried it but my daughter uses BLUE APRON and has had good success. Exhausted coming home from work, two little kids, she says it's great not to have to shop for food and the food comes prepped. Healthy. Tasty. Not as expensive as eating out.
All that packaging would turn me off. We're filling the earth with trash. It preys on me.
And I love to cook. The prep calms me. And like Lucy I have a roster of rotating menu items (roast chicken, paprika chicken, chicken with mushrooms, Grandma Freda's meatballs, pasta with mushroom sauce...)
But my favorite thing is to look in the fridge, see what ingredients I have, go to the computer and fire up Epicurious and find recipes that use those ingredients, and then improvise. Last week I made zucchini shrimp pancakes one night. Another night crispy fish over homemade creamed corn.
As long as I have basic ingredients in the fridge: ginger, scallions, garlic, onions, olive oil, vinegars, mushroom, red pepper, carrots, celery, along with frozen shrimp, chicken parts, chopped meat, fish fillets along with something green (broccoli or asparagus or zucchini or bok choy) or fresh tomatoes (Campari brand are the tastiest)... I can improvise something. Problem is I rarely write down what I did, so if it's really good too often it's a one off.
JENN McKINLAY: I love the idea of a meal subscription service but I don't think I'd like the reality. Like, Hallie, I spend a lot of time thinking about packaging and the planet and I do suffer from landfill/environment anxiety. Over-packaging makes me crazy. I am a hardcore farmer's market sort of gal. I like to go and buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and bread, and then see what we can do with them. Since I live in a frat house with two teen boys, I'd have to find a meal service that caters to growth spurts. The other day when I was at the store, I got a text asking me to bring home a big bag of potatoes. The nine o'clock snack at our house is a fully loaded baked potato. The bag was gone in three days!
DEBS: I love the farmer's market, too, Jenn, and missed just going and picking out whatever looked good. (And our local tamales from the market!)
RHYS BOWEN: What I'd like is a live-in chef! It doesn't seem to me that this service takes away much time and I really like to pick out my own meats... or have John pick them out. Actually John does all the shopping and comes home with loads of fresh vegetables and good proteins and we take turns cooking. We stick to our favorites on the whole: salmon, mahi mahi, trout, roast chicken and then a curry or a big stew, rack of lamb as a treat, shrimp, occasionally lobster tail. We recently started doing lamb shanks in the slow cooker (delicious).
What I would like is to subscribe to a local organic produce delivery--a box on my doorstep every week with whatever produce has reached maximum freshness. Of course the risk is that some weeks it could be kale and more kale, but think of fresh peaches, herbs, baby new potatoes. Unfortunately we are never in one place for long enough to make this work. And frankly, if I don't feel like cooking we go out. I enjoy not having to do the clearing and washing up!
DEBS: Rhys, we did a produce share every two weeks for a couple of years. We stopped because the price went up and the shares got smaller, but I really miss it. It was such fun to pick up my box and see what was in it.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You know me. Either way is possibly good. I love the idea of not having to decide what to cook, so if someone brings me the perfect ingredients for a thing, I could see how that would be nice. BUT-- the fun part of cooking for me is the "figuring out what I could concoct from what I have" element. Not the actually cooking it element.
So I'd rather say to someone--"I'm going to make grilled chicken with parmesan pesto and stir-fried spiral zucchini with garlic and peas. Could you clean it up when I'm done?"
Also--it would shock you--not--to learn I'm a little fussy. So there's hardly a time when I don't ask for just the tiniest of changes in restaurants--could I have salad instead of fries? Once I asked for just two pumpkin ravioli (which was an accompaniment) because I wanted to try them, but I didn't want to eat ten of them, and I also didn't want them to go to waste. I thought it was a perfectly reasonable request. I was the only one.
SO if one of those meal-prep places brought us, say, haddock with lima beans, I might ask them to take away the lima beans. And in that case, what's the point?
Our go-tos are stir-fried chicken and vegetables, grilled chicken with parmesan, sautéed pork medallions with sauteed lemon slices, grilled salmon with whatever there is. Chicken chili. Chicken and mushroom soup. Chicken tacos without the taco shells. Yes, rack of lamb for special occasions, cooked over charcoal.
Now I'm starving. If I cook, will you clean up?
INGRID THOFT: The solution to my problem isn't a meal subscription: I need to move in with Hallie! I love to eat, but as many of you know, I'm not wild about the cooking part. In fact, I would be happy to do the dishes if someone else were willing to actually make the meal! I live one block from one of the best farmers markets in the country - Pike Place Market - so finding good ingredients is never an issue. Rather, I just don't like the process, even if all the fixings were to magically appear in my refrigerator. The other challenge is that I have a picky eater on my hands, although he would deny it. There are enough things he doesn't like, or likes in a very particular way, that I'm afraid I would be like Hank, having to pick through the offerings. Where's the personal chef subscription plan? That's what I really need!
DEBS: Well, it looks like we have no REDS takers. In fact, I think we're all going to move in with Hallie...
But it's interesting that three of us have working daughters with small children and they all love the meal services. I think anything that gets people cooking AND having meals together is great.
How about you, READERS? I'd love to hear some feedback on the other plans.