I hadn’t heard about these delivery services of ready-to-cook dinner kits until we got a free trial week from Blue Apron, which delivers more than one million meals a month—nationwide. And Blue Apron is just one of several similar services which include Plated, Chefday!, and Hello Fresh.

Ready-to-cook dinner kits are the latest example of a trend that’s been around for a while; namely, how to turn the weekly grind of dinner fixings into something more convenient, varied, and healthier than frozen TV dinners. So-called “meal assembly centers” came along in the late ‘90s with companies like Dream Dinners offering central kitchens where you could prepare meals big and small.

It’s related, in a way, to now-familiar services like PeaPod, which takes online orders and delivers groceries to your door—but, of course, those don’t offer meal prep.

So How Did We Like Blue Apron?

The free trial was from my wife’s sister, Lyn, a big Blue Apron fan: she gets three meals a week for her husband and herself. Their son is a picky eater, so Lyn makes something separate for him. At a cost of about $10 per person per meal, the Blue Apron dinner kits come complete with every ingredient, from steak to a tablespoon of vinegar in a tiny jar, plus easy-to-follow recipes. It’s a time- and stress-saver for Lyn, though convenience comes at a price.

I thought it was surprisingly good. Everything for our three meals (steak, salmon, and pasta with chicken) came in one big box delivered to the door, with hefty freezer packs to keep it fresh. The meals were varied and healthy, well-seasoned, and tasted fresh. My wife Jan did the cooking (okay, I grilled the steak).

Once the week was over, Jan and I had these observations about ready-to-cook dinner kits:

  • It can be good for someone learning to cook, as everything is carefully spelled out and it’s pretty hard to mess things up. In fact, this is the very point made on the popular blog, Mommy Shorts.
  • Also, here’s a pro or a con: the meals don’t leave any leftovers. Con: Jan often likes to make extra so there’s less work on another night. But portions are just enough per each person. Pro: Many people clearly like the “lack of waste.”
  • Speaking of portions, Jan pointed out that someone who needs portion control to lose weight could find services like this helpful—as long as they don’t end up grabbing potato chips from the pantry!
  • Blue Apron claims that you can mix and match dinner choices between their vegetarian box and the meat-and-fish box. But the online system didn’t let us do that. Maybe it’s different if you’re not on a free trial?
  • An “ECO” note: the packaging felt “excessive.” By the time you unpack a meal, there’s a big mound of plastic. Yes, a lot goes in the recycle bin, but the impression is distinctly non-ecological.
  • Then there’s the matter of cancelling. When you sign up, even for a free week, you have to hand over credit card information. When we decided to cancel, it turned into quite the rigmarole as our card was already charged for another week, and it was hard to contact them. We finally did get it cancelled, but after some effort, and they said it would be a “special favor.”

A Few More Observations

Although the meals were healthy and appetizing, I thought: hey, this is somewhat pricey. But what about families who are so busy they get a lot of take-out? Granted, a big pizza will be cheaper, but lots of other take-out options cost what this does, or more. And there’s satisfaction in cooking it up yourself, with all ingredients at your fingertips.

Plus, there’s that issue of picky eaters. Johnny or Sally will only eat PB&J or Mac & Cheese, but how about the adults? This is certainly one way to satisfy grown-up taste buds, while using store-bought food for the kids.

There are other variations, too, as outlined in this New York Times story, including fully-cooked, frozen meals delivered to you, or shelf-stable kits to which you add perishable ingredients. And this Today Show segment showcases even more choices, plus has current pricing info.

The point is, for the busy family plunging headlong into this year’s school season, one of these options could not only be worth trying, but a real life-saver.

And who knows what’s next? Meals dropped from drones?


Featured Image via Blue Apron

 

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