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How Meal Kit Services Are Changing The Kitchen
By Amanda Jean Elliott
We’ve all watched those time lapse cooking videos online. Or the cooking shows on TV. Everything you need for a recipe at your fingertips. And haven’t we all tried to do these oh so simple recipes just as quickly and seamlessly at home. And failed. Enter the meal in a box. And not from the freezer section.
A new breed of cook-at-home meals has landed on the doorsteps of average families. Often called ‘meal kit services,’ the big ones include Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Plated and Home Chef. It’s that rare combination of cooking and takeout – a fresh version of a frozen meal. Many with gourmet ingredients and all with two end results: easy cooking at home experiences and broadened culinary horizons.
“I did Hello Fresh for about two years and really enjoyed it,” says Katie Ferguson Guidry.
The married Lafayette lady is often traveling and she found the option to be a welcome one for several reasons.
“As someone who doesn’t cook often, the easy-to-follow recipes, short prep time (less than 30 minutes) and enjoyable variation were a welcomed change of pace,” she says. “The best part was that there was little to no wasted food. Since it’s only Barry and me and we are only home to eat two or three times a week, I feel like I throw away much more food than we ever consume.”
She says at first blush the cost was startling — three meals that feed two to three people a week for $68 a week. But, as she added up dinner on the town, she realized it was cheaper to use the service. She says the products improved over time with better meat and better packaging.
“My favorite part was they posted recipes a month in advance so I could opt-out on a week that I didn’t particularly care for the offerings and I could ‘pause’ my subscription on the weeks when we were traveling or had other dinner plans,” she says.
Single moms like Robin Racca love it. She tried Blue Apron and said it was more than enough food, but her son wasn’t so crazy about the choices.
“My kiddo wasn’t into the ‘gourmet’ so much. I had fun learning new foods and techniques and having dinner ready within 30 to 40 minutes without having to think about it plus leftovers for lunch the next day. Probably will do it again on the weeks my boyfriend is home. Otherwise it’s just too much food for me,” Racca says.
While some parents like Wendi Vann, who says her kids just wouldn’t eat it, stopped the home meals because of the unusual ingredients, other like Kelli Kaufman chose services that offer even more unusual culinary combos.
“We do Plated once a week and love it. The ingredients in the recipes are a bit more adventurous than most home delivery plans,” she says noting the meals for two feed her family of four.
For the Graffeo family, Blue Apron has been a great option. Dad, Daniel, says, “It broadens your kitchen horizons,” which nutritionist and mom of two Yvette Quantz says is one of the benefits of these new services. She used Hello Fresh for her family of four and is a huge advocate of cooking at home and incorporating children into the cooking process to teach them long-term healthy food habits.
“One of the things I like about it is how for busy people who can’t cook or who are stressed out by the idea of ingredients, it gets it all there in front of you, and it’s simple,” she says. “My kids were involved in cooking dinner when we did it, and I like for my kids to be involved.”
Because most cooking at home experiences are more time consuming, Quantz says it’s tough to make time for both cooking and teaching kids how to cook. Between activities and homework it’s a challenge to do anything more than quickly whip it up solo.
“With these programs kids can actually be involved in a less stressful manner because we often don’t have time when cooking to teach them how to cook. The portion sizes are another big benefit because it offers portion control,” Quantz says. “And it gave me new dinner ideas.”
New dinner ideas can be at the core of creating good eating habits and getting kids to connect to what they eat as well as adults.
“I am a big advocate of cooking at home and if it’s something new to you then this is a great way to start. But, even if it’s not new to you — for example many dieticians use it because they want to cook at home, but their lifestyles are too busy.”
Why cook at home? Quantz easily explains what people are realizing more and more in our fast food age — it’s about the food and much more.
“It’s important to eat at home as a family,” Quantz says. “That family time does so much more than just fuel the body. It develops healthy relationships, and it’s building children’s self esteem and family communication. There is a lot more to eating diners together and eating at home than the food. Teaching adults and children to cook is very important, and it’s a life skill. It makes other parts of your life flow better.”
It’s certainly been the case for Joshua Dahlen, a busy nurse, who has been using Home Chef for the past few months after trying Blue Apron. While he liked the Blue Apron recipes, it was the ingredients and his hope to learn how to cook things he would be likely to do again that has kept him using Home Chef.
“Blue Apron has recipes that are good, but if I ever want to cook them again, I just don’t see myself buying things like champagne vinegar. On the other hand, Home Chef has recipes that are good and don’t have such ‘novelty’ ingredients,” Dahlen says. “Either way, I don’t regret doing it. It has made my life so much easier. Less cleanup. Less wasted food. I don’t eat as much because there’s only enough for the meal and no leftovers.”
What’s left, however, is a newfound knowledge of just how fun cooking at home can be.