Honestly? When I met my boss 11 months ago and she told me she was a fan of the meal kit delivery service she uses, I was skeptical. Without going into which stereotype I applied to her, I did make some assumptions. That she and her hubby (whom I’ve never met) are the type of people who enjoy food but not the preparation of it.
But over the months, the idea would come back to me. Advertisements showed up innocuously on the free webservices I use, claiming meals cost as little as $9 per person per meal. That it’s better value than shopping for the ingredients yourself. I wondered if my budget would allow this expenditure which – let’s face it – is fresh food at a premium.
Then in a girls’ Whats App chat, one of women (the one with the most kids) shared a promo code for one of the services and that she had used it and that got the conversation started again. Instead of the standard “two meals free” with new subscription, the promo code was for four meals, or a whole week for two people. It was enough to get me to start scheduling deliveries from the three big ones I identified: Fresh Prep (friend’s promo code), Hello Fresh (modest promo code I saw in Gmail ads), and Chef’s Plate (boss’s referral promo).
Below, in lists, I have summarized features I have identified and rated them. I tried to be impartial about them but obviously certain ones have directed my choices.
(* signifies a neutral feature / + is a good feature / – is a con)
+ Could snag a tight delivery window of two hours (instead of four or eight hours)
+ Has two meals per week option – without paying a delivery charge
+ Managed my subscription from the first delivery
+ Eight choices of meals per week – most diverse
* Default promo: 2 free plates / my promo: 4 free plates
– Referral gives 3 free plates but referrer only gets 1 free plate
* $9-11 per serving
* US and Canada
* Minimum three meals per week
– Delivery times are Tuesday and Wednesday, all-(work)day window
– Cannot manage your first order without contacting customer service
– Currently, only four meals to choose from each week (three if you get the vegetarian box)
* Giant, 14lb box delivered by Puralator – how are you supposed to get that home? You don’t. Just get it delivered to your doorstep – worried that I’ll miss Puralator and then I’m hooped.
– Sustainable packaging but a lot of packaging nonetheless
+ Lovely packaging incl easy tear meat (scissors not needed)
+ Portions look larger
* Default promo: $26.66 off / my promo: $35 off
* $8.74-9.99 per serving
* Canada based
– Two meal option but then delivery charge
+ Seven choices of meals per week
* Giant, 15lb box delivered by UPS – meals packaged in paper bags and condiments in reuseable plastic jars
* Delivering only all-day Tuesday
– Pretty meat packaging but need scissors
+ Can “Pause” subscription so you don’t just skip for a couple months in and diarize updating it
* Default promo: 2 free plates / my promo: 3 free plates
+ Referral gives 3 free plates and subscriber gets 2 free plates
* $9.75-$10.75 (+$1.50 delivery) per serving
My first experience was with Fresh Prep with my first delivery on Monday, May 15. Originally, I scheduled a 6:00-8:00pm delivery and that would work as guy would come to the door when I’m feeding E anyhow and I could cook at 8 p.m. But I changed my mind and booked a ballet class at 6:45 p.m. so through the site, I changed my delivery window to 12:00-4:30 p.m. and I waited. He arrived at 4:40 p.m. and I was so impatient, I went downstairs to save him the trip up!
I summarized my experience thus far in a What’s App message to the girls. (Oops, typo. Meant to type “reduction”, not “education”.)
The very evening I received the order, I made the fish meal – cilantro cod with sage smashed butter beans I’m wasn’t that concerned the fish would go off, it was just how the week’s schedule would fall. That meal was prepared inside of 45 minutes and that included having to take time to wipe up some vomit from the kid after he choked on some milk he was drinking and then breaking again to brush his teeth. Not bad. I don’t have the hang of my toaster oven and the broccoli got charred yet it was NPY’s favourite part. The fish didn’t take the marinade so well – user error? – and I didn’t mind so much at all the smashed butter beans. I could make that again – “like” mashed potatoes but much easier.
A couple evenings later, I made Swedish Meatballs with Whole Wheat Fusili and Mushroom Gravy. It took me 62 minutes (30 minutes, my foot) but we had leftovers galore, so I call it a draw. I am spurred to be as efficient as possible because all the prep has already been done and learned from the challenge. Like that meatballs are pretty easy to form, but difficult for me to fry. I thought the creamy sauce would never come together but it did! So I’ll be keeping this recipe for the future. The pasta and sauce was a hit with the toddler and I snuck pieces of kale into the grooves of the fusili pasta.
I was grumbling a lot as the day for my Hello Fresh delivery came. Hello Fresh sent me a Purolator tracking number (it’s not my favourite courier) and my heart sank because I was certain I was going to miss the courier and it would end up at the Purolator office, not available until the next day at 1 p.m. as per usual timing and then all the food is spoiled. I’m sure that’s not what usually happens. So I contacted Purolator to add my company name – Hello Fresh had not required it on their form (I think) but Purolator needed it for a commercial address. Huh? I really didn’t want personal items going to my company mail room however often it happens but I told myself it was a one-time event and I hadn’t ordered anything to be delivered to my office in about two years.
The box was delivered at 10:53 a.m. and it was a hefty box indeed. Is the packaging necessary? Consider how Fresh Prep fit into a shopping tote. The packaging for Hello Fresh is certainly impressive and elegant and the ingredients seem plentiful – either the meals are bigger in portion size and/or there are ingredients to spare. I mean, if the recipe calls for a quarter of a cucumber, are they really going to just give you a sliced section that’s going to go off over the week?
It’s kind of fun to give NPY the booklet Hello Fresh provides so he can select which of the three meals he wants and true to his picky form, he wanted to get the one he liked the sound of least out of the way first: Feta-Stuffed Meatballs with Olive and Cucumber Salad and Roasted Sweet Potatoes. I’m making meatballs again!
As before, it took me on the order of 45 minutes to make this meal but I’m fine with it because with these meals, I do end up making something different . Not that I time myself, but perhaps it takes me 30 minutes alone to make the meals I am really familiar with. I made the newbie mistake of forgetting to check on my roasted vegetables and turning them halfway through. In my toaster oven, I don’t even use the heat the recipe lists and I’m afraid I will waste my efforts and scorch food. The fun part of this meal is how no pots and pans were involved. I roasted the sweet potatoes and while they roasted, prepped the meatballs and then roasted them. The sweet potatoes look charred but didn’t taste it. I think they are just caramelized. NPY doesn’t consider this a hearty meal because it doesn’t have rice or pasta but he doesn’t know nutrition to identify sweet potatoes as a starch and the filling part of the meal with the meat. It also turns out he doesn’t like Greek salad just as much as I don’t. It’s the cucumbers I don’t like (and the onions). I like all the other flavours that went into the dressing so as a result of preparing it myself, I found myself happy to eat the salad – at the least, eat it first. I made 14 meatballs and thought we had three servings but NPY went back for seconds (of just meatballs) so our leftovers consist of a portion of sweet potatoes and a large portion of the salad.
I decided to make the Herby Pan-Seared Chicken with Farro Caprese Salad next because the plum tomatoes (accidentally refrigerated for a bit, oops) and basil were looking worse for the wear than the produce ingredients of the third meal. I can’t say how long it took because I took a break to install the Thule on NPY’s bike (yay!). Making chicken breast is such a normal thing to make but I don’t usually so I appreciate being “forced” to make it. I wasn’t really into the flavours that evening but it was substantial while being nice and light and we still had one-third of the farro caprese salad and half a chicken breast left over.
I’d have to say I was least thrilled with my final selection for a three-meal week was between the Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Basmati Rice and Veggie Jumble and a wimpy looking vegetable flatbread. The snow peas pop out at you and I’m not a fan of crispy vegetables. Once again, it took me a little over 45 minutes to prepare this meal that was fortunately all made in the oven. There were plenty of leftovers but NPY didn’t like it. I was a little surprised because he misses Asian flavours when he hasn’t had it for a couple of days and he isn’t that picky (while I dislike “fake Asian”). The basmati rice that cooked up perfectly compared to the soggy mess I made of our Jasmine rice but he isn’t accustomed to such long grain rice. I found the sauce (soy sauce, honey and mustard) to be sweet and not to my liking. Still, it was cool to cook a pork tenderloin successfully. Can’t say I’ve done that before.
My boss (who became a former boss while preparing his post), had been using Chef’s Plate exclusively and was mildly interested in my experiments with meal kits. I didn’t think I would try Chef’s Plate but asked her if she had a referral to get a better discount on my first box and I’m glad I did. I thought I would space out my meal kits more but when I looked through the week’s menu for the week I got back from Vegas, it sounded so appetizing, I couldn’t wait. Her referral got me three free plates so if I ordered two meals and paid the delivery, that was one cheap box. But there were so many interesting items, I easily picked three meals.
Once again, the meals arrived in a big box and it was delivered by UPS on a Tuesday. On Tuesday, I go to a barre class at 1:15 to 2:00 and I wondered if I should cancel my class and if it wasn’t delivered by 1, there was a greater chance it would be delivered between 1 and 2 (no, there isn’t). I went ahead with the fitness class because what is a smartwatch for then if not to alert me to phone calls discreetly? Sure enough, the UPS guy called me at 1:50. We were started to stretch after our workout and I dashed out of the studio, tore open my locker and answered the phone. I buzzed him into the building. A minute later he called back. Sometimes I don’t buzz people in properly. No, he wanted to know my suite number. That irritated me – it should be amongst the information I provided Chef’s Plate. We repeated it to each other and it seemed like he got it wrong, but I repeated it. He didn’t call me back.
I picked the kid up from daycare and very nearly didn’t notice there wasn’t a box at my doorway. What the?? Was it on its way to UPS to melt and the food spoil? Did UPS leave it with the Building Manager and I’d be abashed because it’s not his job to received packages and I’d have to track him down and he’d bring me a huge box? No. The box was left in the lobby in the mailbox area. It could very easily have gone missing. I was irritated by this, especially after the delivery guy’s second phone call to get my suite number.
Another enormous box – I’m getting used to this now and wonder how the Fresh Prep meal kits could be so compact. NPY took notice of the meal cards that are full page and rival – if not top – Hello Fresh. He read the name of the meal we were having and was impressed and enticed. That’s good branding for you.
Since the Applewood Smoked Chicken Burgers with spiced sour cream and chopped salad meal had a salad, I knew I had to make it first. It took me about 40 minutes (yay!) but maybe my salad suffered because I hadn’t thoroughly dried out the lettuce. I made burgers for the first time and it was convenient to have an oven recipe. I popped the patties in, set the timer and didn’t have to worry about flipping them in a pan. Of course, I crossed my fingers that I had selected the appropriate duration since my toaster oven seems to run hot.
I think the applewood spice seasoning was too salty or the sour cream (I used the whole portion) was was excessive – other than that, burger success! NPY thought it was the tastiest meal so far as he has found the flavours up to now “weird”. Oh, he’s so fussy. Also, I was wondering how I was going to bring a travel amount of a new cream E is using on our next trip and that has been resolved with the little plastic screwtop jar that held the sour cream!
I made meal kits two days in a row and didn’t want to be fashioning burgers/meatballs two days in a row. Creamy Spring Risotto with purple asparagus, sauteed leeks and marscapone cheese would the next dinner. I didn’t keep track of how long this dish took and it was easy risotto that did not require constant stirring. NPY liked it, the kid liked it.- hope the kid likes it – would be up next. – didn’t keep track of how long it took – easy risotto – not constant stirring – NPY liked it – kid liked it – I thought the tart salad topping was weird and that the risotto itself was a little bland.
Last up, Za’atar Spiced Meatballs & Jeweled Rice with roasted green beans and herbed tahini sauce. I have no idea how long it took because I ended up making the rice first. By then, I was a champ meatball maker now and since I had washed the beans ahead of time, it didn’t seem to take long at all. The meatballs were good but I wasn’t a huge fan of the tahini sauce and I found another rice recipe that the kid likes.
On this day..
- impressionable - 2005