Last week I received the gift of a meal plan box from my friend PK! I was so curious to find out what these services are like. I’m sure you know the set-up: you pay for a number of meals, all the ingredients for each meal are packaged together and shipped to your door, you open the box and make your first night’s meal in 30 minutes, refrigerate the remaining uncooked meals and repeat. It’s a step beyond grocery delivery or a CSA (veggie box) because the recipes are chosen in advance and all the ingredients for each recipe are sent pre-measured. There is a combination of fresh and packaged ingredients, but no frozen foods. Every meal has some fresh vegetables and herbs.
For this company’s vegetarian plan, you select 3 meals from a choice of 4. They send all 3 meals at once so you can make them 3 nights in a row, or intersperse them with other things you have on hand. They come in a big box with an ice pack. My box arrived from Moncton, a city 2-3 hours away that has a regional grocery distribution centre. It was left on my doorstep in the rain, but no harm done! Inside the box was a separate bag for each meal.
- Tofu and Avocado Bowl with Jasmine Rice
- Grilled Bruschetta and Cheese Bun with Home Fries
- Tomato Lentil Stew with Brown Rice
Looking at the web site, the veggie meals look like a nice mix of stews, sandwiches and wraps, pasta, and dishes with “fake meat.” Lots of spices and different world cuisines. There is no vegan option, but some are adaptable. One of our meals had cheese, but the others had optional mayo or butter.
Looking at the little ingredient packs, I was concerned we’d end up with little “lady lunch” portions, but that was not the case. I have a hearty appetite!
The tofu bowl took exactly 30 minutes to make. With cilantro, radishes, sriracha, and white wine vinegar, the flavours really popped! Rom and I gave each other this look: “Huh, this is way better than we would make!” It was also a huge serving with twice as much tofu as we would have used in one of our meals. In fact, it would have made 3 reasonable-sized meals.
The next one was an open-faced toasted sandwich with balsamic tomatoes and olives and two kinds of cheese, and oven-roasted potatoes. The serving size was the equivalent of two slices of pizza and a large order of fries!
The lentils for the lentil stew came in a can, which I could see was necessary to keep the timing at 30 minutes: you had to cook rice in one pot while seasoning the lentils in another. This meal had a “peasant” vegetarian aesthetic and was more like the food we normally make, LOL!
All 3 meals were absolutely delicious.
So here are my conclusions.
The price point is geared to people who spend a lot of money on restaurant meals and take-out. If you don’t have a grocery budget and don’t know what foods cost, you will think this is a good deal compared to eating out. Therefore, it is best suited for folks who are weaning themselves off restaurant food. The price for 3 meals for 2 people is $73.99 or $12.33 per serving. For comparison, if Rom and I go to A&W for veggie burgers, fries and soft drinks, we pay $28 ($14 each). A panini for lunch is about $12. And making a lentil stew at home costs about $7.00 – for six servings! ($1.17 per serving)
All prices local and $CDN
A lot of singles and couples don’t like cooking from recipes because they have to buy full sizes of ingredients which they can never use up. Completely resolved by these plans.
If you can afford it and want the motivation, this is a great way to learn to cook. Of course, the meals come with full instructions. I was surprised, though, that they come with a recipe card giving the amounts of each ingredient, so you can make it again for yourself later. Even more surprisingly, the web site has hundreds of recipes. If you subscribed for 2, 3 or 4 weeks you’d probably learn enough techniques and enough recipes that you’d have your own roster of impressive meals.
You need sufficient counter or table space and a full-sized stove to make the meals. Two of the meals used two pots (therefore two stovetop burners) and one used two baking trays. I don’t think you could make these with a hot plate and a toaster oven! Not so friendly for micro-apartments.
You need supplies. The provider says all you need is salt, pepper, butter and oil. True, but you also need a garlic press, a grater or zester, a strainer, a basting brush, paper towels, parchment paper and Ziploc bags. Sure, you can do without if you’re creative – but anyone buying the meal boxes will want to save time, or they may not have the know-how to do work-arounds.
The clean-up takes as long as the meal prep. With two pots and two bowls per recipe, plus the chopping board and utensils, there is clean-up time involved – unlike take-out or frozen meals.
Although the meal packs make large servings, they are not designed to produce leftovers. Therefore, you have to cook every day! Rom and I normally cook 2-3 meals on weekdays and have leftovers a lot. This was actually more work! The two-person meal plans would be great for one person so they could have the meal two nights in a row. They could even stretch to three meals. For extra $ we could buy the 4-person meal packs so we could cook every other day. Most of the meals have fresh garnishes or toppings which would need to be added each night.
The meals came in a cardboard box and paper bags, with one plastic bag of ice. Sturdy produce was unwrapped. All the herbs, spices and condiments came in tiny individual packs (like fast food ketchup packets). If you can go to bulk stores to buy tiny amounts of these things in your own containers, then the meal kits have more packaging. But if you would have to buy a whole bottle of sriracha or balsamic vinegar for the sake of one meal, then perhaps these individual packets aren’t so bad.
Am I going to subscribe? No. We’re experienced cooks, we have a well-outfitted kitchen, we know how to meal plan and eliminate waste, and we manage our restaurant spending. But I was very inspired by the tastes and it brought back my motivation to try new recipes! I am going to keep an account open so that one week in the dead of winter, I can treat myself to another round of prepped meals. I’ll just have to choose a week with mild weather so the produce doesn’t freeze solid on the doorstep!
Thanks to PK for the culinary adventure! This is not a sponsored post. You can see from the photos which company it is, but I am not promoting them or any other meal service. I am way too frugal for that, haha!
Do you plan your meals in advance, or go day-by-day? Have you tried one of these services?
We usually meal plan two weeks in advance but we’d got out of step the past three months. Hoping to get back on track now. 🙂
I do love to find and try new recipes. Smitten Kitchen, Skinnytaste and Budget Bytes are probably my favourite recipe sites at the moment. 🙂
It’s been ages since we tried any new recipes. We’re currently meal planning weekly but I wouldn’t mind going back to every 2 weeks. Less shopping!
I don’t write down a meal plan each week but I check what I have on hand – then check out the weekly specials and plan a couple of meals based on that info. Since I live alone I generally eat the same meal at least twice and then freeze any leftovers.
I have never tried any of these companies but can see the appeal with learning new recipes as I do tend to get into a bit of a rut.
I checked out Jamie Oliver’s new show on Friday night – based on more vegetarian meals and have to say that they looked very tasty. I’m an omnivore but would like to try more vegetarian meals so I have placed a hold on this book at the library and depending upon what I think, may buy it as a way of trying out new flavours.
I tried one a couple of years ago to give me some inspiration for vegetarian meals while my family were away. Loved that it gave me some ideas and had portion control.
Like you, I couldn’t sustain it. Cost. No leftovers. Excessive packaging.
I could see my sons using it when they first move out. (If they finally do.) It will give them some lessons and assistance in cooking. And, when we are not home, they are expensive cooks – not having any consideration for cheap cuts of meat or using which veggies are plentiful and thus cheap.
Nice review and the meals do look delicious! Yes, we have tried them but the excessive packaging and cost precluded us continuing.
I see now the local meal services are strongly advertising their claim that normal household shopping leads to so much waste (food that goes off, plus packaging) that meal kits are “environmentally friendly.” I guess it is possible! Made me think. I’d use them during busy periods with work, for sure.
Interesting to hear your views on this. My daughter tried one and felt the same, OK as a trial but would not subscribe and hated all the packaging. There is nothing magic about these meals they perhaps are just a bit more adventurous than we would normally make ourselves because we tend to cook the same meals in the same way over and over – often because we are short of time to do anything different.
Looks delicious! Merry Christmas!