By Amy DeJesus, Newsletter Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Food. It’s what’s for breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner. Preparing meals, feeding your family and then cleaning up after you’ve eaten comprises a large part of each day. Planning meals, grocery shopping and visiting the farmer’s market take up more time out of every week. Like so many mothers, I have high aspirations and am eage
r to provide a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables and home-cooked meals. What I have found, however, is that good intentions can quickly run dry in the chaos of daily life.
There are currently many businesses offering services that are designed to help ease the burden of meal preparation and execution. Pre-planned meal and grocery delivery services abound, many advertising healthy gourmet food that will transform your mid-week meal into a glorious, hassle-free event. With the hope that they actually would improve our diet and cut down our list of daily to-dos, my husband and I went ahead an tried some of these services. Hopefully our experiences, shared below, will be of some help to those of you who are looking to do the same.
Blue Apron is the first meal delivery service that we decided to try, when we had only one 2 year old child. We opted for 3 dinners per week, each dinner designed to serve two adults. We chose the vegetarian and fish options; once a week we received a box containing all of the ingredients and recipes. Over the course of ten months, I was delighted to learn new methods of cooking flavorful, healthy food that filled the tummies of my husband, myself and even my toddler. There were occasional times when the ingredients we received had gone bad in transit or were not fresh to my standards. Blue Apron customer service always immediately corrected the situation by refunding our money and sending us complimentary boxes to make up for the inconvenience.
While I greatly enjoyed the Blue Apron service, I found that the cooking and prep time for the meals regularly ran an hour. Once I became pregnant with our second child and found myself floundering with all-day nausea and fatigue, we discontinued the service.
Gobble is another meal delivery service advertising meals that use fresh ingredients, pre-prepped so that they can be made in 10 minutes with only one pan. After the birth of our second son, we decided to give Gobble a try. We opted for vegetarian dinners twice per week, and utilized the service for about 5 months. There were times when it was extremely useful to open up the refrigerator to find a healthy meal sitting there, ready to be cooked and eaten, without much thought. Gobble also has some tasty soups that one can opt to purchase in addition to the meals; I regularly ordered those so that I could have a hot lunch for myself with a zap of the microwave.
Despite their advertising, Gobble meals took me about 25 minutes to prepare: far less time consuming than Blue Apron. Unfortunately there were some down sides to the service. I found Gobble boxes were not as well packaged, so the ingredients spoiled quickly and were more apt to be ruined in transit. Customer service was spotty and sometimes non-existent. And since some parts of the meals are pre-cooked, we didn’t receive complete recipes and couldn’t replicate items on our own (and were never quite sure of the complete list of ingredients of each meal). After receiving one too many boxes below our standard of freshness, we cancelled our subscription. I still miss those soups though!
Imperfect Produce is a produce delivery service that sells fruits and vegetables that don't fit grocery stores' cosmetic standards -- crooked carrots, spotted or lumpy fruit, etc. - at significantly discounted prices. I was happy to find that they provide the option to customize your box so you don’t receive items you don’t want. There are weekly, bi-weekly and monthly subscription options. We ordered a medium sized mixed organic box (fruits and vegetables). The box we received was a mixed bag, in every sense. The summer squash, red bell peppers and green beans were excellent, better quality than what was available at the market. The oranges and apples were good, during a month where good fruit is difficult to find. However, the lemons we received were soft and a few had mold, and the kale was heavily infested with aphids, which was a deal-breaker for me. Yet at $25, the value of the organic produce we received couldn’t be beat by either grocery store or farmers’ market shopping, even accounting for the bad produce. Our takeaway: this is a cost saving way of keeping a refrigerator stocked with produce, so long as one is flexible about the type of produce and the need to pick through and discard some bad apples.
Whole Foods Delivery (via Instacart) offers a one month free trial period of grocery delivery. Worried that I would receive poorly chosen produce or groceries that were about to expire, I had been hesitant to try what is arguably the most straight forward service designed to help with meal preparation. After having a back injury that kept me off my feet for a week, my husband insisted that I sign up and helped by filling up a virtual cart with our staples. I customized the cart for the week and submitted our order.
The next morning I received text messages as our shopper Ken selected our groceries. When an item I had ordered wasn’t in stock, I was able to view and approve the replacement he had made before he executed the purchase. Delivery was prompt and was accompanied by a virtual receipt so that I could review my purchases to confirm everything was in order. Happily I discovered that the strawberries and avocados were carefully chosen and the meat and dairy items were fresh and not about to expire. What’s more, even after including a tip for Ken, I discovered that the cost of my groceries was a bit less than usual due to the fact that since I wasn’t wandering around the store with my children, I hadn’t made the usual impulse buys that plague my weekly shopping. My trial run for grocery delivery was a success.
I still consider returning to Blue Apron or one of their organic competitors, Green Chef or Sun Basket. I really enjoyed my experience of learning new ways to cook healthy, delicious food, and I appreciated having the ingredients for those meals on hand. However, I will likely wait until my littles are a bit older, as it’s a time commitment that I just can’t accommodate right now. In the meantime we will be signing on for a year of Whole Foods grocery delivery via Instacart ($150 annual fee for unlimited delivery, so long as the delivery is not too small (i.e. just milk and bread).
Hopefully our experiences are of help to those of you considering the same sort of services. Best of luck on your culinary and meal planning journey!