Ingredient Delivery Services

I keep getting promotions from companies that offer fresh meal ingredients delivered – Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Home Chef, and Plated. Each provides recipes and ingredients that show up on your doorstep – some services offer a selection of meals, others give you what they give you. I’ve been curious to try one of these services, but it’s not something I want to pay to test. I finally got an offer of free. I’ve tried it  – and, honestly, if the other services offer up free food … I’ll take those offers too. But I wouldn’t pay for this service.

(1) Convenience – Their advertising is centered around how terrible grocery shopping is and how you can avoid such drudgery with their service. Problem is, there’s no plan that provides anything like the groceries you’d need for a week. Even if you got seven dinners (which may require purchasing multiple plans, quite a few of these services are the 3-4 meal a week type) … what are you eating for breakfast or lunch? Maybe for someone who eats out a LOT, these services eliminate grocery shopping (or more likely reduce it to a once-a-month trip). But for me to feed three people three meals a day … didn’t eliminate a thing.

(2) Cost – This is meant to be cheaper than grocery shopping because you aren’t overbuying. But I usually make enough food for dinner to allow leftovers for lunch the next day. Larger packages are cheaper – a savings that is only realized if the food isn’t allowed to spoil. I’m still learning to preserve everything we buy. I buy a large package of something, and break it into smaller portions and freeze most of it. I buy things to use in multiple meals. I am trying to cook food into something preservable before it spoils – turn bananas into banana bread, milk into yogurt, blanch and freeze veggies. I am certain that buying just the quantity you need for one meal is cheaper than overbuying for one meal, but their cost estimates don’t include *using* the rest of the stuff to make a second and third meal. If I pay 15$ for one meal or 18$ for three, there’s a big difference.

(3) Logistics – I don’t know why I expect companies who are shipping something perishable in unfriendly weather to have come up with some great solution to the problem. I’ve bought plants online and had them arrive dead because of this incorrect assumption. Had the same problem with fresh produce. It is Winter. It is WELL below freezing (lows around 0 degrees F kind of cold). My “fresh” veggies arrived frozen solid – and the ‘cold’ stuff was packed between two ice packs … during a week where the high’s were in the low 20’s, this seemed a bit wasteful. Freezing fresh produce is OK for some things (a lemon that is going to be juiced), but other veggies are only useful for making stock. I don’t want to have to track the long term weather forecast to decide if the weekly meal subscription should be put on hold or not. And it certainly isn’t convenient to be missing ingredients (back to #1, I had to go shopping to replace the things that froze).

(4) Effort – As I mentioned, I usually make a large dinner that is used for lunch the next day. Bonus if some portion of it can be used for breakfast too. Since they have single portion meals, that’s a no go. So I had to make dinner last night, then make something completely different for lunch today.

(5) Meal composition and portion – They quite simply didn’t provide enough food for two people. I’d have had hungry cranky people if I served JUST what was in the planned meal. I serve a lot more vegetables. I supplemented their meals with a salad course, or you can add an additional vegetable side dish … but you’re shopping again. And having to come up with something.

Meal ingredient delivery services are certainly not for me. There’s some convenience to allowing someone else to decide what we’re eating a few nights each week, and there were a few interesting recipes that I’d not seen before. Their promotional e-mails, random cooking blogs, Food TV’s page, cooking magazine web sites all provide new recipes that someone else has selected too.

I know a time when I could have used a service like this (couldn’t have afforded it, but eh): When I left University and lived on my own for the first time. I didn’t have any staples (and it’s expensive to stock a kitchen with spices, flours, and such). I didn’t really have any idea what to buy at the grocery store. Or what to make.

I have had a lot of friends who literally eat every meal from a restaurant – I could see someone like that who wanted to cook a few times a week using a service like this. Sure there are other ways to figure out a few meals and get the ingredients … but this requires you to put about as little effort into cooking as possible.

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