How to Cook More Without Really Trying

Recipe and Meal Kit Delivery Services

It is often said that one of the most important things you can do for your health and your family is cook more from scratch. But the two biggest reasons that people don’t cook from scratch are that they don’t have time or the skills.

The first thing to do to get the skills is to enroll in some cooking classes (see the calendar section for some local classes). But the sad truth is that even after you’ve learned to cook, you still might find it difficult to get a home-cooked, made-from-scratch meal on the dinner table on a regular basis. At the cooking class all the ingredients were right there, some were even already prepped. It was easy and fun. After a 10-hour work day coming home to an empty pantry is not fun.

Here’s the dirty little secret that cookbooks rarely mention: Cooking takes more time in the planning than in the executing. People who cook regularly and people who cook on a budget are people who create a meal plan—writing down or saving to their phone the recipes they want to make each week and the ingredients they will need to shop for. They plan ahead. Or perhaps some of them have discovered a relatively new phenomenon called the recipe or meal kit delivery service.

It’s not a delivered, ready-to-eat meal; instead, it’s something you will cook. Each week the service provides you with a box containing recipe cards and all the ingredients you need to cook a set number of meals (often three).

The upside is that it saves time and effort when cooking dinner, since you don’t have to plan and shop for food, and yet it’s still a home-cooked meal. Some subscribers say it’s great for involving children or spouses in the cooking process because it takes some of the work out of meal preparation and focuses on the fun part. There is also less food waste because you get just the amount you need for each recipe (and it helps you eliminate the 50 or more partially used condiments in your refrigerator).

The downside is that you still have to clean up the kitchen! And you have less control over the menu and ingredients. Also, it’s geared for people who don’t mind following a schedule. Once it’s delivered each week, the food must be prepared within a few days. And most services require that you start a subscription and go online to your account ahead of time if you wish to change or cancel a delivery.

What will it cost you?

It can actually save you money. It costs generally less than what you would spend on takeout or eating out. So if you replaced three nights of takeout meals with one of these subscriptions, you’d be well ahead.

It will also cost less than going to various markets and buying all the same ingredients for these types of meals. But if budget is your number one priority, you’ll be better off creating your own more frugal meal plan and shopping carefully.

Also, it doesn’t eliminate food shopping—you still need to stock your kitchen with food for other nights of the week as well as breakfasts and lunches. Given that, it can make a good supplement to a subscription for weekly produce deliveries or CSA pickups. Since you are already used to a schedule, this type of service will be easy for you.

How could it be better? 

I’d love to see more local ingredients and more transparency about where each ingredient comes from. Some probably source much of their produce from California, but it’s hard to tell how much, if any, is local to our area. The exception is Pantry SB, which does use local produce and often local protein sources—they even mention the farms in their email notices.

Packaging is also an area where there could be improvement. Even with much of the packaging being recyclable, there really seems to be an abundant amount of small plastic bags and containers. I’d like to see more compostable and returnable packaging.

What does the future hold for these meal kit delivery services? More offerings, more choices? And will local grocery stores and markets get in on the phenomenon by offering similar types of boxes ready to pick up? It will be interesting to see what happens in this industry within the next couple of years.

In the meantime, here are summaries of four meal kit delivery services that are available in Santa Barbara County (two of which are nationwide). There are more out there (and new ones starting up every day), but these all have something to offer. If you’ve decided to give this type of service a try, hopefully this rundown will help you pick which one is right for you.

 

PantrySB

Pantry SB

Based in Santa Barbara.
Delivers to Santa Barbara County and most of California.

Best for: Locavores and anyone who lives in Santa Barbara County.

• $12–$15 per meal

• $72/week for 2 people/3 meals

Omnivore and vegetarian options.

Tuesday deliveries only. Cutoff for making changes or canceling is Wednesday at midnight for the following week.

Recipes are simple, easy and omnivore options tend to be low-carb—usually a protein, vegetable and salad. Vegetarian options have just been added.

Bonus: The instructional videos for each recipe are great for beginner/intermediate cooks.

What we love: The fact that they’re a local business. Also, they source local as much as they can and even mention some of the farms and purveyors that they source from each week.

What we’d like to see them do: Additional delivery day options would
be great.

thepantrysb.com


Din

Based in San Francisco.
Delivers throughout California.

Best for: Interesting dishes and variety

• $15 per meal

• $60/week for 2 people/2 meals
$90/week for 2 people/3 meals

Omnivore, vegetarian (and sometimes pescatarian) options can be selected each week. If you forget to make a choice by the cutoff, they’ll select for you.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday delivery days. Only require 48 hours advance notice for changing an order or skipping a week.

Recipes are inspired by restaurant dishes and can all be prepared in 20 minutes, since some of the prep work is done for you.

Bonus: You can send back the packaging after you’ve received five boxes.

What we love: The produce is mostly organic, California local and the meat/seafood from sustainable sources.

What we’d love to see them do: More flexible pricing and plans.

din.co


Blue Apron

Based in New York, NY.
Delivers nationwide.

Best for: Creative menus

• $8.74–$9.99 per meal

• $60/week for 2 people/3 meals

Omnivore, vegetarian and pescetarian and other protein options can be specified in advance.

Multiple delivery days and times, depending on location. Six days advance notice for skipping a week or canceling.

Recipes tend to be creative with interesting ingredients. You are most likely to learn new techniques or cook with an unfamiliar ingredient. The recipes are well thought out and easy to follow, but you’ll be doing almost all the prep.

Bonus: Instructional technique videos.
Family plan is affordable option for 4 people (either 2 or 4 meals per week).

What we love: The variety and quality of the meals (at a great price) and well-produced instruction cards.

What we’d love to see them do: Locally sourced ingredients and the ability to pick different menus each week.

blueapron.com


Terra’s Kitchen

Based in Baltimore, MD.
Delivers nationwide.

Best for: Flexible options, most reusable packaging.

• $11.99–$16.99 per meal (plus shipping of
$10–$15 for orders under $125)

• $70–$75/week for 2 people/3 meals

Omnivore, vegetarian, pescatarian and paleo options can be selected each week.

Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday deliveries, depending on location. Order each week—as many or as few meals as you would like.

Recipes tend to be simple, quick and with many items already prepped or a prepared salad dressing. They also tend not to use too many pans and utensils—leaving you with a cleaner kitchen.

Bonus: “Grab and Go” snacks such as fresh fruit and salads can be added to your order. The reusable box can be sent back each week.

What we love: The flexible menu options and add-ons.

What we’d love to see them do:
Locally sourced ingredients and more challenging  meals.

terraskitchen.com


Pros and Cons of Meal Kit Delivery Services

A good idea for those who:

• Want a variety of home-cooked meals, but don’t always have the time or energy to make a meal plan and shop for ingredients.

• Want to avoid food waste and half-used ingredients that go bad.

• Enjoy cooking or who want to learn to cook.

Probably not for those who:

• Enjoy or prefer to do their own meal planning and shopping.

• Cannot cook or who have no interest in cooking.

• Have severe food allergies, dietary restrictions or strong likes and dislikes when it comes to food and cooking.

• Travel a lot or have a variable meal schedule.


Tips 

The instructions might say the food is meant to be consumed within the week, but I’ve found that it’s best to make the meals within the first 3–4 days. And if you opt for seafood, use it the day it’s delivered. So, keep that in mind when picking a delivery day.

You always have the option to deviate from the recipe. So if you don’t like a certain ingredient, you can leave it out or substitute something else. 

They tend to offer meals that are 500–700 calories for each serving, and we found them all to have adequate portion sizes. If you are a light eater, set aside some for leftovers. If you want a heartier meal, add your own bread, appetizer or a dessert.

None of the services provide meals for just one serving. So if you are single, you can use the leftovers for lunch the next day or share dinner with a friend. 


Krista Harris is the editor and publisher of Edible Santa Barbara.

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