A while back I posted on Facebook that we were going to try cooking dinner at home with the Blue Apron meal delivery service. Ever since I did people have been very curious about what it’s like and how it’s going. So I thought I would write a report on our Blue Apron experience so far.
I decided to do this for our health — due to weight, blood sugar, blood pressure issues of creeping age, my husband and I just need to eat better, which ultimately means cooking at home and controlling our own food. Not eating out at restaurants, fast-food or takeout, and not eating heavily processed prepared foods. But the problem has been, I hate cooking. Absolutely despise it — I loathe every single thing about it. I hate shopping for food and planning menus. I hate the actual activity of cooking itself — chopping and preparing raw food, juggling all the dishes so they come out at more or less the same time, cutting and burning yourself, running back and forth like a chicken with no head. I hate the cleanup afterwards. I hate that cooking is so much work, all that preparation and labor, and in about 15 minutes it’s all done and eaten, and you are left with the cleanup.
I needed something to simplify cooking for me so it wouldn’t be so overwhelmingly hateful. So we decided to try a meal delivery service. What these services, like Blue Apron or Home Chef, do is deliver you all the raw ingredients to home cook a meal, plus the recipe, once weekly in a chilled and frozen box. On the Blue Apron couple’s plan you get three meals a week for two people, for twenty dollars a meal, planned out using seasonal ingredients, and delivered right to your home. It’s kind of a subscription, in that they have a meal plan that they send you if you don’t choose, but you can choose some limited options. You choose three of six meals offered a week, but you can’t choose just anything. Some meals automatically go together, because of shared ingredients or economies of scale. Like, if you choose Meal X, you can also choose Meal Y, but not Z. You can skip a box if you don’t like what’s offered, for as many weeks as you like, and can cancel anytime. They offer omnivore, pescatarian, and vegetarian options.
Inside the box are recipe cards, the fresh produce in the top section, and what they call “knick knacks” — the spices, liquids or other components you need to make the meal. And they really do send everything, in just the size you need it — pats of butter, tiny bottles of vinegar, flour for frying batter, uncooked pasta, even eggs. The only thing Blue Apron expects you to have on hand is salt, pepper, and olive oil for frying or sautéing.
In the bottom of the box, packed among cold packs, are the meats. Often when I get my delivery they are still comfortably frozen. I have not had an issue with spoiled meat yet. Some eggs broke, and a batch of arugula was spoiled once. But if you receive spoiled components, just email Blue Apron and they will credit you back some money.
One good thing about the service is that they only send you exactly what you need for each meal, so there is no problem of food waste. If the recipe calls for one carrot, you get once carrot. One tablespoon of soy sauce, that’s what you get. This I especially appreciate, as we always had a problem with food waste — if a you buy a whole bunch of carrots or head of lettuce, two people are hard pressed to eat it all before it starts to go bad.
Getting Blue Apron practically eliminates shopping and menu planning for me. Someone else plans the menus, and the food is delivered right to me. When I’m ready to cook, I know what I’m making, and the food is right there in my refrigerator. Such a weight off my mind! Sam always used to tease me after work every night by demanding, “What’s for dinner?” Now I know. Or if I don’t feel like cooking, I can make it the next night.
After looking at the websites of several of these meal delivery services, I decided on Blue Apron, because all the recipes are freely available on the website, and I could see exactly what was getting. I also liked the variety.
So far — it’s been a few months — it’s working well. We have liked everything we have eaten so far, and I am finding the cooking manageable. I still don’t like it — unfortunately Blue Apron does not address the one thing I hate most about cooking: chopping up mounds of vegetables. But I just have to power through. I understand some other meal services send you pre-diced vegetables and meats, but that is probably more expensive, due to the added labor costs, and also not as healthy — veggies and fruits begin to oxidize and lose their nutrition once they are cut. I wouldn’t want to go that route. So I am just going to have to continue to gut it out. Blue Apron does have little videos on their website showing you how to prep various foods — they really are coming from the position that their customers know absolutely nothing about cooking, and are lucky to posses one pan, one pot, and one knife. These videos have actually helped me. I know how to “supreme” a citrus fruit now. And I learned you can cut a plank out of the bottom of a round vegetable like a carrot, to make it sit flat on the cutting board and make it easier to chop. Who knew?
It takes me about an hour to cook a Blue Apron meal. It takes me a while to chop all those vegetables. An experienced cook would take much less. It’s still time out of my day, but I’m doing it for my husband, for our health, so for now it is worth it.
So, how about the food? What you are cooking? How is it?
It’s good. There hasn’t been a meal yet that we actively disliked. I think the quality of the ingredients is good. Blue Apron buys from organic, smaller, and artisanal suppliers as much as possible. Eggs are cage-free, the meat is raised without hormones or antibiotics. The vegetables are fresh and seasonal — the recipes have fresh corn right now, for example. And we like the variety — so far no meal we’ve received has been the same, although they tend to fall into the pattern of a protein, a veg, and a starch. So, some kind of meat (if you’re not on the vegetarian plan); potatoes, rice, or pasta; and some vegetables. Fresh herbs, citrus fruits, and custom spice blends lend flavor. I am getting a little bored with pan-frying some meat and sautéing veggies every night, so I have ordered more noodles, sandwiches, and pizza in the coming weeks, for variety. I order a vegetarian meal occasionally. Sam moans, but he eats them, and it’s good for him to eat vegetarian once in a while. Also it’s convenient to have something ready to cook, if you forget to defrost something the night before.
One thing we do like is the variety. We’re not the kind of people who can eat the same thing day after day or week after week. So far no two meals we’ve cooked have been the same. I read on the BA website that they don’t repeat recipes on the different plans at all in a year. We love that. On delivery days, Sam runs to the door to see what’s in the box. We have tried many vegetables we have never had before — Swiss chard, bok choy. We are eating way more vegetables than we ever did before, which is good.
Some of the meals are weird and awkward — like the Cod Kedgeree, which was kind of like fried rice with fish, given a weird licorice-y flavor by fenugreek in the spice blend. But none of them have been bad enough that we couldn’t eat them. A lot of subscribers had trouble with the recipe for Brothless Ramen with Pork, because it wasn’t clear in the recipe as printed that you had to boil the noodles separately before putting them into finish with the pork. Reading complaints on the BA website, I was able to avoid that pitfall, but at the end of the day, no matter how you try to gussy them up, ramen noodles are still ramen noodles. We were not fans of that recipe. Some meals we have absolutely loved, though, like Salmon with Walnut Pesto and Chicken Adobo. Mostly, we like that there is something new and different to try three nights a week.
So let me list what I like and what I don’t like about Blue Apron:
What I like:
Convenience: I don’t have to shop or plan menus and the food is delivered right to me at my home. It couldn’t be more convenient.
Fresh produce: This is good. We are eating way more vegetables than we ever did for a long time. Sam was raised in a vegetable-hating family, so I never cooked them very much even when I did infrequently cook. But one needs vegetables to eat healthily. We have been exposed to things we never tried before — we had a recipe with hen of the woods mushrooms a couple weeks ago. (They taste just like regular button mushrooms, sadly.)
No food waste: This is huge to me. When I was struggling to cook as a young wife, we wasted a ton of food. It’s hard to buy portions at a grocery store for just two people. And my long stretches of not being able to stand cooking meant a lot of food we bought with good intentions went to waste. Blue Apron only sends us exactly what we need, everything from butter to meat. Nothing goes to waste. This is better for us and for the environment.
Portion control: Blue Apron meals run 500-700 calories, which isn’t exactly diet, as I understand it, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what we would usually eat at restaurants or as takeout. Part of how they do this is portion control — tiny little steaks or chicken breasts, half a cup of rice, filling up on green vegetables like collard greens. It’s going to take some getting used to — we’re used to huge restaurant portions, fried food, and stuffing ourselves. But it’s a better way and I appreciate it.
Variety: This is also a huge factor in Blue Apron’s success for us. I have a co-worker who cooks at home all the time, who makes a pot of spaghetti sauce or a giant meatloaf on Sunday, and then eats that for dinner every night for a week. Works for her, but I could never do that. It would drive me insane. We can’t eat the same thing day after day. We need variety. Blue Apron has great variety. You won’t get the same meal twice in a year. You do get the same components — we have been getting a lot of collard greens lately — but prepared in different ways. The recipes showcase cuisines of different cultures, too — tacos, udon bowls, tagines. It’s fun to try new things every week. This is one of the biggest parts of Blue Apron’s appeal for us.
What I don’t like:
Waste: Not food waste, but the excess packaging. As I said, Blue Apron only sends you what you need — two tablespoons of butter if you need it, in a little plastic tub. Two tablespoons of soy sauce, in a little plastic bottle. Half a cup of flour in a plastic tub. That’s a lot of plastic! Excess packaging is something I worry about a lot, and try to avoid in my purchasing decisions. It’s unavoidable with BA. They say all their packing is recyclable, and I’m sure it is, but I don’t have much confidence in the curbside recycling program of my own city. I strongly suspect that they are just selling off our “recycling” to a landfill in another state. It’s the kind of thing our government would do. So, all the stuff may be “recyclable,” but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s actually being recycled. That’s why it’s better to eliminate it at the front end.
I did realize, the other day when I was cleaning mushrooms for a recipe, that if I had bought them in a grocery store, they would have come in the exact same kind of little plastic basket that they were in. So the packaging may not be quite as egregious as I feared at first. But those little tubs of butter and sauces! So wasteful! I comfort myself with the hope that the food waste we are avoiding is a net gain for the environment and the food industry. But I don’t really know that it is. Perhaps in the future Blue Apron will require their subscribers to be a little more self-sufficient — only send fresh meat, dairy, produce, and spices, and let the customers provide pantry staples like flour and vinegar on their own. Or they may offer a two-tier pricing plan, one for noobs and one for more experienced cooks. Right now, the packaging waste is something that bothers me, but I just have to live with it. I hope it’s balanced out by all the other good things Blue Apron provides us.
So, is Blue Apron a good value? Would I recommend it?
If you are on a tight budget, or are trying to feed a large family, then no, ten bucks a head for dinner is NOT a bargain, it’s exorbitant. But if you’re like my husband and me, childless professionals with disposable income, then yes, compared to the rest of our lifestyle, it is. We can easily spend more than twenty dollars a meal on takeout or a restaurant. Quite a bit more. Heck, if two people go to McDonald’s these days, it’s about seventeen dollars. So for us, this is very reasonable, a savings even, and we are getting much better food. It is definitely worth it.
I have to add here, that this would be working much less well for me, if my husband were not washing the pots and pans every night. I told him, if we try this, you have to do your part, and he is. I plate the food and serve it and just walk away from the kitchen, and he cleans up. If I had to that too on top of the cooking, I’d be much less enthused.
So we are liking the meal delivery service so far, and it looks like we will be able to stick with it. I have some coupon codes for free meals to try, for Blue Apron and also Hello Fresh, if you are interested. Email me, and I’ll forward you the codes.