Meal Kits to the Rescue


Published:

Photo courtesy of HelloFresh

You may have heard of Blue Apron, the meal kit delivery service that sends customers a box of preportioned meal ingredients and recipes. You may have also fantasized about trying it out.

Meal kit delivery companies like Blue Apron certainly make tempting promises. “You cook incredible meals from scratch,” Blue Apron’s website promises. “We’re a cooking class meets a dinner party,” PeachDish guarantees. “No planning, no hassle and no shopping required,” quips HelloFresh.

The meal kit delivery industry has exploded since Blue Apron and Plated followed European leader HelloFresh back in 2012, and now, according to a May 2016 Food Business News report, there are more than 150 meal kit delivery services to choose from in the U.S. alone.

To help you decide if meal kit delivery is a good choice for your family, here are some scenarios to consider.

Your dream: You don’t have time to spend an hour at the grocery store or planning healthy meals. You want convenience.

The reality: Most companies offer meal plans for two or three dinners per week. That means you still have to think about breakfast, lunch and four or five dinners. Which is to say, you’ll still be going to the grocery store. And, while Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Plated and other meal kit delivery services provide exact portions, these are meal kits, not takeout. You still have to chop, sauté and roast at home.

Having the ingredients without having to shop is worth it to Charlotte mom Shay Prosser. “I enjoy cooking, but do not enjoy the meal planning and shopping when I’m on a tight time schedule,” she says. “Plated and Blue Apron have their options planned out three to five weeks in advance, so I can sit down and plan once a month.”

Janssen Bradshaw, a mother of three and former Chapel Hill resident, found she spent nearly as much time shopping for her nondelivered meals, and actually spent more time preparing the Blue Apron meals.

“It took me an hour to prepare each meal,” she says. “I love to cook, but during the week, everyone is in meltdown mode by 6 p.m., and I’ve got to get dinner on the table quickly between tantrums.”

Some services focus on providing quicker prep. Terra’s Kitchen, for example, does the chopping for you, so you just have to mix and cook, which the company promises will take less than 30 minutes. Other services, like Plated, offer a range of cook times each week so you can pick meals that suit your needs.

Your dream: You’re tired of your regular dinner rotation and want a delicious adventure in your kitchen.

The reality: You’re in luck. Across the board, larger meal kit delivery companies get enthusiastic reviews on taste, quality and variety. These sites rotate their menus weekly to avoid repetition.

“I’ve never had the same meal twice,” says Suzanne Morgen of Durham, who started with Blue Apron but found that HelloFresh offered more familiar items with an interesting twist. She has been pleased with how delicious some of these less familiar ingredients have been.

“I’d heard how healthy bulgur is but never thought to try it,” she says. “I was amazed! My daughter and I loved it.”

Prosser also appreciates the variety meal kits provide her family. “The services have items that are a bit more exotic than I would usually do on a weeknight,” Prosser says. “Most weeknights if I don’t have a meal service I am just happy to get some chicken grilled and potatoes mashed. The meal kits give us more variety.”

Prosser subscribes to two meal kit services, because even though each has different recipes and doesn’t usually repeat items, she has seen some similarity in themes with ingredients.

Your dream: You eat out a lot and want to make healthier choices.

The reality: If you make most of your meals at home using lean meats and vegetables, meal kits are probably not going to make you healthier. However, most companies strive for balanced recipes using fresh ingredients, and provide detailed nutrition information and reasonable portion sizes. These meals are most likely providing better nutrition than what you’ll get dining out or picking up prepared items at the grocery store.

Morgen realized she needed to change her family’s routine of eating takeout and frozen entrees when she welcomed an 8-year-old foster child into her family. HelloFresh proved to be her perfect match. Not only was she relieved to have menus planned for her, she found it easy to follow the recipes and thought the food was delicious.

“My favorite was gnocchi with butternut squash and brown butter,” she says. “I thought it would be too fancy and I’d hate it — it was one of best things I’ve eaten in my life.”

Morgen has been delighted to find that her daughter likes eating — and preparing — the dinners.

“Now that she’s involved, she’s more interested in the food and more likely to try new things,” Morgen says. “It has even helped with her vocabulary — the food has become a great part of our dinnertime conversation.”

Prosser has noticed there are challenges with meal kits if you avoid certain foods. “I try not to eat very much gluten, and it can be challenging figuring out which meals to order,” she says.

Like Terra’s Kitchen, Raleigh-based 80Fresh co-founder Bart Creasman says his company’s meal kits are prepped, chopped and ready to go from the box to the table in “20 minutes or less.”

80Fresh, which launched in partnership with personal trainers to help clients achieve fitness and health goals, gets most of its produce at the North Carolina State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh. Nutritionists plan the menu. Creasman says the portion sizes are just right for a health-conscious adult and definitely work for kids.

“You might have to supplement if you’ve got growing teenagers,” he adds.

Your dream: You want to cook with your kids and educate them about the value of locally sourced, super fresh food.

The reality: In two words? Papa Spuds. Inspired by his years in the Peace Corps in Ecuador, where the community he served relied solely on local produce, Rob Meyer started Papa Spuds in Cary as a produce delivery service in 2008. Papa Spuds concentrates on educating its customers about local produce, so meal kits, which Papa Spuds began offering in 2015, were a natural outgrowth of this process.

“We wanted to show people some of the amazing things you can make with the less-familiar items, like rutabaga,” Meyer says. “Also, when you buy local, you’re eating in-season, which means in summer there is a lot of corn and tomatoes; in winter there are a lot of greens and root vegetables. The meal kits offer new ideas for what to do with it all.”

Rebecca Johnson of Cary has been a Papa Spuds customer since the company launched. Before that, Johnson, who has 10 kids, had been buying produce in bulk from the Durham Farmer’s Market.

“I prefer to buy local, and I’m always looking for good bulk deals and ways to simplify,” she says. “Papa Spuds has been terrific. I like that their produce is not pseudo prepared, the way vegetables are at the grocery. I like that you’re cleaning it, you’re cutting it. It has more nutrients when it’s picked local. And it tastes better.”

On Mondays, Papa Spuds offers a one-hour clearance sale on items left over from the previous week, which is how Johnson ended up trying her first recipe kit.

“My family just loved it,” she says. “So each week, we tried another. It claims it serves four to five, but I tweak it to feed eight (three of her children are in college). We just double the meat or stretch it.”

Still Can’t Decide?

Most of these companies are confident you will like their services, so many offer discounts on your first order to make sampling their food a bit more affordable. Also, if you’re lucky enough to have a best friend who has a membership, some of the companies, like Blue Apron, occasionally advertise a free-meal-kit-for-a-friend offer.

Meal Kit Price Comparison

Here’s a cost breakdown of the services mentioned in this article. Check the individual websites for details, as there is quite a bit of flexibility built in.

Blue Apron: Serves four twice a week for $69.92, or $8.74 per serving.

PeachDish: Serves four once a week for $50, or $12.50 per serving.

HelloFresh: Serves four twice a week for $69.92, or $8.74 per serving.

Plated: Serves four twice a week for $96, or $12 per serving.

Terra’s Kitchen: Offers a variety of services, from $9.99 to $18.99 per serving.

Purple Carrot: Serves four twice a week for $74, or $9.25 per serving.

80Fresh: Serves two twice a week for $42, or $10.50 per serving. 80fresh.com.

Fresh Realm: Offers a variety of services, from $7.75 to 20.75 per serving.

Papa Spuds: Customizable “Family Box” (containing produce and specialty items) is $44 per week; recipe kits cost $2.50-$4 per person, but don’t include pantry staples.


Managing Meal Kit Waste

Meal kit delivery services have responded to customer concerns over packaging waste. While some companies argue that the packaging is no more wasteful than bags and boxes from the grocery store, others have offered creative solutions.

Blue Apron provides detailed instructions on its website for how to recycle all of its packaging. You can also opt to return packaging at no cost and the company will take care of recycling it.

PeachDish uses “as much recycled, recyclable and biodegradable packaging as possible.”

Terra’s Kitchen uses climate controlled “shipping vessels” — reusable storage boxes that arrive with a prepaid return shipping label. After unpacking your goodies, stick the label back on the vessel and put it outside for pickup. Terra’s Kitchen buys the boxes from competitor FreshRealm, the company that developed the technology.

 

Caitlin Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Durham.

 

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Website »

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It's time to play... TAKEOUT BINGO!!!  Take a screenshot or download the game board. Mark off the locations you visit. Share your progress on Facebook and Instagram using #CRTakeoutBingo. Send...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Crossroads Plaza
Crossroad Blvd
Suite 215
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Sponsor: Crossroads Plaza/ Kimco Realty
Telephone: 864-979-2291
Contact Name: Katie Earnhardt
Website »

More information

We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

Thursday evenings are for music and outdoor adventure at the USNWC, and the River Jam Run is a great way to enjoy both. Kick off the evening with 1.5 mile, 3 mile, or 6 mile group run through our...

Cost: $6

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Race Director
Website »

More information

River Jam at the U.S. National Whitewater Center brings together live musical performances throughout the year to a one-of-a-kind outdoor venue, right in the middle of the world’s largest...

Cost: $6

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Jenny Hill
Website »

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The Engage Art Contest is a juried competition for original Visual Art, Music Video, Film and Performing Arts. The topic is the Spiritual Battle described in Ephesians 6:10-20 and related...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
PO Box 78951
Charlotte, NC  28271
View map »


Sponsor: Engage Art Contest
Telephone: 980-999-1447
Contact Name: Ranika Chaney
Website »

More information

Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Live online classes for kids - FREE! Kids and families can join our online classes from home while school is out. Our special guests teach kids about art, medicine, music, cooking, science and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online at your Home
265 Cambridge Ave #60923
Palo Alto, NC  94306
View map »


Sponsor: ActivityHero
Telephone: 800-437-6125
Contact Name: Mabelle
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

It's time to play... TAKEOUT BINGO!!!  Take a screenshot or download the game board. Mark off the locations you visit. Share your progress on Facebook and Instagram using #CRTakeoutBingo. Send...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Crossroads Plaza
Crossroad Blvd
Suite 215
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Sponsor: Crossroads Plaza/ Kimco Realty
Telephone: 864-979-2291
Contact Name: Katie Earnhardt
Website »

More information

We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

Art Walk featuring local galleries and artist studios in historic downtown Hillsborough on the Last Friday of every month (no Art Walk in December).

Cost: FREE

Where:
Downtown Hillsborough (multiple locations)
102 N. Churton St.
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Hillsborough Arts Council
Telephone: 919-643-2500
Contact Name: Torey Mishoe
Website »

More information

River Jam at the U.S. National Whitewater Center brings together live musical performances throughout the year to a one-of-a-kind outdoor venue, right in the middle of the world’s largest...

Cost: $6

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Jenny Hill
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Engage Art Contest is a juried competition for original Visual Art, Music Video, Film and Performing Arts. The topic is the Spiritual Battle described in Ephesians 6:10-20 and related...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
PO Box 78951
Charlotte, NC  28271
View map »


Sponsor: Engage Art Contest
Telephone: 980-999-1447
Contact Name: Ranika Chaney
Website »

More information

Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Farmers markets are essential to the livelihood of farmers and food producers and are exempt from the Governor's Stay at Home Order (page 6). Farmers markets offer an efficient way for residents to...

Cost: free

Where:
Holly Springs Cultural Center
300 W. Ballentine St.
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Sponsor: Farmers Market Coordinator
Telephone: 919-567-4010
Website »

More information

PARENTS JOIN OUR DHHS APPROVEDCPR/AED & First Aid Certification ClassesFoster parents are required to be CPR & First Aid certified. Parents, bring your child to class with you. Children 10 years...

Cost: 50-80

Where:
Holly Springs, NC
1001 Silverstone Way
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
Website »

More information

PARENTS JOIN OUR DHHS APPROVEDCPR/AED & First Aid Certification ClassesFoster parents are required to be CPR & First Aid certified. Must register in advance. Space is limited. Parents, bring your...

Cost: 50-80

Where:
Holly Springs, NC
1001 Silverstone Way
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Live online classes for kids - FREE! Kids and families can join our online classes from home while school is out. Our special guests teach kids about art, medicine, music, cooking, science and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online at your Home
265 Cambridge Ave #60923
Palo Alto, NC  94306
View map »


Sponsor: ActivityHero
Telephone: 800-437-6125
Contact Name: Mabelle
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Join one of our talented Mid-South Fencers’ Club coaches for a one hour virtual lesson to the fast paced and exciting sport of Olympic Fencing! This will be a FREE ONLINE class. All you need is...

Cost: free

Where:
Mid-South Fencers' Club ONLINE
125 N. Gregson St.
DURHAM, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Mid-South Fencers' Club
Telephone: 919-286-3100
Contact Name: Jeff Kallio
Website »

More information

It's time to play... TAKEOUT BINGO!!!  Take a screenshot or download the game board. Mark off the locations you visit. Share your progress on Facebook and Instagram using #CRTakeoutBingo. Send...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Crossroads Plaza
Crossroad Blvd
Suite 215
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Sponsor: Crossroads Plaza/ Kimco Realty
Telephone: 864-979-2291
Contact Name: Katie Earnhardt
Website »

More information

We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

The Beaver Queen Pageant is the Triangle’s own special mix of folly, pageantry, and humor. Contestants take on beaver personalities and compete for the title of Beaver Queen with their fashion,...

Cost: free

Where:
Online
, NC


Sponsor: Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
Telephone: 919-698-9729
Contact Name: Rachel Cohn
Website »

More information

River Jam at the U.S. National Whitewater Center brings together live musical performances throughout the year to a one-of-a-kind outdoor venue, right in the middle of the world’s largest...

Cost: $6

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Jenny Hill
Website »

More information

Get your summer vibes going at the 1st Annual Hubb’s Beach Blast at Hubb’s Farm in Clinton, NC.  Hubb’s Beach Blast will feature two of beach music industry’s top groups, Jim Quick and...

Cost: 20-50

Where:
Hubb's Farm
10276 US HWY 421 N
Clinton, NC  28328
View map »


Sponsor: Hubb's Farm
Telephone: 910-564-6709
Contact Name: Tammy Peterson
Website »

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