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Stouffer’s Introduces New Fit Kitchen Frozen Dinners to Appeal to Men

Stouffer’s Introduces New Fit Kitchen Frozen Dinners to Appeal to Men


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We always hear about frozen food geared toward women, so here are some for men

Stouffer's Fit Kitchen entrees are packed with protein and come in a variety of flavors, such as Steak Fajita.

Stouffer’s has launched a line of Fit Kitchen meals that boast more protein in an effort to appeal to men, according to a press release.

These meals include steak fajitas in a smoked red chile sauce; cilantro lime chicken in a verde tomatillo sauce; rotisserie seasoned chicken; Monterey chicken with a barbecue-style sauce; bourbon steak with chipotle mashed sweet potatoes; and oven-roasted chicken in a wine sauce. All meals are served with either red skin potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, or brown rice with a side of vegetables.

Each entrée has 25 grams or more of protein. Tom Moe, the director of marketing at Stouffer’s, said in a statement: “We challenged ourselves to come up with a product men will not only feel good about eating, but that will also provide protein that leaves you satisfied, and bring bold, delicious flavors to the table.”

The Fit Kitchen line is now available in grocery stores nationwide. Each meal retails for $3.99.


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New Nestlé R&D Center

New $50 million facility supports chilled and frozen R&D activities for entrees, snacks, pizza, pasta and cookie doughs.

SOURCE: Phil Long/Associated Press Images for Nestlé

&ldquoConsumer Connect&rdquo laboratory lets experts observe how consumers use Nestlé products in real-life kitchen settings.

Oven technology laboratory features more than 60 microwave ovens from around the world. Testing is conducted at various power settings to ensure Nestlé frozen meals and snacks include optimal cooking times.

It’s a sunny mid-July morning, about 30 minutes before an open house at Nestlé’s new Research & Development center in Solon, Ohio. There’s a buzz in the air as the first of about 100 visitors—local and state officials, architects, media and Nestlé officials—start filing in to register.

Interestingly, visitors find a silent presentation already underway in the glassed-in front lobby. A flat screen TV shows a five-minute time lapse video of the 144,000-square-foot facility under construction from September 14, 2013 to May 30, 2015. Perched atop a high pole, a panoramic camera captured every aspect of greenfield ground preparation, building and landscaping during northeast Ohio’s four seasons. It’s a fascinating, momentary story of time and place—on a small scale.

Then again, there’s even a more compelling, larger story. From a broader perspective, Nestlé’s $50 million investment comes precisely when many consumers are wary of big legacy food brands and long ingredient lists. Meanwhile, investors appear equally skeptical of “Big Food” and the CPG industry’s ability to drive profit through meaningful innovation. Unfortunately, this also comes against backdrop of dramatic mergers, downsizing and reorganization involving such well-known names as Heinz, Kraft, ConAgra, Campbell Soup and General Foods.

Last but not least, Nestlé’s dominant retail brands compete in departments (frozen) and categories (meals and entrees, pizza) that also need help. At a time when more consumers enjoy a wider array of meal options, Nielsen data show frozen prepared meal and entrée category dollar sales slipped 1.2% and frozen pizza category dollar sales inched up only 1.6% increase during a six-month tracking period ended Sept. 12, 2015. During the same period, Nestlé’s frozen pizza business (include DiGiorno, Tombstone, California Pizza Kitchen and Jack’s) grew at 2.4%, greater than the category. Stouffer’s frozen entrée sales were flat and Lean Cuisine sales were down.

Although Nestlé’s numbers improved by early November, category performance remained top of mind for Jeff Hamilton, president of Nestlé Prepared Foods, maker of Stouffer’s and Lean Cuisine.

“The reality is that during the past five years or more, what’s been available to consumers in frozen hasn’t been on-trend with how eating habits have changed,” he tells Prepared Foods. “Newer brands are addressing these changes while larger, long-established brands have not been in-step with trends and food culture. We’ve had the right intentions but our efforts did not go far enough.”

“Frozen is truly convenient and sales results aren’t a knock on a category—rather a lack of relevance of products in the category,” he adds. “Food culture is very dynamic and always changing. Trends come quickly and we have to be able to identify and address them in real time. That applies for every brand in the category. We now have R&D on site—on this campus—and right across from our marketing people. We believe this combination will translate to real-time consumer insights and product advances.”

John Carmichael is president of Nestlé Pizza, which also is home to the company’s other dough-based brands: Hot Pockets and Lean Pockets.

“As consumers’ options for convenient meals and snacks continues to increase, it is more important than ever to innovate and develop superior products that compete with those new options,” he says. “Additionally the way people eat is evolving, causing consumers to want new things from brands—even in historically indulgent categories. These include new health benefits like gluten-free and cleaner labels, as well as new flavor experiences and format options. Providing the best products that deliver on this is critical for Nestlé’s future success.”

State of the Art

Nestlé officials were planning for that future success some five to seven years ago. Already a frozen category leader, Nestlé nearly doubled its business with the 2010 purchase of Kraft’s frozen pizza brands. That deal only propelled global parent Nestlé SA and its global technical group, Nestec Ltd., to start discussing a dedicated chilled and frozen product technology center.

Those conversations led to the construction of Nestlé R&D Solon, now home to 120 chefs, consumer researchers, packaging specialists, designers, engineers and food scientists. The ultra-modern, three-story glass building not only features traditional R&D labs but also areas committed to grain science, package design and testing and a microwave technology center. There also are several pilot plant rooms committed to entrees, pizza dough and sauces. To the right—just inside the front door—there are consumer insights and tasting rooms as well as a hands-on, “Consumer Connect” kitchen where guest consumers demonstrate how they actually cook at home. A circular stairway leads visitors up to a second floor, glassed-in “Culinarium” with a research chefs kitchen.

Leading Nestlé R&D Solon is Director Sean Westcott, an Australian and 24-year food veteran who began his career in 1991 in quality and R&D at Rinoldi Hancock Pty Ltd. Beginning in 2003, he joined Burns Philp as technical director for Uncle Tobys Food. He later joined Nestlé in 2006 as R&D and innovation director for Uncle Tobys and soon moved to Vevey, Switzerland, to head innovation acceleration. He next served as global R&D manager before moving to Solon in 2013.

“Nestlé is a long-term company committed to the strategy and science behind these categories, he notes. “Our decision to invest came before the turbulence we all experienced in the frozen food market but we stayed the course and started recruiting R&D and technical resource personnel.”

He continues, “As Jeff [Hamilton] came in and we looked at how consumer eating has shifted in the US, we renewed and redefined our efforts around the ‘new health’ and looked at how we gather US market insights. R&D has to understand what consumers want and need. At the same time, our technical developers need to understand outcomes, or the relevance of what they’re doing. I’m proud to say that we’ve filed more new patents during the past year than in the last five years—and these are exciting new developments. We’re putting a stake in the ground and turning a corner—at least internally. We think these changes will be the foundation for what the business could be in the next five years.”

Among the featured speaker at Nestlé R&D Solon’s open house was Johannes Baensch, head of Global Product & Technology Development, Nestec Ltd.

“Few areas of research are as complex as food research,” he said. “Nestlé has a long-standing reputation for excellence in research on food and nutrition and our research center is regarded as one of the world’s leading laboratories in food. By creating Nestlé R&D Solon, we are transporting a significant piece of our global research expertise to the United States, our largest global market.”

Leading that market is Paul Grimwood, chairman and CEO of Nestlé USA. He also addressed open house attendees.

“We’re experiencing one of the most profound shifts in how people eat right now. To address the ever-changing landscape, we’re striving to make our products healthier and tastier using unmatched R&D capability, nutrition science and passion for quality in everything we do,” he said. “I’m pleased that Nestlé R&D Solon will enable us to better anticipate and provide consumers with the food choices they deserve and the quality they have come to expect from Nestlé.”

Fast Forward

Among those looking to improve every aspect of the business is Hamilton, who spent most of his 25-year Nestlé career in pet food before joining Nestlé Prepared Foods in March 2014. Hamilton says his team’s first job was to quickly redirect Lean Cuisine away from the brand’s “diet” roots and embrace consumers’ new definition of wellness with creative new on-trend ingredients. Meanwhile, Nestlé has refocused the Stouffer’s line and messaging around wholesome, healthy, quality ingredients.

Speaking first of Lean Cuisine, Hamilton notes, “There’s steadily increasing interest in health but the way consumers are thinking about it has really changed. It used to only be about lower fat or lower calories. Now what defines ‘healthy’ involves a whole list of new benefits: organic, high protein, non-GMO. Moreover, every consumer has their own sense of how they like to eat healthy.”

Last July saw Lean Cuisine recast its entire line and introduce 10 new Marketplace entrees that combine chef-inspired recipes, premium ingredients and on-trend health notes (non-GMO, organic, high protein, etc.). Stouffer’s drive has been to attack the image of “processed food.” The brand promotes its use of real ingredients—such as cheese and beef and pasta—while it eliminates artificial colors, artificial flavors and preservatives. Stouffer’s officials also launched an entirely new line, Fit Kitchen, last June.

“Although Fit Kitchen recipes may be a little less adventurous than those from Lean Cuisine, the effort focuses on high quality ingredients, bolder flavors and high protein (25g to 27g),” Hamilton says. “These are healthy, hearty meals with reasonable calories levels. We’re reaching out to a group of underserviced consumers—men—who have very few options that resonate with the way they want to eat.”

For his part, Hamilton already sings the praises of Nestlé R&D Solon.

“Most importantly, it has us all thinking together. It allows us to improve our speed to market, show product ideas to consumers and then move much more quickly through benchtop labs and scale-up in the pilot plant—all within one building. We can go from insight to activation in an accelerated time frame.”

He notes that 16 SKUs and two new lines—Lean Cuisine Marketplace and Stouffer’s Fit Kitchen—were ready to launch within a year of his arrival. He says both new lines are gaining sales and that Lean Cuisine’s overall sales numbers are back in the black.

“Nestlé’s investment in this global product technology center demonstrates that this is a category we believe in,” says Hamilton. “It can be a growth business again for our retail customers and very exciting for consumers. We are very committed to the future of frozen.”

Carmichael is equally enthusiastic about Nestlé R&D Solon’s state-of-the art culinary resources combined with grain science and dough technology research. He notes that new DiGiorno Pizzeria! (one of IRI’s 2014 Pacesetter sales award winners) has been successful because it delivers artisanal ingredients with a dual-textured crust that is both chewy and crispy.

Last March saw Nestlé extend DiGiorno Pizzeria! into a thin crust, a growing segment within the pizza category. Carmichael adds that Nestlé quietly reformulated its flagship DiGiorno product to eliminate artificial ingredients but retain the same rising crust performance and taste. Dough formulation and processing research also has extended California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) into new gluten-free and hand-tossed varieties.

Last but not least, Carmichael says that Nestlé also takes a “flavor forward” stance. For example, new CPK flavors and ingredients include real chorizo, Kalamata olives, artichokes and fire-roasted poblano peppers. Likewise, Tombstone has launched two Limited Edition varieties—a Bratwurst and a Diablo—that invite consumers to participate in a fun, new flavor adventure.

“For the Nestlé pizza and snacking brands to thrive, renovating current products is critical to show consumers we’re the leader in health and taste trends,” Carmichael concludes. “It’s also critical to innovate and develop products with new formats that enable our consumers to enjoy our products in new and different ways. This will require speed and focus. We have several pizza and snacking brands, and each has a unique job to do in bringing this to life.”

AT A GLANCE

Nestlé Research & Development Solon
Company: Nestlé SA / Nestlé USA
Director: Sean Westcott
Location: Solon, Ohio
Profile: Nestlé R&D Solon is dedicated to global chilled and frozen product and process development. It shares information with Nestlé businesses worldwide, including factories in Germany, France and Italy.
Investment: $50 million
Size: 144,000 sq. ft.
Personnel: Approximately 120 including chefs, consumer researchers, packaging specialists, designers, engineers and food scientists
In-House Technology Centers: Grain science, sauces, manufacturing, microwave, packaging
Brands: R&D Solon supports frozen entrees (Stouffer’s, Lean Cuisine, Lean Pockets, Hot Pockets), refrigerated pasta (Buitoni), refrigerated cookie dough (Nestlé Toll House), and frozen pizzas (DiGiorno, Tombstone, California Pizza Kitchen, Jack’s). It also supports European brands such as Wagner and Herta.


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SPECIAL REPORT: The Industry's Response to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

18 Jan 2016 --- Every five years the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services jointly release a list of guidelines to sustain a healthy diet. With the sound advice from an expert panel of scientists, it provides the government&rsquos basic nutrition advice and forms the basis for federal, state and local food policy.

The eighth edition of the new federal dietary guidelines are urging Americans to eat less sugar and meat. The evidence is strong, the guidelines states that diets with less meat are associated with reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. Moderate evidence indicates that those eating patterns are associated with a reduced risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer according to the publication. Teen boys and adult men also &ldquoneed to reduce overall intake of protein foods by decreasing intakes of meats, poultry and eggs and increasing the amounts of vegetables or other underconsumed food groups,&rdquo according to the guidelines.

Click to Enlarge The guidelines also recommend a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and a diet based on vegetables and whole grains. With regards to sodium, it urges Americans to limit their salt intake to below 2,300 milligrams a day, and those with high blood pressure should go even lower to 1,500 milligrams.

The dietary guidelines aim to help Americans pursue a healthy diet while recognizing that all food groups can be a part of healthy dietary patterns to help meet individual&rsquos dietary needs, personal preferences and cultural traditions.

Healthy eating patterns support a healthy body weight and can help prevent and reduce the risk of chronic disease throughout periods of growth, development, and aging as well as during pregnancy.

All foods consumed as part of a healthy eating pattern fit together to meet nutritional needs without exceeding limits, such as those for saturated fats, added sugars, sodium, and total calories. All forms of foods, including fresh, canned, dried, and frozen, can be included in healthy eating patterns.

Dr. Rob Post, Senior Director of Nutrition and Regulatory Affairs for Chobani, Inc., the market leader in the Greek yogurt area, spoke at a recent IFT presentation. He states: "The 2015-2020 edition emphasizes healthy eating patterns which are quickly identified and which consists of all food and beverages which person consumes over time. We consume foods, we don&rsquot consume then individually, we consume then for their nutrients but its important to craft a pattern in a day, or a week, or a month, which is the message in these guidelines. The healthy eating patterns represent that they may be more predictive of our overall health and disease risks in individual foods and nutrients. And healthy eating patterns are actually adaptable to a person's taste preferences, cultural and budgetary constraints."

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) continue to develop public/private programs and initiatives for successful implementation of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines. Their priority is to provide safe, healthy, nutritious, affordable, and sustainable food choices that will ultimately achieve a culture of health.

&ldquoFood science and technology enhances our ability to provide healthful foods to meet the nutritional needs of diverse lifestyles and cultures while supporting sustainable agricultural and food processing practices,&rdquo says IFT's Past President Mary Ellen Camire.

Bill Layden is Co-founder and partner of FoodMinds LLC. He told FoodIngredientsFirst that the new guidelines continue the trend towards the promotion of healthy eating patterns: &ldquoThe longstanding directive to cut back on fat, sugar and salt is evident worldwide as food companies have been reducing sugar and fat for sometime. More and more, those same companies are introducing foods and meal solutions that have more vegetables, dairy, whole grains and seafood.&rdquo

Layden explains new recipes are created with nutrition in mind: &ldquoFor example, in 2015 the Nestlé STOUFFER&rsquoS brand launched STOUFFER&rsquoS Fit Kitchen, wholesome and contemporary frozen meals that offer 25 or more grams of protein, paired with complex carbohydrates and crisp vegetables. The new recipes use healthier cooking methods, like grilling and oven-roasting, to using herbs instead of oil to add flavor.&rdquo

In light of the new guidelines Layden advises industries to get involved by creating products that are tailored towards healthy lifestyles: &ldquoWith a few exceptions, Americans across age groups have intakes of vegetables, fruits, and dairy that are below the recommendations, and intakes of total grains and protein foods that are close to the recommendations. This presents a clear opportunity for the industry to get creative in incorporating vegetables, fruits, and dairy into individual food products as well as meal solutions.&rdquo

The introduction of the Healthy Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern offers a marketing opportunity for whole foods like nuts and avocados, as well as other foods and beverages that align with the Mediterranean diet profile and lifestyle. In fact, some foods may be able to use what is often referred to as a DGA health claim on their packaging.

FoodIngredientsFirstspoke to a Cargill spokesperson about the new guidelines: &ldquoThe new Guidelines underscore the critical connection between food and health, and recognize that many different kinds of foods can and should be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. Our company is proud to produce a wide array of foods and ingredients, including many products that help both food manufacturers and consumers make &ldquoshifts&rdquo toward healthier diets.&rdquo

Shift to reduce added sugars consumption to less that 10 per cent of calories per day
The recommendation on added sugars is not about total sugars but instead to emphasize the addition of calories in added sugars, which is the concern. The guidelines report 13% of calories come from added sugars and they need to be reduced to 10% (based on a 2,000 calorie diet), or about the amount in one 16 ounce sugary drink. This is part of a larger push to help consumers isolate added sugars from naturally occurring ones like those in fruit and milk. Sugar-sweetened beverages make up a large portion of those calories. According to the guidelines, sugary drinks comprise 47 percent of the added sugars that Americans eat every day.

Just how much of an impact do the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have on the food industry?
Dr Post, states: &ldquoIn my opinion, the guidelines have had a tremendous impact in a variety of ways. The first was is evident in starting trends towards innovation for foods that have the components that are more easily changed to meet the recommendations. We know there is an impact consumers look for meeting these recommendations. And certainly nutrition communities and health professionals look to these recommendations to promote more often what we should be choosing. We've seen a surge in the number of products that had lower added sugar levels and that all relates to previous recommendations of the DGA.&rdquo

There are a number of companies in the US, including Cargill, who produce alternative sugar products from high-fructose corn syrups and dry sweeteners to low-sugar and low-calorie options.

Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) offer a wide selection of sweetener products, such as stevia, to meet varying needs for sweetness, flavor intensity, viscosity, glycemic response, particle size and price. ADM&rsquos dry sweeteners have been designed for industry suitability and where liquid sweeteners are not an option.

ADM have helped introduce high-fructose corn syrup to the beverage industry, and today are one of the leading producers of corn sweeteners including corn syrups, high-fructose corn syrups, maltodextrin, crystalline fructose and dextrose.

The Corn Refiners Association when asked by FoodIngredientsFirst about the Dietary Guidelines gave the following statement: &ldquoDue to the highly controversial background of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, we intend to review the document with scientific authorities prior to offering further comment.&rdquo

Cargill has and continues to regularly work with many of its food customers to develop ways to reduce the amount of added sugars in food and beverages: &ldquoOur aim is to achieve the level of sweetness consumers want while at the same time reducing the number of calories, all without sacrificing a great taste. This includes, but isn&rsquot limited to, a broad portfolio of stevia-based sweetener options such as our ViaTech, Truvia and recently introduced EverSweet product.&rdquo

The new federal dietary guidelines come as part of an overall consumer trend towards healthier eating overall, as opposed to the following of stringent diets with questionable results. The moves to urge Americans to eat less sugar and meat will likely help spur the trend towards increased innovation in sweetening solutions and alternative proteins.

By Elizabeth Kenward

This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst’s sister website, NutritionInsight.


Dante Cotton

Accounting Champion

Always having been passionate about food and cooking, Dante tries, on the daily basis, to provide his two boys with healthy products. At home, cooking is his role, and when he's not able to be in charge, he always tries to find healthy alternatives. Being the youngest of 10 brothers, he knows how to take care of a family and is very present for his two sons — either riding a bike with them or trying to follow their physical fitness plan. Dante only rests when cooking or reading. He discovered Kidfresh by purchasing them for his boys. He never imagined being a part of the accounting team at Kidfresh!


Simplicity

Trend - Mainstream brands are launching new footwear options designed to improve the lives of people with disabilities. These include sneakers with a hands-free design for those with limited dexterity as well as unique design details that focus on the senses of touch, sight, and sound for those who require sensory-focused accommodations.

Insight - Thanks to the activist work done by people with disabilities and their allies, there is now a greater awareness of the need to break institutional and physical barriers that prevent people with disabilities from living their lives like other citizens. As a result, consumers are demanding brands work towards inclusivity at all levels–from the products they manufacture to the employees they hire.

Trend - Brands are helping consumers who are trying to limit the amount of food and packaging waste they use with products and services that empower them to reduce waste while they're cooking at home. Everything from cooking shows to cooking planner apps are helping consumers do this.

Insight - As the ecological consequences of waste, pollution and climate change are increasingly known by the average consumer, there is a growing demand for brands to help people reduce their personal impact. People are more likely to adjust their lifestyles with protecting the environment in mind, and brands are having to adapt to meet to this growing demand.

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Trend - Mainstream brands in the personal care space are designing their products to be more accessible for those with disabilities. These include shampoos, deodorants, and toothbrushes designed to be used by individuals with different abilities or dexterities.

Insight - Thanks to activism efforts led by those living with disabilities and their allies, there is a greater awareness about the need for more infrastructure and products designed to accommodate people who have disabilities. This push for inclusion to historically under-served demographics has led some brands to create new products to help these individuals go about their daily life with greater ease and more independence.

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Trend - Brands in the alcohol industry are increasingly with low-ABV products, and this is now extending to traditional aperitif beverages. These low-alcohol beverages are meant to appeal most to Millennial and Gen Z consumers.

Insight - Young Millennials and older Gen Z consumers are more likely to enjoy beverages for their flavors rather than their high alcohol content, and these demographics have been found to consume less alcohol in general than their predecessors. Thus, brands in the alcohol industry must focus more on flavor and product experience to best appeal to these generations.

Trend - Shaving creams, popular among both men and women to protect their skin and make hair-removal easier, are now being reformulated into new formats that change how these products are used and applied. Everything from solid shaving cream sticks to shaving soaps are now being used as alternatives to traditional shaving creams.

Insight - When it comes to the personal care space, consumers have become increasingly open to experimenting and moving away from historically used formulas in the industry. The many choices consumers now have in this space has resulted in them trying out different options to see what best suits them and their needs.

Trend - Brands in the cosmetic industry are increasingly prioritizing zero-waste products, packaging and/or production in response to the growing demand for businesses to reduce their environmental impact.

Insight - Consumers are increasingly aware of how their lifestyles are impacting the environment, and how businesses across industries are accelerating issues like climate change and pollution. Now, more are demanding that brands accept accountability for their impact on the environment and change their ways in order to help consumers reduce their personal impact.

Trend - To appeal to ketogenic consumers seeking convenience, brands in the food space are launching prepared, frozen ketogenic dishes. These range from frozen pizzas, pasta dishes, and lasagnas–all crafted to follow the 2:1 ratio of fats to protein plus carbohydrates, meeting the needs of keto diets.

Insight - Low-carb and high-protein diets are continuing to gain popularity among consumers, however, finding convenient options that satisfying these requirements can be challenging for many. Individuals will flock to brands that conveniently meet these dietary needs, without having to carry out the complicated task of calculating the micronutrient ratios themselves. Brands that offer products that seamlessly meet these needs will win consumer loyalty.


Dinner is shipped. May 25, 2016 2:37 PM Subscribe

I have an old AS/400 service binder that's full, a half-dozen "go-to" recipes, plus maybe another dozen and then holiday menus. And the back pocket is takeout menus.

So, I look at the book, look at the pantry and fridge, and do stuff. Having a pantry with some breadth and depth helps. All the recipes have leftovers which mean another meal or two that doesn't need thinking.
posted by mikelieman at 2:52 PM on May 25, 2016 [13 favorites]

We're trying Blue Apron to see what we like, largely because Madame Naberius and I will soon be joined by. Naberiette, I suppose, and it seems likely that dinner prep will fall by the wayside unless we do something to compensate.

Hopefully our experience will be better than hers. If not, at least we're now aware of several separately, yet equally, unpleasant alternatives.
posted by Naberius at 2:57 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

The big one here in Australia at the moment (that I am aware of) is Hello Fresh. For months and months they had people in Hello Fresh shirts standing on every street corner handing out Hello Fresh $25 gift cards. The cards appeared in your mailbox and fell out of magazines and also arrived inside my deliveries from Bookdepository. These were quite high quality cards made of heavy credit card-esque plastic and they were giving away thousands upon thousands of them, everywhere, saturating our streets and our homes. Turtles are going to be choking on them for the next five thousand years.

I have never had a problem with preparing myself and my partner a meal after a long day at work. I am as busy and as important as anybody else in the world and I still manage it. There are supermarkets and grocers and delis everywhere and if you're at all half-awake in your life and aware of your surroundings and your existence you generally have a reasonable idea of what you have at home in the pantry and freezer. There's gonna be some chickpeas and some lentils and some chopped tomatoes in cans in the cupboard, probably some rice or some pasta, and in your freezer there's gonna be some frozen vegetables, which are pretty much as good as the "real" thing. Some eggs and cheese in the fridge. Maybe you remembered to get the chicken out to defrost the night before, maybe you didn't, and if you didn't you buy some. Maybe you're vegetarian and you have to grab a few mushrooms and some potatoes and onions or something.

You dismantle these things in some manner and you apply heat to them appropriately (there are many ways to do this). For flavour you add garlic, salt, and pepper, or maybe you are a "foodie" and you have three or four little herb and spices jars of other stuff like cumin and cinnamon sugar and you add those as well depending on what you are cooking and how you want it to taste. If you're at all not a moron you have some kind of "big" sauce, like a hot sauce or some soy sauce or wooster sauce, sitting in the cupboard as well, and you know you enjoy it already because you've lived in the world for longer than eleven seconds and have tried at least two or three things in your mouth, and if the food you've dismantled and heated doesn't taste the way you'd ideally like it to, you throw on some of the fucking sauce and you eat it and you limp weakly through the next couple of hours and survive to see another day.

Eating is one of the most fundamental and necessary things a human being - in fact, any living creature - can do. Over millions and millions of years of evolution on this planet our biology has been structured in such a way that we can digest pretty much anything else that was once alive, and a fair amount of it is tasty to some degree and won't poison us to death. Everyone not on the brink of death today has observed, at some point, food being cooked and eaten. Get with the program. Holy shit.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:05 PM on May 25, 2016 [56 favorites]

I've tried Purple Carrot and really enjoyed it. Not so much due to the food itself, but because I don't have much experience with vegan cooking so it exposes me to new techniques. I've learned a lot about how to make interesting and varied meals with just plants -- both what works and what doesn't work. I think of it less as groceries delivered to me and more as lessons in a new cuisine.

I suspect the author of this post chose an unfortunate week to try them most of the recipes I've had have been really surprisingly delicious, but there have been one or two occasions when I was disappointed. (And they've always involved "make a fake cheese or cream sauce out of these nuts".)
posted by fader at 3:05 PM on May 25, 2016

paired with a helpful chart that told me exactly how long I could keep each ingredient before it would rot and poison me, gave me the impression that Hello Fresh was aware that its customers are human beings who are poorly equipped to do things for themselves.

I'm glad this article could convince me that none of these preorder meals are a good option.
posted by permiechickie at 3:05 PM on May 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

I dunno, I think our society has weird expectations about food now, and most of us didn't learn to cook, so even those of us with stable jobs and schedules struggle.

Like, when I was growing up, both my parents worked, my mother worked nights two days a week and we had dinner on the table as a family every night. because it was super-streamlined and very plain, and both my parents had learned to cook from childhood. A meat, a vegetable, carrot/celery/onion/lettuce salad with vinegar and oil, maybe bread if the mains seemed small. "Meat" was meatloaf, casserole, roast chicken, maybe pork chops, maybe chicken sandwiches, maybe a big pot roast that lasted several meals. Very simple stuff, year in and year out. Once I was old enough, I was in charge of getting some parts of it ready after school.

I think food culture has changed so much that no one really eats like that any more - if we cook, we're expected to make fancier dishes with more vegetables, more sides, more spices, fewer carbs, etc. Like, compared to the way I grew up, all that "easy white bean turkey chili" type stuff was fancy, and required a lot more ingredients than what we usually had. I feel like for people who do have the time and skills to cook, there's a lot more cultural garbage of the "but it doesn't have kale and legumes, it is no good garbage poison food" variety than there was when I was growing up. The dinners my parents made were. okay, nutrition-wise. Not as many vegetables as recommended, mainly, but perfectly filling and not full of junk. That's not really what our culture wants from us any more.

I have umpteen billion more ingredients around the house than my parents ever did, but it has been work to teach myself to fix a simple, vegetable-centered dinner every night, and I think that's down to cultural change as much as anything else.
posted by Frowner at 3:09 PM on May 25, 2016 [105 favorites]

The only way I got good at grocery shopping, meal planning and cooking was through practice. I see these meal kits as training wheels towards that, but I find them hard to justify the cost and the packaging compared to my usual methods.

A friend gave me her Blue Apron box once and it sort of drove me nuts. How do people get past receiving things like three olives in a plastic container? What if you want to snack on your ingredients while you cook?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:18 PM on May 25, 2016 [22 favorites]

like a hot sauce or some soy sauce or wooster sauce,

"You will pardon me for saying so, sir, but one does not want overmuch flavouring in one's chicken dish. It has been amply sauced."

"Dash it all, Jeeves! Ladle that liquid upon the bird until I am beyond bilious!"
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:19 PM on May 25, 2016 [78 favorites]

"I’m not going to buy and genuinely use a whole bunch of thyme or even an entire tomato, unless someone tells me when and how."

1. Don't buy the thyme.
2. Eat tomato like apple.
posted by kittensofthenight at 3:19 PM on May 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

These were quite high quality cards made of heavy credit card-esque plastic and they were giving away thousands upon thousands of them, everywhere, saturating our streets and our homes. Turtles are going to be choking on them for the next five thousand years.

Sometimes I feel like we're all living inside a Don DeLillo novel.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:30 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm assuming it's that people want to feel like they're learning cooking skills + seeing exactly whats going into it.

Not a great price/value proposition though.
posted by Ferreous at 3:34 PM on May 25, 2016

$12 a serving and you have to cook it yourself? Why not just get takeout?

A) $12 is generally less than I pay for a meal out on a given weeknight.
B) You don't have to think about it. Eating out is well and good but it's draining to have to constantly think "What am I going to eat tonight? How far am I willing to go to get food?"

(NB: I don't actually use any of these services. I do, however, totally understand the appeal, and I'm fortunate enough to live within walking distance of one of the best grocery stores in the country.)
posted by asterix at 3:36 PM on May 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

This mindset is so far from my experience that I keep deleting what I've typed. I've lived an INCREDIBLY privileged and sheltered life, but I like cooking and I like going to the grocery store and I'm vegetarian so its super easy to make quick dinners. Sometimes I wish cooking took longer so I could listen to a whole podcast while cooking. Also its only for 2 people, so splitting the cooking and shopping up makes it super easy.

I've also had to work with people like this at my job, which occasionally includes cooking, and its fucking annoying when people don't know how to cut an onion or boil noodles and they have a psych degree.
posted by kittensofthenight at 3:44 PM on May 25, 2016 [12 favorites]

I can get delivery of lots of things for $12 a serving or less in Los Angeles (sometimes you do have to buy multiple servings in order for this to work, but thats what leftovers are for), so yeah I don't quite get these services as a way to just get food. Since I *also* have no interest in cooking, this works out well.

Now, if your goal was "try out lots of recipies with less effort", then I think these might make sense? I don't know, the world of people who _want_ to cook is weird and foreign to me (I totally understand the "have" to cook world, but I suspect these services are too expensive for such people).
posted by thefoxgod at 3:46 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I like knowing that I'm eating pizza the day after I eat spaghetti, because that's what I do with extra sauce before I put it in the freezer.

A chicken with some vegetables placed underneath and roasted for a bit takes very little planning and not much time to cook (prep-wise).

Apparently, xingcat and I are sockpuppets for one another.
posted by Cookiebastard at 3:46 PM on May 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

I can get delivery of lots of things for $12 a serving or less in Los Angeles

Right, but these services are for people who don't want restaurant/processed food.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:47 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Probably being over dramatic on this shit, but god damn it really bothers me when people shame people for not knowing how to cook well.

Learning to cook well takes a shit load of time, equipment, effort and money for ingredients. I have tons of pale scars across my grotesquely dry hands from cooking. I have fucked up and failed in making things so many times it's infuriating, but that's the cost of learning something. When you are poor or time constrained the idea that you might blow 20 bucks of ingredients and hours of time on a failed recipe is not a thrilling conceit. I love to cook, but I also hate having to spend an hour washing dishes because I don't have a dishwasher. I wouldn't wish the requirement to do this on someone out of some sense of obligation.

If you want to value the act of knowing how to cook as a skill, you also have to admit that it's something that takes time, effort and resources that not everyone has.
posted by Ferreous at 3:48 PM on May 25, 2016 [104 favorites]

The most unsexy, onerous, absurdly challenging task I face on a daily basis is figuring out how to put food in my body.

And here I thought it was getting the food out of my body. Somebody must not be an every-day pooper.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:49 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

if we cook, we're expected to make fancier dishes with more vegetables, more sides, more spices, fewer carbs, etc.

At least once a week we have jacket potatoes with baked beans and cheese, one night is egg and chips, one night is mixed vegetable omelette. I think I'm totally amazeballs when I make a veggie lasagne from scratch. You can cook dinner from fresh every night and still eat totally unfancy food thankfully or else I would starve because I could never afford a service like this.
posted by billiebee at 3:50 PM on May 25, 2016 [10 favorites]

When you are poor or time constrained the idea that you might blow 20 bucks of ingredients and hours of time on a failed recipe is not a thrilling conceit.

It's gen. a good idea to start with, like, chicken and butter noodles or something before you jump right into a $20-and-hours recipe
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:50 PM on May 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

A lot of fresh herbs dry very easily and are as good (maybe better) than fresh. At least for some months, maybe a year. Thyme is a good example of this if you have room to hang it up for a week or so it dries out, and you can then store its leaves or the whole stems in a container. You don't even need to hang it up: I left mine lying on top of a paper bag and it worked fine.

The rule of thumb is, hard/spiky/coarse herbs dry more successfully than soft/watery/fine ones. So if you're buying chives, or mint, or parsley, have a game plan to use the remainder within a week. But feel free to buy a bunch of thyme, or rosemary, or bay leaves, and keep the remainder for months and months of flavorsome meals.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:54 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Life has been . . . less than perfect for a few months and so we're doing Purple Carrot (which is the only vegetarian one we've found) because neither of us has the mental space to choose what to cook, much less plan for it. Lucky for us, we can pay for the convenience.

There's only been one meal that one of us did not like (one each--both times it was based around an ingredient one of us does not like) and only a couple that we'd make on our own, but they've all been more or less tasty and filling. Because they are supposed to be simple, they avoid the vegan pitfalls of expecting you to combine six exotic ingredients in a bowl and pretend it's an egg, which is nice.

However, the recipes seem incomplete or badly written to me--unclear about what size chopped pieces of the vegetable should be, under-spiced, telling you to do things in strange order, that sort of thing. Like, they assume you know something about how the dish is supposed to turn out. So, I'd think they'd be terrible for learning how to cook, but good for trying recipes you might not have sought out to try, if you've got some basic kitchen skills and some basic idea how recipes work. But I'm pretty schooled in how to kitchen and we've never had a problem.

It's been okay. Easy, tasty, filling and generally healthier than ice cream, popcorn or frozen fried pickles from the Walgreen's. Still, it's expensive for groceries and there's no leftovers, but it's easy to skip a week when you need to.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:54 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've also had to work with people like this at my job

Hi, I'm a people like this, in that I get a box service to feed my household. I've been a professional baker, line, and prep cook. I worked in a bustling food co-op for years. Now, though, the time and just mental bandwidth that the Weekly Box frees up for me is so very welcome--I can read more, or monkey with yet another sample in SonicPi.

I've known, deeply, the joys of menu planning and shopping, and of co-op staff discounts, but there are other pleasures and priorities in life besides those.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 3:56 PM on May 25, 2016 [15 favorites]

A lot of the comments here remind me of the incredulous comments that show up on discussions of poverty and poor nutrition along the lines of: "But a crockpot of beans costs a dollar and you can eat it all week! Why would you bother with fast food?"

Ok, fine, you have a system that works for you you. Yay! Apparently, your experience is not universal and some folks might want to try things a different way.

I tried Blue Apron this winter because I was given a two week subscription as a gift. I like to consider myself a good cook, but I liked the idea of the service (if not the price). I ended up kind of hating it, for some of the reasons what the author talks about here. I also received a decent coupon from HelloFresh recently so maybe I'd consider giving them a try.

If you don't think that meal planning/shopping is enough of a chore that you'd pay to eliminate it every now and then, that's fine! Some people pay for dog walkers and cleaning services, others don't.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:59 PM on May 25, 2016 [18 favorites]

I once got a week of Blue Apron for free. It was the best I've eaten on a daily basis for my entire adult life. If I could afford it and was certain my box would not get stolen off my porch I would totally use these services.

I know how to cut an onion and boil water (I've done low-level food prep in a restaurant), but meal planning is beyond me and when I cook for myself it's usually variations of "cook a billion chicken breasts at once, eat that and only that until you run out, then repeat." Or "chicken chunks, ground beef, tomato paste in a crock pot." I can follow a recipe, but the process of getting sufficient recipes together and then shopping for everything and then either doing a day-long food prep or trying to get home in time with enough mental energy to get all that done is a struggle.

As another poster said, developing a sense for this sort of thing takes practice. You pull an ingredient off a shelf and in your head you have a vague idea of what other ingredients you need to get with it and can apply said ingredient to multiple, tried-and-true recipes with a few fancy things in between. Getting to that point takes work, and up until then you're trying to coordinate lists of recipes and getting frustrated because you only just realized you'll probably never use a certain ingredient you bought in anything again, ever. I have an idea of what it's like when it's easy. I used to be a prolific baker, and I am confident enough in my skill and familiarity with the general formula for different categories of baked goods to now find most baking to be a soothing, low-stress process. But I developed my base as a teenager, when my life responsibilities were dramatically less. I am nowhere near that for cooking, and now that I'm in my 30s getting to that point feels a hell of a lot more overwhelming.

Whenever posts about meal-prep and planning come out there is always a tumble of posters who are too eager to discuss how easy and simple they find food-prep, and gosh-golly they just don't see what the big deal is all about. I think some people do not necessarily realize that not everyone in the world had the same exposure to food and cooking as them, and not everyone in the world had the same schedule and available materials as they that allowed them to develop these habits. Like, no, it is not impossible to learn cooking, but jeez, at least acknowledge the process of getting there can be pretty onerous and a serious time commitment.
posted by schroedinger at 4:09 PM on May 25, 2016 [15 favorites]

Ok. For some people, this is a useful way to cut a thing out of the schedule. But it sounds like it's also being touted as a way to learn to cook? But I doubt it's a particularly good way to learn cooking.

I volunteer at a place where I teach people to fix their own bikes. Is there an equivalent for people who want to learn to cook their own food? Sort of a community kitchen + skillshare + dinner?
posted by sibilatorix at 4:09 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

The amount of scorn MeFites heap on people who can't cook and are afraid to spend a lot of money on ingredients they're unsure of, or on people who don't want to cook and find these services useful never fails astound me. Nearly every food thread descends into "well, duh, this is easy to make I don't know why anyone bothers buying it at the store" followed by their No Fail Aren't I Clever recipe.

I like to cook. I can. I do. But not everyone can and not everyone does. Shaming people for that is pretty classist and shitty.
posted by Kitteh at 4:18 PM on May 25, 2016 [23 favorites]

We started using Blue Apron a couple months ago, and it's been a bit of a revelation: my wife and I have fun together cooking every evening, we suffer much less decision paralysis (rather than dealing with "what boring old meal shall we make tonight!"), and our diet is rather more varied.

Since Blue Apron only ships three meals a week, we also used Plated for a few weeks, but then came to a realization: we're now comfortable enough with cooking from scratch that we're now supplementing what Blue Apron sends us with a few new recipes from their cookbook each week.

I would not be surprised to find ourselves cooking without the aid of Blue Apron a few months now I do wonder what proportion of users "graduate" like this.
posted by metaquarry at 4:27 PM on May 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

This is perfectly-timed for me because I currently have, sitting right next to me, a Blue Apron box that I was not at all expecting to get today and that I can't use - all of the recipes have a key ingredient I can't use.

I really enjoyed Blue Apron at first, because the food was legitimately delicious and I learned a bunch of things from it. But the recipes are seriously time-consuming and I found I was typically only actually making 2/week so it didn't really make sense financially. And I keep meaning to cancel it but I haven't gotten around to it and I'm still hoping there will be one week that has three recipes I'm excited about, so instead I've just been "skipping" every week as I go along, until I forget like I did for this week. So I just posted something on FB and hopefully someone will take it off my hands.

I've also had lots of problems with things showing up having gone bad, or going bad in a day or two in my fridge. They are good about crediting your account, but it's still annoying.

On the plus side, most of the meals I've made with their ingredients/recipes have been absolutely delicious, restaurant-quality.
posted by lunasol at 4:29 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I only started to cook for myself when I moved out of my parents' house. I've never liked to eat a lot of restaurant or processed food, so it was a necessity, and I got a lot of practice.

I started by cooking recipes that I liked the sound of. It was time-consuming and inefficient. I tried to pick recipes that shared ingredients, but it took a lot of time before I knew enough dishes that I could do meal planning in any sensible way.

And it took even longer before I had a real sense of how to make a variety of things on the fly (other than soup) without a recipe. Sure I could make a lot of dishes, but building a good pantry, and knowing what to do with it without a recipe, meant having a lot of experience under my belt.

If I had had the money for a service like this, it might have been really nice.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:33 PM on May 25, 2016

Following a recipe is one thing (and not trivial, for that matter). The kind of supply chain management you need to master in order to keep cooking, day after day after day, without the expense (and moral qualms) of having to throw out rotting food is pretty goddamn hard, in my experience. I mean, I cook more or less everything we eat at home from scratch, bar the occasional Friday-night takeaway, and as a result I can probably correctly estimate, within 5% by weight either way, how many of the staples we've got in our larder at any given time, and how long they've been there, and how long I've got to use them up before they go bad. When I'm in the supermarket, all of this knowledge is semi-consciously feeding all the decisions I'm making about what to cook and how much to buy: what I'll use tonight, what will keep, etc. This is after years and years of doing it, you understand: it's not easy.

Unless they learn it from childhood, most people (myself included) have to fuck up, repeatedly and expensively, to get to the point where they can do this kind of household management, and I can understand how it would discourage people. I mean, I was pig-headed enough not to let it stop me when I was learning how to Adult, but it was a pretty close thing, and I love cooking, with an irritating fervour. I probably wouldn't use these services now, but 2006 me wants Blue Apron and its ilk like 1990 me wants the Internet.
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 4:35 PM on May 25, 2016 [21 favorites]

I wish I had had the foresight years and years ago to buy stock in whatever the hell evil genius company owns the cardboard box manufacturing market. I would be lounging in my infinity pool right about now, sipping on my private label chardonnay as my chef prepares the evening's menu.

Boxes y'all. So. Many. Boxes.
posted by bologna on wry at 4:37 PM on May 25, 2016 [33 favorites]

I cook from scratch at least four to five times per week. I love it. I also love the idea of these services but they are pricey for me and my area of the world, and I have an issue with the packaging. So much packaging. A teeny little plastic bottle for two tablespoons of soy sauce, separate boxes for other ingredients, lots of plastic wrap. it just all seems so wasteful.

I don't mean to shame anyone who uses these services and enjoys them. They're just not for me, even though I think it's a cool idea.
posted by cooker girl at 4:45 PM on May 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

For the most part, people who have cooking as a sustainable part of their lives aren't making Couscous-Encrusted Snapper with Peppercorn-Mint Sauce and Crispy Purple Potato Hash Bouquets or whatever as a weeknight meal.

The entirety of the internet and social media leads me to believe otherwise.

I know what you're saying, but there's also this ridiculous pressure to not only feed yourself, but if you at all CARE ABOUT YOUR ENVIRONMENT, YOUR FAMILY AND YOUR HEALTH, to feed yourself sustainable, local, non-GMO, grass-fed, antibiotic-free, humanely-raised foodstuffs that were carefully grown and cultivated by companies who really take care of their employees.

But, you know, since you don't love your family and obviously want the environment to go to shit and don't mind eventually getting diabetes, then sure, make that shitty little boxed pasta and jarred sauce dish.
posted by bologna on wry at 4:48 PM on May 25, 2016 [13 favorites]

i hate cooking, i have worked in restaurants (because oh what a good idea, put me someplace hot and stressful and then give me large sharp knives), i know what i'm doing, my mind is an endless encyclopedia of recipes, but it's just not something i want to do for myself or anyone else ever again at any time. god, if i could recharge via usb i would be delighted to do so. this cooking annoyance is compounded by the fact that i no longer have full use of my left arm and have not yet begun the OT to figure out how to do life properly again.

the worst most flagrant obnoxious waste of my time and money is me going to the store to say "oh maybe i will buy some ingredients to cook an entire meal" NO no i will not do that thing, i will gaze upon these ingredients invading my fridge with despair and loathing and then throw them away when they have gone bad.

people talking about how much better, how much more tasty and magical and ineffable a home cooked meal is are like the exhausted poopsmeared parents of newborns talking about the miracle of life. you are speaking a language i don't understand and would probably kill to avoid learning.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:57 PM on May 25, 2016 [26 favorites]

This whole thing about "it's classist to imply people should learn to cook" is a little weird in light of the fact that 1) Blue Apron is fricking expensive and 2) they give you ingredients that you, yourself, then cook.

My objections are to the general tenor of posts that act like cooking is just so damn easy. They aren't just rolled out for fancy meal services, they're rolled out with any post that alludes to cooking being difficult. Also, there is a huge difference between meal-planning, buying ingredients, then assembling and cooking them, and having all the ingredients pre-sorted for you when all you have to do is put them together. It's training wheels.
posted by schroedinger at 5:02 PM on May 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

it doesn't really take that much to follow a recipe

Not everybody processes information in the same way. We used Blue Apron to teach my husband how to cook because he has sensory and information-processing difficulties that make planning, shopping, and execution all pretty difficult for him, and it was still super hard for him (still isn't incredibly easy, two years later) but comprehensive enough that I could do what I needed to do, which was get the hell out of the kitchen and not stand over him going "nobody else spends 10 minutes crumbling ground lamb into 70,000 same-sized lamb particles, I promise" or "how do you not understand what 'brown' means?"

We have such a vastly different perspective on the whole ordeal of making food happen that our podcast about it is debuting in a couple of weeks.

Getting dinner kits turned out to be great for both of us, because for him they're generally very straightforward with pictures and even videos if he's confused, and for me, I am very novelty-driven in that I don't want to eat the same thing day after day and week after week, but the sort of mindless bulk utility cooking I do to get us fed most weeknights + lunches is in fact pretty much that. And it's much more calorie-appropriate and cheaper than our GrubHub options.

But I still miss my goddamn Fresh and Easy, where I could pick up a tray of ready-to-roast seasoned/sauced green vegetable and a tray of lemon chicken breasts and a container of tabbouleh and it took almost no thought and usually cost less than $10pp. We'll probably get one of those new mini Whole Foods, but it will go out of business just like F&E.

Blue Apron's "we never send the same thing twice" policy eventually meant that we were getting weirder and weirder iterations of meals, so it'd be like gochujang chicken thighs with spiralized quick-pickled radishes and beet juice freekah and it was getting tedious. We switched to Home Chef (which offers a breakfast option, and I love a breakfast for dinner) which is a little less exotic but simple and good.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:04 PM on May 25, 2016 [13 favorites]

I'm not overly fussed about how others choose to Food but implications that we as a family who does cook most nights are privileged wizard unicorns who are doing something that literally no one these days has the time our capacity to do are perplexing to me. Yo, we had Quorn fake chicken nuggets, Cole slaw made from pre shredded cabbage and carrots mixed with plain yogurt and vinegar, and garlic toast for dinner tonight. The night before that I was working in the yard until late and had a bowl of rice noodles, chopped up tofu, that same bagged cabbage with soy sauce , ume vinegar and sriracha dumped on them. This is what home cooking looks like for most people who do it. It takes 30 minutes start to finish (preschooler bedtime is a harsh taskmaster) and no one is winning any James Beard Awards. We buy the same 50 items at Trader Joe's every week and eat the same like 10 meals. Also $12/person/meal would have bankrupted us for about the first ten years of our marriage.

If you don't like to cook or don't know how or just can't brain enough right now to do it (and I knew more than one pro chef who would rather die than cook a meal at home), that's cool, but it's a false dichotomy to present the only options as "3 course authentic Malay-Thai Fusion every night" and "Blue Apron."
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:08 PM on May 25, 2016 [21 favorites]

If you don't like to cook or don't know how or just can't brain enough right now to do it (and I knew more than one pro chef who would rather die than cook a meal at home), that's cool, but it's a false dichotomy to present the only options as "3 course authentic Malay-Thai Fusion every night" and "Blue Apron."

Nobody is doing that. They are pushing back against the faux-shock that anybody would use or enjoy a service like this, or that indeed, anyone would find cooking difficult at all.
posted by schroedinger at 5:12 PM on May 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

like the usual "oh just throw a few things together and it's a meal!" stuff we get in these threads every. single. fucking. time. wHY

oh just make stuff from your kitchen staples, you cry! my kitchen staples are 13 kinds of mustard and a couple of dark chocolate bars with cardamom in, plus 7 different kinds of granola but each bag only has .25oz left in it, and of course 2 bottles of champagne because what am i, an animal

knowing what random things to keep in the house which can be "thrown together" to make a legitimate meal, a meal that that is not a mustard sandwich on ritz crackers to just use a totally fictional example that i definitely just made up, this is a skill that must be learned either through demonstration from others in your life or through having the time, money, and energy to figure it out by yourself
posted by poffin boffin at 5:19 PM on May 25, 2016 [38 favorites]

I find meal planning and shopping inordinately difficult, despite years of experience and skill in the kitchen. (This thread, at least, inspired me to figure out my grocery list for when I go shopping tomorrow. But we also just ate the last 1/2 box of spaghetti that was in the pantry with butter and parmesan cheese for dinner because I haven't had the mental bandwidth to plan and shop for our meals this week.) I realize this probably makes me a lazy horrible person but going to the grocery store is a fucking CHORE for me. Driving through city traffic, maneuvering around hordes of people with shopping carts, dealing with out of stock ingredients, lugging groceries up 3 flights of stairs, the whole bit. I hates it.

I know I put pressure on myself for the not necessarily "fancy", but interesting and varied meals I make every week my partner would be fine with frozen pizza every day. But I personally get really tired of eating the same food over and over so I need a large-ish library of recipes to choose from. I love food, and mostly enjoy cooking, and the end result of having a large variety of meals brings me a lot of joy.

But there are also all those constantly competing values beating each other up in my brain as I'm trying to plan and shop: affordability, organic/humanely raised, healthy (whatever that means- low carb? lots of veggies? grains? healthy fats?), etc. The "healthy" thing is what has raised the difficulty level for me personally I used to do a lot of improvised meals (saute/stir fry up some veggies and a meat or tofu) that used pasta or rice as a base and I'm trying to get away from So Many Carbs. One can only eat so much quinoa.

My personal biggest struggle is food waste. Both in terms of spending too much money at the beginning of the week because I get So! Inspired! by recipes, and throwing too much food out at the end. I plan for leftovers and "empty out the fridge" days and that helps, but sometimes life just gets in the way and I have to insist we order pizza. Sometimes those leftovers that would have been perfect to bring to work for lunch are forgotten in the fridge on a busy morning. Sometimes I call an audible and grill something simply because it's the first nice day of the spring. (I am pretty proud that the meal plan I just came up with for the next few days has like 4 overlapping ingredients and lots of opportunities for leftovers for lunch.)

I don't think these services would work for me, partly because my partner eats very large portions so I'd be afraid it wouldn't be enough food. And I love leftovers, myself. But I totally get why someone would use them.
posted by misskaz at 5:23 PM on May 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

That stuff is all work and if I could wave my hands and delegate it to a robot, I would.


Oh! Oh! *waves hands* I have JUST THE THING FOR YOU.
This + blue apron = never cooking again?

Thermomix
Just as I always begin with the humble lemon zester, I always end the guide with this machine, which is the opposite: a hypertrophied kitchen appliance that chops, stirs and even cooks the food for you. Being able to cook and stir at once reduces a lot of tedious kitchen tasks, from sauce-making to caramelizing onions for bacon jam to a few seconds of prep work. No other appliance in my kitchen has done so much to save me time and effort in the kitchen, making it easy to produce great food even when I don’t feel I have time to cook.

Do I need a Thermomix? No one needs one. But no other machine is going to let you stick all the ingredients for bechamel or hollandaise into the jar, press a few buttons and walk away, returning 10 minutes later to a perfectly done sauce. Or caramelize onions without standing over the stove for an hour. Or make a cooked frosting without fiddling with a double boiler. It also does normal kitchen tasks: It’s a very good blender, whips creams and egg whites, and even works as a metric scale. So I’m awfully glad I have a Thermomix, even though I’m perfectly capable of doing all those things by hand.

We had intentional kitchen worms for a while I used to sing off key to them as I was cooking. I don't think they appreciated it much but they did eat our old produce ends. Doesn't really work if you don't have a use for compost, so when we moved, we gave the worms to an elementary school.

Seriously, cooking is a land of contrasts I would plan my menus for optimal thrift up to the exact minute of my death if it were known, with instructions in my will for what to do with leftovers my sister has no object permanency for food, so I hide stuff like Oreos by putting it in the cupboard and she mostly eats the first thing she sees, which is either cereal because the box doesn't fit in the cupboard, takeout, or whatever I'm eating, off of my plate. And yet we've both made it this far. (And yet she thinks I should loosen up and not plan too much.) If the Ikea Dinner fad even gets cheaper than $10 a serving, maybe we'll think about it and she can cook for a change.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:29 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I like the idea of these services, but I too find them a bit pricey for my wallet, and there's the packaging issue. And I'm a bit of a control freak in the kitchen.

That all pales though next to the Cilantro Possibility. Seems like a lot of the meals I've seen from these services include it and its devilish relatives a lot and if I wanted my dinner to taste like soap, I already have a whole package of Caress bars in my bathroom.
posted by angeline at 5:40 PM on May 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

My mother prepared all the food growing up. Snacks, meals, everything. I was going to take the time to learn how to cook while I still lived at home but video games put a stop to that.

Now I live in New York and nothing in the entire world has brought upon me more paralyzing anxiety than the constant, terrifying, paradoxical obligation to shove enough calories through my mouth hole in a given day to stay alive. A month or so ago, I almost passed out on a bus and paid a bunch of money (no health insurance) to get a check up at an emergency walk-in clinic. Because, as far as I could tell, the not-eating-well-for-an-entire-year thing finally came to a head. Being incompetent at food (and being very broke) has had a very direct and longstanding negative effect on my quality of life.

My kitchen is small, my roommates are sluggish about cleaning the dishes, I don't know recipes, I'm often too tired to grocery shop, food goes bad, I'm already too hungry to cook, I don't want to make anything I have the supplies for, I'm not good enough to cook something tasty, I eat too much starch because it's cheaper and actually savory, .

So this is week 2 of Blue Apron at my parents' insistence. I haven't eaten this well or suffered less stress about food in as long as I can remember. I've found myself prepping dinner late at night even because it's all set up and ready to go and delicious and I know if I don't I'm gonna get stuck with too many meals or something next week.

I hope I can figure something else out in the near future because it's expensive and time consuming and a little risky but oh my god what a godsend as far as my quality of life is concerned.

Seriously, I wish I was good at food. But I don't know if I ever will be. At least this is giving me a glimpse into the fantasy of what that reality could look like.
posted by an animate objects at 5:45 PM on May 25, 2016 [29 favorites]

this is a skill that must be learned either through demonstration from others in your life or through having the time, money, and energy to figure it out by yourself

In what way does it not cost money to not cook? You have to buy food one way or another.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:49 PM on May 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Seriously guys, just get a wok. Get some vegetable oil and bottled sauces or spice mixes. Go to the store, buy some meat, buy some veggies, cut them up. If you've ever eaten Chinese food you should have a pretty good idea of what kind of veggies and what size pieces work. Heat some oil in the wok, add the meat, veggies, and sauce or spices, and keep moving stuff around so nothing burns.

For breakfast, get a ceramic frying pan. Get some eggs and a small amount of milk and butter. Heat the pan. Crack some eggs into a bowl, add a little milk, and whisk (or just use a fork) to scramble. Rub a little butter on the pan. Pour the eggs in. Use a spatula to stir occasionally to keep them from being burned. Season with salt and pepper and eat with a piece of fresh fruit and a nice cup of tea.

For lunch, get some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Mix a container of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar to make salad dressing. Get some lettuce and little grape tomatoes and whatever else you like in salads. Wash and cut up the lettuce. Put the lettuce and tomatoes in a big bowl, shake the dressing, pour some around the edges of the bowl, use salad tongs to mix it all together.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:06 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I personally love to cook but I have to say I hate it when people like me who enjoy cooking and have an easy rhythm with it drop into these threads with their "this is so easy" recipes. It just means that we rehash this cooking-classism-ease debate which I 100% can swear I've read before and is so tedious to go over again.

I just feel like there's a more interesting discussion to be had and while I admit I don't know exactly what that would be, it would be great to read that instead of the rehashed version of the classism argument again.
posted by andrewesque at 6:31 PM on May 25, 2016 [12 favorites]

@jaqueline describing three basic meals does not solve "I don't know how to cook or have the facilities/equipment to do so." Neither does blue apron, but jesus christ people don't act like cooking is easy or zero effort.

Even your wok recipe requires a gas burner with sufficient heat output to cook food efficiently, and a decent stir fry sauce is at least 6 or 7 ingredients. No one wants to eat mediocre food all the time.
posted by Ferreous at 6:32 PM on May 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

Someone way upthread mentioned that chicken and noodles wouldn't cost $20. I think that even basic recipes can run you that much. For example: last month, as a sort of byproduct of extreme procrastination and a determination to cook a bit more, I bought a slow cooker (the appliance itself, bought on sale, still added about the cost of a week's grocery budgeting to my monthly expenses).

Then, I've been trying one new meal a week with the slow cooker. Buying the ingredients for the very simple recipes I've attempted has easily added $20 extra, at least, to my weekly budget. (Chicken that seems at least vaguely ethically sourced: $10 easy. Random fresh herbs/garnishings for the recipe: $5. Other veggies/carbs for the pot: $5+. Emergency microwave meal when I fuck up the recipe and have to toss the oversalted rubber I've produced: $5+).

I'm very fortunate that I can toss an entire ruined recipe and shrug it off. And that I can spend an extra $20+ a week on ingredients when I'm not sure if it'll work out. That's obviously not available to everyone. And that's before we get into the fact, which has to be repeated every time there's a cooking thread, that some of us would rather clean the toilet daily (or substitue whatever domestic task you personally loathe) than spend 20-30 minutes preparing food for a meal.
posted by TwoStride at 6:32 PM on May 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

I used to cook for myself all the time until risotto broke my spirit. Fuck you risotto I should be able to turn my back on you for literally 5 seconds without you ruining yet another saucepan. From now on I'll have cereal for dinner every night. That'll show risotto who has the upper hand in this relationship!

i wish i could quit risotto
posted by um at 6:50 PM on May 25, 2016 [11 favorites]

On the cost-per-meal question, I've been tracking my budget pretty carefully since I moved to New York and I've found that I average about $5.25 per meal that I cook myself (assuming 3 meals per day on weekdays and 2 on weekends) and about $20 per meal at a restaurant, which includes both the bagel with cream cheese and the $60 dinner at Uncle Boon's. Given that I usually just eat yogurt and oatmeal that I buy in the bulk aisle for breakfast, that's probably closer to self-made lunch/dinner each costing about $7.50.

I have to admit I actually started doing these average calculations because I was curious if self-cooked meals saved me money vs. restaurants -- the answer being yes, definitely -- and if they saved me money vs. meal kits -- the answering being yes, but not by as much as I would have thought.

I do think my current self-made meal cost is still too high and am making a conscious effort this month to avoid food wastage, eat a little less meat (I'm totally omnivorous, but am trying to incorporate more legumes in particular into my diet) but I also think part of the reason the cost is high is that I like premium ingredients -- shrimp, mussels, organic meat and dairy for whatever that's worth, fancy tea, lots of cashews. Also I think part of it is that I live in Manhattan and groceries are just expensive here!
posted by andrewesque at 6:55 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I work from home, I'm an agile extemporaneous cook and very comfortable with recipes and techniques, I own a wok and a gas grill and an an electric pressure cooker and a fridge and separate freezer, I have two high-end grocery stores within 2 miles of my house (one of which is sort of a low-end restaurant supply and so offers bulk deals on some useful things) and a Korean grocery + food court, 2 Trader Joeses 3.2 miles east and west with Costcos to match.

. and I still wouldn't want to eat chicken and noodles every night. Nobody wants to eat chicken and noodles every night! You would die of vitamin C and A deficiency! It's not a virtue to live on chicken and noodles! Doing that doesn't make you a Gold Star Poor or a Gold Star Non-cook.

Also, even though I live in LA and my rent is half my paycheck, sometimes I just get too busy or burned out or congested and I need some tom kha gai or pizza or a burrito from the truck up on the corner (which, to be fair, I couldn't make anything like an al pastor burrito from there for $4, and it'd take me 7 hours anyway) because it's okay to live on more than chicken and noodles.

There SHOULD be options for everyone in all circumstances. There should be more ready-to-cook grocery stores with real food made from food (goddamn Fresh and Easy, I loved you) for a tired or busy or not-really-a-cook person, or younger people, or people with mobility issues, to afford and cook. There should be better packaging systems for shipped dinner kits. CSAs should be more accessible. More people should have grocery stores with really decent ready-to-reheat food. Cities should be more encouraging of mobile food businesses to encourage more innovation.

There's not just one way to do this. You don't win by cooking the cheapest or the most from-scratch or whatever. There's a place for all the options, and a lot of people need-and-want different options on different days of the week.

This thing frustrates me, because it's overwhelmingly women and doubly so mothers who "lose" this game.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:01 PM on May 25, 2016 [30 favorites]

I have an idea. Let's divide into two teams and stand at either end of a soccer field. Half of us hold tattered Joy of Cooking and Betty Crocker Cookbooks. The other half hold oily Chinese takeout containers and pizza boxes. At the whistle, we all run together in the middle and beat each other senseless.

After the chaos dies down, everyone still conscious gets orange slices and cold water with that awesome soft chewy ice.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:03 PM on May 25, 2016 [26 favorites]

It's all sounds so expensive. I live in one of the most expensive places for groceries (canadian mid west) and most days I can put together a decent, omnivore meal for < $3 a plate, without much effort. (And yes, when I first moved out to live on my own, I barely know how to cook. This took years of trial, error, and stir fry. and needs must.)

The "cheap" option going for $9.99 per meal is mind-boggling. I literally cannot afford to feed my family with that sort of price tag.
posted by Sallysings at 7:09 PM on May 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

I love reading reviews of monthly box subscriptions, and this is one is great. I love the photos so many reviews don't really show you everything.

There are two things that really appeal to me about these. First, I just love getting packages. It's like Quonsmas Dinner every week, or a Re-Ment unboxing.

But I really love the kit aspect, from the actual creating to packaging and instructions. If I had the money I would definitely try these just for fun. On an ongoing basis I'd be concerned about the packaging waste, including the insulation, but also the environmental impact of transporting all those individual pieces to customers. If this was the type of thing that I needed I'd probably go with a local service, but not everyone lives in an area that provides that.

They are pushing back against the faux-shock that anybody would use or enjoy a service like this, or that indeed, anyone would find cooking difficult at all.

We don't shame people about getting their pants shortened. No one ever says, "Why don't make your own pillows? Fabric is so cheap and you can find sewing machines on craigslist for the price of new pillow." Why do we do it to people who do not cook?

There is no one "just do this" to solve this problem.

I know I'm a broken record about this but in this context, "Why don't you just. " is the language of boot-strappers. The answer is in every one of these threads, but people don't believe it: people don't have time, they don't have a kitchen, on and on. I'm a reformed cooking shamer, and what I learned in these threads is that if people want to know how to make an easy lunch, or try a slow cooker, they will ask. The response to "I do not like to cook." doesn't need to be "Try a bread machine!"* Who cares why someone doesn't want to cook? There's a big green site next door where people ask for cooking advice every day and people love to help answer cooking questions.

*I'm pretty sure I once told someone they should just try a bread machine. I'm sorry!
posted by Room 641-A at 7:15 PM on May 25, 2016 [30 favorites]

"But I doubt it's a particularly good way to learn cooking."

Why would you doubt this? I found it extremely helpful. There are step by step directions, with photos so I think it would be useful for both kinetic and visual learners. Plus you taste the result so you don't need an expert to provide feedback on the results.
posted by seesom at 7:18 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm reflecting on this and realizing that while I enjoy meal planning and enjoy cooking, I would definitely pay for grocery delivery if (1) I had more money than time, which is not my situation at the particular moment, and (2) if a service existed that catered to my very particular tastes -- I am pretty sure there are very few grocery delivery services at the moment by which I could (economically) order water spinach, Thai holy basil, long beans, Chinese pork floss and pressed five-spice tofu, which were among the contents of my shopping list last week.

I'm glad I stopped by this thread because it has made me examine some of my assumptions about my love for cooking!

Also, I find cleaning often doesn't get mentioned in the home cooking discussion, but I HATE to clean and sometimes am reluctant to cook because I am dreading the post-cooking cleaning afterward. On slow weekend days I've often ordered takeout, not because I don't want to fire up the stove, but because I can chuck the plastic container into the trash afterward without having to wash a bunch of pots, pans and plates.
posted by andrewesque at 7:27 PM on May 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

I keep wanting to try one of these services, but I look at the price, and I look what they ship, and my brain goes, "You can just go to the grocery store." I'm like, WTF brain, yes of COURSE you can just go to the grocery store. but you wouldn't have to! And you could try new things without buying full-size side ingredients that you will never, ever use again if you don't like the recipe!

Brain doesn't care. Brain is an asshole. Maybe I could put a gift certificate on my wish list.
posted by headspace at 7:30 PM on May 25, 2016

I use a service called Gathered Table, which was recommended as a DIY Blue Apron. This week it recommended me Morrocan Lamb Patties with Caesar Side Salad and Whole Wheat Pita, Grilled Chicken Greek Salad and Orzo, and Pork Tenderloin with Blackberry Mint Sauce and Roasted Shallots and Baked Sweet Potatoes.

I can drag and drop the menus or even replace dishes with my own. It generates a shopping list to the mobile app (which I hate using, so i transcribe it to a paper list). Then I go buy all the ingredients myself, and each day (in theory) i make the recipe.

So I frequently am at the grocery store wondering "what the hell do i need a jar of anchovies for?" (answer: caesar dressing) But, it seems to be working ok for now.
posted by rebent at 7:32 PM on May 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Who cares why someone doesn't want to cook?

I mean, I don't care, but it would be much better if they just admitted it instead of claiming it was classism.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:34 PM on May 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

The amount of scorn MeFites heap on people who can't cook and are afraid to spend a lot of money on ingredients they're unsure of, or on people who don't want to cook and find these services useful never fails astound me.

I've been guilty of this in the past, I hope I'm doing better now. At the same time, when I talk about people needing to know how to cook, I'm not talking about multi-component plates that you'd see in a restaurant. I'm talking super-basic, really simple stuff: how to cook a piece of meat so it's edible and tasty. Macaroni & cheese. Chili. Some sort of cooked breakfast (if that means Bisquick from a box, that's fine!) Nothing fancy, nothing that takes hours or requires precision knife cuts. Just basics. I view it, and did long before I ever went to culinary school, as a basic life skill akin to knowing how to do laundry or taxes. And there's a huge difference between choosing not to (e.g. taxes, laundry, taxis) and not knowing how to.

Plus the simple reality is that these services are not effective or affordable for a lot of people, and nor is eating takeout or instajunk (and I say that as a fan of instajunk. I was very upset when the gas station near me stopped selling their dubiously-ingrediented frozen burritos).

I'm not at all saying cook from scratch every night of the week, far from. Buy your stock, making it requires time and effort (and electricity). Buy pre-cut veg. Take shortcuts. Please do! What I'd really like to see is services like this being run directly out of supermarkets and dropping the price point (without exploiting workers). How much easier, for people who want these services, would life be when you get a box of Everything with a 1-week menu covering all your meals, including leftover recycling? Bonus points for starting you off with pantry staples and keeping track of likely usage. Essentially outsourced shopping & full meal planning. VC mavens, call me.

I think basic basic basic cooking is a vitally important skill for everyone to know. Not how to make meals to Impress Your Instagram Followers. Just how to make food you can put in your face that tastes okay. Which is why I think it's something that needs to be taught in schools every. damn. year. The demise of 'home ec' is a problem.

(Full disclosure, there's also a self-interest thing at work here: the more people who can make themselves something edible at home, the more money is freed up for them to spend on meals made by people like me who want to make you food that is something approaching art, that they want as a special thing.)

(and I knew more than one pro chef who would rather die than cook a meal at home)

Yup, right here. I have zero interest in cooking for myself, and on a day to day basis with an ever-more-hypothetical boyfriend I'd default to some bread, hummus, veg--all from the store.

I used to cook for myself all the time until risotto broke my spirit. Fuck you risotto I should be able to turn my back on you for literally 5 seconds without you ruining yet another saucepan.

Your temperature is too high and/or you're not adding liquid fast enough. Risotto, despite what people may say about 40 minutes of laser focus stirring the whole time, is something that absolutely can be left alone, if the temp is right. Not criticizing or attacking you, just saying if you want to get back into the pornographic joys of risotto, there are a couple things you can change. MeMail if you have specific questions.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:39 PM on May 25, 2016 [25 favorites]

Sorry to serial comment, but I want to be clear: any shame from not knowing how to cook in a really basic way has not one thing to do with the individual person involved, and is rather a societal shame that we have devalued such work for oneself. Which is basically misogyny the world is run by men, education is directed at men, and of course there'll always be a woman around to do the cooking, is the systemic problem.

We need to teach our kids better life skills. Those include both basic levels of cooking and financial literacy.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:54 PM on May 25, 2016 [25 favorites]


Also I think the comparison of cooking with clothing is perhaps not entirely apt.

You also only need to get pants and pillows every few years, whereas you need to feed yourself at least a couple times a day. Meanwhile, what you feed yourself impacts almost every other aspect of your life.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:55 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'd have added this link to my post but I missed the editing window.

You want food. You don't want to cook. You're low on spoons. Go here.
posted by Sallysings at 7:56 PM on May 25, 2016 [10 favorites]

I learned how to cook out of a combination of necessity and genuine enjoyment, and I think these kinds of services are great if they're helping people reduce menu-planning stress and food waste and come to enjoy the process of making a meal. I can also see how they make a lot of sense for those who are time-poor and want to eat healthier food or spend less than take-out would cost.

That said, they're all laughably unaffordable for me, at this point (many of the meals described would be a stretch even if I were buying & cooking all the ingredients from scratch, without the added costs of the service. ) And I'm lucky that I enjoy cooking, even on a budget, and don't have to worry about feeding kids. I wish there were better options available for those who are short on both time and money, and who don't have the skills or inclination to make a lot of tasty variations on rice and beans because cooking isn't a source of pleasure for them. Our food infrastructures suck.
posted by karayel at 8:05 PM on May 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Our food infrastructures suck.

QFT. "Access to tasty and nutritious food" needs to be enshrined as a human right, because it is.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:08 PM on May 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

To answer a question upthread about resources to teach people the basics of cooking, yes. Back in Tulsa, my SO was a member of Junior League and one of her community service programs was a series of basic cooking classes where they would teach people the basics of cooking in general and introduce a new, relatively low cost, quick (30-45 mins including prep, maybe an hour for real beginners or things like chili that had to summer on their own a while), and usually healthy recipe each week.

It was run out of a little nonprofit store they and another local charity funded to get reasonably priced fresh food into one of Tulsa's food deserts. Most of the meals were $10-15 and served at least four. Even if the participants didn't bother to cook for themselves outside of class, they got a $5 meal out of it. (They charged the fee because making it entirely free led to a lot of cancellations and attendant wasted food..it didn't even cover the cost of food used in the class most weeks)

And personally, I am more of a fan of premade meal services. In Tulsa there was a place called My Fit Foods that sold reasonably healthy precooked meals in a box. Just take home and heat in the microwave or oven and you're done. Most of the stuff was pretty good, and the cost was generally $6-8 per serving. Not cheap, but cheaper than these services and it involved much less effort, aside from the whole having to go there twice a week to pick up some meals.
posted by wierdo at 8:20 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

What I'd really like to see is services like this being run directly out of supermarkets

This is genius, no kidding. I want this very badly to happen.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 8:22 PM on May 25, 2016 [11 favorites]

My dinner tonight was a big bag of edamame, steamed in the microwave, and two beers, so I have no credibility whatsoever for telling anyone how to eat.

But while I've never tried a food/recipe delivery service, I can see why people would like them. My schedule is now not just longish, but irregular. On a given day I might come home at 430, or it might be after 7 and with some more work to do before bed. That makes meal planning and cooking a huge pain, and if it keeps going like this I may well give a meal service a try just for some variety. I am a good cook and have a pretty decent repertoire, but I'm learning that my selection of things I can make really fast out of cupboard ingredients while tired is limited.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:44 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

fader: but there have been one or two occasions when I was disappointed. (And they've always involved "make a fake cheese or cream sauce out of these nuts".)

with a helpful IKEA drawing of a hand pointing to a scrotum.
posted by dr_dank at 8:48 PM on May 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

In what way does it not cost money to not cook? You have to buy food one way or another.

if you've got a fixed income on which to feed yourself and your kids, trying a brand new recipe can be risky. if you're poor and not white and one of your kids innocently says "we had cereal for dinner all week!" to their teacher because you screwed up a new recipe 3 days in a row, you might end up defending your right to keep your family intact. that is how cooking can cost far more than if you can afford to eat out every night and throw away a full meal that didn't work out right whenever you screw up a recipe.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:16 PM on May 25, 2016 [21 favorites]

The bottom line is that some folks don't like to cook, or don't want to, or haven't the resources to learn to, and that's nobody's business but theirs.

As Lyn said upthread, there is no "one size fits all" here. What works in your house may not, for reasons that have nothing to do with anyone's virtues or morality, work in another.

There are meal planning services, and that works for some people. There are grocery stores and that works for others. But people will make the choices that work for them and folks need to stop saying things that start with "but all you have to do" or "well this sounds like. ". It's not your business and you're sounding pretty not great.
posted by angeline at 9:45 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I read this with some interest, because we recently started using Gobble, and here's why: my spouse kept destroying dinner.

I am a very good cook. But I am also the salary worker, and I have a two hour commute. My spouse is the stay at home parent, and he has the time to make dinner, but without detailed instructions something was always going awry. He'd either destroy an expensive, gifted Le Creuset bean pot that I quietly sobbed over the remains of, or cut his hand chopping an onion, or boil up some noodles and then leave them in the boiling water until I got home, resulting in a pasta dish that tasted like someone poured spaghetti sauce over a plate of Elmer's Glue and called it a day.

I love my husband very much, but between being pregnant and him being unreliable in the kitchen we were eating out. A lot. And we have a toddler. And taking the toddler out was starting to also wear me down -- I like the family meal. I like us sitting around a table, in our house, eating together, and we weren't doing that. And so I finally gave in and started getting three meals a week from a service, even though they cost a lot and I know we could do better if I were just the SAHP.

I considered the "big three" she reviewed in this article, but shrunk away in terror when I saw how much chopping might be involved. In no way do I want to go home to find my husband lacking significant amounts of flesh from his extremities. The gimmick to Gobble was everything was pre-chopped and most meals could be made in 10 minutes. And I realize I sound like a total shill, but that's what sold us. The lack of chopping.

And lo, it has been very good. For my sanity, because I don't come home to him in the kitchen panicking about what he forgot to do, and for our budget because we just aren't eating out during the week anymore. There are little timebombs in our fridge that will go bad if we don't use them in less than four days, and the idea of losing that money means we damn well eat them.

There's almost nothing we've gotten I could not have made myself, but the difference is that it's all very time consuming. Sauces and finely chopped vegetables and marinades. And hey, so far it's been good. I also have this hope it'll teach my husband to get comfortable in the kitchen, and maybe someday we can wean him off the prefab stuff.

But for now, this works, and it's cheaper than Chipotle for two adults and one child. And we get to sit around a table, like goddamn adults, with candles and napkins and manners. So for us, this has been amazing. I wish I'd done it sooner. I wish she'd reviewed Gobble. I think she would have liked it a lot.
posted by offalark at 9:50 PM on May 25, 2016 [17 favorites]

Blue Apron (and I imagine any of these services would have filled a similar niche) taught my partner how to cook really well. So I think they're pretty good for that. Pictures, clear instructions, having everything in bags in front of you. It's a lot simpler than starting from a cookbook.

One thing that was particularly nice is lots of recipes you come across call for some garnish or other small 'knick-knack' as Blue Apron calls them which I'd tend to leave out because buying a big bag of something only to use a sprinkling is expensive and wasteful. When you do that you get something edible at the end, but not the finished result that's in the picture or description. Because these services will provide you with a little bag of 5 hazelnuts or whatever you end up putting them in, and that's a pretty good thing.

Having recently spent a lot of my time moving between the US and the UK a lot, I think the experienced cooks on MetaFilter might forget how long it takes to just get setup with a decent amount of herbs and spices or cooking oils and all the other stuff that it's easy to take for granted when you have it hanging around waiting to be used.

For example, I just moved into an apartment for work. So I'm making salad and I go to grab some vinegar to make a dressing. except of course I have no vinegar in, plain salad then. Or I'm cooking some pasta and I think how nice it would be to have some spice in there.. but I don't have any chilli yet. It takes many months to build up a solid collection of this sort of stuff unless you're super organised. If you were completely new to this you'd never know what to buy until you'd wasted a lot of money.

But of course, a delivery box service for tonnes of money probably doesn't solve it if you're operating on a financial constraint on top of having not cooked much before .
posted by ElliotH at 9:55 PM on May 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

I don't care if people hate cooking, it's just that "we ate McDonald's all week!" is probably just as likely to put you in the hands of CPS as eating cereal because you burnt chicken five times. Poor people can't always avoid those dilemmas (as I'm well aware, as a kid who occasionally ate butter sandwiches at school because she had no lunch money!) It's a little aggravating to hear people say that cooking is a class privilege in this sense, because unless they're talking about themselves, they are appropriating the struggles of people who grew up in legitimate food deserts or without stable housing. If you didn't learn to cook when you were growing up with parents who cooked and have no interest in it now as a stable income earning person, great, but c'mon. I have a lot of poor family, visit family in the trailer park, they all cook 98% of their meals. There are worse situations than that in terms of food stability, but most people on Metafilter did not grow up under those conditions.

In the context of Blue Apron, the real issue we're talking about here is "it's hard to cook food deemed nutritious, attractive, and appealing in my social milieu without any direct training," which, fine. Yes, it can be hard to learn how to smoke a salmon fillet on a wood plank and whatnot.

Having said that I'll stop arguing about this issue though.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:58 PM on May 25, 2016 [16 favorites]

I have an idea. Let's divide into two teams and stand at either end of a soccer field. Half of us hold tattered Joy of Cooking and Betty Crocker Cookbooks. The other half hold oily Chinese takeout containers and pizza boxes.

shit.
posted by mikelieman at 12:35 AM on May 26, 2016

I'm *trying* to teach a 12 year old kitchen literacy. LAST NIGHT, it went like, "Ok, what are you going to make for dinner?" . "Chicken?". "How are you going to prepare it?" . "uh.. Chicken breast. sear. grill?"

/me reaches for my tattered copy Joy of Cooking vol. 1, flip to poultry, and suggest, "Here, read about how to dress a chicken. ", and my wife goes. "Dressing as in stuffing?" and I relate one of the many anecdotes of my Grandmother Yetta bringing home a live chicken for my mother to clean and dress.
posted by mikelieman at 12:38 AM on May 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

I guess, if I have a point, it's "Play with your food."

I agree, and I think getting over the fear of ruining food or poisoning yourself is crucial. With a few basic precautions (don't mix raw meat with anything that won't be cooked, don't mistake salt for sugar, and learn to recognise the smell of burning) I find it quite hard to make something that is genuinely inedible. It may not be good, but as long as it's something you can recognise from your lifetime's experience of eating it'll be food, and the next attempt will be better, or at least different.

Food safety warnings in North America are also terrifying. Perhaps with good reason, but they would put me off cooking for good if I hadn't already been a regular cook when I first came across Metafilter.
posted by tavegyl at 1:34 AM on May 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The: "The most unsexy, onerous, absurdly challenging task I face on a daily basis is figuring out how to put food in my body. "
And here I thought it was getting the food out of my body.

Have you tried eating more fibers?
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:58 AM on May 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

I just. the only real objection to this should be price. Yes, it's expensive to have ready-to-make meals delivered to your house, I fully acknowledge.

But you know what? My husband and I love to cook. We're actually both great cooks. Cooking (and eating) was our favorite thing to do together for the first 4 years of our life together. Now we have a two year old and a two month old and live in the rural suburbs. Whoops!

We still know how to cook. We still have a precious hour to make dinner, if one of us takes on all the child minding, which is already rough during baby-witching hour. You know what we don't have? The energy to negotiate and decide what to cook and check to see if we have the ingredients and meal plan and go to the grocery store just for bok choi. Left to his own devices, my husband would eat meat every meal. Left to my own devices, I would eat pasta every meal. As it is, our compromises suck.

You know what doesn't suck? Blue Apron three nights a week! Some recipes are a bust and it's silly to get two table spoons worth of ingredients we have in the pantry, but man. New meals! Interesting combinations! Fresh veggies portions right in the fridge! And best of all: no thinking.

It's a service. It's not perfect and it's not for everyone but it's absolutely worth it to us. It has cut marital dinner-related arguments/ennui by a significant margin.

And yes, we both know how to cook stir fries, salads, and whatever else.
posted by lydhre at 5:19 AM on May 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

I have executive function issues

This is a biggie for me. I don't have what I would call issues but it turns out I was unknowingly suffering from choice fatigue. I like fancy beers and have tried thousands of different beers. I'm a beer neophiliac.

However, this year I decided to trim my budget sails and instead I have been buying the growler special at my local brewpub - $7 every Saturday for whatever brew they have on sale.

I love it. I love that I get no choice! It's a relief to not decide. I've also broadened my palate and had beers I would never have ordered myself.

(Plus it saves me at least $30 a week!)
posted by srboisvert at 5:24 AM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Has home ec been destroyed? Because it did, sometimes, some places, earnestly try to teach approximately-half the public high school students how to feed themselves efficiently, if boringly.

I took two home ec classes (in different countries, actually). Both focused on dessert baking and 1960s-style elaborate casserole things. It was fun and I liked having a class where you got fed once in a while, but those particular classes were not about the problem of a person arriving home at 7pm after a tiring commute and needing to put dinner on the table.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:59 AM on May 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

For the last five or six months, I've been using Mealime, which is a meal-planning service but you have to do your own grocery shopping. And I just noticed they've added a free option with a few fewer features than the one I've been paying $6/mo for, so I might switch over. I love cooking, I love meal-planning, but I tend to get a bit extravagant and overambitious sometimes, which gets expensive, and I tend to get a bit tired sometimes, which leads to ordering (expensive) pizza while my (expensive) ingredients go bad in the fridge, or to making pasta again, which is wonderful but which was contributing to some weight gain I wasn't happy with. Most of the recipes are pretty solid, and they make enough for me to have dinner plus leftovers for lunch, which means I'm also not spending as much on lunches. While only a few of them have really knocked my socks off, they've helped me recalibrate what a "normal weekday dinner" might look like. And because I'm buying my own ingredients, it's easy for me to tweak things a bit, too, in terms of ingredients or cooking techniques.

So I've been doing four or five meals each week through Mealime and then cooking whatever I want on the weekends. I was worried that I'd miss meal planning during the week, but I've found it's nice not to have to think about it so much when I'm busy and to be able to spend more time on it on the weekends when it feels more like fun and less like a chore. And it's saving me a lot of money because I apparently have impulse-control issues in the supermarket.

I tried Blue Apron for a few weeks and found the food really good, the waste and expense annoying, and the tyranny of having to make those exact meals in that exact way to incite my inner rebel. I still have teeny bags of Blue Apron-labeled flour and spätzle sitting in my pantry. I think the Mealime ingredients are generally things with which I'm really familiar, so it's easy to repurpose them if I decide last-minute-ish that I don't want to follow their recipe, but Blue Apron often provided slightly odd ingredients in such exact quantities that it was harder for me to go off-label with them if I was too tired to make, or not interested in making, exactly what they thought I should make.

On the other hand, I've been getting a little bored with Mealime's recipes. I may check out Gathered Table (thanks, rebent, for the recommendation!). I just really like having a service (any service!) that will give me four or five meals that, among them, minimize food waste, and then automatically generate a shopping list for me.
posted by lazuli at 6:59 AM on May 26, 2016 [12 favorites]

I was a restaurant cook back about a million years ago. I worked at every type of food-service establishment from fast-food to greasy-spoon to fine dining. So, I've had on-the-job experience that's been very useful in the home-kitchen. I can cook just about anything other than weird-gastro-super-modern stuff.

I really enjoyed reading the article. (Thanks mudpuppie!) I will probably never use these types of service, because I enjoy and am able to go grocery shopping regularly, can store a variety of ingredients in my home, and am actually pretty put-off by all that packaging waste. But I can certainly understand the appeal. And I love good writing about adventures in cooking!
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:01 AM on May 26, 2016

I recently started using Blue Apron. Not sure what I can add that hasn't been thoroughly hashed out in 150 comments already but for me (chronic anxiety, executive function issues) it's been really, really helpful. I'm eating real actual healthy balanced meals as opposed to overpriced takeout, or cheese and crackers at 11pm because I forgot about food until it was too late for takeout or delivery. Everything is right there, the recipes are well documented and hard to screw up. I keep expecting to get something that just absolutely does not work, or that I screw up beyond redemption, but so far (knock on bamboo cutting board) it's been remarkably good. It is a little pricy, but it's less than I would be spending on takeout multiple times a week and it's been a good way to pick up some of the simple cooking skills that I've been missing. The amount of waste is a little stressful and guilt-inducing but I've been piling up the biggest pieces in preparation for sending it back to them (they ask that you save at least a couple shipments-worth and send it back in one go).

If anyone still reading the thread is seriously interested in trying BA, shoot me a memail, I may have a free trial or two left to share.

(Incidentally, thank you to the Mefites who have been gently pushing back against the "but it's so easy" and "who would do this smh" folks. To those folks let me just say, I have received your disapproval and have added it to the pot along with the usual mix of self-doubt and anxiety that I simmer in at any given time. Thank you for your contribution to the stew, no doubt it's just the thing I've been missing.)
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 8:24 AM on May 26, 2016 [17 favorites]

lazuli, this is very relevant to your interests.

Thank you, and it should be, but I have an inexplicable aversion to non-stew leftovers for dinner and to cooking multiple different meals at once (like, a big pot of chili is fine portioned over a week is fine, but that Sunday prep plan makes me want to cry). I think that if I put a bunch of time and effort into a dish, I lose interest in it unless I eat it pretty much right then. (I make exceptions for marinating marinating in advance is ok.) Even just getting to the point where I've been ok taking last-night's dinner in for lunch has been a bit of maturing process. I did try a similar meal planning service that was set up for "spend a couple hours on Sunday so you can be quick on the weeknights," and while it made me feel very efficient, I just didn't feel like I had any real connection with each dinner, especially by Friday.

I know there are people for whom batch-cooking for the week on Sunday is perfect, and more power to them. I think it does point to the idea others here have expressed that cooking and eating are really going to be individual, and it's nice to have all sorts of different processes and services to accommodate that.
posted by lazuli at 8:24 AM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, batch cooking makes me want to cry for some reason, even though I'll happily eat leftovers of something for three days as long as the first day I'm eating it fresh.

I really like the Paprika recipe app. It's a bit expensive to get both the desktop and mobile versions, but I needed a place to save all my internet recipes that wasn't Pinterest. You can add recipes to a calendar and then export those ingredients to a grocery list. It's part of the reason I eat a lot more varied and healthy meals now, though I do need to get my grocery spending under control.
posted by misskaz at 8:39 AM on May 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

We use blue apron from time to time after having received a code from a fellow mefite in fact. I can cook pretty well for a home cook and am ok at meal planning so it's not some necessity, but it's been quite fun! I doubt I would have found out that I actually really enjoy arepas and they're not terribly hard to make had it not been for BA. It's nice not to have the what do you want to do for dinner conversation with my partner too, it's all there, we do the fish meal first and move forward. I didn't know what to expect before we got a box but I've found it to be fun, interesting and not a terrible way to explore things I wouldn't have thought to cook or incorporate into a nightly/weekly meal schedule.

Plus while I usually do the cooking, my partner feels confident to jump in and do most of the work the nights we use blue apron, which isn't always the case otherwise. Not that she can't, but I've definitely noticed and really appreciated the fact that she'll take over a lot of the recipe work much more with blue apron, it's been a real plus on that side of things as well.
posted by Carillon at 9:42 AM on May 26, 2016

The Mealime and Gathered Table recommendations are why I keep coming back to this thread. It's what I hope we can eventually get to with my husband. Thanks, Mefites!

I used Plan To Eat (and still do) when I was the sole food-cooker, but this pregnancy really has worn me down to the point that planning, shopping, and cooking seven meals a week on top of going to work and making Big Decisions is just mind-fraying. Hope to get back to it during maternity leave.

And I know I sounded (and still sound) like a total sockpuppet advert for Gobble, above, but if anyone is interested in one of my invites/referrals, shoot me a memail.
posted by offalark at 10:40 AM on May 26, 2016

1. I know how to cook. I love cooking. I slso have depression that makes it almost impossible to plan ahead, and when I do plan, I don't stick to it.

2. I've been making family meals since I was 10, but the food I learned to cook and plan for is not food that I like to eat. My parents like roasts, and steak. I want vegetable curries and pasta dishes. And those are not interchangeable skills.

3. So when I lived on my own I ate two meals a day because I just didn't have it in me to do any more. And both meals were pasta and tuna fish. And I love cooking. But I would pay good money for someone to just tell me what to cook.

I think the comparison of cooking with clothing is perhaps not entirely apt. Making a single functional garment requires a lot of expenditure in time, materials, and learning that basic cooking does not.

What the fuck are pots and pans if not EQUIPMENT. Seriously they're just equipment that everyone is assumed to have. And because most people learn to cook as a child , the time it takes to learn is rendered invisible.

Meanwhile there's a friend of my family who had an aggressively feminist mother who refused to teach her anything household related at all and she ate dry uncooked pasta out of the box because she had no idea what else to do with it
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 1:16 PM on May 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

I am currently having a low point in my mental health. In the last month, I have wasted well over 200 dollars on food purchased, and not eaten. Grocery shopping uses all my spoons, and then I just don't eat dinner.

Right now I have four packages of chicken in my freezer. One is bad. I left it in the fridge for a week, and then threw it in the freezer, because the idea of leaving my house was overwhelming. Now I have no idea which package is bad. So either I'll have to defrost all of them, and see which one smells, or just throw them all away. It will almost certainly be the latter, because I will be overcome with anxiety that they all smell weird and what does chicken even smell like? And maybe my allergies are just blocking the obvious rancid smell?

I normally enjoy meal planning and cooking. It's normally very easy for me to figure out something with my pantry. I'm normally pretty confident on being able to know if something is rancid or not. I am normally pretty capable of both knowing and implementing all the fixes you are currently about to suggest.

But sometimes I can't even.

12/meal is expensive. But therapy is also expensive. Not going to therapy turns out to be more expensive. I fail to see the distinction with these services.
posted by politikitty at 1:25 PM on May 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

Thank you for the Gathered Table recommendation, rebent. I actually really like cooking. I like setting up my mise en place, and stirring things around, and smelling the changing smells as food comes along. But I am utterly useless at the planning side of things, since my executive only quite rarely functions. I am also, unfortunately, the second-pickiest eater I know (and the other guy has a dedicated CSA-loving wife, so he is catching up). This looks like it could do me some real good, and now I have a fridge full of veggies for a few specific recipes in the next couple of days. Pray for me.

(Though I do wish there were, like, a slider for proportion of eggs allowable in a recipe. Breading some cauliflower for roasting up sounds great, but a dish of, like, straight-up baked eggs with a little cheese and veg in there is more than I can hack. Someday, someday I will learn to be okay with eggs.)
posted by lauranesson at 1:29 PM on May 26, 2016

I don't have executive function or other of the mentioned health issues. I'm not that Important or Busy I have lots of things I like to spend time doing, and nightly shopping isn't one. I don't have kids. I know very well how to cook, including shortcuts, longcuts, batch cooking, ethnic cooking, healthy and not-healthy, baking, and I enjoy it sometimes and find it a burden sometimes. I have a great kitchen. My spouse is mostly willing and able to help and/or cook, though our split usually falls into very gender-normalized lines that cause me dissonance.

We use Blue Apron, averaging twice a month now for almost a year. It is not a grand bargain, nor is it ludicrously expensive. It includes plastic and other packing materials, but most can be recycled. Altogether, I find that what it offers -- in terms of planning, gathering all materials at the same time, easy execution, appropriate serving size, food groups, and very importantly, evening out the emotional/domestic household division of labor without my management -- is well worth it for my budget.

Frankly, for everything that it offers together (but no, it isn't The Ultimate Solution for everything simultaneously), given the materials, labor and shipping it must take I think it's somewhere between cheap and a loss leader. I expect the price to rise, and will reevaluate when it does. For now, though, I enjoy it a lot and recommend it often.
posted by Dashy at 1:30 PM on May 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

We got a few weeks of Blue Apron as a gift last year, and are considering trying it again (or a similar service). It was pretty fun, and relieved some of the pressure of meal-planning, though not necessarily the pressure of actually cooking. The meals weren't particularly complicated, but I usually cook really simple things so it still felt like a lot of work. The recipes didn't make it into our rotation (except we now regularly cook cabbage as a side), and several of them had an ingredient or two that we probably would have trouble finding at our usual grocery stores.

We have a toddler, and not much time between all of us getting home from work/daycare and bedtime, so meals have that added challenge. Our holy grail meal would be one that takes under 20 minutes to prepare, uses only one pot/pan, is appealing to the kid without being overly processed, sweet, salty, or the same thing we had the past three nights, has vegetables and protein and fiber, does not require special snowflake ingredients, etc., etc. forever. Unsurprisingly, we don't have a lot of recipes like that.

Before we had a kid, we had so much more time to cook, yet so much less need. There were a lot of 9 pm cereal dinners back in those days.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:47 PM on May 26, 2016

I know there are people for whom batch-cooking for the week on Sunday is perfect, and more power to them.

Melissa Joulwen and Well Fed, have changed me. What with the shopping list and the weekly cook-up plan and the "You know how you could do that" sidebars, and the hot plate variations. Such a help! And I feel much more confident.

I also have the time for it. When I get a job again, we'll see how that goes.
posted by jgirl at 2:47 PM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

It will almost certainly be the latter, because I will be overcome with anxiety that they all smell weird and what does chicken even smell like? And maybe my allergies are just blocking the obvious rancid smell?

oh man, this is how I stopped drinking milk unless it came from a fridge run by other people, because I drank sour milk once and lost confidence in my ability to identify bad milk by smell.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:50 PM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love to cook. I find it usually immensely enjoyable and kind of relaxing. And I am walking distance from a farmers market, a co-op and a conventional supermarket (as well as a butcher shop). Maybe because I'm not handy. I don't really craft or garden. I'm a lazy housekeeper, a non-athlete and a non-practicing musician. Cooking is the thing I do that's tangible that involves more than just tapping on keys.

On the other hand, it's difficult, sometimes, to cook well for one when you're not interested in eating the same meal every day for a week. I keep offering to make dinner for people, but I don't think my friends realize the offer is serious. I don't even mind their weirdo food issues* and dietary restrictions and squeamish mushroom neuroses.

I don't think I'd send off for boxes, but I've used meal-planning apps on busy weeks (and as a way to help me cut down on waste). I can see the appeal.


*My weirdo food issues are that I like it. A lot. And I shop for it like I actually have money. Which I don't.
posted by thivaia at 10:29 PM on May 26, 2016

Also it's a little off the mark to call this "rent-seeking" when it's literally exchanging money for goods and services

It's possible the valuations of $500m + on these companies that the author mentions are based on branding, share of an emerging market, shitty non-jobs for all the people on scooters delivering this stuff, avoidance of regulation, late payment of suppliers etc, among other things powering the 'convenience economy' that are not just goods and services. A discussion of Uber usually touches on this stuff, so I'd have thought it's fair enough here as well, even if the food is nice.
posted by Coda Tronca at 11:44 PM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

For the most part, people who have cooking as a sustainable part of their lives aren't making Couscous-Encrusted Snapper with Peppercorn-Mint Sauce and Crispy Purple Potato Hash Bouquets or whatever as a weeknight meal.

Sure, but contrariwise, I can go to a fast casual place or the hot bar at Whole Foods and spend ten bucks and get decent quality food that's reasonably healthy and not have to wash dishes afterwards or spend half an hour dealing cooking some simple daily fare after coming home from work, working out, and attending to any other errands or chores than need to be done. And while I'm a pretty good cook, most things that I can whip up in a half an hour are not going to be as good as what I can pick up at Whole Foods.

People have different preferences and different priorities (I definitely aim to cook most of my meals, personally, because I am pretty concerned with nutrition, but I definitely don't see any reason for people to feel bad about eating takeout or ordering these box meal prep plans). This possible whiff of moral superiority over cooking at home sorta falls apart if it's coming from someone who ate pasta with sauce from a jar and frozen green beans four days this week.
posted by mister pointy at 7:02 AM on May 27, 2016

Seriously guys, just get a wok.

Even for people lucky enough to have gas stoves like me, American stoves don't produce the heat output needed for properly stirfrying in a wok.

And, like, why would I want to do this? I mean, I have made and eaten plenty of low-inspiration low-effort stirfries in my life, so I'm not judging, but that's a pretty crappy meal. Lot of prep work for a pretty boring outcome -- I mean, for people lucky enough to have the spare money to get takeout, practically anything would be better than this.

For lunch, get some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Mix a container of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar to make salad dressing. Get some lettuce and little grape tomatoes and whatever else you like in salads. Wash and cut up the lettuce. Put the lettuce and tomatoes in a big bowl, shake the dressing, pour some around the edges of the bowl, use salad tongs to mix it all together.

That's not even a decent salad, much less an actual meal.
posted by mister pointy at 7:08 AM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also I think the comparison of cooking with clothing is perhaps not entirely apt. Making a single functional garment requires a lot of expenditure in time, materials, and learning that basic cooking does not.

This is absurdly false on its face. A working fridge and stove cost a lot more than a sewing machine, not to mention the cost of even a basic set of cookware and all the ancillary stuff (silverware, knives, cutting boards, etc.)
posted by mister pointy at 7:50 AM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Mix a container of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar to make salad dressing.

Okay, this is a typo, right? This cannot be, since it would produce oil with faint traces of acidity and it would be really gross, I think, to most people.

I could actually see that a spinach-tomato salad would make a decent lunch in a pinch, if the dressing were tasty.

I grew up with low-effort salads as a regular side - lettuce, carrot, celery, onion, vinegar and oil. It's an acceptable side. I remember when food distribution and family finances changed and we could both access and afford romaine and spinach for the salads rather than iceberg.
posted by Frowner at 7:59 AM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Okay, this is a typo, right? This cannot be, since it would produce oil with faint traces of acidity and it would be really gross, I think, to most people.

That's actually the traditional ratio used in a proper vinaigrette, but a proper vinaigrette has several other ingredients and requires some combination of expertise and effort (if you want to do it with a bowl and a whisk) or equipment (a blender). Even with a proper, emulsified vinaigrette, I agree that I prefer more vinegar than tradition dictates.

For just dumping on a sad little 'salad' like this, that ratio would be WAY too light on vinegar.
posted by mister pointy at 8:17 AM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

. and Blue Apron gives you the proportions you need, so you avoid eating a badly-dressed "salad" because you didn't spend an hour shopping, googling dressing recipes, and then not wanting to waste the $ you spent on what turned out to be a crappy salad, with spare ingredients you'll end up throwing out in a week from your bottom fridge bin.

It's not the Ultimate Everything, but it sure fits a set of needs.
posted by Dashy at 8:27 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

American stoves don't produce the heat output needed for properly stirfrying in a wok.

I hear this said a lot, but then again Chinese home stoves aren't any hotter, and millions of them stir-fry every day. There's just a difference between the style of cooking you do with restaurant crazy-heat burners compared to home cooking. Getting a wok is good advice for someone starting out on cooking because they are very cheap and the simplest techniques usually lead to quick satisfying results, unlike say making risotto or pizza dough.
posted by Coda Tronca at 9:06 AM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

Getting a wok is good advice for someone starting out on cooking because they are very cheap and the simplest techniques usually lead to quick satisfying results, unlike say making risotto or pizza dough.

Huh. I guess this varies from person to person. I don't think making risotto is all that hard (though I don't do it much), though it's not fast. I've never made pizza dough and I definitely agree that that's way too much effort for routine cooking. But to my mind, stirfrying tends to involve a lot of fairly fussy prep, because you need everything fairly uniform, and then it takes some actual technique to get things cooked evenly, and then even then the results just aren't great until you get into actual more traditional dishes, which start to need obscure ingredients and knowledge that is not as universally available. I've actually taught myself some Chinese cooking but getting out the douchi or buying wood-ear mushrooms is definitely not regular weeknight cooking.

My everyday cooking relies a lot more on roasting, soups or stews, that sort of thing. Stuff I can set and forget, and that keeps well. Actual stirfrying is way more ambitious than I am likely to be at 8 pm on a weeknight when I'm ready to start cooking, but throwing together a salad with leftover roast chicken and steaming a vegetable is something that I actually can practically do in 20-30 minutes.
posted by mister pointy at 9:42 AM on May 27, 2016

A working fridge and stove cost a lot more than a sewing machine, not to mention the cost of even a basic set of cookware and all the ancillary stuff (silverware, knives, cutting boards, etc.)

True, but every apartment I've ever lived in has come with a refrigerator and stove. Not so much a sewing machine.

I lived with one small pot, one frying pan, a cutting board, one good knife, and a spatula for a very long time before I needed anything more advanced.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:07 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

> But sewing/knitting/crocheting a garment is a lot more time and labor intensive than cooking a simple meal

But you rarely sew something that you use once for 30 minutes and then are done with. (I don't even know what this comparison is supposed to mean.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:37 PM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

Cooking spaghetti is the knitting a scarf of garment-making.

In many ways. Spaghetti with sauce out of a jar won't exactly sustain you in good health for long, much like a scarf isn't enough on its own to avoid getting arrested for indecent exposure when you go out to buy more spaghetti.
posted by mister pointy at 1:20 PM on May 27, 2016

Spaghetti with sauce from a jar will sustain you just fine. Our bodies aren't that complicated. It takes some effort in our modern society to get scurvy. I lived on bagels, spaghetti, and oatmeal for a few years in college, and lived to tell the tale. The magical part is that while you're eating noodles for most dinners, you can learn to bake meat or roast vegetables or spread hummus on pita or eat a raw cucumber with your lunch or whatever floats your boat. And if you fuck it up, you can fall back on your 25 cent dinner of noodles.

Cooking for yourself is on par with clothing yourself with clothes from a store. Both can be a challenge, require some self-knowledge, and take a little practice, but most people figure it out of necessity. Some people go the extra mile, but it's not essential.

But you rarely sew something that you use once for 30 minutes and then are done with.

Yes, but it takes a lot of work and practice and patience and detail to make a garment that will be functional and last. An omelette requires significantly less finesse. An ugly omelette will still feed you. (I actually learned to make an omelet in home ec. way back when, it took about thirty minutes to lodge itself in my brain forever.)
posted by stoneandstar at 2:07 PM on May 27, 2016

But again, we are all presumably adults here, each with our own unique circumstances and situations, each of us equipped with the ability to make decisions for ourselves, based on our own knowledge of our physical, emotional, and financial resources as well as what we can/cannot/will not do.

Yay for these meal services, yay for people who can and do cook for themselves, yay for people who can't or won't. Still no One True Way here. Each person's life is their own, whether it makes sense to you or not.
posted by angeline at 2:42 PM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'll yay for cheap takeout, healthy frozen meals, hackable grocery store salad bars, and anything else that helps people who don't like meal planning eat decently, but the business of shipping pre-measured individually packaged ingredients doesn't seem, like, either sustainable or broadly attainable as an ongoing lifestyle choice to me

I mean, as a fun cook-a-fancy-dinner-kit luxury product? sure okay. I just can't wrap my head around this being the answer to any kind of actual problem
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:09 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

just can't wrap my head around this being the answer to any kind of actual problem

Except for the tons of people on here who have already listed for you what kinds of problems it solves:
-people wanting to experiment with "fancy" recipes without much risk
-people who want to have fun while cooking together
-people with planning/function/mobility difficulties
-etc

C'mon. It's not hard to be all, "your cooking thing is not my thing but I'm happy that you've found something you like that's not poisoning you."
posted by TwoStride at 3:14 PM on May 27, 2016 [9 favorites]

Except for the tons of people on here who have already listed for you what kinds of problems it solves:
-people wanting to experiment with "fancy" recipes without much risk
-people who want to
have fun while cooking together

these are legit reasons to try a service like this but they're not, like, how will I eat otherwise problems

-people with planning/function/mobility difficulties

I mean you still have to cook everything

the "three olives in a plastic container" thing just gets me. this is not a concept that is built to endure.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:21 PM on May 27, 2016

this is not a concept that is built to endure.

Then aren't we so lucky that it's never been billed as that! It's one of many valid ways that answers the question, "How will I get food on the table for dinner tonight?" No one is saying it's the answer to world hunger or even right--or reachable--for everyone. But for people with the income to try it, why not?
posted by TwoStride at 3:26 PM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

-people with planning/function/mobility difficulties

I mean you still have to cook everything

Having the capacity to follow instructions to assemble a pre-measured and portioned meal does not necessarily mean having the capacity to meal plan, go to the grocery store, transport and store said groceries, and then assemble a meal. People have given examples in this very thread.
posted by Krom Tatman at 4:30 PM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

The repetitive exhorting also puts people on the spot. If someone says they don't want to cook, just accept their answer. They shouldn't have to explain personal, and possibly embarrassing, details to satisfy the question. Why should someone even have to explain that they have a medical or living condition that makes cooking not an option.

I mean you still have to cook everything

Then again, for some people there's never a good enough explanation.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:06 PM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

> I mean you still have to cook everything

Maybe cooking isn't the difficult part for that particular person.

When I had post-concussive syndrome, I gave up on cooking because reading recipes was confusing and made me pass out. (Compare to pre-injury: I used to tech-edit recipes for Martha Stewart.) But if everything had been out there on the counter and it was as simple as add box 1 to box 2 and boil for five minutes then pour jar A over everything, I would've been fine. I wish I'd thought of these services back then, but, uh, brain injury.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:45 PM on May 27, 2016 [9 favorites]

ahh, there we go.
posted by Krom Tatman at 10:26 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm talking about "regular people" economically speaking. I'm talking about affordability, and how they can bring this to your door for $12 per serving. If I'm judging anyone, I'm judging the company, not the end users.

The criticism about affordability needs to be of our society which is producing vast and growing inequality, not a company that has made the rational decision to market a product meant to be affordable to perhaps the top two income quintiles.

I mean, I'm earning an ok salary, not tech-sector money but decent, and I could afford one of these services without it causing a major budget pinch. This is more expensive than the frugal grocery store options (though no more expensive than buying ready made stuff at a place like Whole Foods, and cheaper than ordering takeout), but hardly something that requires a one-percent level income to afford. In a more just world, with economic opportunity distributed more like it was at mid-century (though with the usual caveats about gender and race, obviously), services like this would have been affordable to the majority of households, not just the top 40 percent or so.

It's the same reason why retailers who targeted the middle class are now struggling, because the middle class itself is struggling and shrinking. Successful business models right now seem to largely mean either targeting the vast population of economically struggling people, or targeting the much smaller upper cohort who are doing fairly well. Targeting the middle does not appear to be a recipe for success in this context.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:25 AM on May 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

the "three olives in a plastic container" thing just gets me. this is not a concept that is built to endure

Yeah, gotta add your own vodka. WTH?
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:50 AM on May 28, 2016 [11 favorites]

Spaghetti with sauce from a jar will sustain you just fine.

I mean, no, that's just not factually accurate. It's fine for a meal but it definitely will not sustain a human being and keep them in good health over the long term.
posted by mister pointy at 10:30 AM on May 28, 2016

Funnily enough, tomato pasta sauce out of a jar was marketed originally as a mediterranean-style, family-friendly, quite sophisticated alternative to all that hassle-full cooking crap that apparently brings us all down so much, much like these box services are now.

Now the actual company that produces the UK's best-selling tomato sauce warned customers last month that they should not eat it more than once a week, since it is so high in salt, fat and sugar.
posted by Coda Tronca at 1:48 PM on May 28, 2016

the results just aren't great until you get into actual more traditional dishes, which start to need obscure ingredients and knowledge that is not as universally available. I've actually taught myself some Chinese cooking but getting out the douchi or buying wood-ear mushrooms is definitely not regular weeknight cooking.

I'd agree with you that stir-frying technique is a bit more difficult than people make it out to be (dumping a bunch of random ingredients and sauce into a hot pan does not guarantee a tasty result), but I don't think technique should be conflated with ingredients.

For example, stir-fried tomatoes and eggs is a 100% traditional Chinese dish that calls for nothing "exotic" by Western pantry standards I stir-fry Western greens throughout the year with the Chinese stir-frying technique (asparagus, Brussels sprouts, kale, plain spinach, romaine lettuce most frequently) and I frequently make egg fried rice for which the most obscure ingredient is fish sauce, which could be easily substituted with plain salt.

I'll admit that as a Chinese/Taiwanese-American I do like a lot of traditional Chinese dishes and produce (like the water spinach I mentioned upthread!) but I absolutely think you can stir-fry successfully without a whole bunch of obscure ingredients.
posted by andrewesque at 4:04 PM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I found this thread late, after getting my first meal-subscription delivery yesterday. I was able to cook a healthy, enjoyable meal late last night, and now I have the second half of the recipe chilled in the fridge, ready to reheat for dinner tonight. It’s fantastic! I got such a boost from pulling off my first home-cooked meal in ages. And with a side dish! From the last paragraph of the article: “And of course, I would never devalue the endorphins that come with logging small accomplishments.” Yes!

I am at a very stressful point in my life. Very luckily, I’m able to compartmentalize and do well at my job, but that’s all the energy I have. My personal life is a mess, and my apartment is a literal mess. My self-regulation skills are stretched thin. If there’s any spare, non-portioned food in the apartment, I’ll eat it. Takeout often has more calories and comes in big portions. I’ve gained a clothing size in six months from overeating and drinking. Trader Joe’s frozen meals were a good solution for awhile, but I miss cooking. Blue Apron (the service I randomly picked) is my kickstart to eat well and to get back to cooking. The portions are very clear. It totally frees up brain space for me.

I don’t understand the argument about how meal-subscription services are too expensive. I don’t own a car. I’m single, with no children. I live in an efficiency apartment. I have few possessions. These are all choices I’ve made (and enjoy!) that allow me to spend money on other things. I don’t shame people who have chosen to have a car, family, house, and personal collections! Those are wonderful things, but I don’t want them for myself.

I love to cook. I know how to plan good, healthy, inexpensive meals. I've worked full-time and cooked meals since I was a teenager, barely scraping by financially. I know how “easy” it is. But I can’t. A year ago I wouldn’t even have considered meal delivery – I didn’t need it. It provides an infrastructure that I can’t handle right now. *That’s* what I’m paying for. It makes the list, goes to the store, navigates the aisles, remembers everything, doesn’t buy the on-sale bag of kettle potato chips to eat in one sitting, stands in line to check out, answers the cashier when they ask, “How is your day going?” and without crying, schlepps it home and friendly-nods at other pedestrians who make eye contact on the way, puts it away, and remembers what I bought and what needs to be prepped for each meal. That’s a lot for me.

And an aside, the last time I came home to a simmering-all-day crockpot meal, I had infused the entire floor in my apartment building with that overcooked meat and sauce smell. Ugh. Sorry, neighbors. And all I did was overeat the leftovers anyway.
posted by quarterinmyshoe at 10:00 AM on June 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

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Top Five Healthiest Frozen Meal Options Available At Whole Foods (in Sarah Grace & my opinion) + Stats:

Here, have some vomit with a side of fluff!

  • 300 calories, 12 g fat, 36 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 3 g sugar
  • INGREDIENTS: Spinach Sauce: Spinach, Water, Diced Tomatoes (Tomatoes, Tomato Juice, Citric Acid, Calcium Chloride), Cream, Onions, Tomato Paste, Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Garlic Puree (Garlic, Water), Ginger, Sea Salt, Spices, Paprika, Xanthan Gum, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Turmeric. Basmati Rice: Water,Basmati Rice, Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Ginger, Garlic Puree (Garlic, Water). Lamb: Boneless Lamb, Nonfat Yogurt (Cultured Nonfat Milk, Pectin), Water, Rice Starch, Ginger, Sea Salt, Garlic Puree (Garlic, Water), Spices

Morrisons Eat Fresh

Supermarket behemoth Morrison stormed into the recipe box market in late 2018 with a pretty compelling sales pitch – its recipe boxes were cheaper than the rest, with a three-meal box for two people clocking in at £4.14 per serving.

That wouldn’t have mattered if the meals weren’t up to snuff, but when we tried the Eat Fresh service we found them well suited to midweek dinners. The recipes weren’t extremely novel or out-of-this-world delicious, but they were easy to make and reliably tasty.

There is also a wide range of meals available no matter what your dietary preferences are, including pescatarian, vegan, low-calorie (under 550 per serving), and other healthy meals that might not cut calories but provide plenty of veg for a well-balanced plate. The latter are especially good for people doing a lot of exercise who need the calories but don’t want to load up on junk.

Morrisons doesn’t divide up ingredients to fit the recipe to quite the same extent as other companies, instead sending out own-brand products like an entire tub of cream cheese when you only need 150g, for example. This can make it slightly trickier to make the meals, but does mean you get some extra ingredients as bonus.


Watch the video: Bringing Nestlé Products to Life: Getting Fit with Stouffers Fit Kitchen (December 2022).