The pros and cons of meal kits.
Almost every week, I receive a press release heralding the launch of a new meal delivery kit. Blue Apron. Purple Carrot. Sun Basket. Hello Fresh—there are so many to choose from. The New York Times reports that over 100 meal-kit delivery companies have launched in the past few years alone, each one attempting to entice consumers with a unique angle (gourmet! vegan! paleo! quick!), and all promising unparalleled convenience and taste.
While such meal kits are certainly in vogue (literally: Vogue magazine wrote an article about ready-to-cook delivery kits back in March), I’ve been apprehensive about them.
Yes, I know that Mark Bittman famously left the New York Times to join Purple Carrot as its “chief innovation officer.” But after just a year, he left the company to pursue other ventures. Plus, until a compostable boxing and shipping system is available, meal delivery kits contain a huge amount of packaging. As Vogue author Tamar Adler wrote about her meal-kit delivery experience: “Meat and fish come buried in ice packs, avocados in Styrofoam nets, three scallions in a plastic sheath … Dinners now conclude with lengthy breaking down of boxes and compacting plastic wrapping. Our two recycling bins and garbage threaten to take over the kitchen.” I understand that those pre-packed, pre-measured ingredients need to be swaddled in something, but all that plastic packaging on top of shipping? My #zerowaste goals just shuddered in disappointment.
But I’ve never actually tried a meal-kit service myself. Before you bash it, you gotta try it, right? So when the San Francisco-founded Munchery reached out inquiring if I wanted to sample a kit, I was on board.
Munchery is unique from other meal delivery kits. The company has the ability to deliver pre-made, chilled meals that can be zapped in the microwave and chef-designed meals that can be cooked in your kitchen (called "Plaid Box"). The latter can be prepared in about 15 minutes.
Being vegetarian and dairy-free, I received a box for Tofu Pho, a dish I rarely eat let alone have ever made. Also available in a chicken-containing version, this meal was chock-full of flavorful add-ins, including kaffir lime leaves, scallions, jalapeno peppers, Thai basil, cilantro and limes. I was pleased to see that Hodo Soy Beanery provided the organic tofu, a firm, fully cooked braised product with 16 grams of protein per serving.
I started the process by building the broth—a salty, umami-esque soup that contained water, whole garlic cloves, kaffir leaves and a syrupy broth packet. I brought this to a boil, and added the cubed tofu. In another pot, I cooked rice noodles in minutes. Then I transferred the noodles to a bowl, ladled in the broth, and topped it with basil, cilantro, jalapenos, limes and crispy fried shallots.
In total, the meal took about 20 minutes to prepare from start to finish.
I learned how to make a classic meal that I would totally try making again. It was filling, delicious and quite balanced—rice noodles provided heft and satiety, while tofu offered ample protein.
Most of my weekday meals are a conglomeration of whatever I have in my fridge from grocery shopping on Sunday. Read: By Thursday I either make a second trip to the store, or my dinners are a little odd.
Even though the Munchery meal took just 20 minutes and minimal culinary know-how to craft, I felt a sense of accomplishment. How polished and pulled-together was I, sitting down to a restaurant-quality meal in my own apartment!
As suspected, there was a ton of packaging leftover, which made me feel a little guilty (even though some of it was recyclable). And while the Pho was filled with ample green accouterments, I wish that it contained a vegetable aside from a garnish—something like broccoli, carrot, zucchini… any produce would have done the trick to “health” it up.
Another con: The nutrition facts should be printed directly onto the sauce packet I used to make the broth. The facts are readily available online, but I didn’t want to run to my computer to check how much sodium the packet contained while water was boiling. As a result, the broth was really salty, and I wish I had just used half of what the recipe called for.
Given my experience, I recommend meal kits to super-busy people who are tasked with feeding their family every night. Munchery definitely took the guesswork and hassle out of getting dinner on the table.
I also recommend meal kits as a once-in-a-while treat for those interested in actually learning how to cook.
But with just a marginal amount of extra effort (i.e. planning your meals for the week while at the grocery store), you can craft healthier, more sustainable meals by yourself—although, granted, they won’t be as polished.
Have you ever tried a meal delivery kit? What did you think?