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May 27, 2016 / Retirementallychallenged.com

Meals-in-a-Box delivered to your door

BA1

There are several services that offer make-your-own meal ingredients delivered to your home. Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are two of the better known companies, but there are at least five others that I’m aware of.

The premise is pretty simple: after signing up for the service, you receive a refrigerated box of ingredients that have been specifically proportioned for each of that week’s pre-determined meals. The meals are designed by chefs, can be customized to your preferences (vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.), and each requires about 30 – 45 minutes of prep time.

Not all delivery services are available everywhere, but in our city Blue Apron appears to be the best known. We have received several mailers from them offering dollars off the first week of meals and discount offers appear in my Groupon feed all the time. I had been a little intrigued but not enough to try it until a neighbor took advantage of one of the offers and liked it. Then, the stars aligned when a fellow blogger, Denise of My Life in Retirement not only wrote a post about her Blue Apron experience, but offered a week’s worth of free meals to three of her readers (thank you, Denise!).

Here is a summary of our experience in case you are interested in trying one of these services too:

Delivery

About a week after registering for Blue Apron, a large box was delivered on our doorstep. Packed tightly inside were fresh vegetables, three different proteins for the three meals, starches, spices, sauces, and other “knick knacks” (as they call them) needed to complete each meal. All the ingredients were wrapped inside a foil liner and packed with gel-filled ice packs. Large, full-color recipe cards were included for each meal.

Meal Preparation

Our first week’s delivery included dishes made with shrimp, chicken, and beef. All required a certain amount of pre-prep (chopping, etc.) but it went quickly because most of the ingredients came perfectly proportioned and didn’t require measuring. Following the step-by-step instructions was easy and the meals came together with very little trouble.

Red curry & coconut shrimp stir-fry

Red curry & coconut shrimp stir-fry

Taste

We have prepared and eaten six Blue Apron meals so far. Although some were better than others, they were all good and satisfying. I like my food spicier than my husband does so we prepared the meals more to his taste, then I added more if needed. I thought the spices (depending on how much used) were bold and interesting. It was fun to use ingredients that we had never tried before – these weren’t same old, same old dishes.

Pros

Interesting ingredients and flavor combinations. The dishes were unique and the ingredients looked and tasted fresh.

The ingredients came already proportioned for each meal so we didn’t have to buy a whole jar of something when we only needed a tablespoon or two. This cuts down on the food and money waste of buying a lot when we need just a little.

The meals were complete. We could add a salad if we wanted, but the meals all included a starch and at least one vegetable.

Soy-glazed meatballs

Soy-glazed meatballs

The meals were kind of fun to prepare together. It was easy to divvy up the responsibilities which made the dinners come together smoothly.

The proportions were generous. My husband is a big eater and he felt satisfied when done.

We had three meals a week that we didn’t have to plan and shop for.

Cons

Three Blue Apron meals for two a week cost $59.94, including shipping (different delivery services costs vary). If you eat out a lot, spending about $10 per person, per meal isn’t over-the-top. If you do a lot of home cooking (which we do), it can seem a bit pricey.

Although the portions are generous, there really isn’t enough for another meal (so, of course, we ate it all in one sitting). We love leftovers so this was definitely a minus. If you aren’t enamored of leftovers this may be a plus.

We have found that our retired lifestyle can make meal planning challenging. Sometimes we have a late lunch and don’t feel like a big dinner or we decide to go out for dinner at the last minute. Having three pre-planned meals a week sounds pretty good, but once we had to make one of the “dinners” for lunch since we knew we wouldn’t be having dinner at home that day.

Packaging waste. This was the biggie for us. Blue Apron claims that its packaging is “eco-friendly,” but it isn’t very easy to recycle it, although they offer a “mail back” option. I was shocked at how much waste was left over after we prepared just one meal. We compost and we recycle curbside, but much of the packaging doesn’t qualify in our area. Plus they package each ingredient separately (for instance: one scallion inside its own plastic bag, a tablespoon of butter in a little plastic tub, 3 tablespoons of flour – flour??!! – in a baggie). There is a lot of negative reaction to the waste on social media and the internet, so I hope they are working on improving it.

Verdict

Because of some upcoming commitments, travel, house guests, etc., we have cancelled Blue Apron deliveries for now (they only allow the cancellation—not suspension—of service). Once life returns back to normal—or as normal as it gets for us—we will may start service again, but definitely not once every week until they improve the waste problem.

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36 Comments

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  1. Mae McDonnell / May 27 2016 5:19 pm

    We’re getting our first shipment this weekend! They do let you recycle with them, where you can send back the packaging from a few shipments back to them. I can’t help but wonder if it *really* gets recycled, though…

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 27 2016 9:35 pm

      I saw the info about sending the waste back but, like you, I really wonder what happens to it. I hope you enjoy your meals! We really like doing the prep together and, of course, the delicious dinners we made!

  2. snakesinthegrass2014 / May 27 2016 5:50 pm

    It sure sounds convenient in spite of some of the cons. I can’t help think of that great “Everybody Loves Raymond” episode when he buys his parents the Fruit of the Month Club membership. After his mother finally gets over the first shipment she says, “You mean there’s more??!” 🙂

  3. Keith / May 27 2016 6:16 pm

    Janis, thanks for sharing your experience. I had an old colleague that did this for a time as her business. Her clients were female executives, some married, some single. I think she wearied of it after a few years. Keith

  4. dconnollyislandgmailcom / May 27 2016 7:37 pm

    I do not believe that there is a similar meal preparation delivery service in our area (Vancouver Island, BC), but I have seen some TV ads on this subject and was curious. Like you, the extra waste, and the doubling up on staples that most people have, would concern me. That being said, I would try once if there was a similar business in our area. Thanks for sharing this, Janis — very interesting!
    http://www.retirementreflections.com

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 27 2016 9:42 pm

      I know that they aren’t everywhere… yet. I really wish there was a way not to get the things that most of us have in our pantries already… flour, vinegar, butter, etc. Maybe they will tweak a few things in their business model as time goes on and they get more feedback and competition. It’s worth a try, though, if you find a similar service near you – the food is very good!

  5. Denise Hammond / May 28 2016 4:04 am

    Fortunately, our recycler takes just about everything you throw in the container. I just told Blue Apron not to ship meals while I was in Europe and look forward to getting a box next week. The meals I had were good and since I live alone, I am not likely to make an effort to cook too much unless my kids are coming over. I’ve enjoyed the variety, but it is not for everyone. Just read some of the comments on their website.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 28 2016 11:11 am

      Different recyclers take different things, that’s true. I tend to pay strict attention to what ours takes so that they won’t reject the whole load (which they will do). I think Blue Apron provides a really nice alternative to planning and shopping for dinner and the dishes are usually so different from what we’d normally cook – which is great. When life slows down a bit, I’m sure we’ll be back.

  6. Kate Crimmins / May 28 2016 7:41 am

    Sounds interesting. My husband is your basic meat, potatoes and gravy kind of guy so I worry about that. I have gotten him to be a little more adventurous but…..

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 28 2016 11:14 am

      Funny: what makes it great for a lot of people (new and different dishes to try) makes it less attractive to others like your husband. I have a friend whose husband REFUSES to eat leftovers. That one negative for us would be a positive for them.

  7. Terri Webster Schrandt / May 28 2016 8:55 am

    This is so fascinating to read, Janis, thanks for sharing. The food looks pretty good and I like the idea of pre-measured and the recipe cards. I know we have grocery delivery services here, not sure about Blue Apron. Fun to read!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 28 2016 11:16 am

      I bet they have something similar in your area… if not Blue Apron itself. If you try it, I’d love to hear what you think!

  8. Jill Foer Hirsch / May 28 2016 11:24 am

    I’ve looked at these services too, especially since shopping can be challenging for me, but I am way too picky an eater. I’m a decent cook but I never follow recipes; I substitute this for that, omit one thing, add another. So it wouldn’t work for me. And now that you mention the packaging that is indeed a huge negative. Lucky for me other bloggers try these things and report back out! Thanks for the info.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 28 2016 11:42 am

      Although there is some flexibility in the meal selection, it would be a challenge for a picky eater. Fortunately, my husband and I will eat just about anything… at least once. I think some services offer a choice each week between, say, five meals so you aren’t just stuck with whatever the three meals are that week, like with Blue Apron. Fortunately, so far at least, we’ve been pleased with the results. I’m always happy to provide the service of eating stuff than reporting the results!

  9. patwdoyle11 / May 28 2016 3:22 pm

    Interestingly I just saw a Groupon in our area for Blue Apron! But given I just took cooking lessons, hubby is expecting some “real” cooking in the near-term. Will keep it in mind for the future. Thanks for listing both pros and cons!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 28 2016 3:48 pm

      I’d say this was real cooking but the ingredients all come pre-measured. The favors are nice and we used several ingredients that we had never heard of before. I don’t know about you but my pantry and refrigerator has lots of bottles and jars of stuff I bought for one recipe but never used again. This way, you get to try the ingredient without making a big commitment. I hope you’ll share stories of your culinary masterpieces!

  10. susan@onesmallwalk / May 28 2016 5:26 pm

    This is a great review. I’ve heard of this service, and been curious. I loved the CSA (CommunitySupportedAgriculture) boxes we used to get, and enjoyed, like you said, being introduced to new foods. Happy and safe travels – I’ll be waiting to read all about it.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 28 2016 5:39 pm

      We have thought about signing up for CSA boxes too but I’m not sure we’d be able to eat it all before a lot went bad. With Blue Apron, you get only what you’ll use. If you decide to try it, I’d be curious to hear what you think.

  11. Carol Ferenc / May 29 2016 11:40 am

    We tend to fix one nice, large dinner on weekends. Then during the week we’ll eat the leftovers, go out once or twice, and eat light, simple meals the rest of the time. That works well for us. Blue Apron would be too spendy in my opinion. But I’m sure it’s a godsend for those who use and love it. Thanks for sharing this, Janis.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 31 2016 3:17 pm

      I like your meal preparation schedule! We’ve tried to come up with one that works for us; one that isn’t too time intensive, produces healthy meals, and isn’t complected. I know a few people who cook one large meal a week then enjoy leftovers and other easy supplemental meals the rest of the week. We liked Blue Apron but we probably wouldn’t do it every week. It was pricey, but we enjoyed the ease and variety of dishes.

      • Carol Ferenc / Jun 1 2016 1:42 pm

        It’s nice to have that kind of service available if you ever want or need it.

  12. In Becky's Head / May 30 2016 3:13 am

    I’ve tried Hello Fresh and they have a similar problem with packaging (and the cost feels high too). My biggest issue with these services is delivery, though. If I need to wait home all day to receive a box of food I’d be better off just going to the store myself.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 31 2016 4:20 pm

      That’s a good point. We haven’t had any problems with anyone stealing delivered boxes from our porch, but I guess it could be a problem. The items are packed in such a way that they don’t need to be refrigerated right away so if we came home several hours after the box was delivered, it wasn’t a problem. Thanks for your comment!

  13. Barb@livingrichlyinretirement / May 30 2016 1:03 pm

    I’ve looked into this, but we are three, so we would fall in between the two sizes. I would certainly like to try them out though. LIke you, I like to eat lunches made of leftovers, and I am wary of the waste, but I eat literally anything but squash and a few animal organs, so it might be fun.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 31 2016 3:19 pm

      It’s probably worth a try! You might want to go with the family meals and know that you’ll have leftovers for a lunch or two. The meal variety is really nice. We’ve eaten several things that we wouldn’t have made at home normally.

  14. lisadorenfest / May 31 2016 1:21 am

    When I come back to NYC, I might have to give Blue Apron a try. The pros seem to outweigh the cons for me, and as someone who ate meals out a bit too often, this could be a healthier, more affordable alternative. Thank goodness The Captain cooks! For him, food is love. I have gotten fat living on Italian cuisine on SY Amandla.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 31 2016 3:23 pm

      I would think that Blue Apron would be a terrific alternative for anyone living in NYC! I remember how much meals out cost there! How fabulous that The Captain can cook… it must take a real pro to produce impressive meals aboard a ship.

      • lisadorenfest / Jun 1 2016 6:19 am

        I’m telling you, it is like living in an Italian Restaurant. Delightful

  15. Encore Voyage / May 31 2016 8:18 am

    Thanks for the info! I like the idea of having everything fresh and ready to prepare, but we live a little more “off the cuff” than that. I’m never sure whether we are going to want to cook, or whether we’ll even be home at the end of the day. I wish there were a similar option that could be frozen. It would be good if I could have a few meals, ready to go, on hand. Not sure if I want to commit to weekly, thought. Might have to investigate further!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 31 2016 3:30 pm

      Your challenges are very similar to ours. You could certainly freeze the protein and probably some other ingredients, but you’d want your veggies to be as fresh as possible. We’ve talked about waiting until the fall to re-subscribe, when our days will (maybe?) be a little more predictable.

      • Encore Voyage / May 31 2016 6:55 pm

        Thanks, Janis. Does it have to be a regular, on-going subscription, or could a person just pick and choose, perhaps for particularly hectic times when having someone else do the prep work would be a God-send?

        • Retirementallychallenged.com / Jun 1 2016 9:51 am

          Currently you have the ability to cancel the next week’s shipment (or, probably multiple weeks) if you do so by a certain date and time the week before. But, to suspend for a long time (like a month or so), it appears that you have to cancel the service. But, it’s pretty easy to start up again.

  16. Kristine Puzel / May 31 2016 2:11 pm

    I am glad you wrote about this… I have seen it on Pinterest, but the concept doesn’t really spin my bow tie. However, it is very interesting to read an honest review about. I remember a few years back when there were a few ‘brick & mortars’ offering the same service. Clearly there are both pluses and minuses.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 31 2016 3:34 pm

      I remember those businesses that let you purchase product and do the prep for several meals at their establishment, then take everything home for the final meal preparation in your own kitchen. We thought it was a great idea but never got to try one before the concepts went out of business (I think close to the start of the recession). It will be interesting to see if this new Meal-in-a-Box concept is one that has staying power.

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