What’s On Your Plate? Good Question

First, let me apologize to my friends, Donna and Deb, the co-hosts of the monthly What’s On Your Plate? virtual potluck party. I am going to misappropriate their gathering shamelessly and use it as a way to generate meal ideas – specifically lunch ideas – for myself.

Breakfast is easy around our house… and usually not overly imaginative. My husband and I often fend for ourselves – pancakes, French toast, or cereal for him; oatmeal, a poached egg, or toast for me (and coffee… always coffee). Dinner is more involved and requires longer prep time, but we almost never seem to run out of inspiration (and, when we do, there is always pizza).

Ever since we retired, lunch has been a conundrum. Coming up with meals that are tasty, healthy, and relatively quick – the meal trifecta, as far as I’m concerned – hasn’t been easy. Too many times, we look at what is available in the fridge and/or pantry, find nothing inspiring, and decide to go out for lunch. As much as I enjoy a change of scenery with my meals, eating out can get expensive, and most menu choices tend to be calorie dense.

So, before the What’s On Your Plate? co-hosts notice that I’ve hijacked their topic, can you help me out? What do you typically make for lunch in your home? Do you put together a different lunch every day? Do you make a big bowl of something yummy and eat it throughout the week? Are there lunches that are tasty, healthy, and quick that you love to eat? Are there ingredients that you always have on hand so that lunch is never an issue? I would be very grateful if you shared some favorites.

And, to avoid Donna and Deb kicking me out when my ruse is discovered, here is a recipe for a lunch we have now and then when we are desperate:

Bread

Peanut Butter

Jelly

Please check out Deb’s (The Widow Badass) and Donna’s (Retirement Reflections) blogs for their What’s On Your Plate? monthly dinner – or breakfast, lunch, or midnight snack – party. Get inspired by the various dishes they and other bloggers feature and share one of your own (a lunch dish would be nice 😊).

Hello Dinner

Last year, when my husband and I realized that life as usual wasn’t going to be usual for a while, we started looking for alternatives to our normal foodie ways. Pre-pandemic, we made most of our meals at home but, soon, even simple trips to the grocery store became troublesome due to empty shelves and unwanted crowding. To help keep the trips infrequent, we signed up for a boxed meal delivery service.

One of the two meals we received for the week.

Several years ago, we subscribed to Blue Apron’s meal kit service (read my impressions here). This time, based on online reviews, we went with Hello Fresh. We started with their Veggie meal plan (they offer several different plans) to introduce more plant-based meals into our repertoire and expand our cooking experiences. After a few months, we switched to their Meat & Veggies plan for greater meal variety.

Our chosen two-recipe plan provided enough ingredients to make four meals a week, two for each recipe option. Every recipe comes with its own large, four-color instruction card and perfectly portioned ingredients. Most recipes require a few common pantry items that are not included; like cooking oils, butter, and salt and pepper. We received our first box last September and continued the weekly service until recently.

All the ingredients to make dinner for two.

What we liked

We were able to select meals in advance from a large variety of options. Our selections arrived on our porch in an insulated box every Monday. Each box contained food for two night’s worth of meals. This took a huge load off menu planning and shopping.

Meal prep was something we did together. There were always several components to the meals (protein, starch, vegetable), and a fair amount of prep, so we divided the duties to best assure everything was done on time.

The meals were, for the most part, interesting and varied, and not overly complicated. The flavors were good and the portions were reasonable. Hello Fresh provided some unfamiliar spice and sauce blends, which were fun to try.

Because the ingredients came in pre-measured portions, we weren’t left with partially-used jars of things that go to waste.  

Several of the recipes were “keepers” that we will make again on our own. The recipe cards list the ingredients, amounts, and step-by-step instructions so they are easy to replicate. Hello Fresh even provides the ingredients for their special spice and sauce blends on their website.

What we didn’t like

Most of the recipes called for oven roasting. We don’t like heating the oven – and the house – unnecessarily. When we could – which was often – we used an alternative cooking method (e.g., rather than bake string beans for 15 minutes in a 450 degree oven, we just pan-roasted them).

We chose to pan-roast our string beans rather than heat up the oven.

Some of the recipes called for ingredients that we didn’t deem necessary. This is a personal preference but I, for example, chose not to add a tablespoon of butter – and the calories – to rice that will be covered with a sauce.   

A few times, the supplied produce wasn’t very fresh and so we substituted our own.   

Although Hello Fresh tries to be eco-friendly, it’s challenging when sending out thousands of boxes of individually packaged items. One scallion wrapped in plastic or two tablespoons of sour cream in a pouch seems wasteful.

We are big fans of leftovers and we didn’t like doing a lot of work for one night’s meal. Fortunately, we found that by supplementing the provided produce with some of our own, we could stretch many of the meals to cover two nights (or at least one dinner and a lunch).

Dinner is served.

Boxed meal services are becoming more and more popular and there are a lot of options to pick from. There are a host of websites that compare the different offerings to help you pick the right one, based on your budget and eating preferences. Because of the competition, most (all?) run promotional pricing on your initial order(s) to help entice you. Pro tip: if you know someone who subscribes to one of these services, ask them if it offers free boxes to friends they refer. I was able to pass on this offer to a few of my friends.          

Although we have paused Hello Fresh for a while, we are likely to start it up again in the future, or maybe try another service for comparison. It’s a convenient – although not cheap – way to add more variety to your meals.

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Please click over to Deb’s (The Widow Badass) and Donna’s (Retirement Reflections) blogs for their new What’s on Your Plate? monthly dinner (or breakfast, lunch, or midnight snack) party. Check out the various meal inspirations found there and share one of your own.