As someone who makes up recipes and writes about cooking for a living, it's been interesting to watch the rise of meal kit delivery services. Not quite takeout, not quite cooking from scratch, meal kits deliver pre-measured ingredients and recipes to your door to help you cook with ease.
I've watched their rise with some bemusement — but I've also been struck by their convenience and a few occasions, besides the everyday meal, where they can be one of the best ways to cook at home.
The Arguments Against Meal Kits
The arguments against meal kits like the ones sold by Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Plated — and soon, the restaurant chef-designed Forage — usually revolve around price and waste. You spend a lot for tiny bits of pre-measured ingredients, which come in their own little packages. It can feel wasteful to receive so many little bags and boxes for just one or two meals; it's also usually more expensive to "shop" for meals this way rather than buying full-sized ingredients.
However, the argument about waste can go both ways; if you know that you probably won't use a lot of smoked chili powder in your daily cooking, isn't it less wasteful to buy a small amount? In this case you're essentially paying a premium for a smaller amount of ingredients, and for less chance of waste, which might be the way of the future in today's world of too-cheap food.
The Positives of Meal Kits
While there's no denying that these meals are usually still more expensive than planning and shopping for meals yourself, if you think of meal kits as an alternative to eating out and takeout, both the economics and and the convenience look quite good — and they're helping people eat food prepared in their own kitchens rather than restaurant food, which, in my book, is a great thing!
There's a major positive here in helping people cook at home with convenience, and two thumbs up for that.
You can see more opinions for and against meal kits in the comments on Stephanie's review of Blue Apron.
3 Occasions When a Meal Kit Can Come In Handy
Besides the simple convenience of having the ingredients for a weeknight meal delivered to your home, there are a few other occasions when meal kits make a lot of sense. You may not have thought about these, but meal kits can come in very handy in these situations.
- Weekend Getaway - Going away for the weekend to a cabin or beach town? Want to skip overpriced tourist restaurants? If you don't have room or time to pack, plan, and shop for a few meals, having a meal kit delivered to your vacation rental can be a time-saver and even a money-saver — compared to eating out. And it's much more convenient than bringing food, especially if you're traveling by train, bus, or plane.
- Gift of a Flexible Meal - In the comments on Stephanie's Blue Apron review, reader MickeyRoss pointed out that a meal kit could be a nice gift for someone who can't easily leave their home — but who still wants to feel active in the kitchen. This could be a new mom who's past the the first few weeks of rest and wants to reconnect with the kitchen without too much hassle, or a person recovering from surgery or illness who also wants to cook.
- Lesson of a New Dish - Another nice aspect of meal kits is that they can be a low-risk way to learn a new dish — whether that's one you are interested in learning yourself, or one you know a friend wants to learn. They can also be terrific starting points for new cooks, especially students with limited space and time, to learn how recipes work and flow.
In addition to all of those occasions, are meal kits stepping stones to more wide-ranging cooking expertise and enjoyment? Probably! And even when they're a simple convenience, they're helping people sit down and enjoy a meal together after spending time in their kitchen, and that's a very good thing, in my book.
Do you use meal kits? Have they helped you learn about or enjoy cooking more? Or are they less practical for you and your budget? We'd love to hear your experience.
(Image credits: HelloFresh; Stephanie Barlow)