I’ve been seeing the festive Blue Apron boxes being delivered to my neighbors for a few years now. And i have scoffed. If you are going to get the ingredients delivered, why not have prepared meals delivered? Why not a meal delivery service like Muncherly? But I conceded that, considering the price of ordering out, and the time spent shopping for groceries, it might be a nice compromise for a family. An expensive compromise, no doubt. Based on meal delivery services as opposed to restaurant delivery, I assumed that it would be not only expensive but that the portions would be skimpy. And we all know about Mr. Darcy’s appetite.
I assumed that dinner for two would mean that there would be just enough food for Mr. Darcy alone. I assumed that mass produced meal-kits would mean boring, repetitive meals. I assumed that the ingredients for mass-produced meals would be of poor quality. I assumed that the meals would be fattening, full of sodium and preservatives and, generally speaking, not for the health-conscious. I assumed that a meal-kit service would mean being tied to a schedule. I assumed that there would be no choice. I assumed that pre-prepped meals would still mean too much work for all the money.
And then a friend submitted my name to Blue Apron for a one-week free trial. A fabulous cook herself, she assured me that the meals are delicious and that there is ample food, even for Mr. Darcy. “Just think,” she said, “no shopping.” The only downside, she warned: No leftovers!
In order to get the free trial, you have to go to the Blue Apron website and create an account, but that’s fine, because it costs nothing to do so and you can cancel at any time. The website is one of the best I’ve ever seen in terms of being easy to navigate, find answers, and take care of business without having to contact Customer Service. If you need to contact Customer Service, however, they respond almost immediately, and in English.
That was not my experience when I signed up for HelloFresh.com and PeachDish.com, thinking that I would do a comparison test for the blog. HelloFresh got everything wrong from the gitgo — it scheduled my first delivery a month before the date I selected. I contacted them (or “reached out” in today’s [mis]use of language) immediately, told them what happened, and asked them to cancel my subscription. They did as I requested, but without even an offer to make it right. A typical contemporary one-off business model. No interest in developing customer loyalty. With PeachDish, I had so much trouble negotiating the website that I canceled that account also. They, too, had no interest in providing any assistance. Are you in or are you out? Ho-hum. By contrast, when I “reached out” [gag] to Blue Apron with a question, I received a prompt reply from an actual human who had actually read my question, not a bot that was programmed to hit the “We’re sorry to see you go” button. Nice. Customer loyalty? Indeed! No wonder Blue Apron is the only box waiting in the lobby.
Here’s a bonus: with Blue Apron you can schedule your weekly delivery at your convenience. I requested Sunday, thinking that I might want to prepare all three meals and put them in the refrigerator or the freezer for later use.
So what about the meal kit?
The meal kit contains all the ingredients in the exact amounts needed for each meal: protein, fresh vegetables, and a starch. In addition, each box includes three separate paper bags of “Knick Knacks,” containing the spices, and the other ingredients necessary for each dish. Everything is included except salt, pepper, and olive oil.
What I appreciate is the lack of waste. If you need one scallion for a recipe, you get one scallion, or two sprigs of parsley. There is no grocery store that I know of where you can buy just one or two — you have to buy a bunch or a bag, and it’s a white knuckle race against time to use it all before it turns to green sludge. Similarly, if you need a tablespoon of tomato paste, that’s included. Just one tablespoon. No more opening a can of tomato paste only to have it grow a caterpillar in the refrigerator while you wait to find a use for the other five tablespoons.
Everything arrives in a well-refrigerated box that can sit unattended with the doorman or on the front steps for a few hours, and all the ingredients are packaged so that you can just empty the box and put everything away as is if you are not planning to cook immediately. The packaging materials are recyclable.
So what about the menu?
There are several plans, and I chose the three meals a week for two people plan. In that package, you get one fish meal, one chicken meal, and one beef or pork meal per week. Blue Apron promises that you will never eat the same meal twice in one calendar year. Now that’s not something that would bother me, but just passing it on.
I have found the recipes interesting and varied. They include some more unusual ingredients, like Korean spices and black garlic that are neither in every supermarket nor that easy to find if you don’t have the time to run all over the city. In my experience of three weeks, the meals are delicious. I have even found new appreciation for foods I never thought I cared for. A recent recipe of Spicy Chicken & Carrots completely changed my mind about dark meat chicken. I never thought catfish that was not deep-fried, i.e., masked, would have any flavor.
The average recipe takes 20 to 30 minutes to prepare, which takes the sting out of having to cook if you are dead tired. Apparently, even Ruth Bader Ginsburg was willing to spend 60 minutes in the kitchen! I don’t know if she went Peg Bracken or Richard Olney, but 60 minutes these days is a long time.
Blue Apron recipes are designed to be followed easily, even by inexperienced cooks. They are printed on large, laminated cards that may be kept for future use. Also included in each box is another large laminated From the Farm card with interesting information about one of the ingredients included. I imagine that it would be fun and useful to prepare these meals with a child who can learn not only how to cook, but where food comes from, and how to eat well.
A bonus: you can go to the Blue Apron website and get recipes without subscribing to the delivery service. You can even sign up for to receive recipes by e-mail without subscription to the meal kit service. Generous and good marketing.
So how do you manage your account?
Having signed up for the free trial, I decided to try out the service for a couple of weeks, and learned how easy it is to use. They provide a calendar of menus a few weeks ahead of time, so that you can choose the weeks for which you want delivery. No minimum! No need to cancel your account when you don’t want delivery. You just have to be sure to check the website periodically and indicate your preference for taking delivery or skipping a week.
If you skip a week, there is time to change your mind and add it later on — and vice versa. In addition, most meals can be swapped for an alternative. A good trick for the absent-minded or otherwise too busy to keep track is to skip all the deliveries at first, and then go back and add them in.
So what about quality and nutrition?
The quality of the proteins is outstanding. I have yet to receive mislabeled fish — or suffer the effects thereof. In most restaurants, fish is routinely and deliberately mislabeled, and what you get instead of the red snapper on the menu may well be the notorious escolar or Ex-Lax fish. Yes. It’s exactly what you think it is. Blue Apron sends healthy, non-stinky and firm-fleshed fish. The pork, beef and chicken are better quality than what I can buy from our local-and-too-expensive-for-my-pocketbook-butcher.
Similarly, the fresh vegetables are beautiful, vibrant, and spotless. They have color, snap and flavor. Attention is paid to every component of the meal. A recent tablespoon of mayonnaise was the richest, yellowest, and eggiest mayo I have ever seen. It looked and tasted home-made.
Included in each box is an insert with complete nutritional information about each meal: calories, sodium, fat, sugar — the works.
So what about the elephant in the room — the cost?
Is it expensive? Well, yes. If you are comparing a Blue Apron meal to a meal of rice and beans, of course it’s expensive. I’m not being facetious. As a rule, I can no longer afford food shopping in my own neighborhood anymore; I have to take a bus across town to Target and Costco for both fresh food and staples. With a little Whole Foods on the side. But, if it’s any consolation, Blue Apron is less expensive than any of the other food services that I have considered trying. Here’s what it costs: under $10 a serving. And that’s it. No hidden extras**; no tipping. Can you eat out for that? Not where I live, you can’t. Not unless you are eating pizza. Is that a lot of money? Yes, of course it is. But food costs a lot of money, and prices go up every day. Recently, I went through cash register receipts, and it became pretty clear that Blue Apron is actually saving me money. Not that my experience is necessarily typical. There is a ton of advice on the internet about how to use a meal kit service to save money; all it takes is a quick Google. For me the great revelation at a difficult time in my life was how much time can be saved by not having to shop. And I love that there is no waste whatsoever. All the food is used; everything can be recycled.
So, to recap:
- Yes, No, Maybe
- Ties you to a schedule?
- Too much work?
- Not usually
- Skimpy portions?
- Boring, repetitive menus?
- No choice?
- Poor quality ingredients?
- Unhealthy amounts of fat, sodium, sugar and preservatives?
Popeye is a terrific cook, but he works seven days a week and absolutely crazy hours. His diet consists of anything he can grab on the run — typically something way too expensive for a “meal” with no nutritional value. He has some free time each week and I thought/hoped that with Blue Apron he would find time to prepare at least six healthy meals for himself, and eat something other than Mickey D’s. Oh yes, that love never died!
With some hesitation, I submitted his name for a free trial week. (Blue Apron lets you submit the names of five friends for free meals.) He scoffed. I knew he would, but he tried it. He even prepared and ate the catfish, a fish he normally dislikes. In his own words, Blue Apron “makes all the difference.”
With Blue Apron, you get interesting and varied meals that taste delicious and are easy to prepare. For those without time to shop, for those who need a boost for any reason — with prep, with ideas — it’s just terrific. I scoff no longer!
*P.S. I just couldn’t resist an alternative version of Pimento Cheese from Vivian Howard.
**Blue Apron offers a wine delivery as well, but it is entirely separate.