At our kids’ school silent auction fundraiser, we won a certificate for an in-home meal preparation. It was a luxury we would never indulge in normally, but it was for a good cause, so we let down the shields that would normally auto-reject such an ostentation, and simply enjoyed it.
That was many years ago, yet we can still taste the crispy tang of the golden brown Maple Syrup Roasted Brussel Sprouts, a vegetable we both thought we detested until then.
Short of hitting it big time, the in-home chef thing was a one-and-done. So that leaves the traditional approach used by our foremothers:
- Research meals
- Make a grocery list
If you don’t have 2 hours to do this every night, what is a frugal family of four to do?
For years, Nora frequented Let’s Dish, a facility where they did half the work for you. They did steps #1-3, then customers like Nora would come on site, and assemble the ingredients into food storage bags, which dropped into the freezer.
Let’s Dish was more expensive than cooking at home, but much cheaper than eating out. And Nora could assemble 16 or more meals on a Saturday morning, setting us up for most of a month.
It was a good setup, but like all things this side of heaven, it wouldn’t last forever. Branches started to close until it totally shuttered in Maryland. (It looks like they still operate in Minnesota.)
Suddenly adrift and in a moment of weakness, we fell for a promo from Hello Fresh, one of many companies in a burgeoning industry that ships recipes and their full ingredients to your home.
I admit it – it was fun. You get a big box with a few healthy meal kits that you have to figure out how to saute, roast, bake, and/or boil. It felt like the mystery and adventure of an Ikea project, with lower stakes if you screw up.
What’s not to love? The cost. The Hello Fresh meals, minus the promotion, were just as expensive as eating out. If we kept this up, we’d have to resort to paying with food stamps before long. Bye bye Hello Fresh.
Hello Blue Apron! A new promo code in hand, we were off on a new adventure. Same offbeat heathy meals, same wasteful packaging (does a lemon really need its own container?), same fun. And same dread when the first discounted meals ended, and we realized we just couldn’t justify the full-freight chow to come. Bye bye Blue Apron.
Hello Terra’s Kitchen! (I love these new customer promo codes!) A Baltimore startup with a slightly different twist on the business model, Terra’s shipped its meals in a mini-fridge-style box which was reusable. Slightly better for the environment, I guess, but it didn’t seem to lower the meal cost. Depending on the dish, costs ranged from $9.99 to $17.99 per serving. The meals were scrumptious but sad to say, our Terra’s romance would be shorter than a 6th-grade fling.
Which brings us back to good old-fashioned planning and grocery store schlepping and meal prep. Stay tuned for how we optimized the age-old home meal preparation process.
Gwen Cicone says
I keep a binder of the recipes that I like. Most of them were downloaded from the internet while some of the traditional handwritten ones remain. After a couple of years I put them in page protectors which really helps them to not get destroyed during the cooking process. When it time to plan I have my little rotation of beef, chicken, pork, veggie based, and fun food for Fridays. And so I try to fill in the blanks for a week or 10 days and as I pick recipes I check for ingredients. After Christmas I have Alexa keep track of the grocery list but I still do the shopping. But no lost lists!!! All the recipes are things my family likes and are relatively inexpensive to make. I use the crockpot 1 to 3 times per week. Love when food is hot and ready when I come home. Especially on those long aftercare days when it might be after 6 when I get home. This is what I do to feed my hungry hoard. Maybe it can help someone. 🙂
People I know with more than a couple of kids tend to get a lot more efficient at meals. Thanks for sharing Gwen!
Queen Mum says
One of my adult kids suggested I try Blue Apron. I looked at the price tag and thought ‘no way’ since mostly I’m not all that pressed for time and I like to cook and I’m too frugal anyhow. But BA kept sending me promos and eventually I thought why not try it. The review from here is that the packaging is incredible, the ingredients fresh and perfect, and the end result tasty. And it’s fun. Who doesn’t like to get a big package in the mail? An additional plus is that since they send you the exact amount you need of each ingredient and if it’s a rare something that you will only need a tiny amount of (think 1 tsp), you don’t have to buy a large container of it at the supermarket and then have it get stale on a cabinet shelf or rot in the back of the fridge. Plus I found I could divide the finished meals in 2, and add a salad or fruit of my own, making the BA meal go twice as far.
But after the promo was over, I thought it was still expensive, and the big BA boxes continue to come relentlessly every week, now at regular price. I opted out quickly.
It is hard to justify the cost, unless you have a lot more money than time. Big wig types.
Mustard Seed Money says
I’ve never tried any of those healthy meal planning options. I was too lazy to cook when I was single and my wife is Iranian so she is an amazing cook. So I am very lucky. Although I’m sure from time to time she wouldn’t mind having all the ingredients delivered right to her door 🙂
I love Persian food, aren’t you lucky!
Meal prep companies like those you mentioned above are very convenient but definitely come with a hefty price tag! I’ve found that following certain food / nutrition bloggers has given me a bunch of different recipes with similar (if not a lot of the same) ingredients to cut down on food costs (think spices, marinades, oils etc.). I usually spend 1-2 hrs. every Sunday doing meal prep which isn’t always my favorite thing to do but it’s much better than spending $10+ for lunch everyday at the office.
If I’m going to spend the money to eat out, I’d rather do it with my friends or family – not when I’m working in the office!
I’m with you. The urge to join the crew at the office that goes out for lunch every other day is strong. I join them occasionally because I think the networking is important, but I spend a lot less than they do due to less frequency and I’m sure I spend less on the meal when I do go out. Having a bag lunch in the frig definitely helps keep me on track!