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.