Over the past few years, subscription boxes have taken off in North America. Thousands of companies now offer a monthly service where a catered box of goodies is shipped directly to your home. One of the more popular options in this new industry is for meal kit delivery. Think of it as this middle option between going out to dinner and cooking at home where you had to pick a recipe, shop for ingredients, and prepare it. Meal delivery services, like HelloFresh, Blue Apron, Home Chef, and others, take out some of the planning and shopping steps, to offer a restaurant-quality meal in the comfort of your home. The Northern Wilds are often within the service areas for these companies, opening up new opportunities for cooking at home.
When you come home to a meal kit box sitting on your front step, it feels a bit like Christmas. A week or two prior, you looked over the menu options, made your selections, and then maybe even counted down the days to delivery. When the box arrives, you open it up to find the bulk of what you’ll need to make your chosen meals. You may have picked a traditional meat and potatoes style meal or something a bit more exotic, like a vegetable curry. Either way, you’ll know that you can skip the grocery store for dinner that night, as you’ll have what you need. Any extra needed items, such as cooking oil, and salt and pepper, are typically spelled out when you are making your online recipe selections, so you won’t get any last minute surprises.
I have found the best parts of this type of service is the convenience, trying new recipes, and learning new techniques. We all know that the worst place to have to go after a long day at work is the grocery store. Even if you know what you need, it seems like it always takes forever and then you need to go home and still cook. I think this is the number one benefit of meal kits—it makes home cooking easy. You don’t have to worry about whether you remembered all the ingredients or spend the time shopping. The day my first HelloFresh box arrived, it felt like a godsend, after an extra-long work day and no idea as to what to make for dinner. I sighed with relief when I saw the box and knew that I could follow the simple recipe card and we’d have a great dinner. Thank goodness I picked one of the HelloFresh 20-minute meals! Definitely pay attention to how long recipes are estimated to take.
These meal kits are also a great way to expand your skills and experience in the kitchen. Whether you choose to order something you typically wouldn’t make at home or even something you would, you’ll often learn a new technique or two. One Blue Apron meal I tried was calzones made with mini sweet peppers, pepperoncini and kalamata olives. Where I would typically use a pre-made pizza sauce for homemade calzones, the recipe called for tomato paste to be added to the peppers, adding water to make a sauce. It’s been a tasty trick that I now use when I make my own calzones. I also had never paired kale with pasta before, but HelloFresh’s butternut squash agnolotti with kale in brown butter sauce convinced me that I’ll need to do that again in the future.
No matter which company you order from, you can expect the same in several aspects. After ordering on a website, a box is shipped to you, with ice packs and other materials to keep the items cold. There are reports that items will often stay cold for several days, but best to put items in the fridge when they arrive at your door or when you get home. Inside you’ll find recipe cards and pre-measured ingredients, often labeled for the corresponding recipe. The company will assume that you have cooking oil, salt, pepper, and some other basics around the house, which vary by company. You’ll also need to provide your own cookware and utensils.
As we enter into the season where local produce is harder to find, I think the meal kit option is more appealing than during times when the farmers markets and local food are plentiful. During the winter, fresh food purchased at the grocery store already came a long way to get to our table in the Northern Wilds, so it seems like a little less of a stretch to have the meal delivery coming from California or elsewhere. If you are committed to staying more local, Minnesotans have a new option called Local Crate, which sources ingredients around the Twin Cities and delivers only within Minnesota. I also found the meal kit route a nice option for vacations and trips if you have a kitchen and plan to do some cooking.
If you embark on this adventure, I do offer a word of caution: pay attention to the nutrition facts on the recipe. Often, these meal kit recipes seem to be high in sodium and often high in calories and fat, similar to many restaurant meals. When making your meal selections, keep an eye out for recipes that meet the nutritional goals you have and don’t add salt every time it is indicated in the recipe—they often tell you to at every step! The serving sizes also tend to be quite generous, so you may want to set aside some for leftovers. These easy tips will help you make sure that you aren’t sabotaging your health as you enjoy these meals. And for those worried about all the packaging waste—each company has its own advice on recycling and some, like Blue Apron, are even offering a recycling program. Customer service seems to be good overall with these companies, so if you have a question or an issue, like wilted produce, get in touch and, in my experience, they will remedy the issue.
While the service areas have greatly expanded in the Northern Wilds, there are some limits. HelloFresh Canada does delivery to Thunder Bay and the surrounding area, but best to always check on the company’s website to ensure that delivery is available to your area. For example, Home Chef currently only delivers to the continental U.S. Many of the companies offer a reduced price to try out a box and no long-term commitment, so give one a try and see what you like. While a meal kit may not end up being part of your weekly routine, it can be a nice way to mix things up or give yourself a break while still cooking at home.
By Maren Webb