You’ve probably seen ads or paid reviews of meal kit delivery services like Blue Apron, Home Chef, or Plated. I certainly had seen plenty, but the price tag always stopped me from trying any of them out. However, some family came in May and they turned out to be subscribers to Blue Apron. Best of all, subscribers who have been with the service for a certain amount of time can give free weeks to new subscribers. I was in!
She did mention her trick to keep it somewhat affordable – Blue Apron lets you skip any weeks you don’t want very easily. She just skips most of the weeks and only gets deliveries on weeks that look really appealing to her.
Upon logging in for the first time, I was happy to see that they had more options than meat or vegetarian for your meal choices. I could specify what I don’t eat (for instance, pork) without limiting myself to vegetarian only. I was also happy that you could customize what meals you were getting beyond what they initially picked for you. One frustration however was that not all meals were available together. So if I didn’t like one of the suggested meals, I couldn’t just pick any of the others. They have six options every week, but I found that if I picked certain meals, others would be greyed out and unavailable. I suppose for people with no dietary restrictions or picky eaters in the family, it might not be a big deal, but between me keeping semi-kosher and John just being a bit…particular about food (I won’t say picky, but yeah, he can be a bit picky) I didn’t find a week that would work for both of us with the combinations I could choose until the end of July. Of course, there were some weeks I COULD have done, but I just don’t see grilled cheese with a side salad as worthwhile for a meal delivery kit. I don’t care how good the cheese is.
The first box we got had all vegetarian meals. We’re fine with eating vegetarian meals. Hell, I was a vegetarian for years. However, it’s worth noting that if you are paying for the service, it’s $60 for a 3 meals that serve 2 people each. For $20 a meal, I would probably want meat in at least one of my meals. However, this was a freebie, the meals all looked good, and I was anxious to try my first week.
The box arrived on July 30. The end of July was, as those of you in the South may recall, stupidly hot. However, Blue Apron says it packages the food so that it’s okay if it sits on your porch until you get home. We got home in the early afternoon and put everything in the fridge as soon as we unpacked it.
The following evening, we decided to try our first meal, Bhindi Masala (actually, more like bhindi paneer masala, but they just called it bhindi masala). It’s an Indian dish with okra and paneer cheese. We love Indian food, so we were looking forward to it. Their recipe was served over rice with Raita (a cucumber yogurt side). The first disappointment was a big one – we opened the okra and found this:
Yes, folks, you are seeing that correctly. That’s moldy okra. And not just a slight hint of mold, it’s full-blown, chuck-it-immediately mold. Had we opened it towards the end of the week and found this, we would have been no less disgusted, but at least it would have made more sense. The was the day after the box was delivered, so this okra was going bad when they packed it.
We decided to soldier on and continue with the dish, substituting yellow squash for okra because, well, we had some. Of course, the resulting dish was certainly not bhindi masala (bhindi means okra in Hindi), but it worked.
We also had some issues with directions and ingredient portions. The raita called for the cup of Greek yogurt they included with the cucumber they sent to be grated into it. The issue was that the cucumber they happened to send was enormous! Raita is usually 1:1 yogurt to cucumber. Had was actually used the entire amount, we would have had a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio instead. There were a few other instances in the week where the directions didn’t entirely make sense or we both had to read them a few times to make sure we understood what they were asking.
Overall, our first meal was…okay. It certainly would have been better with okra instead of squash, but even given that it still wasn’t the most flavorful or memorable Indian meal we’ve cooked. And for a retail cost of nearly $20 a meal (that I have to cook!), I want something that’s going to knock my socks off.
[Imaginary image of empanadas because I forgot to take any pics]
The next meal we tried were Corn and Green Bean Empanadas. Blue Apron described the meal this way:
“Empanadas de humita,” or corn empanadas, are a tasty South American specialty that features flaky pastry dough wrapped around a savory-sweet corn filling. For our version, we’re adding seasonal green beans to fresh corn, then sautéing the vegetables with a blend of smoky spices. Inside, Monterey Jack cheese pulls all the flavors together and gives our filling enticing richness. A salad of crisp cucumber and cilantro adds bright contrast to the empanadas, which are even more delectable when dipped in our ajo (or garlic) sauce.”
These were pretty easy and good. It actually inspired us to make our own empanadas, though not because they were so great. We really felt that the green beans added entirely too much sweetness considering how mild the spices were. The ajo sauce with crème fraîche would have probably been unnecessary, though the fact that the crème fraîche was pretty clearly spoiled (if it smells like your socks, it might be beyond).
The last dish we tried was both the simplest and the best. It was a Fresh Basil Fettuccine with cherry tomatoes and zucchini. It was a very simple pasta, but it was great. The problem was that it’s definitely the sort of thing we could (and often do) make on our own for $10 (or less, depending on the pasta we use) for the both of us (with leftovers).
OVERALL: Blue Apron is not for us. We had issues with the quality of their ingredients, though I suspect that was a fluke issue. However, even if they delivered great, incredibly fresh ingredients every time, I don’t think we could justify the price tag. $60 a week for 3 dinners to feed 2 people is pretty high. For $20 a meal, we could easily go out somewhere and get about the same caliber of food, if not better. We already cook often and are pretty adventurous in the kitchen, with some of our staples including dishes from a wide-variety of regions. We live close to a store (so having it delivered is not a huge bonus) and the meals really don’t cut down on cook time at all as you still have to chop all of the vegetables (not to mention doing dishes afterward).
However, I do think that these meal kit deliveries are probably great for some people. People who often eat out might enjoy a night in cooking, particularly if they don’t often cook for themselves. People who live far from places they can buy a variety of fresh ingredients might love the delivery. And people who feel stuck in a food rut might enjoy the change of pace brought by some of these recipes.
Although I certainly enjoyed trying it and I see why others might like these services, they just aren’t for us. If there were options to only get one or two meals, I might be more inclined to do it, but as of now the cost just doesn’t make sense for us even if we do only do a week a month.
FYI: I did complain about the moldy okra. I was given an apology and $9.99 off of my next (first) week of meals. Considering that’s one person’s portion of a meal I’m making myself, that felt a bit cheap to me. Considering the main ingredient (bhindi in bhindi masala) was clearly spoiled, I feel that a full meal (about $19.98) from the next week would have been a better solution.