Dinner in a box

Meal kits are changing the way we cook

Unpacking dinner from Blue Apron.

Unpacking dinner from Blue Apron.

Photo by Don Hinchcliffe (via Flickr)

Five popular meal kits:
Blue Apron (blueapron.com)
The Purple Carrot (purplecarrot.com)
Plated (plated.com)
Hello Fresh (hellofresh.com)
Green Chef (greenchef.com)

My friend Richard would be the first to admit he’s not much of a cook—or wasn’t, that is, until he started subscribing to the meal kit company Blue Apron.

Once a week, an insulated box containing the premeasured—and wonderfully fresh—ingredients for three meals for two is delivered to his doorstep. Now, simply by following an illustrated preparation guide, he cooks three sophisticated and delicious meals each week—and, he says, greatly enjoys doing so.

Blue Apron is the largest and most successful of the more than 100 companies that deliver ready-to-make meals to customers’ doorsteps. It sends out more than 8 million meals a month, which is a lot but amounts to only 7 percent of the fast-growing meal kit market.

In less than a decade, meal kits have become a multibillion-dollar business that has attracted a number of celebrity chefs and food writers to join the party. TV chef Jamie Oliver has signed on with Hello Fresh, and Mark Bittman, the long-time New York Times food maven, helped start The Purple Carrot, a plant-based (read: vegan) meal kit company.

Also—no surprise here—home goods mogul and cookbook author Martha Stewart has gotten into the game, partnering with the meal kit company Marley Spoon. “It is, I think, the way to cook for the future,” she told The Associated Press.

Here’s how it works: You do an Internet search to locate the meal kit companies that seem to meet your needs. Then you go to their websites to look over the packages they offer. Some kits are for couples, some for singles, others for families of four; prices range from $35 to $70 for six to eight meals. Most include meat or fish, but it’s possible to order vegetarian and vegan alternatives.

When you decide what company and which meals you want to try, you subscribe and place your order. Within a few days, you will receive an insulated cardboard box containing the ingredients for your first week’s meals.

Some companies charge for delivery; others don’t. You can change your order at any time, or suspend it if, for example, you’re going to be out of town next week.

My own experience with Blue Apron was much like Richard’s. Having the ingredients before me, measured out and ready for preparation, made cooking much easier. I was confident that, if I followed directions, all would turn out fine. I enjoyed chopping the vegetables and adding the spices knowing that it was going to result in a delicious meal.

It was a relief, as well, not to have to plan a trip to the store to purchase the ingredients. On the other hand, every ingredient comes in its own package, and there’s something weird about a single bay leaf in a plastic bag. On the plus side, there’s zero food waste, and the companies encourage customers to return the boxes with the packaging inside so it can be recycled.

For Richard, meal kits have an additional benefit. He lives alone, and because he orders meals designed for couples, three times a week he’s able to invite a friend to join him for dinner, knowing that whatever meal he cooks will be much appreciated.