If you’ve been following along with our catastrophic food budget, it’s clear we need a better designed game plan when it comes to managing our food budget, cooking, planning and everything in between. This month, I tried to think outside the box a bit, to try something new, and see if we can shake up our food budget and meal planning a bit. Bring on the meal delivery service. There are so many on the market and it’s an area only predicted to keep growing. I’d heard of a few services, such as Blue Plate, Home Chef, Gobble (a regional, not national service) and a few others.
I didn’t choose blindly, instead, as usual, I researched the companies, the customer service, and the food taste/quality.
Making a Choice
Choosing a meal delivery service required an amazing amount of research. I really thought I was going to go with Blue Apron, and at some point I might. As I researched, I really liked the reviews for Green Chef. Good, high quality food, recipes high in vegetables, and relatively healthy meals that had fantastic taste. They had meal plans for specific diets, such as Paleo! Sounds GREAT! Well, after a bit more digging, it seems like they are severely lacking in customer service. People complained that they were slow to respond to emails about missing ingredients, sometimes didn’t respond at all, and canceling was a nightmare. Well, who has time for that nonsense? Not me!
The next, overall, highest reviewed company was Plated. Their biggest ding was that the priority didn’t seem to be on healthy meals. Don’t get me wrong, you can choose healthy recipes each week, but they don’t have specific diet plans as some of the other companies offered service. The food they ship is high quality and organic. Their meats are antibiotic and hormone free. Customer service received high marks as did food taste. In all the website reviews I read, they were consistently at the top for flavor, and because there were very few negatives, I decided to give them a try.
Super easy. You choose 2, 3, 4 days and for 2 or 4 people. I chose 4 days for 4 people. Delivery is on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. I chose Tuesday so I’d have the majority of the week to eat, using this service. I created an account and was good to go.
Once my account was set up, they showed me my 4 pre-selected meals. I could choose these, or choose from about 10 other recipes available. It’s basically a drag and drop menu and incredibly user friendly. It took less than five minutes to select my meals for the week.
I received notification that my package would arrive on Tuesday by 8pm. On week one, my box arrived by noon, and on week two, my box arrived around 3pm. The box and the insulation are recyclable. At the bottom of each box are ice packs that can be re used or can be recycled by throwing gel material away and recycle plastic lining.
Of course, in the cooler weather, it is difficult to determine how well everything remains insulated. Now, if this was summer, our weather could really put it to the test.
Inside, the meats are separate from the produce. Each meal is packed in a purple plastic bag, with the majority of ingredients in this bag. The sealed meats are packed in separate zipper bags, with labels identifying what meal they go to.
I’ve made 8 meals so far. One took, I felt, an excessively long time and required a decent number of steps, especially compared to the other 7 meals. Ironically, this meal, a noodle dish, was the house least favorite. The kids just didn’t like it. It wasn’t bad, just not as good as all of the other dishes we have tried.
Each meal comes with an 8×11 card with a large photo of the finished product, and the other side has the recipe and cooking directions. The steps are well laid out and easy to follow. Most meals have required 1-2 cooking vessels at most.
Some meal delivery services have all ingredients chopped for immediate use, Plated does not. There is a decent amount of chopping. With that being said, I found most meals were ready within 10 minutes of suggested time. I’m pretty quick in the kitchen, so for other people it might take a bit longer. The cook times seem spot on, except for the steaks. The second time we had steak, I added a minute to each side to make them closer to medium rather than rare. And I’m a medium rare steak eater too.
This is what has held me back in the past. We are a family of five, with three of us eating adult size portions and two eating kid size portions. Yet, if there is a meal the two smaller eaters like, they can put away the food. So, a four serving meal might not be enough food for our family.
Overall, this hasn’t been an issue. With our chicken avocado burgers, we did supplement with a salad. With our chicken dinner, I did have a pack of two chicken breasts already defrosting, so I doubled the sauce (as I had all of the ingredients on hand) and cooked the extra chicken.
We only had leftovers of the noodle dish that the kids didn’t like, which my husband and I ate the next day for lunch. We had leftovers of the chicken dish as well. The meals were filling, except for the steak dinners. They are 5 oz. uncooked steak, and so, it’s not quite enough for all five of us. Although we had no leftovers, the rest of our dinners filled us up.
This was deterrent number two for us. The cost can be somewhat prohibitive for many families, mine included. The first week, we got a sign up discount of $75, which is HUGE and helped pushed me to sign up. The regular cost for a week for us at 4 meals, 4 days is $159.20. It’s still not inexpensive because I still have to cook 3 nights a week, and provide breakfast and lunches.
With that being said, I didn’t see a significant jump in our food for the week. As a matter of fact, I feel that our food costs have gone down because we didn’t need to go to Costco this week. Our grocery shopping list consisted of only staples needed to fill out our breakfasts and lunches for the week. Our other meals came from cooking from our freezer.
Overall, we had a very positive experience with Plated. By the time I used the package of Arugula four days after our box arrived, it was no good. I had spinach on hand and used that instead. Unfortunately, I completely forgot to email them about the rotten arugula, so I can’t comment on their customer service.
I put the next two weeks on hold as we will be out of town for one week, and the next week is Thanksgiving week, so there’s no need for the service that week. They did send a $10 discount if I ordered for Thanksgiving week, but I don’t see the need. Putting weeks on hold is VERY SIMPLE. You click a button. That’s it and have until six days before delivery to make changes.
The one low calorie dish we tried, a flounder dinner, was fantastic and one of the favorites. With the positive reviews from my family, the ease of preparation and the simplicity of my grocery shopping, I think we will stick with Plated for now. I don’t see us doing this every week, but at least two weeks a month will be sustainable for our budget. In addition, as baseball picks up in the spring with both boys playing, we might increase the number of weeks.