New year, new table (Pictured: Noritake’s Blue Hammock collection)
Let’s talk about meal delivery services.
For years, I saw ads for Blue Apron on my social media feeds, and for years I resisted the call of perfectly plated, beautifully garnished, root vegetable-inclusive meals. Then I tried Blue Apron on a whim, and I was sold: it got me out of a major cooking rut that mostly involved pasta, and taught me tons of new techniques…but mostly it was fun. Three nights a week I put my kids in front of the TV, poured myself a glass of wine, put on my headphones, and spent the better part of an hour chopping and mixing and pouring to the sound of Stephen Colbert’s lovely, sane voice.
And then I got really, really bored. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they grew tired of Blue Apron over time, but I’m not sure whether that’s because the company actually does do a lot of repetitive stuff (does every side dish have to include kale? Like, all of them?), or whether all meal delivery services kind of feel like they’re doing the same old thing when you’ve been using them for months. So I set out to do some highly scientific meal delivery service testing, which involved me ordering a box from three new companies, and making unilateral declarations about their relative benefits and weaknesses based on all that extremely comprehensive experience.
Before I get into the services I tried, let’s please take a moment to gaze upon the beauty of these dishes. My collection of Noritake dinnerware is pretty considerable, given that I’ve worked with the brand for going on six years now (!), and I love how these dishes mix so easily into the white, gold and blue patterns I already own, but make the whole tablescape feel fresh and bright. In the photos you see here, I styled the collection two different ways – for the first (with the Hello Fresh pork chops), I wanted a textured, cozy look with dark navy accents that’s simple and casual, and for the second (with the Sunbasket falafel) I went for a romantic, whimsical vibe by pulling in some pale pinks and lacy accents (even the wine goblets have subtle swirls on them).
OK, now let’s talk food. I’m going to be judgy here, so if you object to my assessments of these services, please feel free to let me know.
Blue Apron is the service I have the most experience with by far, and I honestly do love it – but after several months I started to feel like a lot of the ingredients and techniques were being repeated. Not that they were bad; I just wanted something new. I also felt like Blue Apron was better for myself and Kendrick than it was for the kids: the recipes are often interesting and visually cool, but sometimes just a hair too adult-y – I found myself doing a lot of meal-fluffing with extra carbohydrates.
- Pros: Delicious, highly Instagrammable, interesting flavors.
- Cons: Not terribly family-friendly, don’t love the packaging (all the ingredients are loose in the box, so you have to divide them up yourself, and there seems to be a lot of waste).
(Full disclosure: That happy face is about the sugar, not the pork chops.)
(See? This is the subsequent Mom Won’t Let Me Eat All The Sugar shot.)
The big pro of Hello Fresh, to me, is also the big con: It’s just really simple. The meals are quick to make (20-30 minutes, tops) and extremely kid-friendly (think BBQ chicken, mashed potatoes, etc)…but they’re also recipes that I’d be likely to make on my own. Like, without a meal delivery service. Yes, they’re fancied-up versions of what I’d make, but the impressiveness factor is low here; to me, these are practical recipes that make cooking easier, but don’t necessarily teach more experienced home chefs a whole lot.
- Pros: Family-friendly, fast, simple, ideal for beginners.
- Cons: Fairly ordinary recipes, not great for those who want to learn new techniques.
I’ve heard consistently great things about Sun Basket from friends who’ve tried it, and it totally lived up to the hype. The recipes offer a ton of variety and international options, and the menu felt the most customizable of the services I’ve tried. I decided to order a couple of meals that I wouldn’t typically choose – the falafel pictured here, for example – and oh my god, so delicious. And fast. And easy.
- Pros: Diverse menu, fast, easy.
- Cons: None so far.
The two Marley Spoon meals that I tried struck me more than anything as kids’ meals that had reached adulthood. The first – Meatball and Orzo Stew with Baby Spinach – was sort of like Chef Boyardeeyour For Grownups, and the second – Fried Shrimp with Broccoli Slaw – was like something you remember eating on the beach with your parents…except the tartar sauce had gouchang …and I mean that as a very big compliment. My kids were obsessed (“Can I have more spinach, Mom?”), and so were we. Definitely planning on giving this another go in the future.
- Pros: Interesting recipes, family-friendly.
- Cons: Sort of weird.
Any other services you think I should try? (Gobble and Good Eggs aren’t available in my area yet, alas, but I think most of the other major ones are.)
Dinnerware by RG sponsor Noritake. Photography by Kim Ebbets.