I used to think nothing of driving several thousand kilometres from, say, Calgary to San Diego just to sample excellent cuisine along the way. Then the pandemic hit, and I was suddenly banned from not only crossing the border but also from entering many restaurants near and far.
Indeed, I went from road-food trips where I ate out three-plus times a day to venturing, a few miles, once a month for curbside pickup. Largely sequestered at home, I tried Door Dash and deliveries of groceries and craft beer.
My latest experiment is the delivery of meal kits, specifically from Hello Fresh, a German-based conglomerate. I got an introductory week’s delivery of three meals for two. It was free, so who was I to turn it down?
With meal-kit services—booming in popularity during the pandemic—all the ingredients you need to make dinner are delivered to your door. Then you do the chopping, the cooking (following detailed instructions) and the cleaning up.
It’s a subscription service, meaning a box of three meals is sent every week, unless you cancel. The fact I cancelled after the first meal tells you I don’t think it’s really worth it. But let’s go through the pluses and minuses.
Let’s start with the pluses. The Hello Fresh website is easy to navigate, order various entrees and track deliveries. The fresh meals are actually quite tasty and had me expanding my cooking horizons, such as shredding zucchini into stir-fry ribbons.
Now the bad. The most egregious—a real deal breaker—is the waste. The week’s meals come in a big cardboard box, with two frozen, plastic water bags to keep everything chilled. Inside are the three night’s proteins, all in sealed plastic bags, and three paper bags each containing the meal’s other ingredients, plus large recipe sheets. The worst of it are all the little plastic bags containing, say, mustard, mayo, tahini and marinara sauce, all of which can’t be easily cleaned for recycling.
The second is the time and effort involved. I’m a fairly efficient, one-pan cook, who can typically produce dinner in about 15 minutes. These recipes frequently take 30 minutes to prepare.
The sizzling pork fajitas recipe, for example, requires me to 1) chop peppers and onions and roast them in the oven, 2) make a salsa fresca, 3) make a crema, 4) stir fry the pork and 5) warm the tortillas in the oven. So, I’m using the oven and the stovetop, plus a bunch of equipment—skillet, baking sheet, various bowls, knife, cutting board—all of which must be washed at meal’s end.
I guess I don’t really see the point. I thought the idea was to save me time and effort. And while meal kits save a trip to the masked-up store to buy all the ingredients, they don’t eliminate the need for a weekly trip to pick up basic groceries.
And I haven’t mentioned the cost. The three meals normally cost about $70, plus $10 for shipping. Each meal is supposed to feed two, but after a 20-kilometre cross-country ski day, I easily hoovered down the entire two-serving Mediterranean beef meal.
And did I also mention these meal kits are delivered on a subscription basis, meaning the three meals arrive every week? Unless you cancel, which requires a bit of website hunting to do.
The Globe and Mail’s Alexandra Gill does a nice job reviewing the meal-kit business. Living in Vancouver, she has the option of ordering from locally owned meal kit providers (such as Tractor at Home), which do most of the prep work for you.
And that’s what I’d like to see where I live, in Calgary. If I’m going to pay a considerable amount for a meal kit, I don’t want to do this much work. I’d just rather order a pizza.