Make Your Meal Kit Work For You

To whomever dreamed up the concept of home-delivery meal kits, I salute you.  Blue Apron has not only fed me when my refrigerator was otherwise bare--a common occurrence, given my long-standing challenges with planning ahead--but it has also, amazingly, taught me to cook.  Thanks to the good people behind my weekly delivery, I can now make pasta sauces, fancy salads, and all kinds of cool fish dishes from scratch, no recipe needed.  I've tried veggies and flavors I never would have otherwise.  I've even impressed my mom a time or two.

For those of you unfamiliar with the meal kit concept, here's a quick overview: you get all the ingredients you need, in exactly the right quantities, in a nicely-packaged box delivered to your doorstep, complete with highly photogenic recipe cards and typically a few tips on cooking technique and wine pairings.  Then you play home chef, and within 30-60 minutes--depending on your skills with a knife--you have a colorful, flavorful, and typically unfamiliar meal on the table.  

Meal kit services generally tout the quality of their ingredients.  You may not be eating fully organic, but your meat will typically be sustainably raised and hormone and antibiotic free and your produce grown with equivalent care.  You'll feel good about what you're eating, and rightfully so.  But that doesn't mean if will necessarily help with weight loss or other health concerns.  So if you want to explore the meal kit world--and I highly recommend that you do--here are a few tips for how to diversify your menu and fine. tune your culinary skills while still pursuing your diet goals.

Just a note: the options for meal kit services seem to grow by the day, and I should mention here that I haven't tried any others.  This isn't meant to be a comparison of options or a recommendation of Blue Apron above its competitors.  The recommendations below are based on my experiences with Blue Apron, because that's what I know, and can generally be applied to other services as well.

Plan Ahead - Check your menu options before they ship, and pick the options that work best for you.  Most services will clearly note which recipes are vegetarian or vegan, and some may also indicate which fit with common dietary preferences, like paleo, Mediterranean, or ketogenic.

Pay Attention to Serving Sizes - Most meals will make either two or four servings.  At the risk of redundancy, that means those meals should serve either two or four people, or one person two or four times.  This isn't always easy to adhere to.  I know that if Blue Apron sends me gnocchi, that's one meal, no matter what the recipe card says.  But be aware, and try to follow the guidelines on this one.  If needed, serve yourself half the final product and pack the other half safely away for leftovers before you even start eating.

Go Easy on the Oil  - Olive oil is a healthy fat, but that doesn't mean quantity doesn't count.  If you're a culinary newbie, you will probably be tempted to err on the abundant side when using your olive oil or other cooking fat.  Restrain yourself, and start small.  You can always add more.  You can't take away what's already there, though, and you risk making a good meal unnecessarily greasy, plus adding unnecessary calories to your dinner.  While we're on the subject, treat salt the same way.  Adding salt and pepper at every step can easily lead to too much.  Give your heart and your kidneys a break, and maybe use less than you think, adding more as you need bit,