Lifestyle & Culture

What’s Cooking in D.C.? Dinner in a Box.

June 9, 2016

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Photo by Michael Ciranni / iStock

Photo by Michael Ciranni / iStock

THESE DAYS, you can get just about anything delivered to your door: monthly makeup samples, weekly snack packs and even a selection of treats and toys — for your dog. And those who want one less reason to leave the house are no doubt thrilled by the skyrocketing popularity of meal delivery services (even The New York Times is jumping on the bandwagon, partnering with startup Chef’d). These companies provide regular deliveries of dinner recipes, ingredients included. Cooking and cleanup are still required, but without choosing a recipe and shopping for ingredients, expect dinnertime to run a lot more smoothly. And it prevents waste, too, as anyone who has ever stood in the grocery store aisle struggling to remember whether they already have that ingredient at home understands. And in the spirit of catering to convenience, we’ve boiled it down to the basics to help you decide which option to go with.

*Disclaimer: Because these are weekly services, there are some restrictions on how fast your first box will arrive. If you want to try an option, plan for next week delivery, not next day.

Plated

Price Breakdown: $12 per person per meal.  2 meals for 2 people is $48/week, 3 meals is $72, etc. Dessert can be added for $4 per serving. Free shipping on orders over $50.

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My family has been ordering from Plated on and off since this past winter. When my siblings and I are home on break, it’s a great combo of restaurant-quality recipes and a built-in family activity. Although there are between two and six of us depending on the night’s activities, we use the two-person plan. Most meals can serve up to four, depending on how much you eat, and with a full house we’ll often make both recipes at once or supplement with a salad. We chose Plated specifically because it had more vegetarian options (any given week has seven recipe options, with at least three vegetarian) than Blue Apron, which is probably the most recognized brand. Plated selects a menu for your each week, but you can swap out recipes online up to six days in advance. No one in our family is strictly vegetarian, but we prefer lighter meals and the flexibility of not having to deal with raw meat. The recipes have been delicious across the board, and they really do provide you with everything, down to the tiniest pinch of spice. (Plated gets creative with their containers: some resemble hotel shampoo bottles, others fast-food ketchup cups). However, Plated has a consistent delivery problem. Although the boxes are supposed to arrive before 8 p.m. on the assigned day, they frequently come later, despite emails confirming delivery. As a result, we’ve had boxes sit outside the door all night. While the packaging includes ice packs to keep everything fresh, the inconsistency has been a pain in what is labeled as a pain-free solution to meal prep.

Sample meal: Cold Sesame Noodles, serves 2, 720 calories per serving, prep time 20-30 minutes (it took me around 20)

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Blue Apron

Price breakdown: $59.94/week for 2-person plan, which includes 3 meals for 2 people at $9.99 per serving. $69.92 for a family plan: 2 meals for 4 people at $8.74 per serving. Free shipping.

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I ordered a Blue Apron 2-person plan to see how their service compares. I didn’t choose vegetarian but was able to specify more specific dietary preferences (for example, no fish or no red meat). I received an email on the day of delivery telling me what the recipes included and when to expect the box—unlike Plated, this one came well before the 9 p.m. cutoff. Blue Apron also allows you to customize your menu up to six days in advance, although they have fewer options to begin with. Overall, the recipes were slightly more elaborate, which made things more interesting, but also harder to pull off. Our chicken steam buns (see below) tasted amazing, but were nearly impossible to assemble. But if you’re not worried about a little extra mess and hassle, your dinner game will be kicked up a couple notches. The packaging was largely the same as Plated, although Blue Apron provides labeled bags for the small ingredients that are easy to lose (spices, sauce components, garlic, etc.) Even better, these extra ingredients are adorably referred to as “knick knacks,” making it my favorite thing about Blue Apron’s service.

Sample meal: Chicken Steam Buns, serves 2, 540 calories per serving, prep time 10 minutes (it took me at least a half hour), cook time 25-35 minutes

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Hello Fresh

Price Breakdown: $59/week for Vegetarian Box (3 meals for 2 option), $9.93 per serving. $69/week for Classic Box (3 meals for 2 option), $11.50 per serving. $79.95 for Family Box (2 meals for 4 option), $9.99 per serving. Free shipping.

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Hello Fresh seems to have the most flexibility in subscription options. Their bestseller, the classic box, has options for 2 or 4 person servings, and you can choose 3, 4 or 5 meals a week. I spoke to Bethesda resident Jen DeMarinis about her experience using Hello Fresh. DeMarinis was able to customize a plan that worked for her family of four. When the classic box (3 meals for 4 people) started backing up, she planned to cancel their subscription and instead found that they offered a monthly option. Now, she gets 3 meals for 2 on the third Monday of each month, and stretches it to feed four with a salad or extra side. Plated and Blue Apron have a minimum of at least 2 meals a week, unless you manually cancel a delivery in advance, so Hello Fresh is your best bet if you want to add a meal service to the dinner rotation but not commit to it every week. While Hello Fresh has a specific kid-friendly family box, DeMarinis says that her kids will eat about half of the recipes from the classic box—for iffier dishes, she’ll often make the protein separately and leave out the extras. DeMarinis raised concerns about the decidedly non-eco-friendly packaging as well as misleading recipe times. “They’ll say a meal should take 30 minutes, but I swear it will be an hour and a half at least,” she said. “And no matter what, I feel like I’m in the kitchen forever.” But Hello Fresh does have some unique features to simplify the process, including a ruler featured on the recipe card for measuring and cutting ingredients, and labels on the proteins specifying which should be made first for maximum freshness. And DeMarinis’s favorite part? “I just have to pull out one box and everything’s there, I don’t have to search for my mayonnaise or soy sauce or whatever, everything is just there.”

And More…

I wasn’t kidding around when I said the options never seem to end. The selection I covered barely scratched the surface, and a Google search will turn up many more, all with their own cute culinary titles. Purple Carrot is a completely vegan option, for those so inclined. Terra’s Kitchen boasts paleo and gluten-free friendly options, and every recipe clocks in at 30 minutes or less. And then there’s Marley Spoon, which has the same meal plans as Blue Apron but is incrementally more expensive, for some reason. Happy cooking!

— Emily Harburg
MyLittleBird summer intern Emily Harburg recently wrote about fashion at Bethesda Front Row.



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