With all the recipe kit ordering services advertising these days, I thought I’d try a few of them to see if they would be viable options to recommend. Clients are consistently looking for easier ways to cook healthy meals at home and new ways to be creative with their meal prep. It might just help me out with my family as well.
My focus first is whether these are nutritious additions to your home. Anything you cook at home is likely to be better than a restaurant offering, but that doesn’t mean its the optimal choice. I’m looking for meals that are easy, nutritious and relatively balanced.
I decided to start with Blue Apron first. They are the established market leader and just completed their IPO (with a lackluster performance) so I figured that was the place to start.
In short, I have cancelled my membership and will not be recommending Blue Apron. I tried to make the healthiest choices I could from their available menu selections for families of four and found them woefully out of line with what I’d recommend or eat for myself. Everything was consistently too high in carbs and fat and too low in protein. Further, it wasn’t just carb heavy, it was high in processed carbs: white rice, white bread or white pasta were the carb the majority of the time for nearly all the menu selections I reviewed.
For someone learning to cook, Blue Apron does offer a wealth of content, including how-to videos, and recommendations on what you need to support your kitchen. But they are also trying to sell you kitchen equipment and wine to go with your meal. The meals are easy to prepare with the combined resources they package up for you including the spices and sauces you may not keep in your own kitchen. No meal took me longer than 40 minutes, not including the time I spent reviewing the directions on the app before I started cooking each meal.
Blue Apron could easily make some modifications to their menu selections to make them healthier, but it would likely drive up the price of their meals and hit their margins in a competitive market. That’s their choice, but for me, it made their meals a no-go altogether. Below are the details of what I got, and the modifications I made to improve the meals for my family.
For an order of two meals for a family of four, it was $71.92 or $8.99 per meal. For three meals to serve two it is $59.94 or $9.99 per meal.
I took advantage of Blue Apron’s $30 off promo for first timers. I set up a log-in, selected family of four, and submitted my payment with the promise that I would be able to customize my menu choices after I did this. I was immediately frustrated. All I could do from a customization standpoint was pick the major protein offerings (I selected pork, shellfish and fish. Not lamb or beef, since I get those from a Texas organic farm in bulk), and then each week’s delivery consisted of four menu options to choose two from for delivery.
I was disappointed that I never had the option to select that I wanted dairy-free, gluten-free or whole-grain only or anything that really impacts the core substance of the meal. Also my subsequent menu choices still included beef and lamb, so I couldn’t tell they really adjusted for my dietary selections either. On the Blue Apron website, I couldn’t find the ingredients or detailed descriptions of the menu choices. For that I had to go to the app. The only place I ever found the nutrition information for individual meals was in the paperwork that came with the food itself.
For the first week, these were my choices. I selected the Catfish Almondine and Summer Squash Enchiladas.
What actually arrived at my house though was the Catfish Almondine and Seared Knockwurst. I contacted customer service and even thought it was a Saturday, within a couple of hours they had credited my account for the Knockwurst, which I greatly appreciated.
The nutrition panel for the Catfish Almondine per serving: 610 calories (33g protein/26g fat/59g carbs), but note this is as packaged, not as prepared, so if you add the oil that the recipe calls for in preparation, it will be higher in fat.
I set out to see how I could improve the profile of the meal. Here’s where I deviated from their directions:
- Substituted my own brown rice for their white rice
- Used my own whole wheat flour for the fish instead of their white flour
- Used far less butter and olive oil in the overall preparation of the meal
- Added extra lime juice for the almondine topping to further reduce the need for all the butter
I thought it was just OK. Probably good for catfish, but not my favorite fish. My daughters ate the asparagus, almondine topping and some of the rice. They wouldn’t eat the fish, which surprised me because they will eat most fish. My husband ate the fish, but didn’t get any asparagus because the girls and I consumed the meager amounts of asparagus before he had a chance to eat any.
I haven’t done an almondine topping before though, and I’ll probably repeat with a different fish in the future for my girls, so that was a positive takeaway and new lesson learned.
I didn’t make the Knockwurst. If I’m going to eat beef or that much fat, I want it to be more like a steak. Not a sausage. We just ate the produce from that order.
The following week had two decent looking options. I selected the caper-butter pork chop and farro salad and the crispy cod and garlic rice, with the expectation that I would have to make some modifications. The sandwich and pizza choices seemed neither healthy nor necessary to get from a service like Blue Apron.
If you go into the Blue Apron app, there’s a feature where the community will provide comments on the meals and modifications they made while cooking, which is helpful for tips. I also found the directions for cooking the food easier to read through on the app than the paper that comes with the recipes. This might be just because I could look at it while I was waiting for the girls at swim practice, I’m not sure, but I did appreciate it.
The best thing about the second set of meals is that it got me to try new things. I do not typically cook with capers, gai lan or yakiniku sauce. I also don’t usually add dried fruit to my vegetables. And the farro is a whole grain. Yay!
Out of the box these were their nutrition content:
- Pork Chops: 580 calories (670 calories prepared), 49g protein/45g carbs/22g fat
- Cod & Rice: 490 calories (570 calories prepared), 36g protein/77g carbs/5g fat
From a prep perspective, all you needed was a skillet. Here’s how I modified these dishes:
- Cut oil for sautéing and searing by 1/3 to 1/2
- Aside from salt and peppering the fish and pork chop, I never added other salt, which is suggested multiple times throughout the directions, and I find that easier to do at the end to prevent excessive sodium
- The farro was enough to go with both dishes, and I never made the white rice to go with the cod
- I added bell pepper and onions to the vegetables to both meals to increase their overall volume
- For the farro salad, I held out the goat cheese and didn’t mix the vegetables with the farro, so individuals in my family could do as they preferred
I thought both dishes were pretty good and decent if you made the modifications I did, and didn’t eat a full ¼ of the rice or farro with either meal. BUT it’s not actually enough for a family of four though if you cut the grains from being such a large portion of the meal. My husband and I both routinely eat more vegetables and protein in a single dinner, and far less starchy, processed carbs, so it would be more like my daughters would get one-quarter of the meal and we’d have the rest, but there’d never be left overs, which is a bummer. If I’m going to spend time cooking, it’s just as easy to make twice as much and have enough for the next day at least and not have to cook the next night.
It’s important to flag though that the nutrition panels included in the recipes is only for the food that is included in the meal package itself, and they only give you the calories for serving them as prepared. So for example, if you follow their directions and add all the olive oil they tell you to cook with the Cod & Rice recipe would go up 12.5g of fat per serving, which is another 112.5 calories. If you’re someone that’s trying to watch calories and count macronutrients, this could be a big curve ball in your day. All of the entries I found in MyFitnessPal for Blue Apron recipes included the as packaged nutrition content, not the as prepared nutrition content.
Subsequent menu choices for the weeks ahead showed similar dishes, in addition to things like pork burgers and pizza.
I realize these are all personal choices, but this is why this option wouldn’t work for me, and all the reservations I’d have if you asked me if they would be a good option for your family.
Trying Sun Basket next!