Meal Kits May Be For Bougie Nerds, But They Really Do Save You Time + Money
I first met Blue Apron about six months ago. There I was, newly 30, still trying to optimize my work-life balance so I could hit the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s at the least-busy time of the week (a checker once told me it was the busiest store in the country, but maybe he was just trying to discourage me from ever coming back). I don’t mind grocery shopping; actually, I quite enjoy the ritual of picking up produce and pretending that I can discern whether something is ripe or not. And I was raised to love to cook. When I was a kid, my parents were able to make my dad’s flight-attendant salary stretch for a family of five in part because we ate every meal at home: chili that would last for a week, lasagna that would last for a week, kitchen-sink stir fry. When my dad was flying, we’d eat what is still my favorite super cheap meal: SPAM, rice and kimchi that we wrapped in little sheets of roasted seaweed (my dad’s white and even after 35-plus years of marriage to a Korean woman, he still doesn’t "get" kimchi, but his loss, because even Trader Joe’s knows what’s up! (though, real talk: their version is garbage.)). My childhood was essentially cooking = smart, going out to eat = wasteful, ordering a soda when you go out to eat = who do you think you are, Ivanka Trump?
Anyway, I think Blue Apron sent me a coupon in the literal mail, advertising 50% off the first week. I’d never been especially interested, and in fact, I’d always equated Blue Apron in my mind with people in the Bay Area who work in tech and also use the word “foodie” in their Instagram bios. But at 50% off, what that meant was that my partner and I could eat three meals in a week and it would cost us $5 per meal per person. Taco Bell is more expensive than that nowadays. I couldn’t not.
The first box of ingredients arrived, neatly packaged, the fish and chicken reassuringly tucked between thick slabs of ice, all the ingredients perfectly portioned out. The first meal we made was seared salmon with an apple, brussel sprout and potato hash, topped with a vinaigrette. Something that would easily cost $20 at a restaurant in L.A. It was fairly straightforward in terms of prep, and it took about 30 minutes start to finish. And it was really freaking good.
I was converted so quickly it felt borderline slutty. And before I launch into its many charming qualities, let me assure you: this isn’t sponsored content! Blue Apron has no idea I’m writing this! But I’ve become a goddamn cheerleader for them and here’s why: grocery shopping, even if you enjoy it, takes copious amounts of time. There’s the meal planning, then the list making, then the parking-lot navigation, followed by a session of bumper carts. And in L.A., as with most cities, the price of groceries seems to go up by the week. To recreate that first salmon meal, there’s no way I could’ve bought all of the ingredients for less than the full price of what Blue Apron charges, which is $10 per person per meal, a.k.a. $60 a week (there’s also a “family plan” option that lowers the cost of each meal to $8.74); the salmon alone would’ve costed close to that much. And maybe I’ve drunk like, all of the Kool-Aid on this one, but their seafood is selected based on sustainability recommendations from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and they’ve partnered with over 150 farms to provide non-GMO ingredients. They’ve also recently expanded your weekly meal options from 6 to 8 and removed any restrictions on which meals you can bundle together, so you’re now able to select the three most appealing options out of the whole lot, and that’s what gets delivered to your doorstep on whatever day you choose. Getting to this point in the process alone, you’ve already saved yourself hours of thumbing through recipes and tracking down ingredients. Most recipes take 30-45 minutes, but another major perk? I’ve swindled my partner into learning how to cook (which really is remarkable, because when we first met, he was under the impression that you are supposed to drain Top Ramen noodles and sprinkle the flavor packet on top of them). He now helps me every meal and has executed a few recipes on his own, even.
It’s no surprise that the market for meal-kit delivery is taking off. Though Blue Apron is one of the most cost-efficient, broad-option choices out there, their competition is stepping up their game. Unilever just invested $9 million in series C-2 funding for Sun Basket, the meal kits that cater to vegan, gluten-free and paleo diets, bringing their total investment to $52 million. Plated, Hello Fresh, Purple Carrot and Good Eggs are also making a strong showing, though some plans start veering into the $15 per person per meal range.
Yes, it’s all very bougie; you can tell these companies are just dying for you to Instagram your meals. But considering the rising costs of food and the fact that we really should be paying attention to seasonality and sustainability if we want to keep living on the planet for at least a few more generations, it really is a solid (and delicious) way to save time and money.