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Hacking the Pandemic: Produce Delivery and Meal Kits Part 1

I hope you are all doing well, and doing your best to stay at home and stay safe. For me, the first few months were borderline bliss. Baby ducks, trying out new recipes, binging series, etc. Now, four months later, unemployment is about to run out, the virus is spreading like the wildfires we are accustomed to seeing this time of year, the illegal fireworks are maddening, and I miss being able to travel and see my friends and family.

To top that off, towards the beginning of May, I started getting really sick of eating at home. I’m a trained chef, my husband is an incredible cook, but the food was getting repetitive, and going to the store for ingredients was both unwise, and a total pain. Oh! And the dishwasher gave out and took a week to get fixed. But I have still used the time to pick cookbooks off of the shelves, read them cover to cover, and make a dozen or so recipes out of each one. And of course we've done the no-knead bread, dalgona whipped coffee, made cheese from scratch, homemade adult otter pops, enough kombucha to keep a neighborhood healthy, and EVERYTHING lemon.

My girlfriend was raving about a meal delivery service that she’d joined called Purple Carrot, and then (because she’s amazing) sent me one. I knew it was vegan, so I wasn't super excited about it, but it was a gift, it was going to be recipes I wouldn’t normally cook, and dishes I normally wouldn’t have been inclined to taste, so I dove right in. Wowza. The food is incredible. I’d add a little leftover meat so that the husband didn’t completely freak out, I tossed in ends of produce that were on the decline (that had no impact on the final dish), and we were both stunned. De-fricking-licious. I got creative with wine pairings, I enjoyed the small amount of preparation (just enough so that you feel like you’re making it from scratch), and actually looked forward to making meals. Plus, the planning aspect was removed from my day/week.

As a restaurant worker you usually get at least one free meal called Family Meal, per shift. It’s typically an hour before service starts. Sometimes it’s great, most of the time it’s meh. But it’s free, so it’s usually consumed. We work late, we get up late, so we might have a light meal before work, but that’s it. So brunches on weekends are everything, and cooking at home is minimal. Meals prepared by other people, are everything. Eating out and paying fine dining prices, is rare AF. All of this is to say, these meal boxes are like eating out, but way less expensive, and you don’t have to get out of your pajamas/yoga gear, and you’re staying safe by visiting stores, restaurants, etc. where you could come in contact with infected people.

There have been a few mishaps, missing items, odd items included...like the time the Israeli couscous was missing, but there was a can of Red Bull in the box; an extra 18 eggs and pork sausage with the grocery delivery that weren’t ordered, we weren’t charged for them, and we ended up giving them to my brother and his wife; and missing items from the grocery box that were immediately refunded after I emailed them. You get to check out the offerings almost 2 months in advance, pick and choose not only the meals that you’d like, but the weeks that you’d like, so you can super hack this thing. I currently have two spreadsheets going.

For me, the only things that bother me are the packaging, but I’ve made the most out of those by cardboard mulching the backyard, giving away the gel packs to neighbors, using the metallic bubble envelopes to protect my catering platters, and the paper bags end up in the compost bin with the worms. So, at the end of the day, I wish there was less plastic being used, but the benefits are many. We’re not wasting any food, we are eating super healthy, and saving a bunch of money, because not only are these affordable (especially during the initial trial period), you aren’t making impulse purchases by visiting the grocery store. Huge streamlining going on, and savings. Delicious savings.

So here is the breakdown of the meal kits and services we’ve tried over the last four months. Keep in mind you will have to have basics on hand like salt (always use Kosher, and when you can find it Diamond brand), pepper, and oils (I keep grapeseed oil for high heat, and olive oil for everything else).

(where available, links to save you money and give us a referral fee have been inserted)

Imperfect Foods the cost varies, starts around $15

We subscribe to this grocery delivery service for their medium organic box, every other week. We tried it out back in 2018, but a lot of the produce wasn’t ripe and/or went bad. Now I’m thanking god for it.

The good

They have a lot of organic options, sometimes some really killer gourmet products at incredible prices because they need a place to dump inventory of luxury goods that aren’t normally being snatched up at grocery stores for one reason or another. Dairy has been a big one, and my first week back I snagged a wheel of Mt Tam triple cream cheese for $10, when they are normally $25. So you have to treat yourself...Also, they were able to fulfill my request for 7 bunches of celery this last round.

You can “subscribe” to certain ingredients to ensure that they automatically get them every delivery, but that isn’t a guarantee. Any fruit that doesn’t get consumed before the second delivery (or carrots) I juice them, and drink them straight, or add the juice to the latest batch of kombucha. Leftover veggies usually end up in a stir-fry, or are added to supplement the meal kits. All of the trim goes straight into the compost which goes through the worm’s bellies, and back into our garden where we start the process from scratch, and hopefully sooner than later will rely on produce deliveries less.

The not so good

There is stuff missing in almost every delivery, but they toss unordered things in there. I’m not sure if this is their idea of substitution so that you don’t call and complain, or if it’s just an error, but I’ve learned to pay attention and email if anything is amiss.

The packaging

Easy to break down cardboard boxes, gel packs, and those metallic bubble wrap envelopes. Hand delivered by the Imperfect crew that is always kind and friendly.

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Daily Harvest the cost $6-$10 per portion

I totally fell for the packaging and the social media inundations. But, while I was commuting these were a life saver. Meals on the go, in easy to transport cups, one pot/one blender, almost entirely organic, and all plant based. The menu is broken down into Smoothies ($7.99), Harvest Bowls ($8.99), Flatbreads ($8.99), Soups ($7.99), Oat Bowls (like overnight oats or can be prepared warm) ($5.99), Chia Bowls ($5.99), Scoops (like ice cream) ($8.99), and Bites (like raw cookie dough) ($7.99). You provide the nut milk, coconut water, or broth to complete the serving. The Oat Bowls and the Chia Bowls require you to let them soak overnight.

The good

Easy last minute single portions. The savory options are SO good! The little cookie dough snack things are really good, and a quick easy snack. Five minutes from freezer to car. These saved our butts for our early classes at the local community college before they got shut down. Warm and cold options. The ingredients are almost entirely organic, everything is gluten free.

The not so good

A lot of packaging, but they’re working on getting more compostable packaging! The smoothies have been really disappointing. The fruit isn’t ripe in almost every case, and I have had to add 3-5 dates to make it palatable. (Common complaints are that the sweet things are not sweet enough.)

The packaging

Easy to break down cardboard box, dry ice, and the metallic bubble wrap envelopes. Cups are recyclable.

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Purple Carrot the cost $12/serving

This was a surprise. V E G A N. And every meal has been delicious! Even my husband has been surprised. The flavors, the textures, the quality of ingredients, everything is awesome. Seriously, I can’t tell you how surprised I am that I end up craving these meals.

The good

Not only are these super delicious, but both of us feel really great and healthy when we’re eating these meals. I’ve learned that a lot of vegan products (vegan mayonnaise, sour cream, etc. are actually really tasty), and tempeh, isn’t at all bad. There are a lot of new ingredients that I’m using for the first time, and really enjoying. And there are some awesome plant based snacks like mushroom jerky that is insanely delicious.

The not so good

A lot of plastic. They give you ideas for how to reuse the little plastic containers, but really, I wish they’d find a better solution.

The packaging

See above. Also, these weird insulation mats, that I’ll probably repurpose and make into outdoor cushions. Frozen gel packs.

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Hello Fresh the cost $9/serving with upgrades available

I swear I have about a million coupons that have been mailed to me, given to me by friends, or tucked into other subscription boxes. It’s overkill, but I finally decided to try it. They don’t try to be the healthiest option, or try to use organic ingredients, but the meals are tasty and easy to assemble. A good alternative for families with kids in my opinion. No super exotic flavors or ingredients.

The good

The packaging is fantastic, and they pride themselves of it. Very small, and usually paper based for ingredients and condiment packets. Also, the meals are grouped in paper bags instead of plastic. Very generous portions. There are options to add easy lunches like bagged salads and ready cooked meat. The do have a lot of sustainability claims here though.

The not so good

There are a ton of pork options, and since my husband doesn’t eat pork because of an allergy, it severely limits our options. Not great for gluten free meals. I’ve skipped entire months because I’m not excited about the offerings after I remove the pasta and pork options.

The packaging

Easy to break down cardboard boxes, frozen gel packs, paper bags to hold ingredients, minimal plastic.

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Have any tips for hacking the pandemic? Comment below.