Meal Kit Review: Plated’s Chorizo-Spiced Cod with Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, White Beans, and Toasted SourdoughPosted: December 20, 2018 | Author: marga | Filed under: Meal Kits | Tags: cod, fish, mistakes, Plated | Leave a comment »
Despite this post’s title, this is not really a review of Plated‘s Chorizo-Spiced Cod with Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, White Beans, and Toasted Sourdough. And it’s not a review because I totally messed up the cod by mistakenly using balsamic vinegar instead of olive oil (those bottles can look so much alike!). Needless to say, my results were inedible (even the dog wasn’t thrilled to have them).
But I was disappointed by this kit even before I ruined it. When I read its title I assumed that there would be actual chorizo in the dish – I love chorizo and I was excited to try the combination of chorizo and fish. Alas, there wasn’t any. Instead there was a small package of some chorizo spice mix to rub on the fish. It might have been good, but it wasn’t what I wanted.
So this was a lesson to not just look at the title of the meal kits, but go further and look at the ingredients to not feel duped.
Fortunately, I only paid $8 for this kit by using a $40-off Black Friday promotion.
We never eat enough seafood – as only two of us in the family like it -, so I decided to order seafood dishes for my first week with Plated. It was a bad move as my husband ended up being out four out of five nights this week, but I made this one for our sole dinner together. It was a modest success.
The meal kit for Scallop Penne with Mint-Spinach Pesto, Roasted Mushrooms, and Walnuts consists of 4 components: baby scallops which are simply seared, a spinach pesto which you make in the blender, mushrooms and walnuts which you toast in the oven and pasta, which you cook and mix with peas. That meant the use of three pans plus the blender, which for someone like me without a dishwasher, is a little more washing that I like to do. I also wasn’t excited about having to roast the mushrooms and walnuts in the oven, as it seems to me a waste of gas to have to preheat the oven for just this purpose. I wish Plated’s recipes were a bit more efficient.
All that said, the meal was very simple to put together and cook. I was very happy with the spinach pesto, which seems like a good way to get some veggies into your diet. I was hoping I could make the pesto vegan by not adding the Parmesan, but without it it had a terrible flavor. With it, it was perfectly balanced. I should note that I added the whole package of Parmesan, not just half.
The other problem with this meal kit is that it didn’t include enough walnuts or mushrooms (there were maybe 5 walnuts and 3 mushrooms for the whole meal). It was good as it was, but more of the two would have made it better.
I was afraid that the meal wouldn’t be large enough for two, but we were both satisfied after eating it.
As a final point I should note that the scallops arrived semi-frozen. I don’t know if that’s because they were frozen to begin with or whether they semi-froze by being in contact with the freezer sheets.
All in all it’s a good meal and I will make the spinach pesto again (recipe below).
- 1 1/2 oz spinach leaves
- 1/8 ounce mint leaves
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 oz Parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp water
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 tsp salt
Using an electric blender, pure together the spinach and mint leaves, garlic, cheese, olive oil and water. Once you have a smooth paste, mix in the lemon juice and salt.
For years, I had been avoiding meal kits. I’d get coupons for HelloFresh in the boxes of online orders for all sorts of products or hear my friend rave about the cool Blue Apron meal that awaited her at home, and I’d just shake my head. To me, the idea of meal kits made no sense. At a cost of $10-$12 per person, per meal, meal kits rival the cost of take out but you have to go through the trouble of making the meal yourself. Plus unlike take out, meal kits portions are measured so you won’t have leftovers. Financially, I figured, I got more bang from my money from ordering out and with less mess.
Meal kits, moreover, seemed to be the culinary equivalent of painting by numbers: you end up with something that may be nice but you put no creativity into it (though then again, 99% of my cooking means following a recipe, so what creativity do I ever use?). Moreover, I worried the meals would not be that tasty and that the portions would not be large enough to satisfy us.
But I’ve been in a huge cooking rut. I got to the “H” in my international cooking project and I’ve been left with a lot of cuisines that have just not been inspiring me or that require me to hunt for ingredients that are problematic in the first place (pork belly, anyone?). Moreover, I live with four people with very different diets: a vegan, an uber-picky tween, a low-carb eater and me, who hates vegetables. Forget cooking a meal that the four of us can eat, I can rarely cook something that will satisfy three of us! So rather than cook, we’ve been eating a lot of frozen food and take out. Both horrible options for our taste buds and/or our wallet. I was ripe for something else.
A few weeks ago, I was doing an online order for Safeway – our local supermarket – when I came across their listings for Plated meal kits. They had four that I could get as part of my deliver order, with no commitment to a subscription and with no shipping charges. I figured I’d give it a try and wow, it was a revelation. The meal was fun to prepare and I did enough of the work (albeit following detailed instructions) that, at the end, I had the same type of satisfaction as when I cook a meal from a recipe I chose and shopped for myself. The psychology involved reminds me of the story of how boxed cake mixes only took off after marketers began suggesting that cooks add eggs and other elements to make them their own. And the results were great. The portion was perfectly sized, the ingredients seemed high quality (unlike what I’m sure the cheap restaurants I order from use), and the results were very tasty. I wanted more.
And that’s when I remembered those HelloFresh coupons I still had around. I figured I’d start with them and then give other meal kit services a try and see what they really have to offer and how do they compare to one another. Some of these companies also offer their recipes online, I will be cooking some of these both to get a greater sense for what each company offers without breaking the bank and to get a sense of just how good or bad of a deal the kits are versus shopping for the ingredients yourself.
I hope you’ll come along in this journey and leave comments of your own experiences with these services – and these recipes.
Meal Kits Subscriptions Reviewed So Far
How Meal Kit Subscriptions Work
While you can now find individual meal kits at supermarkets (Safeway & Albertson’s sell Plated, Walmart sells their own, Gobble and other ones, Kroger sells Home Chef), most people get meal kits by subscribing to one of many services. Of these, Blue Apron is the largest one in the US, will HelloFresh, a German company that operates in several countries, following it. There are currently dozens of meal kit companies, some specializing in particular diets or regions.
A standard meal kit subscription is for a weekly box containing three meal kits, each for two adults. Some subscription services allow you to order fewer meal kits a week, while others let you order more. Some subscription services also have kits that feed three or four people. When you subscribe, you usually chose the “plan” you prefer.
What are Your Meal Choices? Can You Chose What Meals You Get?
Most meal kit companies offer contemporary American food, though I’ll be exploring the meal choice differences between companies. Some companies offer vegetarian or even vegan options and some even specialize in this fare. Some have specific plans for specific diets such as paleo and keto.
Most subscription services put up a list of the meal kit options you have every week and allow you to select the ones you want. You usually have a deadline of 5 to 7 days before you receive the meal to make your choices. If you don’t make it, many of these services will just send you their own choices.
If you don’t like any meal options for a week or you’ll be out of town, you can simply suspend your shipments for that week – and you can even do that for multiple weeks in advance -, as long as you remember to do it before the deadline.
What Do You Get in a Meal Kit?
Meal kits come with most of the ingredients you need to make the meal you select in the precise amounts called for by the recipe. For example, the HelloFresh meal kit for Sweet ‘N’ Smoky Pork Chops with Apple Carrot Slaw, Mashed Potatoes, and Cherry Sauce came with a sealed package with 2 boneless pork chops, 2 scallions, a handful of small gold potatoes, an apple, little jars with jam and mayo, a little bottle with vinegar, a small plastic packet with a spice mix, a tiny sachet with sour cream and a sealed plastic bag with shredded carrots.
Some meal kits offer fewer ingredients – for example Dinnerly says they keep their meals cheap by only having 5 ingredients in them.
The meals usually call for but do not include staples such as salt/Kosher salt, pepper, butter and oil/olive oil.
The meal kits and recipes I’ve tried so far include a main dish and one or two side dishes – usually a starch and a vegetable.
How Much Do Meal Kits Cost?
Meal kits costs vary by company. At the bottom of the barrel, you have Dinnerly and Every Plate, which offer 3 weekly meals for 2 for $39 ($6.50 per person, per meal) includding shipping costs. Both companies get very iffy reviews, but I will assess them myself later in this project.
Some companies have premiums on special meals (e.g. HelloFresh will charge $12 more for “gourmet” meals) and most of the larger companies have special deals heavily discounting your first week of meals. I will be taking advantage of these discounts in doing my reviews of meal kits.
In addition, companies that offer the two meal kits a week option usually charge more for these, and companies that offer meal kits for more than 2 people have a lower per-person cost in these.
Are Meal Kits A Good Value?
This is one of the questions that I will be exploring in this project. In addition to buying and making meal kits, I’ll be “hacking” meal kit recipes by making them with my own ingredients and comparing how much money I’ve spent on them. Of course, you can’t buy a single celery rib or a tablespoon of sour cream, so in evaluating my cost I will consider the total cost of whatever I had to buy to make the meal – and exclude the cost of any item I already had at home.
So far, I’ve made five meals from meal kit recipes at an out of pocket cost of $2.75 to $7.50 per person/per meal, and total cost of $5.50 to $18.50 per meal (I increased some of these recipes to feed 3 or 4 people).
My costs, however, reflect the actual ingredients I bought. Some may be of lower quality than the ones sent by the meal kit companies. Some of these companies specialize in sending organic produce and free range meats that I may not be able to find at my local discount or regular grocery stores. Moreover, some of these companies send gourmet items such as demi-glace which I’d have to special order (and will in this particular case for future meals).
And the total cost of the meal does not account for the time shopping for the ingredients or correctly portioning them for each meal. Time is money, after all, and most people do not enjoy spending it grocery shopping. Do bear in mind how much you like or dislike to shop and what else you could be doing with your time while evaluating the actual costs of these meal kits.
How Long Does It Take To Prepare a Meal from a Kit?
Meal Kit companies usually give you an estimate of how long it’ll take you to make a meal from their kits, usually ranging from 15 minutes to an hour. While I haven’t done this yet, for future meals I will measure how long it actually takes me. This is more complicated than it sounds, because I seldom *just* make a meal – rather I alternate the steps of making meals with other tasks around the house. But I’ll try.
What Are the Instructions Like?
All kits come with instructions. Cheaper kits require you to download them and either print them or follow them from your internet device. More expensive kits come with printed cards or a magazine with all the recipes for that week’s kits. Most have step by step instructions, some of which are illustrated. I’ve found the illustrations helpful specially when trying to determine how to cut vegetables.
The instructions for these meal kits help you maximize your time by intercepting the steps you need to follow to make the main dish and any accompanying side dishes or sauces. I’ve found this particularly valuable.
What Equipment Do You Need?
The meal kits I’ve used assume that you have a fully stocked kitchen as far a cookware goes, though some provide alternatives in case you don’t (e.g. use a spoon to mash potatoes if you don’t have a masher). Though some of these recipes try to minimize the number of dishes you use, they are not always successful. I’ve found myself having to wash as many pots and implements following these kits as I’d normally have to wash, if not more.
How do Meals Taste?
This is another question that I’ll aim to answer in this project. So far, I’ve cooked eight meals from meal kits and five more from meal kit recipes using my own ingredients. All the meat-based meals have been good to great. The vegan meals I’ve cooked have been merely OK. But it’s early in the project.
What is Good About Meal Kits?
For me, it’s the fact that many of the meal kits I’ve tried include not only a main dish (which is often rather simple), but also one or two side dishes and that the chef behind them has done the required planning so that all you have to do is follow the steps in the recipe.
Moreover, the kits include all the ingredients you need for the meal so you don’t have to worry, when you menu plan, that your local grocery store may be out of one.
Finally, there is no food waste.
What is Bad About Meal Kits?
They generate a lot of garbage. While some of it is recyclable (e.g. the boxes and some of the little bottles and jars), the frozen gel packs are not and they are just being accumulated in landfills. Moreover, many of the veggies come in plastic bags which are not really recyclable either – of course, this is also true of the packaged produce you buy at the supermarket. While the meal kits bought at the supermarket also have a lot of plastic packaging, at least they don’t require these non-recyclable gel packs, so they may be a better option environmentally.
The meal kits are also pretty expensive, specially if you have to feed a whole family. And there are no leftovers – which means that the effort you put into preparing a meal feeds you just once.
Do you have any questions? Leave them below.
I have recently started trying “meal kits” and while I love the idea of simple meals I can make in under an hour, I hate how expensive they are. At $20-$28 per entree for two people, they cost about the same as take out and there are no leftovers! Still, they are super convenient.
Today, I decided to try to recreate one of those kit-meals buying the ingredients myself to see how they worked and whether I saved money. Now, if you are a professional billing $500/hour (or even $100), the time spent at the supermarket hunting these ingredients will surpass any savings you may have – so these meals are really ideal for people for whom time is literally money. But my time is far cheaper than that.
I chose this recipe for French Onion Burgers with Gruyere and Arugula because I had read good things about it while looking through Plated reviews and it has fairly common ingredients, which I hoped I could easily find at the quirky discount grocery store near my house. I wasn’t able to get all the ingredients I needed, but I think the substitutions worked well enough. I haven’t tried the Plated kit dish, so I don’t know how it compares to mine as far as flavor goes, but I don’t think it’s likely to have been significantly better. My version was far cheaper, however. While the Plated meal for 2 costs between $22 and $28, depending on where you buy it, I spent a mere $15 in groceries and had enough food for 3 people (alas, neither of my kids would eat this, so we have leftovers for tomorrow) with groceries remaining.
Here is a list of the ingredients in the recipe, what I bought and the price.
|PLATED Ingredient||My Substitution||Cost|
|Beef Stock, 1 container||Beef broth, 1/2 cup||pantry|
|Yellow Onion, 1 small||Yellow Onion, 1 regular||$0.70|
|Thyme, 1/8 oz.||Living thyme plant||$2|
|Lemon, 1||Lemon, 1||$0.80|
|Ground Beef, 12 oz||Ground Beef, 16 oz||$3.50|
|English muffins, 2||English muffins, 3||$2.80|
|Baby Arugula, 3 oz||Mixed Greens, 5 oz||$3|
|1 Tbsp||Flour, 1 Tbsp||pantry|
|Gruyere, 2 slices||Processed Gruyere Cheese product, 7 oz||$2.20|
|Unsalted butter, 3 packets||1 Tbsp||pantry|
|Dijon mustard, 2 packets||Coarse Dijon mustard||pantry|
Note that I had to substitute baby arugula for mixed greens as all the packages of baby arugula at the grocery store had expired yesterday. The price was the same than for the mixed greens, however.
Where I did save a lot of money was by using “Gruyere cheese product” instead of Gruyere. Unfortunately, my discount grocery store didn’t have it and I decided to substitute with this product as at least it had Gruyere as its main ingredient. Alas, it didn’t take anything like Gruyere and rather it was a more solid version of Laughing Cow cheese. Delicious, but far cheaper and different than real Gruyere. In reality, I don’t think the substitution mattered – the flavor of the onions was so strong that I doubt any cheese would have broken through. The cheese did add to the creaminess of the burger, however.
All in all, I felt the burgers were interesting and tasty but the combination of burger and fresh onion flavors wasn’t a big winner for either me or my husband. I sort of liked the English muffing for a bun substitution, but that’s because I was smart enough to eat the burger with knife and fork. My husband didn’t and wish he had a bun instead.
Neither of us were that fond of the lemon juice/olive oil dressing on the greens, however.
Still, I’m left with 4 English muffins I can have for breakfast, some newly discovered and delicious cheese “product” I’ll eat as a snack (indeed, it’s so fun and unexpected that I may serve it as part of my Xmas cheese course), some more greens to eat as a salad and a very cool thyme plant. I can’t complain at all.