How She Does It: In the Kitchen {meal subscription review}

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blue-apron4-sparrowsoirees Once there was a Miss who was fairly good about weekly menu planning, finding recipes in magazines and cookbooks, making grocery lists, and efficiently visiting grocery stores and markets with said list in hand. She loved to cook and enjoyed all the creativity it allowed her.

Lately though, she’s had a tough time sticking with the habit (errr…more like the past two years). She flips through Bon Appetite to grab a few recipes, crossing her fingers she has all the ingredients or decent substitutes. Her cookbooks are collecting dust. She’s honest about it: she doesn’t have the energy for the planning. And after a long day of meetings, writing, working on a client’s or her own projects, housekeeping, or doing all the mama-kiddo activities, she just doesn’t want to think “what’s for dinner?” Going to the grocery store also became a circus act of the keeping tykes entertained while attempting to cross items off a list, and often forgetting to grab the milk, cereal and maple syrup.

Anyone else telling a similar story? It’s always nice to know we’re not alone, right?

Enter Blue Apron. After some research, I signed up for three meals a week for two people, which is their minimum order. This meal option works well for us right now: a majority of the meals can be easily shared between two adults and one child. (Our three-year old is currently running for the “Pickiest Eater Ever” award, so while he might try a bite or two, he’s content with a cheese sandwich, yogurt and fruit.) It’s also nice to have these meals for in-home date nights when the Mister has to work late.

Below is what I’ve experienced with Blue Apron. I’m breaking it down so should you sign up, you have an idea of what to expect. Be sure to hang in there till the end of the post for a fun little announcement. Before diving in, I need to make it clear this is NOT a sponsored post. It’s a subscription service we’ve been paying for out of our own pocket and I wanted to share the experience. It’s helped me. Figured it might help one or two readers too…

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Clockwise from top left: 1) The box arrives weekly and be warned, you’ll get a little work out getting it to your kitchen. It’s heavy. 2) Everything is well insulated and a large majority of the packaging can be easily recycled. 3) An example of a recipe card, produce and pantry items.

Signing Up & Selecting the Plan: Blue Apron makes it easy to sign up and select a general, high-level menu plan (think vegetarian, omnivore, pescetarian). If you select “all proteins” like I did, a vegetarian meal isn’t available. However, there are numerous recipes on their blog and Meatless Monday will never feel like a burden again. At this time there aren’t specific items you can have removed from your box. So if you don’t like tomatoes, they’ll still arrive and be a part of a recipe or two.

Meal Servings: The meal servings are evenly numbered (meals for 2, 4, or 6 people) so a family of three or five should test the waters to know what will work best for their clan. In my opinion, one serving could easily be split between two younger kids depending on their appetite. Since these menus are great for introducing kids to different types of foods and flavors, I wish there was a way to sign up noting the number of adults and children at the table. Or better yet offer meals for 2 to 6 people to help accommodate families or others who may have an odd number of people under their roof (not saying the people themselves are odd…).

Menu Planning: On Mondays, I receive an email noting the box was sent, which arrives on Tuesdays, with the upcoming week’s menu as well as the following week’s menu. If the following week’s menu doesn’t float my boat, I can easily skip the week. I can also increase/decrease meals if needed or skip deliveries easily. FYI: Blue Apron has a specific timeline requirements to do all this which is completely understandable since they are the ones planning, gathering and packaging it all.

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Always prep items before you start to cook. A quick trick: prep everything earlier in the day and store it properly in the fridge so you can just dive into the cooking when it’s time to eat.

Packaging: The packaging can be recycled (depending on your area’s recycling rules), minus the ice packs. Each delivery has at least three large ice packs to keep everything very cold during shipping. Blue Apron’s site offers suggestions to dispose them so ultimately it’s up to us, the consumer, how to store, where to donate or if we just wish to toss them.

Grocery: The ingredients are seasonal, arrive fresh, and you get exactly the right amount for each recipe. What I like about the “right amount” is you don’t have a massive amount a specialty oil, for example, leftover you may not normally use. The tomatoes have been tasty and firm. The meats are well packed and the herbs are fresh. A majority of the meals include a “knick-knack” bag, which can include random items like butter, parmesan cheese, or whatever else you may need for a specific recipe. We’ve only had one sad incident with a small container of micro greens; they wilted before their assigned meal was made.

Recipes & Variety: This is what I love the most. There’s so much variety in each week’s meal selections, which means you’ll pop right out of the cooking rut. I’m using items I normally wouldn’t have thought of introducing to my kitchen (hello chayote squash!). The other nice thing is some of the ingredients are rather unique so instead of driving around town, hunting down an item in a specialty or international store, it’s right there in the box ready to greet you. There’s also been a few dishes I’ve made on my own since we’ve be introduced – so these recipes are keepers!

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Filipino-Style Beef Picadillo with Chayote Squash & Jasmine Rice.

Expertise Level: Here’s where it gets dicey. Someone who is comfortable cooking will do well with Blue Apron. The recipes are printed on 8.5×11″ flat cards with the instructions written out in mini-paragraphs with pictures above them. It’s taken me a little getting use to since it felt very squeezed together (very limited white space on the directions side of the card), but overall, they’re fairly easy to follow. There seems to be a general expectation customers know how to efficiently cut, chop, dice, mince, and perform other prep and cooking techniques. Tips and insights are usually included in the box’s letter (always read it!) and Blue Apron’s blog is full of ideas and how-to’s. With all that said though, if you have teens in the house and cooking responsibilities are shared, I think this would be a great way to help build confidence and cook with a wide variety of ingredients. If you have smaller kids, there’s plenty of ways they can be involved to help get dinner on the table.

Prep & Cook Time: I’m a decent chopper so prep flies by quickly. My shortest time to prep and cook a meal was clocked at 25 minutes, from grabbing items out of the fridge to placing the meal on the table. The longest was just over an hour, however that included a fiasco of refereeing the boys while hunting down the iPad so they could entertain themselves. I think Blue Apron notes a meal can average 40 minutes to prep and cook.

Portions & Leftovers: Even though we share a small portion with our 5-year old to try (and he usually eats a something else on these nights), the Mister and I are always content, not stuffed, after a meal. I haven’t found the need to make an additional side dish or a salad, simply because the portions are just right. Sometimes there are leftovers and other times there aren’t.

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Clockwise from top: 1) A collection of items found in one week’s box. 2) The micro greens that saw better days. 3) Everything is included in the box.

Tools & Items to Have on Hand: Along with a few good knives for varied tasks, general cooking utensils, cutting boards, cookie sheets, pots and pans, you’ll want to make sure you have foil, colander (for rinsing produce), small-holed colander (for draining cooked grains), vegetable peeler, and zester. In the pantry, you’ll need olive oil, salt and pepper. You’ll want a good supply of bowls for prep work and mixing. I have a selection of items I’ve found helpful on Sparrow’s Amazon store (Yeah! I have one! Please check it out!).

Cost: It’s about $10/person per meal. The price is set too so no matter the items in the box, including all the speciality items or the week’s proteins, the cost remains the same. It’s part of our monthly food budget so we haven’t seen a bump in our budget, and in some ways I feel like we’re saving money because I’m not throwing food out, both leftovers or expired. The other part of what makes all of this worth it for me is what I save in terms of my own time and sanity of not having to plan a full week’s menu or go to the store with a massive list and an active tyke – or two – in tow. I can pop in and out of a store easily, grabbing our weekly essentials like milk and bread. These dinners basically cover the really busy days of our week.

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The Older Tyke tries Pan-Seared Chicken & Sautéed Bulgur with Tomato Salad and a Creamy Lemon-Yogurt Sauce.

And since you made it this far, here’s the fun part: I’ve been given a week of two free meals to share (it’s a perk of being a customer) and I’d like to give one of you a week to test it out! So if you’re interested, just comment below on what you enjoy about cooking, or maybe you wish you were a better cook, or maybe you’re in the same boat as me: wishing for the time to do everything involved and enjoy it. Or maybe you know someone who would love this and you want to introduce them to the idea. The only rule: no judging others’ comments – oh and if you don’t follow the blog, it would be groovy if you did. Feel free to comment over on Instagram or Facebook too, under the related post. Give me thoughts soon; giveaway ends next Friday, August 8, 2014. Thank you and good luck!

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