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Meal preparation services experiences?
Old 07-04-2017, 11:33 PM   #1
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Meal preparation services experiences?

I would like any feedback from those who have used any meal preparation service. I am talking about services like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Chef'd, etc. Those where you order meals and they send the ingredients and then you cook it.

I am interested in personal experiences and feedback on specific services. We are considered doing this for probably 3 dinners a week (2 of us).

For most of the services this usually works out to about $60 (so $10 a meal per person). Chef'd tends to be a little more expensive but seems to have many more meals available (you can basically order anything in their database any week rather than having a set rotation of choices each week). Also, it is a la carte so no subscription required. But, as I said, it seems to mostly be in the $12 to $15 a meal range with some lower or higher.

Reasons I am considering doing this.

DH and I usually eat out twice a week. We will continue to go out once a week. This would replace one restaurant meal. I figure that 3 of these meals would basically equate the combined cost of the one forgone restaurant meal plus what we would have typically spent to prepare dinner. It seems to be a wash economically for the $60 a week option (might be little more expensive if did chef'd).

Yes, I could theoretically cook the same meals from scratch without the service. But, the reason I don't actually cook is that I don't like having to research and find recipes and hate the shopping for ingredients and often having to buy some ingredient in large quantities that you don't use for anything else. Whenever I cook some restaurant quality type meal at home I always have wasted ingredients left over unless I plan other things to use those ingredients. That ends up being a pain to do so I just don't cook.

A service like this seems like it would be perfect for me. I don't mind the actual cooking process -- I actually like it. It is just all the preparation and planning in advance that I hate and having too much stuff left over that I won't use.

While I don't need diet meals we do watch our calories so I don't want anything that has meals that are a huge number of calories (I would like most to be under 700 calories). And, I usually like healthier type options. I don't eat beef, but do each chicken and fish.

Ideally I would like something that each week has a fairly large variety of meals to choose from. Having, say, 6 meals to choose from isn't enough. I would like more variety than that.

(I know that this kind of question may engender all kinds of responses as to why these services aren't necessary or are a waste of money. I am not actually asking for an opinion on that, however. I am just interested in those who have personal experiences with these services or who maybe have a relative or friend who has used them. There are so many services, it is hard to know which ones to start with.)
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Old 07-04-2017, 11:45 PM   #2
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My art teacher has very positive experience with Hello fresh. Her husband who is not a cook usually can now cook.
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Old 07-05-2017, 12:26 AM   #3
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I have never used any of these services, but I think it sounds like a great idea and I think you should give them a try!

I'll be following the thread to see what people think who have actually used them. I'll probably be using companies like this at some point soon. I just haven't gotten around to researching any of them yet.

I love living in the 21st century... Tasks like grocery shopping and preparing meals are rapidly becoming so much easier than they have been in prior times.
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Old 07-05-2017, 05:57 AM   #4
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I have never used any of these services, but I think it sounds like a great idea and I think you should give them a try!

I'll be following the thread to see what people think who have actually used them.
Me too! Since we both work (usually 10-12 hours per day), having a decent meal is not in the cards 4-5 days/week. I've been reluctant to try this so far, but getting closer and closer
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Old 07-05-2017, 06:25 AM   #5
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One reason I haven't tried these services is that they try to get you to subscribe, so that you're getting regular deliveries or even all your meals from them.

One of these companies did their IPO recently.

They didn't get the price anticipated.

If customers only occasionally ordered meals they might not be sustainable. I think some are cutting exclusive deals with farms or even buying farms to guarantee supplies.

But that kind of scale only works if they can get customers to subscribe or guarantee them a certain amount of income per month.
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Old 07-05-2017, 06:52 AM   #6
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We have used Blue Apron a number of times. We are not sure we will continue, but for now we are still using it.

Pros:
Variety of different meals we would not normally cook, many using spices we would not normally buy/have on hand.

No shopping for ingredients, all (except olive oil, salt, pepper) are delivered in one box.

Fairly healthy meals, although somewhat smaller portions than we are used to.

Cost is reasonable.

You can skip as many deliveries as you want via their app or website, and also pick your meals from a limited menu. Also, you can vary your subscription from two meals three times a week or four meals twice a week. We have chosen the latter for the summer while son and girlfriend are with us.

Cons:
Actually a lot of prep and cooking involved, although we do tend to cook simpler recipes otherwise.

Sometimes we aren't thrilled with the meal after making it.

A bit spotty on the quality of the food at times. Basics like beef, pork, chicken have been good, though.
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Old 07-05-2017, 07:09 AM   #7
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The services have different levels of prep. DD who does not know how to cook and does not enjoy it uses a local service that preps everything down to mincing the garlic--she just mixes it per the recipe and cooks it. DS and his DW love to cook and use Blue Apron I think, maybe Plated, that would have them mince the garlic. DD gave us one of their services as a gift and DH enjoyed it.

Both DD and DS have continued using the services for several months so I think that's a very good sign that the plans are working for them.

Not all services require a subscription.

The portions are generous--I would plan on leftovers if you want to stay in your calorie range.
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Old 07-05-2017, 07:09 AM   #8
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Yes, I could theoretically cook the same meals from scratch without the service. But, the reason I don't actually cook is that I don't like having to research and find recipes and hate the shopping for ingredients and often having to buy some ingredient in large quantities that you don't use for anything else. Whenever I cook some restaurant quality type meal at home I always have wasted ingredients left over unless I plan other things to use those ingredients. That ends up being a pain to do so I just don't cook.
I would be interested in a meal service for that very reason. I don't cook as much as I should, and when I do cook I tend to default to the same 6 or 7 simplistic meal choices, most of which have become tiresome. I tend to eat healthy, but sometimes I end up having boneless skinless chicken breast and broccoli every second day.
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Old 07-05-2017, 07:18 AM   #9
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I would be interested in a meal service for that very reason. I don't cook as much as I should, and when I do cook I tend to default to the same 6 or 7 simplistic meal choices, most of which have become tiresome. I tend to eat healthy, but sometimes I end up having boneless skinless chicken breast and broccoli every second day.
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Old 07-05-2017, 08:10 AM   #10
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My hairdresser used Blue apron for awhile and she enjoyed the meals but said there is just too much preparation. She is someone who loves to cook so I was surprised at her remark. In Florida Publix supermarkets is getting into this . They have full meals ready to with cooking instructions on the box . It is all fresh ingredients . I occasionally buy them and they are pretty tasty for usually $7.99.
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Old 07-05-2017, 08:40 AM   #11
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As I understand it, basically you are getting a box of groceries with the ingredients for a meal. You will need to be home to accept delivery. You will still have to chop and cook, following a recipe. And you will certainly still have to wash the dishes!

I don't mind grocery shopping, but a little planning is required. I love to visit farmers' markets and plan meals around whatever is in season. I love to cook. All that zesting, julienning, chopping, sautéing and organizing a mise en place is fun in my book! Certainly, it's a PITA when you want to make a dish and discover that one key ingredient is missing. That's when I get creative and develop new recipes!

Now, if somebody would come to my house and clean up, that would be great!
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Old 07-05-2017, 09:11 AM   #12
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I have not tried the mail order ones, but I do use Dream Dinners, where you preorder what you want from the menu, and go in to do your own prep. They have all the ingredients for each meal at each station with the recipe and you put it all together. Usually get 12-15 meals for the month, average cost is about $6 per serving. Takes me about an hour to get the meals done, and I like that I can control the level of spices used. You can special request vegetarian substitutes.
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Old 07-05-2017, 09:37 AM   #13
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Have people tried the already-cooked meals which are delivered?

I've tried Munchery a couple of times. OK, but it looks a lot better than it actually tasted. The entrees are like $10-15. I forget what they charged for delivery.
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Old 07-05-2017, 09:45 AM   #14
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I dont remember which one of the services just went pubic Blue Apron?), but the CEO giving a talk on one of the financial stations. He said the number 1 negative feed back is mostly about portion size, he thats a low low number.
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Old 07-05-2017, 10:03 AM   #15
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I have eaten and cooked many a Blue Apron meal at my daughter's during the time right after our grandchild was born, and they relied on the service.

Pros: The food is very tasty, and someone has done the shopping and measuring for you.

Cons: The fairly high cost for pretty minimal work - someone shopped and measured.

The biggest con for me is the incredible amount of waste. So much waste - we are talking cardboard galore, plastic, paper, and all for one meal. So personally, I couldn't do it simply due to this.

YMMV
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Old 07-05-2017, 10:06 AM   #16
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I think Weight Watchers (http://money.cnn.com/2017/05/03/news...rey/index.html -- Oprah's $43M investment at the end of 2015 is now worth $154M per the article, and the company is up even more in the last two months) is moving into the delivered meal food--not sure if it's prepared meals ready to cook or boxed ingredients.
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Old 07-05-2017, 10:09 AM   #17
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I have eaten and cooked many a Blue Apron meal at my daughter's during the time right after our grandchild was born, and they relied on the service.

Pros: The food is very tasty, and someone has done the shopping and measuring for you.

Cons: The fairly high cost for pretty minimal work - someone shopped and measured.

The biggest con for me is the incredible amount of waste. So much waste - we are talking cardboard galore, plastic, paper, and all for one meal. So personally, I couldn't do it simply due to this.

YMMV
DD's service has her return all reuseable packaging (containers, ice packs, tote bag) and they reuse it. Of course that depends on whether or not one continues the service.

Definitely a high cost for the convenience, but nice that the services are there.
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Old 07-05-2017, 10:18 AM   #18
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Why not give this startup firm a try?

https://www.prairiebox.com
Thanks for link.
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Old 07-05-2017, 12:03 PM   #19
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Thanks for comments. All very interesting. Just a few specific responses:

1. One of the grocery stores here has some meals that already made but uncooked that are ready to be put in the oven and cooked. Mostly that doesn't seem to appeal to me. That is too much like just heating up a frozen dinner. I occasionally do buy and cook their wild salmon burgers though which are great.

2. The above means that I do see the cooking aspect of this as a feature and not a bug. I enjoy the mincing, chopping, cooking part of it. What I hate is the planning and buying the ingredients and then usually having a lot of stuff wasted when you have to buy a jar of something that you use 1 tablespoon of and it is something perishable that you don't use for anything else.

3. On Weight Watchers. There are two Weight Watchers offerings (I got to my goal weight through Weight Watchers). On Chef'd, you can sign up for a subscription of meals that are Weight Watchers meals. You cook them and they look tasty. They are a little cheaper than buying Chef'd meals a la carte. There are about 30 meals to choose from for me (after taking out the beef ones). That is more choice than many services give you and these do look fairly tasty. The main issue for me is that Chef'd in its regular selections have many more choices (over 100 meals to choose from) if you do a la carte. The problem is that if you do a la carte you can't select the WW meals. One option I might do is the WW meals twice a week and then do one a la carte meal.

The other option that WW has in some areas if meal delivery of meals that are fresh but already prepared. You can do all your meals or only a few meals a week. However, that is not available in my area.

4. One big issue for me is that many of these services have websites that remind me of searching for cable TV service. The website makes it hard to get all the information. Basically, they mostly all want you to select a plan and give them your info before they give you the details about what is available. They all default to that. On most of them, you can search and find the meals available for this week and maybe a week or two on each side. Some have an FAQ, but they often leave unanswered questions. For example, to find out what delivery date you can choose for your locale you often have to start the sign up process. On one site, I quickly learned the service wouldn't work for me as I want delivery early in the week and they delivery to my zip code only late in the week. There was one site where I could literally not see their menus at all without signing up and giving payment info. So I scratched that off the list.

5. Some sites have very limited choices each week. This probably scratches Blue Apron off my list. I just looked at it for this week. I would want 3 meals. There are 6 choices. One is beef and I don't eat beef. One is chicken and the other is shrimp. The chicken looks good, the shrimp not that appealing. Then there are 3 vegetarian meals. I don't mind some vegetarian meals but none of the 3 are that appealing to me. So, 6 choices a week of which one is beef is just not enough choice for me.

Other ones have a few more choices but weren't that appealing to me (peachdish basically had almost nothing that I like). Hello Fresh is a bit better. For this week, it had 8 meals. There was one each of beef, chicken, salmon and shrimp. Four were pork! The meals did look good but were a little pork heavy. Also, no purely vegetarian meals. There is a vegetarian subscription but it is separate from the classic subscription. I would like to be able to mix and match those.

The winner so far in choices is Chef'd. That is a la carte. But you have to spend $40 to get free shipping. So basically you need to order 2 meals to get to free shipping for most meals. The really attractive thing is that if I take out the beef meals there are 387 meals to choose from. That is a lot of variety which I like. You just can't apparently get the WW meals a la carte, but you can combine an a la carte order and a WW subscription to get to free shipping. So maybe I could do WW meals once or twice a week and then do a third a la carte meal.

The negative for chef'd is basically price. Instead of most meals being $10, they do have some for that price but the average is more like $13.50 or so per meal.

5. A big factor for me will end up being delivery days. I know I want to do these meals midweek (probably Tuesday through Thursday). So I would want a delivery on Monday or Tuesday. Most places say to eat fish within 2 to 3 days and other meals within 5 days of delivery. So the place that wanted to deliver on the weekend doesn't work for me. (Oh, someone said you have to be home for the delivery. For most of these you don't. The food is refrigerated and the ones I looked at say the food is good to stay in that container until midnight of the delivery day).
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Old 07-05-2017, 12:24 PM   #20
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Dear Katsmeow:

On point #5: I'm glad you don't have to be home for the delivery. Presumably they can leave it on your doorstep without fear of theft or animal damage. Doorstep delivery wouldn't work for me, as I live in a condo building.

Your analysis includes many constraints, such as the "no beef" rule, days of the week for delivery, exact price, etc, that may make it difficult for any company to completely meet your needs. One suggestion would be to contact the company to see if they could devise a customized package for you. I suspect that would be expensive, though. Or you could hire a cook.....

I note your aversion to waste, where unusual ingredients are concerned. One solution to that problem is to buy the smallest quantity and portion it for freezing, if suitable. Another is to build your menu around those ingredients.
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