I was talking about meal kit delivery services (of which there are many – I've reviewed three so far) with my sister and friend a couple weeks ago, and we narrowed down our dissatisfactions to three things:
- The packaging waste is out of control. Most of these meal kits come wrapped in all sorts of plastic, in a cardboard box, with several freezer packs that no one has fully figured out what to do with. Some meal services say you can slice open the freezer packs, dump out the contents, and recycle the plastic bag part, but only certain municipalities recycle the plastic part and it makes me extremely uncomfortable to dump the blue goo down the drain. So they pile up in your freezer, until you can find the time to drop them off at a meal delivery charity. (Right.)
- It still takes too much time to prep. This complaint was not mine, but my sister and friend's. My sister is getting her PhD and raising a toddler. Chopping vegetables is not her priority. My friend is struggling with an autoimmune-type disease that makes her extremely tired but requires obsessive attention to ingredients. Chopping vegetables is too much. And while I don't have an aversion to chopping vegetables per se – I make myself feel better about the time spent by ascribing to it a sort of edifying, zen activity that makes me a better person – I certainly don't need to chop vegetables.
- They get boring. My sister had this complaint, saying that every meal, while varied in ingredients, takes the exact same type of prep. Chop, cook in pan or oven, serve. There are no deviations, such as chicken pot pie or whole roast chicken. I understand why, of course. It would be very inefficient for a meal kit company to start throwing creative wrenches in the system like that.
Well, the meal kit service FreshRealm soundly fixes the first two complaints. I got one delivery to test out* and here's what I found.
FreshRealm delivered the whole kit by FedEx in a reusable, self-contained refrigerator box they call the Vessel. Pancho inspected and approved.
The doors unhook and open to reveal a row of shelves. Each shelf contains a reusable freezer pack, which you leave inside, and sealed and labeled plastic containers with pre-chopped ingredients. The freezer packs mean the FedEx guy could leave the box in my lobby and I wouldn't have to be there or rush home to receive it. After I emptied the box, I just closed it back up, peeled the top mailing label off to reveal the return label, and set it downstairs in my lobby for next-morning pickup. Super easy.
Here's all the ingredients for one meal on the counter, including my pepper and olive oil. (I'm perpetually losing the battle to train Pancho not to hang out on the kitchen counter.) FreshRealm claims that the ingredients are up to five days fresher than what you would find in the grocery store.
The first meal I made was Crispy Green Goddess Falafel, by The Whole Tara. FreshRealm has an abundance of meals to choose from, all designed by tastemakers. They range in price from $5.50 for a vegetarian soup up to $17.75 for a steak bowl. Because I couldn't find any information on sourcing (I'm a conscious carnivore), I filtered my choices down to vegetarian and pescatarian options. I also did not see any mention of organic ingredients. FreshRealm does list common allergens on the meal descriptions, recipe cards, and ingredient boxes.
This recipe did require a little bit of chopping, for the radishes and cherry tomatoes.
FreshRealm says that the packaging is 100% recyclable, but whether it's curbside recyclable depends on where you live. (Because startups are often based in the recycling mecca San Francisco, they tend to characterize broad swaths of packaging as totally recyclable.) They recommend looking on Earth911, which says I would have to take my plastic film to a Home Depot to recycle it. I did not. Still, this amount of non-recyclable packaging is actually quite similar to what I would get at my local grocery stores, which does not do bulk. The quinoa would come in a plastic bag, certain produce they wrap up in plastic, etc.
I accidentally ate the Green Goddess Falafel before I could take a picture of the final product, because I was hungry! But here is a picture of the salmon and couscous recipe I also got, which was delicious.
And it generated a similar amount of waste.
Would I Order Again?
That depends on how hard I am on myself. In my perfect world, each Saturday I would meal plan, pack a backpack full of jars and produce bags, then grab my dude and go to the bulk natural foods store and farmers market so that our food is healthy, organic, and waste-free. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. We are typically busy New Yorkers who are overscheduled with events and social obligations. (Sample text from me this week: "Babe, it is stressing me out to not have one free night this whole week to catch up on work before I leave on my trip. Can you tell your friend we can't have dinner until next week?") What ends up happening is we either run to the local grocery store, which is kind of organic but doesn't do bulk, or we start running out of food and then I'm scrounging for lunch and acquiescing to eating out at night. Which is a budget and health #fail.
So if I'm OK with not letting perfect be the enemy of good, then yes, I think this is an amazing compromise that would keep us healthfully fed on a reasonable budget with as little unnecessary waste as possible. And I will definitely be recommending FreshRealm to my sister and friend.