Yesterday, we walked to my neighbor-friend’s house for our weekly family dinner together. She made fish tacos with seasoned white fish (I’m guessing tilapia). Laid out on her kitchen island, a bowl of coleslaw made from scratch sat next to store-bought salsas and guacamole and fresh wheat tortillas. The multi-colored spread beckoned me. Since our main water valve had been switched off for hours, I skipped lunch. It had been hours since I drank a glass of water. My rumbling tummy giggled with happiness as I assembled my first taco. Next to the kitchen island, I saw 3 recipe cards with bright photos stuffed into plastic sleeves. I picked one up and read the blackened fish taco recipe from Hello Fresh. Ah, so that’s where the inspiration from this meal came from.
After writing an article criticizing meal delivery kits on their environmental impact, it hit me that many people love meal kits. If you love your meal delivery kit service, you shouldn’t have to give it up. Yes, the packaging is wasteful…but there must be ways to lessen the waste, get more value out of each kit, and stretch your kits further. My neighbor showed me one way to make your subscription cheaper per serving, save you mental energy, and teach you to be a confident cook. Let’s look at how she does it.
Rinse and repeat
I remember walking into my neighbor’s kitchen several times last year and seeing a big square Blue Apron box sitting on her kitchen island. She has tried several meal kit companies, experimenting with different dishes. She told me some have fancier recipes and others have bigger vegetable portions. Over time, she learned which service fit her lifestyle best.
This year, I haven’t noticed any subscription boxes in her kitchen. Instead, she prepares an impressive meal following her prior meal kits. She bookmarked her family’s favorite meals, including the recipe cards, meal plans, and grocery lists. She already knows how to cook these recipes and easily repeats the winners with confidence.
Instead of seeing a meal kit as only about receiving fresh ingredients, she recognized that the companies are selling a system. Every week, she goes food shopping at Safeway, our local grocery store, with her meal kit grocery list and follows the accompanying recipe to cook it. She knows her kids will love the food. Plus, I imagine she carries out her cooking tasks without panic because she’s made the recipe before.
What an inspiring solution to counterbalance the wasteful nature of meal delivery kits. If you subscribe for 2-6 months of meal delivery kits, you’ll have a robust collection of meal plans that provide enough variety for months or years ahead. These meal plans are waiting for you to reuse them. Reusing them helps you avoid thinking through meal planning every week. You can outsource the thinking to professional meal planners while weaning yourself off the kits.
Reuse the packaging
My solution to dealing with the wastefulness of the packaging is to reuse as many of the plastic baggies and containers as possible. We stored the cardboard box in the basement to use for mailing a future package (I have a teetering tower of cardboard boxes—and yes, I do use them). I stacked the ice packs in the freezer, alongside the other ice packs we’ve collected from other chilled food gifts (I just used the ice packs this past weekend to transport a cake to a friend’s house). I rinsed out the resealable plastic baggies, so we could store leftovers in them (even reusing once before throwing them into the trash makes a difference). Alex threw the asbestos-looking cardboard packing material into the trash because it took so much space, and I couldn’t think of anything to do with it (for a pack rat like me, it works well if he doesn’t ask me before he throws things out😂).
Another friend who subscribes to meal delivery kits told me she started out ordering double the servings for her family of 4, meaning instead of ordering a box that comes with 4 servings, she orders 2 boxes, giving her 8 servings. This way she has leftovers the next day.
The downside is that doubling the servings also doubles the cost and packaging. She mentioned the companies aren’t optimized to send her a big bottle of cooking oil when she doubles her order. They send her 2 small bottles because they don’t realize that she can cook from a bigger bottle. They pack the boxes as if they’re going to 2 different addresses.
She’s running out of pantry space from storing these little bottles of sauces and cooking oils. Plus, it generates a lot of garbage. To offset this waste, she has started stretching her meals out. She orders a box with 4 servings and adds extra veggies and carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice) to extend her meals to 8 servings.
For example, she adds extra chopped lettuce or cabbage so there are more greens. Boiling extra rice or pasta requires no additional effort since she already has to boil the ingredients from the kit. I love this idea to save her mental energy because she increases the servings without much prep work (compared to buying another kit). Her price per meal goes down too because it costs less to supplement with extra ingredients from the local grocery store. (By the way, she uses grocery pick up at her local store, so she’s not spending a lot of time shopping in-person). Her new system gives her the leftovers she wants while clearing out pantry space.
Learn new techniques
On the other hand, the same friend shared that one of her favorite things about her meal kits is trying new techniques she would’ve been too afraid of tackling on her own. She picks meal kits that teach her to cook a dish she would never make on her own. I love this creative way to squeeze more value out of her meal kit subscription. You see, she likes recipes out of her comfort zone because she knows that if she bought all the ingredients for new recipes, especially in a cuisine that’s foreign to her, she would have a lot of ingredients leftover that she might have to toss. Meal delivery kits are the perfect application for increasing variety without having to commit to buying big quantities of a certain sauce or spice that will sit in her pantry for years. If she likes the new recipe, she adds it to her collection.
She’s taken the downside of wastefulness and turned it into a strength with meal delivery kits. When she mentioned this, I felt excited about meal kits because who wouldn’t want to shake up their cooking routine? I don’t want to commit to making falafel or BBQ pulled pork for the next 6 months to get rid of the full-sized bottles of spices and sauces.
Have I changed my mind about meal kits?
Meal delivery kits offer a great service to busy families who want to change their cooking routine. A never-ending subscription is excessive, but I think trying them out for 2-3 months to learn new techniques and get in the habit of cooking at home are fantastic reasons to subscribe. Additionally, meal delivery kits add value to your life by offering a hand-holding experience so you don’t have to think so hard. That’s worth a lot considering the mental fatigue, sleep-deprivation, and the endless emotional labor that parents have to manage (diaper bags, attending birthday parties, finding childcare).
So, I say the best solution is stealing as many ideas as possible from these meal plans. Then ruthlessly canceling them when you’re satisfied you have a bountiful collection of meals to rinse and repeat. The kits will be waiting for you whenever you need inspiration again.