In Search of Dinner Solutions

We’re the typical family of four, with two working parents. Weeknights are a blur of homework, tub time, and a sliver of family time, if we’re lucky. But first, each night begins with walking through the door and confronting the spectre of dinner. We’re certainly not alone. The tv dinner industry has been replaced with a whole new industry of services trying to solve this problem. I’ve tried a few of them, and wanted to share my experience, since I think I may have finally found something that works.

 

Blue Apron

blue-apron-tweetIn a nutshell: $60/week gets you 3 dinners of about 2.5 servings each. All the ingredients and recipes shipped right to your doorstep. $20/meal sounds like a lot, but there’s no waste, and no impulse purchases, so this is actually rather reasonable. The quality of the food is very good, though every now and then, I feel like the meat smells “off” and I’m super-paranoid about that kind of thing. It’s probably fine, they get their meat from a restaurant supplier.

What’s great about it: Really cool recipes, with unusual ingredients. Absolutely delicious. Requires an inordinate amount of chopping, but whatever.

Why it didn’t work for us: Unfortunately, Blue Apron is too fancy for our kids. Plus, stretched between 4 people, it’s sometimes just not enough. There are ways, mind you, to really bulk up a Blue Apron meal with very little effort, as long as you have time to hit the market before you’re going to make it. Like you can make double the amount of rice, or add in an additional chicken breast or pork chop, and so forth.

I subscribed to Blue Apron a second time because I thought the kids might be ready to be more adventurous, but it’s still too soon. When they go off to college, or we retire or whatever, when it’s just me and my husband, I think we’ll resub then, because WE loved it.

The other problem is, you have to do 3 meals. I’m sure any fewer isn’t economical for them to offer, but these are fresh ingredients. So you really do need to do one basically every night when you get a delivery. The service makes it very easy to skip weeks, so you don’t HAVE to do it every week, but as soon as a second week happened where I wasn’t able to get to all 3 recipes, I knew it was time to wave the white flag and cancel.

 

Dream Dinners

In a nutshell: You choose a set of 12 or more dinners from the menu of the month, and schedule a date/time. Then you go to the actual shop, and there are stations for the various menus. You assemble the ingredients for each of your dishes, and walk away with a large cooler filled with meals that you can take home, freeze, and consume within 3 months.

What’s great about it: Having a freezer full of a dozen kid-friendly meals is great. Also great was bringing the kids with me to help assemble the meals. It made them feel more invested, I think, and they both had a blast. If you don’t have a couple hours to spare or don’t feel like putting it all together yourself, they will actually do that part for you.



Why it didn’t work for us: This again falls to my lack of ability to plan well. What ended up happening, more than once, was that I’d take the meal out to thaw (which takes 2 days), and then when it was ready, we’d either be too busy to cook that night, or wind up doing something else, to the point that I wasn’t sure if it was safe to eat anymore by the time I did get to it. Maybe it sounds silly, but it is a reality for me, and I’m just going to own it.

That said, for the most part, this was pretty effective, and made plenty of food for everyone, as opposed to Blue Apron (which to be fair, isn’t intended for a family of 4). They do try to get you to sign up for the next month immediately, and THAT definitely was overkill for us. I think if you have this as a local option, every 3 months or so is a nice cadence. It costs a couple hundred dollars, but when you consider it’s at least a dozen meals, and there’s NO waste… it’s pretty economical.


dreamdinner

They didn’t actually like this particular dinner, but they sure liked MAKING it!



Freezer Meals cookbook

The Dream Dinners concept made me wonder if there were guides or cookbooks to be had that solve the weeknight dinner challenge in this same way. Naturally, there are. I bought Fix, Freeze, Feast by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik on Amazon.

It’s a useful book, and the teriyaki chicken recipe I made from it was good enough that the kids wanted me to make it again even after we’d gone through the 3 meals it yielded. I will probably make more stuff out of this book.

But the thawing/timing problem applies here, too. I think it’d be fun to do a club among friends for this kind of thing, and swap meals so that you had the variety. But I’m too much of an introvert for that kind of action.

I’ve applied the concept of making big batches and freezing the extra to my mashed potato game now, as well as my meatball game, and that’s been a win.

 

eMeals

I’m not even sure how I found eMeals. Probably through a Facebook ad. It’s stupidly cheap, less than $60/year, and I think I’ve finally found the perfect solution. On the surface, it seems very similar to Allrecipes.com’s paid offering, but you need to choose the recipes with that one, and though it generates a grocery list for you afterwards, I found that having to choose the recipes was sometimes just more hassle than I wanted to deal with.

In a nutshell: Weekly menus, 7 meals each, grocery shopping list included. There are a LOT of different types of plans to choose, such as 30 Minute Meals, Kid-Friendly Meals, Gourmet, Low-Calorie, Vegetarian, etc., and you can flip between different tracks if you want to.

Now, 7 meals is too much for my planning reality. HOWEVER, there’s nothing stopping you from going through the 7, and crossing out some of them. For example, I only wanted to make 3 of the 7 one week. Since the grocery list is organized by recipe number, it was VERY easy to black out the items I didn’t need. I’ve only done a couple weeks of this so far, but so far it’s working out just beautifully. It gives me full control over when I buy the ingredients (and allows me to omit certain ingredients if I choose to), and which recipes I deal with.

In fact, I just made an eMeal tonight, a very simple matter of taking roast chicken from the prior recipe, shredding it, and using it in sandwiches with barbecue sauce and home made coleslaw. My husband said, and I quote, “Write that one down. Make LOTS of it…” So I guess that’s a win. 🙂

Since there’s a free trial, you really should check out eMeals if you are a working parent like me.

 

PS – None of these services sent me free boxes or paid me or any of that jazz. This is just pure life experience here, baby.

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