A few of the podcasts I listen to while running errands and shelving books at the library where I work have been sponsored by Blue Apron, a meal-in-a-box service that claims to deliver high-quality, fresh ingredients, perfectly measured, ready to cook into delicious gourmet meals. Skeptical, but intrigued, I decided to give it a try. (Full disclosure: Blue Apron provided me with two weeks worth of complimentary meals, so I could try a range of products and report on my experience.)
Was the food really that good? And how was the pricing? It would be expensive to ship all that nice food fast enough to keep it fresh. I had lots of questions. But it also seemed like the kind of thing some families would enjoy and benefit from.
Here’s how it works
You register at blueapron.com, selecting dietary preferences (they warn that all boxes are assembled in a shared facility, making their product potentially unsafe for people with serious food allergies), delivery day (in Memphis, only Thursday and Friday were available), and frequency (families can choose either two or four times per week).
When my first pair of boxes arrived, I’ll admit, I panicked. They’re big. But most of that bulk is ice packs and insulation to keep the food fresh. In fact, the food, because it’s measured and portioned, fit better into my fridge than my normal load of groceries. I was able to limit my shopping the next day to breakfast and lunch needs.
My kids thought Santa had made an out-of-season visit. They had a ball unpacking the little bags of herbs, seasonings, and vegetables. Most everything was in good shape. Some of the greens looked a little wilted, but I could pick them out, leaving plenty of fresh leaves behind.
Seasonal menus with your preferences
Each week, you select from a menu that changes to reflect what’s in season. As their titles imply, some meals are more ambitious. From the late-summer options available to me, I chose dishes including Pesto Meatballs and Fresh Corn Polenta with Marinated Sungold Tomatoes and Basil, and Za’atar-spiced Eggplant and Squash Pitas with Cucumber-yogurt Sauce and Tabbouleh. Predictably, my kids preferred the meatballs. But they also loved a parmesan-crusted chicken dish, eating its arugula salad accompaniment with no complaints about the peppery greens. And the savory eggplant pitas were yummy.
Each set of ingredients comes with a snazzy, full-page sized recipe card. The directions are easy to follow and accompanied by helpful photos. It’s a little like a recipe with good visuals on the internet, except that you don’t have to keep waking up your phone or laptop with a buttery index finger. Each recipe includes a calorie count, which gives the illusion of virtue.
The cards also provide prep and cook times. This is where my only major reservation arose. I’m not a fast cook, but I’m competent and experienced. So when a recipe indicates that it should be ready in 35 minutes, but it takes me an hour, there’s something a little off in the estimation. Most recipes have this flaw, though. They’re written by professionals whose training enables them to do in 10 minutes what the rest of us — slower to begin with, and interrupted by children, laundry, and phone calls — need 30 to accomplish.
Who is this best for?
Blue Apron is not for absolute beginners. The recipes call for knife skills and stovetop competence at least. Nor should the ill-equipped assume everything they need is in the box; you’ll need pans, prep bowls, strainers, spatulas, tongs, and more. It is great for people who like to cook but don’t want to plan meals or shop. There’s no waste, except occasional leftovers, and it’s convenient to leave the measuring cups and spoons in the drawer.
In many ways, Blue Apron is a dream come true for career-oriented young couples who want to cook recreationally a couple times a week. It would be a fantastic wedding gift. Likewise, it might be best for busy families who want to cook family meals together with minimal hassle. During the holidays, having a few dinners that don’t take up much fridge or mental space would be a bonus. As for the cost, it’s competitive with eating out: Two meals a week for a family of four run about $70. Would I do it again, on my own dollar? I might, when I have enough dollars.