Meal kits: A convenient way to try new flavors – with a cost

Food

Meal kits: A convenient way to try new flavors – with a cost

“What’s for dinner?” is  the question of the day in many households, and one that regularly gets answered with a shrug and a frozen pizza or other food mined from the freezer.
Enter the meal kit.
In recent years, companies such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh have answered the “what’s for dinner” question for their customers, shipping them meal kits that include pre-portioned ingredients and step-by-step instructions to cook curated meals at home.
The kits have found an eager audience, particularly among young people still developing their chops in the kitchen. The popularity of meal kit delivery services has also prompted some grocery chains and other outlets to create their own in-store versions.

Good option for some

The kits can be a good way for busy or inexperienced home cooks to get new ideas or hone their skills, says Hope Brinkmann, a registered dietitian with Tidelands Health, our region’s largest health care provider and MUSC Health affiliate.

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Brinkmann is part of a team of dietitians at Tidelands Health who use a science-based approach to food to help people develop a personalized nutrition strategy built around their unique health needs and objectives.
“It can certainly be a great tool for people when they’re low on time or not particularly skilled yet in the kitchen,” Brinkmann says.

Pros and cons

That said, meal kits have their advantages and disadvantages:
Advantage: Convenience. With home-delivered meal kits, there’s no need to come up with a meal idea, then spend time shopping for the ingredients. The meal kits do all that for you, delivering what you need to prepare and cook meals at home.
Disadvantage: Cost. Meal kits aren’t inexpensive – the cost typically falls somewhere between ordering food from a restaurant and grocery shopping. Brinkmann’s suggestion: try it, then replicate the meals you like for less by using ingredients purchased at the store. “Maybe use them as inspiration,” she says.
Advantage: Portion control. The meal kit design skips the guesswork of how much meat or vegetables you should have on your plate, which can help you maintain a healthy diet. “Most of the time, they’re pretty good on vegetables and protein,” Brinkmann says.
Disadvantage: Packaging. Starting with the insulated box and working your way inside, you may find a lot of packaging designed to keep everything cool and fresh on the way to your kitchen counter. If you’re trying to cut down on your trash output, that could be a deal breaker.
Advantage: New flavors. Putting your meal planning in someone else’s hands gives you the chance to try foods and flavors you may have never thought of.
“They’re a good way to break out of a dietary rut,” Brinkmann says.
Disadvantage: New flavors. On the other hand, you might not like what you find in the box. The mail-order version of “chef’s surprise” is fun until you get something you can’t, won’t or don’t eat. Some kit meals might also have your kids wrinkling up their noses. In that case, you’ve got two choices: widen your culinary horizons or revisit the checkboxes on your meal kit order form.

One option

In the end, meal kits can be a good way to explore new flavors and sharpen your skills in the kitchen. They can also take the work out of meal planning for those with limited time or energy. But they can come with a substantial financial cost, so a cookbook may be a cheaper and better alternative in the long run.

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