Examining food in a box: is it for me?

Examining food in a box: is it for

Fresh meat and vegetables by mail. With faster shipping times, the practice has become mainstream. Have you seen the ads for complete meals delivered to your door? I received a coupon that did its job and lured me in.

I will tell you, I am torn over whether to recommend this experience to others.

It’s a great concept; you pay to have three days’ worth of meals delivered to your door each week. The meals contain a protein and vegetable dinner that is to take about a half-hour to cook. The cost is typically around $10 a meal per person. To a person that cooks at home all the time, this would create a grossly inflated grocery bill. To a person who eats out often, I believe this is a reasonable price.

Truthfully, I was skeptical when my first box showed up on a Friday evening. According to the literature, I would just need some pans, a couple bowls and some basic “pantry items.” I figured those would be exotic spices and oils. Thankfully just olive oil, salt and pepper were expected to be in my cupboards. I had everything but the pepper, so we managed.

I was curious as to how the meat would stay cool, and I could see the majority of my payment went toward a disposable blanket and the four giant ice/gel packs in the box. For people who enjoy collecting tiny bottles of hotel shampoo, this is a whole new genre. Tiny soy sauce containers that look like fish and mini bottles of fancy vinegar could soon join your stash. I had lots of extras since this kitchen newbie is wary of over-flavoring a dish.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience. Almost half my family’s dinners for the week were prepared and eaten with minimal effort on my part. I did not have to make a grocery list, go shopping, or scrounge for ingredients. Honestly, although quite tasty, some of the serving sizes were barely adequate for a hardworking Midwestern resident. But if you had a big lunch, they would get you by.

An unexpected bonus was the introduction to some new flavors and cooking techniques. Who knew pot stickers or risotto was really that easy? I learned the hard way that a little goes a long way with horseradish, and the mystery was finally taken out of how to properly use fresh ginger and rosemary.

The meals were even enjoyed by the majority of my little ones. A mom’s heart is happy when her 5-year-old son declares, “You should open a restaurant and serve this!” about her baked fish and zucchini dish.

But, as I worked through two weeks of recipes, I couldn’t help but feel guilty. As I cut up my asparagus from some far-off state and browned my ground beef from a friendly sounding “Bob’s Butcher Shop,” I couldn’t help but think about how my friend’s beef is also very good – and it’s raised right here in Macoupin County. My mind wandered to the notice that the farmers markets are about to start back up. You can usually count on someone to have asparagus and zucchini no matter what stage of the growing season it is. There are several groceries I frequent that had much better deals on their salad greens than what my boxed-up “spring mix” cost.

My pocketbook couldn’t keep up with the boxed meals either; even though it’s less than eating out, we don’t normally do it three times a week. I mean, we live in the Heartland, and for me to be having my food shipped in a box to my door seems a bit extravagant, even for a busy, sometimes frazzled mom.

So, with my newfound love of lemon zest and a few new cooking techniques, I think I’ll let the urbanites that live a long way from a cow and an asparagus patch get their fresh food from a box. I will borrow some of their recipes, commit to better shopping lists and keep on with the quest to get my fresh food amongst my neighbors.

By Kathleen Clark