The mail order meal kit seems to be all the rage right now. It appears to be one of those “catching up with Europe” things, as meal kits in this fashion started in Sweden with Middagsfrid in 2007 and Linas Matkasse in 2008. HelloFresh, which was already going strong in Germany, jumped the pond in 2012, just as Blue Apron and Plated were getting started.
Now, with more than 150 meal kit companies active in the U.S. as of March 2017, there is something for every diet plan, and that includes the Paleo diet.
Sun Basket, a meal kit company out of San Francisco, and Green Chef, a Boulder, Colorado-based company that is a subsidiary of HelloFresh, both started in 2014 and offered meal kits for alternative diets such as vegan, Paleo, vegetarian and keto. Naturally, I had to take a look at both of these diets to see how their fare fared.
How It Works
The way these meal kits work is this: You sign up for meals. A box comes to your home with meals the way you request them, and by that, I mean that you tell the company how many people are eating. Each meal comes with enough for two people unless you are asking for a larger plan, which both companies offer.
Each Paleo box arrives with meals separated into bags, and the proteins underneath the bags resting on an ice pack. Both companies use sustainable materials and recyclable packaging. The bags will contain components of the meal — the vegetables, specific spices, sauces and in some cases oils or fats. While Green Chef tends to have most things pre-cut, you’ll do the cutting yourself with Sun Basket. Instruction cards will also let you know what you need to have on hand, from pans and measuring cups to olive oil and salt and pepper. And, because you are technically the chef here if you want to try a touch of cayenne in that chili sauce or a little turmeric with that ground lamb, you have that freedom. And, because the components of each recipe are separate, you don’t have to put the cashews in that stir-fry if you don’t want to.
Something to consider that I didn’t until it was too late is food sensitivities and allergies. I have a very strange allergy. I can’t touch shellfish…when it’s raw. As long as it’s cooked, I’m fine. So if I’m making a dish with shrimp in it, I buy cooked shrimp. So, when one of my Green Chef dishes came with raw shrimp, I was a little at a loss. I have, literally, never cooked shrimp in my life due to this allergy. Fortunately, it all came peeled and deveined, so my contact with it before I put it in the pan was mercifully short. Both companies offer alternatives to a certain extent, so, if you can’t have something like this, check the menu and see how you can change it.
Going to be out of town or have too many guests to waste good food like this on? Just skip the meal. But make sure you do it in time or you’re getting a box anyway. On the flip side of that very shiny coin, if you find out the family isn’t coming after all or you have to cancel your trip out of town, make sure you get on your account quickly to unskip, and they’ll send you your meals.
All of these meals are preplanned, so you can look ahead a few weeks to find out what you’re getting and decide what changes you want to make or if you want to skip a meal or maybe invite that boyfriend over (or girlfriend. We’re not particular here) for a great meal.
I am not necessarily an average customer. Or maybe I’m fooling myself, and I am. Before I rate these boxes, let me explain who is ordering them.
I am single, and, barring some bizarre, misplaced miracle from on high, I will remain that way. I don’t have kids to feed. I don’t have a significant other. I am only cooking for myself. So when I set my deliveries to three meals a week, what I’m actually getting is six. That’s not necessarily going to be the way it works for people with families who need to cook for more than one person.
I work 40-55 hours a week. Do I want to stand and cook? Not always, but the fact I don’t have to plan the meal and gather the components is half the battle.
So, I will be rating these boxes from that perspective because, right now, it’s the only perspective I have.
The Meal Kits
Sun Basket offers Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean, and gluten-free meals. The selections I got in my box included a salmon dish with wild caught Keta salmon, red cabbage and orange slaw and a chili lime sauce for the fish. There was a steak dish with a mushroom pan sauce and Brussels sprouts, which I roasted and drizzled with maple syrup. Finally, there was ground lamb dish, köfte, with meat patties and a cucumber/sweet red pepper salad and tahini sauce. I have prepared all of these meals, and I would recommend every one of them.
Plenty of food. I’m not finishing any of these meals and then deciding to eat the other serving. There was more than enough food with each dish.
One of the added values of Sun Basket is that all of their “recipes” come in a little glossy magazine. What that means is that you get all that week’s recipes in your box. Not just the Paleo recipes, but the vegan, the vegetarian, the Mediterranean. Now, keep in mind these aren’t conventional recipes. There is no “1 cup of this” or “1/2 lb. of that.” You get your meals pre-measured. But, any enterprising cook could take a look at the recipes and piece together some of them to experiment.
Green Chef offers the same options as far as alternative diets that Sun Basket does, as well as omnivore, carnivore and keto. The box is virtually identical to Sun Basket’s, and both of these companies offer fully recyclable packaging.
My Green Chef meals were a shrimp and vegetable stir-fry, a Greek-inspired pork meatball dish with cauliflower “rice” sauteed with artichoke and kalamata olives and a chicken and roasted vegetable dish that I have not yet cooked. The two I have eaten were wonderful meals with plenty of food and great on flavor.
Green Chef does not come with the same glossy book full of instructions and recipes, but it comes with an instruction card for each meal. The stickers holding the bags of food closed are a particular color and the instruction card is colored to match so there’s no mistaking which ingredients should be in front of you.
Pros and Cons
What are the benefits to these meal kits? The biggest is convenience. The meals come planned with everything needed to prepare a perfectly Paleo meal. Both meal kits use organic foods, though Sun Basket does charge extra for the organic meats. Both meal kits outline exactly what is in the kits, just not the measurements. For example, if there is a packet of spices, the recipe card or book with list exactly what spices are in the packet. They may also recommend spices from your own cabinet that might change the flavor slightly. Sun Basket’s instructions also feature a “Kids Can” section for families, listing things children can do to help prepare the meal like peel oranges, stir cooking vegetables or manning the time for specifically timed food items. Both sets of instructions are set up in such a way that no time is wasted. While one item might be simmering, you’re working on another. The food is healthful and flavorful. I can honestly say nothing was bland. Both kits also encourage you to be your own chef. Don’t like spicy, don’t add this. I don’t like cashews, and I’m allergic to walnuts, so I took those things from two different meals and didn’t add them. I gave them to my father, who is a big fan of both cashews and walnuts.
Another benefit is the fact that you’re cooking. I had never roasted Brussels Sprouts. I’d never made “rice” with artichoke and kalamata olives. Will I be able to do that without the meal kit. I will now, but I don’t think some of the dishes or cooking options would have occurred to me if I hadn’t been using a meal kit. Unless you are the chef of an international-styled restaurant, you’re going to be stepping out of your comfort zone a bit. You are going to learn something.
Menus for both of these boxes are posted with plenty of time for you to decide you might not want something. Say you see something two weeks ahead that has roasted beets, and you wonder what horrible person would feed someone beets Everyone knows beets are a part of a secret society plan to cull the population. (Are too! Prove me wrong!) But I’m looking ahead, and I manage to evade certain death by choosing a different dish without strategically included beets.
Is there a downside to meal kits? Yes, there are downsides that don’t necessarily include beets. If you are looking for something convenient that will keep you from having to cook, this is not it. You will be slicing and dicing and frying and mixing and toasting and roasting. It’s not going to keep you off your feet.
The sites are okay. They aren’t necessarily that user-friendly. They want you to get on and order not surf around. They aren’t hiding anything, they just make the website to have a single purpose. Yes, there are FAQs. Yes, there are other areas to explore…a little. But, every time I was on either of the sites, I had to do a little nosing around to remember how to get answers, alternatives or another payment option.
The final downside is the cost. For three two-person meals per week, I will pay $78.95 for Sun Basket and $84.95 for Green Chef. That comes to $11.99 for each of six meals for Sun Basket and $12.99 for each of six meals for Green Chef. Each company charges $6.99 for shipping and handling. As far as cost goes, these boxes are only dinner. You still have to shop for breakfast and lunch. To decide if this is reasonable money, you will have to figure your grocery bill and add in meals eaten out for convenience. Do they come to $11.99 plus shipping (about $13)? Meal kits are not cheap.
Are they worth it?
Yes…to an extent.
I’m not going to give a straight answer here. Yes, even as expensive as they are, I think the pros still outweigh the cons, particularly for those new to Paleo who have no idea how to make a paleo meal. Even for someone like me, who has been eating Paleo-ish for a year and has no problems coming up with meal plans, these meal kits are a fantastic opportunity to do something with my food I would never have done otherwise. I’m learning I have a few favorites I didn’t know about, that I prefer my cauliflower rice fresh as opposed to frozen, that I like roasted Brussels sprouts and that I like feeling like a professional chef standing in my kitchen mincing garlic, toasting pine nuts and coarsely chopping cilantro. That’s why I’m going to commit to getting boxes twice a month, but no more.
Try a box or two or three. I can personally say the food is terrific and flavorful.
Where you go from there is entirely up to you and your finances.