On trying Blue Apron

I’ve been working my way through my annual subscription of Cook Smarts and loving it, so I was highly skeptical about trying something else concurrently. However, my friend had several trial subscriptions to share so I decided this week seemed like a good week to give Blue Apron a try.

I signed up a few weeks ago and immediately skipped two weeks worth of meals so that I would get my delivery this week. I scheduled my delivery for Tuesday because I wanted to cook on Wednesday and since they have until 9pm to deliver I didn’t want to count on it for Tuesday. My package arrived before noon on Tuesday (awesome!). The box is super insulated, with ginormous ice packs, so it probably would have been fine hanging out in my entryway for awhile, but I promptly put everything into the fridge (even the can of tomatoes… what? Who knows!). Inside the box they provide the three recipe cards that look like they’d slip nicely into a three ring binder with sheet protectors. We use an app called Paprika so I’d need to type in all of this information to preserve it in a paperless fashion. Or see if I can find it online.

The three meals this week are:

  1. Seared Steaks with Garlic Mashed Potato & Sautéed Broccoli
  2. Seared Barramundi with Collard Greens, Fregola Sarda & Shallot Agrodolce
  3. Masala-Spiced Chicken with Kale & Lime Rice

I was/am pretty excited about the Barramundi and Masala Chicken, the steak meal seemed pretty meh because let’s be honest there’s nothing super wow factor about that meal.

I started with the fish recipe because the packaging said to ‘use immediately or freeze,’ but did not have any other ‘use by date’ information and it didn’t quite make sense to freeze to re-thaw by Friday. All of the meat looks properly sealed, but I’m being extra cautious because this is new to me and it arrived refrigerated rather than frozen.

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TL:DR The recipe was fantastic!

I started cooking and it went so fast. I’ve grown accustomed to measuring out all of my ingredients, chopping my veggies and really feeling like I made the meal. This felt a bit like a pizza lunchable (okay, maybe that’s harsh), but really… who remembers making and eating those? You have the pre-portioned pizza, cheese and pepperoni and you assemble (make your own lunch) and eat. Since all of the ingredients were proportioned the only thing i needed to chop was the collard greens, the shallot and mince the garlic. I was done so fast I almost had the meal made before my guest arrived!

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The instructions were not challenging to follow per say, but there were several directions like: “about 5 minutes”, “until fragrant”, “depending on how spicy you’d like the dish to be”. Granted there were time suggestions next to the subjective directions, but I had several moments where I realized that if I hadn’t been building my confidence in the kitchen over the past nine months with Cook Smarts, this would have been really intimidating.

I plated the dish and we were delighted. The flavors were wonderful. I tried a type of fish I may or may not be able to buy locally. I think this would be okay with cod or tilapia or another white fish, but my point is, I don’t know if I could easily replicate this meal if I try to get Barramundi. (I’ll check my grocery stores over the next few weeks to confirm). All in all my first dish was great.

How I could ideally see myself using Blue Apron… I think this would be ideal if I were going on vacation to a place where I had access to a full kitchen and I could easily procure cooking oil, salt and pepper. Other than that I don’t think I’m the target audience and here’s why:

TL:DR I don’t anticipate resuming my subscription plan anytime soon, but I think there IS a target audience for whom this would be a fantastic service.

Pros and Cons Section:

I don’t have a clear picture in my mind of here are the pros and here are the cons because every scenario is different so my pros and cons are combined below, but categorized.
1) Cost:

Pro: Most likely you can find either a $30 off your first box or first three meals free deal floating around the internets somewhere. Over the past few months I’ve been mailed two Blue Apron coupons, their website has a discount code, the Undisclosed podcast has an offer code, one of the blogs I read has an offer code, I’m sure somewhere on google you can find an offer code and at least one if not more of my friends had a ‘first three meals free’ offer code. (However, be really careful to mark the immediate week (or two) following your delivery as “skip this week” or you may be charged for your second week before you receive your first week and decide if it’s for you, or not. And canceling is REALLy easy and expedient.

Con:The price point really has me agog. It is approximately $10 per PERSON per meal and it’s ONLY three meals a week. The website says starting at $8.74, but I think that’s if you do the four person meals? That’s $60 for three meals!! So you still have to either go out to eat OR meal plan and head to the grocery store/click list/grocery delivery, etc. for the other four nights of meals.  If you ARE eating out seven nights a week or cereal is a staple of your diet for three meals every day, (hey I’ve been there!) I could see this being a great stepping stone toward more home cooked meals with minimal effort initially.

The plans for Cook Smarts range from $6 to $8 a month, but they also offer discounts so my annual subscription ended up being about $4 a month. I’m fairly certain that my Cook Smarts meals average out to $5 per person per meal (sometimes less) and because the archives are available to me I could easily schedule seven meals a week smoothly. Since I’m going to deal with groceries anyway this still makes more sense for me.

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(nutrition information for each meal is provided by Blue Apron, and as a contrast Cook Smarts integrates with MyFitnessPal and has Weight Watchers points)

2) Delivery:

Pro: It’s delivered to your door! Three nights worth of meals with recipe included, bam. Easy peasy. Let’s be honest that’s really attractive. I just can’t get past the fact that I have another four nights to consider…

Con: Since I only had one week delivered I don’t know if my delivery times would vary. This time I scheduled for Tuesday and it arrived before noon. They have until 9 PM to make the delivery and I don’t know if I could count on being able to make the meal on delivery day or if I’d need to just plan on making the meals the following day.

But as a contrast Cook Smarts integrates with Instacart SO… If you want your groceries delivered, bam. Easy peasy.

3) Flexibility:

Con: In my mind it doesn’t exist. Granted there are six meals to choose from every week, but some don’t mix and match. Let’s call the recommended meals A, B and C. Let’s say the thought of C makes you queasy or you have an allergy to an ingredient and you want to sub meal F for C. In this example meal F isn’t compatible with A and B so your options are only D and E, but you’re not excited about either of those, or one of those changes your meal plan to B, D, F. #fail At this point you can skip the week entirely or choose the lesser of two evils with your meal plan options. Also the dietary challenges are really limiting with Blue Apron. You can opt in for vegetarian, but it’s “not available on the family plan at this point”. You can opt out of different meats, and I didn’t experiment with that, but I’m assuming it lowers your meal option flexibility, but maybe they sub a meat you prefer? Does anyone know?

With Cook Smarts if I don’t like one of the meals I just don’t select “make this meal.” I head to the archives, pick something else and add it to my meal plan that week. Easy peasy. Or let’s say I want to have seven total meals to my meal plan, I can do that too. Also they offer paleo, gluten free and vegetarian options for every meal. If I don’t like the meat the meal contains I can switch it out. Making things dairy free is really easy because I can edit the grocery list. Also if I don’t like the side from the main dish I can use the paleo or vegetarian side instead. Win.

4) Instructions:

Con (only because I assumed the only instructions were the recipe card UNTIL doing further research). I’m highly visual and while the instruction cards are beautiful, sometimes I need a bit more thorough education on preparing/dicing/chopping etc with some food items. Apparently the digital version does exist (I just researched it as I was typing this post). Online the recipe does have  videos, etc, but I didn’t know they existed while I was cooking last night. It looks like I should have access to each of these videos for my next two nights in spite of no longer having a subscription, so that’s cool.

I also feel like Cook Smarts is teaching me how to cook. (And become a better cook and kitchen savvy!) I felt like Blue Apron was a glorified pizza lunchables experience as a contrast. Maybe someone else would have a different experience?

5) SURPRISE!

Con (only because if you’re unprepared this could be really frustrating): All three of my recipes call for cooking oil, salt and pepper in the instructions (SURPRISE!) and none of these things are provided. Kind of a silly thing to be nit picky about, BUT since everything else is provided it seems really odd that these things aren’t and there’s no warning you’ll need these on hand. (If they do give this alert, I overlooked it.) To be fair, ‘MOST’ homes have salt and pepper, even if it’s those ‘to go’ packages, but if you don’t cook, at all, finding out you need cooking oil right before you start could be a problem… And maybe this is a moot point, maybe everyone who wants to learn to cook or try Blue Apron DOES have cooking oil, salt and pepper on hand… I’ve just seen some really empty fridge and cupboard homes… to be fair you can read the recipe cards in advance and hopefully in reading one would be observant enough to notice the ingredient list does not include these items, but the recipe clearly call for their use.

6) Environmentally friendly.

Pro/Con: It feels like there’s a lot of waste involved with Blue Apron. Hear me out. EVERYTHING is portioned and individually packaged. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I,N.G. Two fish fillets, three pieces of collard green leaves, the knickknacks as they call it were in a brown paper bag sealed with a sticker and inside the brown paper bag were raisins, in their own little baggie, red pepper flakes in a baggie, same for the pasta, the honey, and red wine vinegar were in a bottle and a serving cup… same for the next two nights. Additionally the box, the freezer bag container inside of the box, the two large ice packs that should be in every container, the recipe cards (we’re trying to be paperless) so much cardboard, paper, plastic and foil…

Their website talks about the food items being “Farm-fresh, seasonal produce, Meat and poultry with no added hormones [and] Sustainably-sourced seafood,” so that’s great, but I had an obscene amount of paper, cardboard and plastic to dispose of last night. In contrast I can use a bottle of red wine vinegar for weeks (or months) before coming to the end of the bottle. This just feels so wasteful to me. Apparently, according to their website all of the packaging materials are recyclable so that’s cool, but the options require a daily change in routine to ensure this happens if recycling isn’t an established habit in your home.

7) Portion sizes.

Con: Last night my guest and I finished our meal and we were satisfied. I feel like if I’d tried to feed myself and my husband with this meal one (or both) of us would have walked away hungry. We tend to eat a larger dinner and with Cook Smarts I can easily adjust the portion sizes by adding more of the ingredients as I see fit. Here, to adjust the portion size, at all, it would require a trip to the grocery store and since I’d only want to add “just enough”  I’d probably have to buy a LOT of something and either waste, store or freeze the remainder. This defeats the delivery pro! There’s also no pantry building for the other nights in my week. No hope for leftovers unless I buy the four portion subscription package. No improvising to have guests over, because I can’t ‘just double’ my recipe… These “no’s” are deal breakers for me.

Insert gracious comment here