FARGO — As a child, you imagine adulthood to be full of important decisions such as choosing whether you’ll be an astronaut or a nun, who you’ll marry (if you don’t become a nun) and what kind of house to buy.
What The Keepers of the Grown-Up Handbook don’t tell you is there will be an even more perplexing question, and it will haunt you every evening for most of your adult life: “What should I make for dinner?”
Perhaps dinner was an easier decision in the 1950s, when there were armies of apron-clad housewives dedicated to planning meals, shopping for ingredients and thinking of new ways to encase salmon loaf in Jell-O. But for today’s grown-up — who may sandwich cooking in between a full-time job, parenting, after-school activities and housework — meal-planning typically occurs in the 10-minute drive from your office to your home.
I don’t have parenting or after-school activities, yet I still feel like there’s little time to plan or cook meals, so I finally broke down and tried something I’d been eyeing for a long time: a meal-kit delivery service.
My first HelloFresh delivery arrived a couple of weeks ago. It was like Christmas morning as I unpacked it for the first time. Look at those recipe cards that showed me exactly how to prepare each meal! How cunning that all ingredients for each meal come in their own little paper bag!
Could this be the world’s tiniest bottle of balsamic vinegar? What are these delightful hockey-puck thingamajigs? Ahhh, vacuum-sealed chicken cutlets? Adorable!
My pink cloud faded a bit when I realized the fresh produce was also frozen solid — courtesy of our winter temperatures. HelloFresh? Meet HelloFrozen.
Still, I soldiered on, excited to eat something besides store-bought rotisserie chicken or tacos for dinner. I had recently invested in new knives, so imagined all that chopping of veggies would make me feel positively cheffy.
Indeed, I felt like Alton Brown as I prepared the evening’s Figgy Balsamic Pork with Roasted Green Beans and Rosemary Potatoes. Even so, the “10-minute prep” seemed extremely optimistic.
Maybe if I actually were Alton Brown and happened to have an extra pair of arms, I could get this all done in 10 minutes. But with all the mincing, roasting, drizzling, searing and reducing, it took well over a half hour.
The end result was tasty, and I loved how the bag contained everything I needed — save butter, salt, pepper and olive oil. I couldn’t imagine how long it would take me to prepare this dish from scratch. Heck, it would take me an hour to find a store that carried fig jam!
As the week wore on, I felt less Alton Brown and more Charlie Brown. My boyfriend remarked that the kitchen looked like someone had made Thanksgiving dinner there, rather than a meal for two. What with all the sauteing and roasting, our nightly dirty-dish count soared.
The final straw was when I didn’t fill out my preferred dishes early enough, so wound up with a squash risotto. I knew that risotto is a time-consuming process, but figured the HelloFreshlies had come up with some special, parboiled, super-fast concoction, right?
Wrong. Although they did take care of peeling and chopping up the squash, the risotto took a full 25 minutes of stirring, adding more stock and stirring some more. It brought new meaning to “stir-crazy.”
As I stood there, stirring and steaming, I couldn’t help but think of that ground turkey in the refrigerator. If I had made tacos, I could now be done with dishes and parked in front of Netflix.
Ultimately, I canceled my subscription, although I may try out other brands that provide more of a “just add cheese and stir” experience.
In a nutshell, I would summarize HelloFresh as this:
- Pros: Great recipes, decent ingredients, saves lots of time shopping, reasonable price (with beginner’s promo offer, anyway) and reliable delivery. Delivery can be paused if you want to take a break and “see other people.” It made me eat healthier, although I was in the habit of adding extra butter and Parmesan cheese. Also, it made me try foods I normally wouldn’t consider — such as the Mediterranean couscous with roasted chickpeas and feta cheese, which turned out to be my all-time favorite!
- Cons: It can get spendy once you’re past the promotional stage. It took too long to cook and created tons of dishes. Also, it takes lots of refrigerator space and — if delivery is in the tundra — your “fresh” produce might freeze solid. If you don’t get your order in on time, you may wind up with meals you don’t love. If canceling, you will need to do so at least five days before your delivery date. The amount of promotional email is irritating, and the packaging seemed a little wasteful.
So, for now anyway, it’s GoodbyeFresh. HelloRagu!
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org.