What’s For Dinner? Maybe Your Sanity

“What is for dinner, mom?” There are few questions that can quicken my pulse more than that very inquiry. I actually do not hear it as a question; I hear it as an accusation. As a mother of three very active, picky children, it is often just that… almost a dare. I dare you to say the favorite meal of my sibling. I dare you to repeat a meal from last week. I triple-doggey-dare you to say you don’t know. I am no chef. I can follow a recipe, but that is about all. I am always asking my friends for meal suggestions, and most of the time eliminating them in my mind. I often can’t use them because of the ingredients or spices that I know one of my adorably-opinionated children will refuse. Let me not even comment on my meat and potatoes eating Midwest husband. I Google recipes, beg for them, and worry over them weekly. This is why, after about the seventy-fifth perfectly targeted ads promoting a home meal delivery service popped up on my computer, I realized this was something I needed to investigate. But I had my reservations. How budget friendly is it? How child friendly is it? How culinary challenged friendly is it? How busy schedule friendly is it? These are the questions I needed answered. Welcome to the Posh Seven Magazine’s test kitchen.

Several of my Posh Seven co-workers were just as curious as myself and offered to help prepare and taste test samples. We coordinated with meal delivery companies Hello Fresh, Peach Dish, Blue Apron, and Factor 75. However, who has a kitchen big enough to cook four or more different meals at one time? This stumbling block was overcome when we found Chefscape. Located right here in Ashburn. Chefscape is a shared commercial kitchen and event company which provides food entrepreneurs with the space to start and grow their business and services. Chefscape offers its chefs flexible memberships, hourly rental options and a wide selection of business support services designed to help them succeed. Bella Karakis of Chefscape could not have been more helpful and accommodating to our magazine. The facility was gorgeous, fun to cook in, and fantastically organized. Please visit their website at www.chefscapekitchen.com. With our top of the line kitchen, it was time to don the aprons and sample some meals.

Just watching how different people cook is awesome. It made me want to have a Girl’s Night In. Each of us had our own unique way of following directions. It was clear I was the least-talented of the group. When the recipe said cook for three minutes per side, I counted “One Mississippi, Two Mississippi…” right on down to “180 Mississippi”. The other ladies were taking guidance from the recipes but going about it with the confidence of true chefs. So, my first piece of advice when researching home meal delivery services is to take the time to know who you are and what you want. Are you looking for a take-out option? Are you trying to lose weight or portion control, are you trying to gain confidence in the kitchen? Do you like exotic or familyfriendly? What is your budget? These are questions you need to answer honestly. These meal services offer delicious meals that are achievable for differing levels of culinary prowess.

The best option for weight loss and take-out alternative is Factor 75. Their meals are prepared prior to shipping. They are single servings, ready to microwave. However, unlike a frozen, grocery store meal, they are prepared with the freshest ingredients and are preservative-free. The ingredients list is short, and contain just the actual food ingredients. The salmon with avocado sauce was delicious. It felt healthy to eat, and tasted wonderful. This is not a family style meal plan. But it is a wonderful way to eat nutritionally and quickly at the end of a stressful day. The meals average about $12 each. They are packaged fantastically and remain cold even if you are not home to receive them.

As for the meal delivery services that arrive awaiting you to cook them, Peach Dish, Blue Apron and Hello Fresh all had pluses and minuses. Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are the most affordable. They start on average of $8.74/serving. Peach Dish averages about $12/serving. All of them require a weekly delivery commitment. You are able to change your meals, and pause or cancel membership. You select the number of meals you want delivered weekly and for either two or four people.

The winner of the easiest to navigate website goes to Peach Dish. It is easy to find the meal selections and pricing without going through a bunch of steps. Weekly, a well-insulated box arrives at the door with your meal selections and recipe cards. As far as packaging, Peach Dish wins. They keep the ingredients for each meal divided in adorable gold mesh bags. Hello Fresh boxes their ingredients together by meal. It is no gold mesh bag, but they both make it easy to keep the meals organized in even the messiest of refrigerators. Blue Apron was my least favorite packaging. They keep the small ingredients such as sauces and spices together in bags, but the produce is all mixed in. This adds a step in the time crunched evenings.

All three services provide beautiful step by step instructions with corresponding photos. The most difficult meal to prepare came from Peach Dish, their chicken breast stuffed with fontina and apple over mashed potatoes was the most complicated to cook, the step by step instructions with pictures beside made it a little less scary. To the surprise of everyone, the dish I prepared for the cook-off won crowd favorite. It was the ginger beef stir-fry from Hello Fresh. I would like to believe it was the Mississippi count that put me on top. One meal we weren’t able to prepare together that afternoon came from Blue Apron and it was my overall favorite. It was a beef, lamb, and mushroom stew. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t want to cook it. It was nothing I would ever order or dream of making and it was DELICIOUS! I was proud of myself for trying it, for not messing it up, and for the final product. In fact, it was that very meal that sold me on the idea of the home meal delivery service. Nudging me out of my comfort zone and helping me gain confidence in the kitchen.

Lessons learned through this experience were many. Disney’s “Ratatouille” was right when they said anyone can cook. These meal services offer delicious meals that are achievable for differing levels of culinary prowess. Left to my own devices I over season, over sauce, over do. With everything rationed out, it makes cooking alone or with your family so much easier. These are not alternatives time-wise to a drive-thru. On average, you can expect to spend 30-40 minutes preparing. But with everything in one place, pre-measured, broken down step by step, and fresh it makes it enjoyable. My children helped prepare the extra meals I made at home. It was nice to not have to look over their shoulder when they were adding spices and such. Children are always a smidge more willing to try something they helped prepare and have ownership of. But be honest with yourself when trying these services. Will your children enjoy the choices? What can you comfortably afford to spend? How much time do you have to prepare dinners?

I loved gaining confidence. I loved feeling successful. But for me, the best thing about the service was when asked, “What’s for dinner?” instead of having to think of the best way to spin the nightly suggestion, I simply replied, “I don’t know, let’s see what we were sent.”