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We Review A Pre-Packaged Meal

For at least the past year we've been seeing ads for pre-portioned, "cook it yourself" meals in places like The New York Times and Bon Appétit magazine. At first we kind of laughed it off as something people in Manhattan would do because they are too busy to go shopping. But the buzz has obviously grown, with ads popping up all over the internet for services like Blue Apron, Chef'd, Hello Fresh and Home Chef, just to name a few.

We suspect the idea came, in part, from the success of Peapod delivery service for vegetables, and now, groceries, to your home. Pre-portioned meals took it a step further by sending completely portioned and packaged, ready-to-cook meals. A few weeks ago when we noticed that Blue Apron had aligned with Bon Appetit and Chef'd had paired up with the New York Times, we decided we had to see what this trend was all about.

The services all seemed to offer individual meal orders or subscription services where they send three to five meal packages to you per week. We should preface this by saying, 1) none of this is cheap, 2) just because it is pre-portioned, preparing the meal is not necessarily for non-cooks, and 3) we're not sure the process is all that environmentally friendly considering the amount of cardboard and plastic packaging that each meal requires.

The website of Chef'd is extensive with hundreds of meal options, with meals for 2, in the $30 to $45 range, and for 4, ranging from $44 to $78, plus $10 shipping. While it sounds expensive, once you see the elaborate, custom packaging and individually portioned and labeled ingredients, you almost have to wonder how they make money. But we appreciated the lengths they had gone to make sure things arrived well-chilled and fresh. Linda checks out chicken closely when buying it at a grocery store, having been burnt a few times on less than fresh meat, so she was all over the chicken package that arrived, and pronounced it very fresh in aroma, and subsequently, taste.

We chose a meal that we wouldn't normally cook at home, Creamy Chicken Korma with Cilantro Rice and Naan. The ingredients arrived individually packaged and clearly labeled, down to the single, foil wrapped pat of butter and four coffee shop sugar packets. Also included were detailed directions for preparation, with color photos and a skill level assessment, in this case "1 knife" out out of a possible 3. We found the cooking time estimate of 45 minutes to be a bit conservative, as we're used to a lot of chopping. And if this was a 1, we have to try a 3 when we have lots of time. Or maybe we just talk and sip wine too much!

We have to admit, the meal turned out beautifully and was better than any Indian-inspired dish we have had in a local restaurant (and that is a good thing because for $44, you can buy a lot of food in most local Indian restaurants). But this was a complete meal. The basmati rice was perfect, and the mixed greens salad included a choice of 3 dressings and was a nice touch. And the naan was the same brand that we buy at Fresh Market. The directions were clear and it wasn't like this was carry-out - we still had the full meal preparation experience.

Would we do this again - yes. Their choices sound very interesting. But I can't see us subscribing, tripling (at least) our food costs, and changing from our routine of weekly menu planning and local grocery shopping.