Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Plated, Sun Basket; if you haven’t tried a home meal prep service, you’re missing out on a trend offered by more than 100 new companies trying to get in on this growing food fad. But how much are you missing?
While it might sound great to have the ingredients for your dinner (including the main protein, fresh veggies and even seasonings) delivered to your door with step-by-step instructions, there’s one problem. Most delicious meals require at least some basic knowledge of cooking to pull off the recipe well.
Here’s news you already know that some meal prep service might ignore: you’re no regular chef. So, while these services are great, we’re telling you YouTube might be a better learning tool than any recipe a meal prep service can provide.
You Need Some Skills
If you don’t has a few basic cooking techniques, you’ll need to see them performed, rather than just be told to perform them. You can’t get that off a food prep card.
For example, ever try to learn a new computer software program by yourself? Sure, you can follow the tutorials and eventually figure it out after a bunch of frustration, but you’d understand it in a matter of minutes if you could have your tech-savvy cousin or buddy from work show you how, right? That’s the problem with meal delivery kits. You can see the finished products, but to prepare a dish well, you really need to see the process.
When you boil water, should you do it with the top covered or the lid off? And when do you add salt, before it boils or after it starts boiling? (Be careful!) Do you know how to whisk, and, if so, for how long? What’s the different between a dice and a julienne cut vegetable? What does it mean to cook onions until they’re translucent?
If you’re buying dinner from a meal prep service because you don’t know how to cook and want to get out of the frozen dinner rut, there’s a better alternative — the aforementioned YouTube.
Seeing Is Believing
The nice thing about YouTube for recipes is that the videos show you how your dish will look at different stages. If a video cook tells you, “Cook the vegetables for 10 minutes,” you’ll see what your vegetables should look like before you use them in the next step. If your veggies at home don’t look like what you see in the video, you can go back and watch the previous step to see if you missed something. You’ll also be told why you’re cooking a certain way, which will help you cook in the future.
Meal kits usually come with instructions that provide pictures of the meal at different stages, but remember; just one little error can change the taste of an entire dish. And, once you add your water, brown your meat, simmer your sauce or sear your salmon, you can’t go back and re-do it if you made a mistake.
Seeing what something should look like on YouTube before you cook it gives you a heads up to stop if something doesn’t look right in your kitchen.
The Time Factor
A meal prep service promises preparation times around 30 minute or less. However, testers are reporting longer completion times, especially if they aren’t great cooks. Watching a YouTube video before you make a meal can help you cut your meal prep time and avoid mistakes. And, once you learn how to cook your own favorite meals with your own favorite ingredients, you’ll discover timesaving techniques and won’t overcomplicate your dishes.
With a home meal kit, you probably won’t toss out any of the ingredients you paid for, you’ll slow down to read the directions for prepping each item, and you’ll have to read and re-read the cards as you’re cooking.
Meal Kits Aren’t All Bad
Money magazine evaluated the six top meal kit companies and found that you might actually spend less ordering a kit than you do buying the same ingredients at the local grocery store. That’s one upside to meal kits, especially if you don’t know how to smart-shop or you’re watching monthly expenses or are on a tight budget.
Many reviews for the finished products also seem to be pretty positive. However, meal kit companies are struggling to retain customers and are now heading into brick-and-mortar stores — even grocery stores. Overall, if you have the time and money, meal kits can help you put together a tasty meal.
Before you try a meal prep service, look up the recipe on YouTube and watch several versions by different cooks. If you think the recipe is going to be too complicated after watching it on YouTube, imagine how you’ll struggle trying to make the meal using only written instructions and a few pictures. On the contrary, if you try a few YouTube videos and decide cooking isn’t that difficult, then a meal delivery service might be the time-saver you’re looking for.
Lead image via Getty