Everybody Eats: It's not a home meal delivery kit, but it's a balanced meal ready for any busy weekday

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I’ve been curious about home meal delivery kits for a few years now.

A friend of mine, who is single, is an avid supporter. She purchases three meals a week. At two servings per meal, she says one box takes care of her dinners for the week. And, because she lives in a large city, it’s a lot easier having all ingredients delivered compared to boarding a crowded subway with grocery bags.

I’m not single. I don’t live in the city. And I’m lucky if I’ve prepared a large enough dinner to leave leftovers for lunch the next day, let alone multiple meals. Still, the commercials make the meal prep process look like fun! Let’s face it; I love to cook, but sometimes after a long day at work, the last thing I feel like doing is making dinner for my family.

We call those nights spaghetti night at my house. Or chicken stir fry night. Or Fend for Yourself Night, which is also known as cold cereal night.

So I took the plunge. I received a coupon for 50 percent off two delivery boxes and signed up. A week later, I was unpacking my box of two family-sized meals (four servings per meal).

I’ll admit that having everything pre-measured and on hand makes the process of cooking dinner as fun as it appears in the commercials. It’s kind of like being on Food Network, when the chef reaches for a small bowl that has a teaspoon of this or a tablespoon of that inside. Still, at the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder about the people that need a small envelope of thyme seasoning or tubes of honey or soy sauce to complete a recipe. Do they seriously not have these on hand? Another plus for the meal delivery kits is knowing anything I’d make would be a balanced dinner with a main dish and two sides. Even better, the side dishes were variations of vegetables I rarely prepared on my own.

The sweet potato deserves more love at my house.

Despite the fun I had with my little experiment, I don’t think a meal delivery kit is right for my family long-term. With the coupon, the meals ended up costing about $5 per serving, which is a lot cheaper and healthier than takeout, but that’s with my introductory discount. Without it, the service gets pricey fast.

What I (re)learned from all of this is the importance of planning ahead. When I make my grocery list based on ingredients I have in the house and meals my family wants to eat, I spend less money at the store and rarely complain about cooking because I have a plan. It’s when I’m staring into the refrigerator at 6 p.m. with no idea of what I’m going to make that preparing dinner becomes a drag.

That being said, I recently made a lovely fall meal for my family that’s easy on the wallet and on calories — or it was until the apple bread pudding. Come on, it’s baking season! If my house doesn’t smell like cinnamon or vanilla for the next few months, there’s something wrong.

Recipes

OCTOBERFEST PORK WITH MUSHROOMS

Makes 4 servings.

4 4-ounce boneless pork loin chops

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/3 cup chopped onions

4 tablespoons water

2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/3 cup beer

2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

Spray large nonstick skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Heat over high heat until hot. Sprinkle both sides of pork chops lightly with salt and pepper; add to skillet. Cook 2 minutes on each side until browned. Remove chops from skillet; cover to keep warm.

Add onions and 2 tablespoons of the water to same skillet; cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add chops, mushrooms, thyme and beer. Reduce heat to medium low; cover and cook 8 to 11 minutes or until chops are no longer pink in center.

In small bowl, combine remaining 2 tablespoons water and flour; blend well. Add to skillet; cook and stir until thickened. Serve mushrooms over chops.

Source: “Pillsbury Fast and Healthy Cookbook: 350 Recipes for Every Day” by The Pillsbury Company (Clarkson Potter/Publishers; 1998)

SMASHED RED POTATOES WITH HERBS

1 pound small red-skinned potatoes

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Salt and pepper to taste

Boil potatoes in large pot of salted water until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain potatoes and return to the pot, stirring over low heat 1 minute to dry any excess moisture from them.

Coarsely crush potatoes with a potato masher; then add buttermilk and butter.

Off heat, stir in parsley and chives; season with salt and pepper.

Source: CuisineAtHomeSpecials.com

ROASTED GREEN BEANS

2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed

1 tablespoon olive oil, or as needed

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pat green beans dry with paper towels if necessary; spread onto a jellyroll pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Use your fingers to coat beans evenly with olive oil and spread them out so they don’t overlap.

Roast in the preheated oven until beans are slightly shriveled and have brown spots, 20 to 25 minutes.

Source: allrecipes.com

APPLE BREAD PUDDING

Makes 12 servings

8 ounces unsliced rich egg bread, such as challah, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

6 large Golden Delicious apples (3 pounds), peeled, cored, and sliced

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup plus 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

5 cups milk

5 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread bread cubes in a jelly-roll pan; bake 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly toasted. Meanwhile, in 12-inch skillet, melt margarine over medium-high heat. Stir in apples and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; cover and cook 10 minutes. Uncover; stir in 1/2 cup sugar. Cook, stirring often, 5 to 10 minutes, until apples are lightly caramelized. In cup, mix cornstarch and 1/2 cup milk until smooth; stir in apples. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.

Place half of bread on 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Spoon apple mixture over bread; top with remaining bread. In large bowl, with wire whisk or fork, mix eggs, vanilla, 2/3 cup sugar, and remaining 4 1/2 cups milk until well blended; pour over bread. Let stand 10 minutes, pressing bread into liquid. In cup, combine remaining 1 tablespoon sugar with remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; sprinkle over bread.

Place baking dish in larger roasting pan. Carefully pour boiling water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of dish. Bake 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Source: “Good Housekeeping Step By Step Cookbook” by Susan Westmoreland (Hearst; October 7, 2008)

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