My Facebook news feed has been filled with advertisements for a dozen different meal kit services for the past few months. The idea of skipping meal-planning for a week and getting my groceries and recipes delivered right to my door sounded great, but as a college student on a budget, I could never justify it. So when I got the opportunity to try out the Spoon University Meal Kit powered by Chef’d, a new kit designed especially for college students, I jumped on the trend.
When I got home from class and saw my Spoon University Meal Kit waiting for me in my apartment’s entryway, my jaw dropped. The box was giant — maybe three feet long and a foot across — and was weighed down with a week’s worth of food. I live on the third floor of my apartment building, and with no handles attached to the box, I was forced to drag, kick and push my meal kit up to my room. This flaw in the meal kit design gave me an immediate and questionable impression of the new meal kit service: despite their target audience being college students, Spoon U hadn’t taken into account the fact that most students live in dorms and apartment buildings and many have to walk to another location entirely to receive their mail. Were they really trying to create a convenient alternative to college dining, or were they just trying to profit off of the meal kit craze?
The Spoon U Meal Plan is a kit filled with food from Chef’d, a meal kit company, made specifically for college students using demographic insight from Spoon University. The meal kit currently costs $99 — marked down from $119 — and is designed to cover between 80 and 85 percent of a student’s weekly food necessities. Each kit comes with two two-portion entrees, six “grab-and-go” meals which can be used as lunches or quick dinners, 10 snacks and beverages, and five pieces of fruit. The meals are catered toward each customer based on preferences and restrictions.
The food is sealed in plastic bags and kept refrigerated in the box, although nowhere on the box does it mention how long the food will stay fresh for, so presumably you can stretch the contents of the kit over a number of weeks as long as you supplement the food with other meals. On one hand, it’s great that you don’t need to keep all the food in your own refrigerator: In a shared apartment, there can be very little space in the fridge at any given time, and those living in a dorm may not even have access to one. On the other hand, the box took up way too much space in my apartment bedroom, and it never would have fit in the tiny dorm rooms of my past.
Despite the mechanical flaws of the box itself, I tried to dive into the food with an open mind. The first of the two entrees I received was spaghetti carbonara with pancetta. All the ingredients were measured out and I was provided with step-by-step directions that included pictures. Despite eating and writing about food all day, I am not the most competent chef in the world, but these instructions were easy enough that anybody could follow them. Usually when I cook, it takes about twice the estimated time for me to complete the dish, but due to the simple instructions and pre-measured ingredients, cooking the spaghetti carbonara took me exactly the allotted 30 minutes.
And, let me tell you, that spaghetti was good. Despite its simplicity and the fact that the ingredients had been sitting in my room for a few days, this was maybe the best dish I’ve ever cooked. It was the peak of my Spoon University experience, and instantly converted me into a meal kit believer.
Unfortunately, the chicken fajitas — the other entree — were not as good. The chicken is vacuum sealed to preserve its freshness, but because of this, it emanated a weird smell. The instructions warned that this might happen and was normal, but the stench was so strong it stayed in my kitchen and on my hands for hours. It also gave the chicken a funky taste that made me question whether or not it was safe to eat. So in terms of entrees, the meal kit had only a 50% success rate.
The kit also includes six grab-and-go meals that are supposedly intended to be brought onto campus for lunch or used for your remaining weekly dinners. However, they aren’t really useful for either. While a couple of the meals could be prepared the night before and then wrapped and eaten in between class, others required some form of cooking or heating that would be difficult to do running between lecture halls. Featured meals were baked pasta in a mug and a cheesy eggs and spinach burrito (also in a mug — evidently Spoon U thought that adding “in a mug” to all their meals made them portable).
One of the grab-and-go meals was a pre-packaged salad, which was much more convenient to carry onto campus when I had a late night with only a quick dinner break. However, the salad was nowhere near a dinner-size portion — nothing like the Trillium salads I’m used to — and left me feeling hungry enough that I ate leftover Thai food when I got home that night.
I again appreciate the simple instructions, which came with a time estimate and calorie count (and also a less-appreciated suggested mood for when you would want each meal — for example, apparently if you are feeling “single” you should eat a kale-avocado hummus wrap, whereas if you are feeling “not drunk yet,” you should turn to a green chile tamale). I could see these meals coming in handy if I worked in an office with an hour-lunch break every day and a refrigerator and microwave to work with. But for a target audience of college students, they miss the mark.
The kit also comes with snacks such as skinny pop and cereal, some bottles of water and other drinks, and fruit. It’s definitely a lot of food, but is it worth the steep price? Assuming they keep the discount price of $99, and assuming you purchased a box every week of the semester through finals week, it would run you $1,700. That sounds incredibly high, but the cheapest meal plan for the 2017-2018 year at Cornell is $2,316, and the most expensive is $3,369. So assuming you are living somewhere where meal plans are not required, you would save a lot of money using this meal kit instead of a dining plan.
However, you have to consider the feasibility of bringing the meals onto campus, along with the fact that only four portions of dinner entrees are provided — you would still end up needing groceries or takeout by the end of the week. Personally — cooking dinner for myself while eating lunch on campus — I spend less per semester on food than the meal kit would cost me.
While as it stands right now, I can’t justify subscribing to the Spoon University meal kit, I really want to love it and a few improvements could get me to justify buying a few per semester: keep the target audience in mind; college students have crazy schedules, nowhere to cook on campus and no way to carry a giant box to and store it in their rooms. Keep the food consistently good; the pasta was A+ while the fajitas were worse than something I could make spending $10 at Wegmans. Finally, lower the price. This kit is more expensive than other kits, despite the target audience being broke college students. While it may include more food, I honestly didn’t need all the snacks and fruits, and most of it went bad before I could get around to eating it.
The meal kit trend is fast-spreading. Make up your own mind as to whether this kit is financially worth it for you. Personally, I don’t see the trend making its way into college dorms and apartments or convincing students to ditch takeout any time soon.