A splay of the contents of a Hello Fresh meal box. (Zoe Yang/Sun Staff Photographer)

April 29, 2021

Playing the Promo-Hopping Game: My Experience with Meal Delivery Services

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It’s difficult to find the time and effort to cook real food in college. Energy has to go into finding recipes, grocery shopping and executing the dish. The chaotic trip to Wegman’s alone is enough to deter many from cooking. Instant mac and cheese or ramen are too often the default. This past semester, I tried to spice things up in the kitchen and venture out of my food comfort zone. I decided no more Annie’s mac and cheese or Progresso soup; I wanted meals with fresh and interesting ingredients.

Advertisements for meal delivery services caught my eye. No grocery shopping is required, and the meals are delivered right to your door. While it can be more expensive than shopping on your own, most meal kit services offer a discount for a trial period. So, I played the promo-hopping game; start with one service and when the promo runs out, cancel and move on to the next. 

Blue Apron was the start of my journey. I downloaded the app and selected which recipes I wanted for the week. I opted for the classic plan of three meals per week, with two servings per meal. This way I could cook just three days for six dinners. I picked the most interesting dishes I saw: Crispy Skin Salmon, Tofu Katsu, Shakshuka, Poblano Tortas, Shawarma Grain Bowls, Fish and Chips and the list goes on. 

I acquired countless cooking skills from Blue Apron; pickled radishes became a favorite topping, I learned how to cook pan-fried fish in a healthy low-oil way, and I was adding more color to my plate than ever before. All my dishes were pescatarian, and I became comfortable exploring new ways to cook seafood. Blue Apron’s fresh and high-quality seafood is hard to beat. As a former fishmonger, I am very passionate about the freshness and quality of the seafood I eat. Knowing exactly where my fish comes from is important to me. Blue Apron packages all their seafood with a label saying precisely where the fish is sourced, giving me confidence in the quality of the brand.

When the food arrives at your doorstep, it comes in an insulated cardboard box with all the necessary ingredients. The only items you need in the cabinet are olive oil, salt and pepper. Spices come in mini pouches, and liquids in tiny bottles. One-page recipe cards outline the culinary process and can be saved for the future. Best of all, Blue Apron prides themselves on their sustainably sourced ingredients. 

My next meal delivery service stop was HelloFresh. I was just as adventurous in choosing my recipes. I made Bibimbap, Tagine and Flatbreads. The biggest difference between the two services was the packaging. Hello Fresh meals each had their own paper bag, and less plastic was used to wrap the vegetables. The HelloFresh website advertises a 25 percent lower carbon footprint than grocery shopping. On the downside, the ingredients were not as high-quality or adventurous as Blue Apron. HelloFresh recipes are slightly simpler, and use less spices, sauces and marinades. All the recipes can be made in around 30 minutes. If you’re a new cook looking for simple recipes, HelloFresh might be the best place to start.

Of the two meal delivery services, my personal preference was for Blue Apron. The unique flavor combinations, adventurous spices and the superior quality of the seafood is unmatched. While Blue Apron is slightly more time and labor intensive, all recipes can be made in under an hour. Regardless of my opinion, one of my favorite aspects of both meal delivery services is the lack of food waste. With all recipes perfectly portioned, I cook just the right amount. I have not thrown away food since I started this journey in February. Cooking has also done wonders for my mental health. My time in the kitchen makes me forget about the countless prelims and global pandemic. I have become a more adventurous cook and was even inspired to join The Sun dining squad this past semester. 

Olivia Smith is a junior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at ojs28@cornell.edu