Ideal Meals for Busy Weeks

August 11, 2014

Blue Apron Meal21

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Blue Apron.

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I’ve seen Blue Apron covered on many of my favorite blogs over the last couple of months. I’ve read the posts, thought it looked interesting, but assumed it wouldn’t really work for my big family. Until last week.

We got home from the epic roadtrip and all we wanted was home cooked meals. But, it’s this crazy, crazy time between the roadtrip and the Sweden trip — we’re trying to squeeze a month’s worth of family tasks and errands into a week and a half. Of course, this isn’t our first busy period. Typically, we’ll rely on take-out or drive-thrus to assist us with meals when life gets crazy. But in this case, no one could stand the idea of yet another cheeseburger after being on the road for 19 days. The whole family was craving dinners around the table with real food, prepared right in our kitchen.

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Enter Blue Apron. We ordered 3 meals, each with ingredients for 6 people. The ingredients for all three meals were delivered last Tuesday. They arrived in a refrigerated box, and we cooked the meals Tuesday night, Wednesday night and Thursday night. I hoped it would be helpful, I assumed it would be a nice plus, but it turns out we LOVE this service. In fact, this post is much longer than I expected to write, but we found this service to be so helpful that I want to thoroughly explain why I’m such a fan.

With Blue Apron, all the thinking and errands are done for you. As someone who likes to be in control, you would think I would hate having the decisions taken away from me. But it turns out, removing the menu planning, the grocery list making, and the errands from our task list is hugely helpful. Sometimes it’s really, really nice to have the decisions made for you and save your brain space for other tasks.

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Dinner time would roll around and instead of panicking, the ingredients and recipe would be waiting for us. And not just any old ingredients — farm-fresh, beautiful produce, with tons of variety, and sourced from local suppliers. We were delighted that the meals introduced our family to ingredients and dishes we’d never tried before, like the crispy fennel root salad pictured in this post. So yummy! On the second night, the side dish included green tomatoes — I’d only eaten them fried before and had no idea how wonderful they were raw. The food was delicious and menus (which are created by chefs) were unusual enough to makes the meals feel extra special.

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The cooking was simple. It would take about a half an hour — less time than if we’d had to run out for dinner ingredients or fast food. None of the prep was super involved. No special skills or unusual tools were needed. And having the kids follow the recipes felt a bit like cooking lessons. Our kids were learning how to make things beyond their favorite family comfort food recipes.

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I realize these are not bargain meals. This is not a college student eating cup noodles. They are $9.99 per person. I admit, at first that sounded high to us — each of the 3 meals we prepared last week cost $60. Then we thought about what a fast food meal for our family costs, and this was in the same range — but the food quality is much, much higher. And if we were to eat an equivalent meal at a sit-down restaurant it would be 3 times as much! So again, for us on a busy week, Blue Apron makes tons of sense. We would have been spending to eat out anyway, but instead of french fries or pizza, we ate delicious, fresh, home cooked meals, and learned some new recipes in the process.

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Another thing we did to make it more economical: We had servings for six delivered, but we were feeding 7 or 8 or 9 people each night (sometimes one of the kids has a babysitting job or other activity that takes them away during dinner time). So we served the food “family style” instead of plating it, and we found the amount of food typcially served all of us. And if it wasn’t quite enough, we could stretch it. For example, on one night, we were planning dinner for 7, but added two more people at the last minute. We knew there was plenty of the side dishes, but we were worried about the amount of meat in the main course, so we grabbed some chicken from the freezer, and cooked it with the rest of the ingredients. Easy peasy. We could have done the same thing with rice or potatoes if needed. My point: I found that the meals could be easily stretched when necessary.

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The last thing I wanted to mention, is that I really like that I didn’t waste ingredients. On the first night, the recipe called for fresh tarragon and Blue Apron sent just exactly the amount we needed. If I’d done the shopping, I would have had to buy a whole package of tarragon which would have too much for one recipe. Perhaps we would have used the remaining tarragon in a future meal, but it’s just as likely that it would have eventually been thrown away. I liked not having extra ingredients to deal with (or waste).

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Anyway. I know I am raving about Blue Apron, but I really felt like this was a huge blessing for us. It totally saved the day last week. We have Blue Apron meals coming this week and next week, too while Ben and I are in Sweden. We thought it would be helpful to Audrey & Nick as they get into the rhythm of taking care of six kids. I’m curious to see what’s on the menu! They have a huge selection of recipes and add new ones each week. It will be fun to see what arrives.

I can easily see us ordering again in the future when one of us is traveling for work, or we have another particularly crazy week. We feel so much better about making Blue Apron than ordering take out.

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What do think of the Blue Apron concept? Would you ever try it? Would it ever make sense for your family? Delivery is available in 80% of the country (see this map), so there’s a good chance they cover your home, too! If you do want to try it, you’re in luck. The first 100 Design Mom Readers who sign up will get two free meals on their first Blue Apron order! If you don’t like it, no stress. There’s no commitment — you can skip or cancel the service at any time, and shipping is always free.

P.S. — Fun fact: chefs in training around the world wear blue aprons – it’s a symbol of lifelong learning in cooking.

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christie August 11, 2014 at 10:21 am

Each of the three meals cost $60?! I’m not familiar with what it would cost to feed a large family, so I don’t know if that’s expensive or not, but I just can’t find a use for these meal services in our family of three. I can see how they would be awesome for those times that you’ve run out of options and you want a home-cooked fresh meal, but the fact you have to order days ahead kind of negates the whole last-minute thing. And I’m assuming because the ingredients are fresh that they wouldn’t constitute a good pull-out-of-the-freezer meal? It seems a lot easier to me to just cook a little extra whenever you make soup or something in the slow cooker, and then freeze the leftovers.

I do like the idea of using them as a little cooking lesson for the kids – the instructions that come with pictures look kind of cool. But I don’t see us doing this on a regular basis…

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2 Design Mom August 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Right. It doesn’t work as a last-minute option at all. For us, I think it’s really about recognizing when we have a crazy period coming up and making sure food is delivered on those weeks. In our case, Blue Apron offers huge relief, but I truly don’t think it’s a good fit for every family.

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3 Karin August 11, 2014 at 10:30 am

I thought this looked wonderful so I signed up and then cancelled, the menus I got were not things I really wanted. Patty melt sandwitches for dinner? Not really happening at my house. Cancelling required an email. Maybe because we are 2 adults I thought the menus we not quite as sofisticated as I might like.

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4 Design Mom August 11, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Good to know on the cancellation procedure. I haven’t looked ahead at upcoming menus, but I was wondering if we would ever skip a week because the options didn’t look good to us. It will be interesting to see.

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5 Calee August 11, 2014 at 10:38 am

I signed up for meals for 2 even though we have 2 kids (age 4,7) After seeing the menus, I don’t think my kids would have eaten the food anyway (Patty melt sandwich, chicken gumbo, scallops with farro) but since I have a week’s notice, I may plan to make similar kid-friendly fare those nights.

I like that we were able to exclude fish since my husband won’t eat it, but I’m not sure it would be something we’d use long term. Maybe once a week? We’ll see.

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6 Design Mom August 11, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Feel free to report back and comment about how it works for your family. I like hearing about how different families react to it.

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7 plum August 11, 2014 at 10:53 am

free food!?! I’m in.

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8 Kristin August 11, 2014 at 10:53 am

I loved seeing this post today because I literally just made this salmon meal last night from my Blue Apron order! This particular set of recipes is my third delivery and I love it! My husband will eat anything and I love to cook so each week he is happy and I get to try a new recipe or a new cooking technique. One of the ways that I justify the cost is that they send you three whole meals with no waste for $60. Each of ours has a protein and is something new and delicious. To round out the price, the other four nights a week we have leftovers or inexpensive meals like grilled cheese or homemade pizza or even some spaghetti. It seems like it’s a splurge but I think we’re actually coming out ahead since we’re not ordering out or wasting ingredients anymore. And the time I save, oh the time I save, is wonderful! Lovely post!

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9 Design Mom August 11, 2014 at 1:45 pm

I think the salmon was my favorite of the 3 last week. I’m excited to see what arrives tomorrow!

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10 Barchbo August 11, 2014 at 10:55 am

I think Blue Apron is really cool! It’s not really my thing (I am too unscheduled and undisciplined in my meal structures + grocery shopping is our family time) but I have been subscribing to the recipe blog and I LOVE it! So, I do use Blue Apron but only the recipes. That gives me the freedom to make adaptations and changes too. I would encourage people who are intrigued to visit their recipe section to get an overall idea of what Blue Apron is about. I also read they are doing a recipe partnership with Gramercy Tavern – YUM!

Thanks for sharing!

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11 Amy August 11, 2014 at 11:16 am

Thanks for the thorough review! I am interested in trying Blue Apron, but being a crunchy hippie type, I’m curious about two things:

1. Are there any organic/humanely raised options? We are pretty strict about those things in our house; and

2. Is the packaging recyclable and earth-friendly? I’m concerned about the refrigerated box bit—what does that include?

Thanks for the beautiful images, too!

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12 Design Mom August 11, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Good questions. But I only have partial answers. I know the ingredients are as locally sourced as possible, which likely has some overlap with organic/humane options. But I don’t believe you can specify that on your order. It will be interesting to see what happens when the customer base grows. I can imagine in the future they would offer an organic only option, or a gluten-free option. That sort of thing.

As for the packaging, most of it was recyclable, but I didn’t see the recycle signs on the actual insulation. It’s not styrofoam — it looks like some kind of natural material, almost like the lint from your dryer. And the natural material is encased in thin covering of plastic (I assume to make it waterproof). We’re not sure what to do with. I would love to see Blue Apron implement a send-back program, where you can ship the insulation and reusable freezer packs back to them.

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13 Lisa August 11, 2014 at 11:16 am

Thanks for this thoughtful review. I particularly like that you were upfront about the cost. I hate it when bloggers recommend something like this, but then I have to go digging around on the company website to see how much things actually cost. This is a bit out of our price range, but I do have a sister who is always looking for fun gifts to give us, and I think this would be a good one. Thanks!

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14 Beth August 11, 2014 at 11:21 am

Interesting review. Personally I see the utility of this more for a single person, where the chance for food waste seems much higher (buying tarragon, for example). I have a single friend who has raved about this service for quite a while. I wonder how many meals $180 at the grocery store could provide for your family? (Of course that means taking time meal planning, shopping, etc. which is tough in a crazy schedule.) That potato salad looks awesome though!

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15 Design Mom August 11, 2014 at 1:38 pm

For sure. I was imagining this as a great service for a couple, and still think it would be. And that’s why I hadn’t tried it with my family until last week. I really didn’t expect that we would appreciate it so much.

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16 Stacey C. August 11, 2014 at 11:23 am

We tried it, and really liked the idea of it (the food is really fresh, the recipes are easy and get you to try something new), but it is a bit pricey if you are on a budget AND there is no way to customize the order (for example we are gf but there are no options for our menus to be gf). I understand why they have to have such limited choices, but that made it impossible for our family to use.

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17 Design Mom August 11, 2014 at 1:37 pm

I wondered about customization as well. I’m one of the 10% of the population that can’t handle cilantro, and two of our three recipes last week had cilantro, but it ended up being no big deal, I just kept the cilantro out of my servings. But I can see how it would be much more complicated if you were eating gluten free or dairy free.

It occurred to me that offerings will likely expand, assuming the company is an out-right success. I can imagine there will be more options based on consumer feedback.

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18 mamalang August 11, 2014 at 11:49 am

I think this sounds like an awesome idea, but just can’t justify the $180 a week. I wish they offered options for less meals a week, although I understand why they may not. We generally only eat out once a week and $180 is more than my grocery bill each week.

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19 Design Mom August 11, 2014 at 1:35 pm

I was thinking that too. Wishing I could simply order one meal if needed. I’m guessing it’s related to the complications of shipping refrigerated food.

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20 HannAK August 11, 2014 at 12:36 pm

I always think about the next meal while I’m eating!!
This would be a great idea for my busy-bee family :-)

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21 Sarah August 11, 2014 at 12:49 pm

I did their trial service, but it really wasn’t for our family. We like to cook & so have the staples in our pantry or fridge. I did not like the idea of having to pay for the olive oil or lemons or spices that we have already. I do think it would be a good service for those who are learning to cook or just setting up their kitchen because the quality was good and the recipes were interesting. I don’t have trouble finding interesting recipes on the food blogs that I read regularly, so I didn’t feel like that was worth paying for either.

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22 Design Mom August 11, 2014 at 1:32 pm

I’m glad you mentioned that you are a family who likes to cook. I was wondering what a family like yours would think about Blue Apron. I totally get why it didn’t turn out to be a good fit.

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23 Issa August 11, 2014 at 1:10 pm

I tried it and LOVED, LOVED it. Sadly it’s not something I can keep up with financially, since I’m a single mom and have to make my budget stretch right now. However, I will go back to it when things lighten a bit. The food was easy to make, tasted wonderful and it was things I’d never think to make, but ended up loving.

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24 Design Mom August 11, 2014 at 1:33 pm

I feel the same! To get us through busy periods, this is ideal.

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25 Heather August 11, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Great review. The food looks amazing. Looks like the type of recipes we would like to cook in this house. Thanks!

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26 Rachel August 11, 2014 at 1:48 pm

I love the idea of a meal subscription service, and all of the Blue Apron menus I’ve seen look great. Unfortunately we have diet restrictions that might make it hard for us to use. Definitely a great gift idea, though!

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27 Lee August 11, 2014 at 2:01 pm

My sister did it (not sure if she still was). I was pretty impressed with the meal but it’s not really in our budget. I think pre-prepared dishes from Whole Foods would be more economical and easier. I did decide to try again because I know we’ll be very busy this fall. I was thinking of order for more people in the family and utilizing the leftovers. However, they don’t deliver to our area.

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28 Zoe Royall August 11, 2014 at 2:15 pm

I’ve been wanting to try Blue Apron! I JUST missed their sale on One Kings Lane last week, I’ve been waiting for a sale to try it out. I’m a family of two, so I think this could be GREAT on busy weeks.

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29 Melissa Holiday August 11, 2014 at 2:30 pm

I have been so curious to try this, and your experience has me sold. Thanks!

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30 julia g blair August 11, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Hooray for “Blue Apron!” I’m so impressed and it really sounds and looks delicious. Thanks millions for sharing!

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31 jen August 11, 2014 at 3:51 pm

it’s funny, i’ve seen blue apron being promoted on many of the blogs but only this post and the one by your sister actually piqued my interest. so i’ll definitely try it out. however another recommendation for busy weeks is instacart. have you tried it? it’s a grocery delivery but they are local and in our area and can deliver from berkeley bowl, safeway, whole foods and costco. for me the deal maker was that they deliver from berkeley bowl and costco. two places i love to shop but hate going to. the thing i love about this service is when we are out of town on weekends and don’t have the time or energy to grocery shop. i can order all my ingredients for the night’s dinner and the rest of the week using the app and it will be delivered within the hour i get home. it’s just freaking amazing. and i usually spend less on my groceries because i’m just getting what i need instead of being distracted and buying too much. i highly recommend it and no, i am not affiliated with them. just a fan!

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32 Emily August 11, 2014 at 10:58 pm

This is a service I would use. I used to love grocery shopping, but my youngest two make it the worst chore on my list. I always end up impulse buying thinking I may save myself a trip in the future (I won’t). I would definitely pay someone to do it for me.

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33 Becky Parry August 11, 2014 at 3:58 pm

I’m wondering about food allergies. We have one family member with serious and numerous food allergies. Probably wouldn’t work for us.

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34 Kristi August 11, 2014 at 4:10 pm

I actually signed up for it a couple weeks ago through your sister Jordan’s link on her blog, so we should have received our first shipment on Saturday for the meals this week. None of the menus appealed to me at all, though! There’s no way to indicate if you don’t like spicy food and most of the options for this week sounded spicy. I was easily able to skip this week, and I’m glad I did because next week’s menus look delicious! This makes sense for my family’s situation and lifestyle and I’m looking forward to trying it.

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35 Sara August 11, 2014 at 4:50 pm

We too live in the Oakland Hills, and have been using Blue Apron for a few weeks. We love the food…my 3 year old son INHALES it. Who knew. But, as a working mom, sometimes I feel like it can be a lot of pressure to cook this meal after a long day of work when I could easily make an omelet in a matter of minutes. So, I get deliveries bi-monthly and that seems to work out pretty well. Overall, we have been pretty impressed with the caliber of the food and I love that we can try meals that i typically wouldn’t make. And the fact that me son gets to try new and flavorful food is an added bonus.

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36 Naomi August 11, 2014 at 6:14 pm

I would LOVE to try something like this. It’s hard to come up with something healthy and delicious in the hour or two I have between coming home from work and dinnertime. I especially like how your kids took an active interest in helping– something that would be great to foster.

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37 Diane August 11, 2014 at 6:32 pm

I had my first blue apron delivery last week and it was a HUGE hit in our house. We are adventurous food eaters (family of four) and will try just about anything. We live in Truckee, CA (Lake Tahoe Basin) and especially in summer and winter months the grocery stores are an absolute ZOO (tourist time of year). The thought of meal planning that involves trying a new recipe is just not in the cards unless we want to make it an all day event. We have been using Whole Foods concierge delivery service (they charge 10% of your total order) and love it. They even put the groceries away if we’re not home! Again, though we never try anything new recipe wise unless its a special night. Blue Apron is just PERFECT so far! And I saw what was in store for us for next week (the beef melts didn’t look too great) so I un-checked the beef option for food preferences and we were automatically switched to a vegetarian option. Perfect!

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38 Sherri August 11, 2014 at 8:19 pm

Tried it and loved it too. I had signed up for three a week and got a little behind with all the sports nights, etc. (family not home – at practice, etc. – no use cooking all the yummy food on those nights :). On hiatus for a bit but plan to start it up again for the school year.

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39 Sally from Little Hiccups August 12, 2014 at 2:15 pm

I’ve been thinking of signing up for a service like this but I’m really not sure how well it would work for my family. With two fussy young kids I imagine I’d find myself making them separate meals a lot.

I do really like that the pack contains just the right amount of everything to make the meal. As we have a small apartment with not much in the way of pantry space I find that I need to make meals that use the same ingredients in order to avoid buying lots of herbs, sauces etc that I don’t have space for. As you can imagine eating pretty much the same thing all the time gets rather monotonous!

Right now we live on top of a Trader Joe’s so we tend to buy a lot of their ready made meals. Lazy, I know, but it saves kitchen space, means we don’t have to eat the same limited foods all the time, it’s easy and a lot of the meals are pretty tasty. Down the track when we don’t have the convenience of a supermarket underneath us (or “our giant pantry” as I refer to it) a service like Blue Apron might suit our family better. And hopefully by then I can convince my kids to be a little more adventurous with their eating habits!

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40 Ariane August 12, 2014 at 4:26 pm

That was my dinner last night! We’re going into our second week with Blue Apron, and I’m pretty impressed. It’s so nice to be able to cook but not have to decide what to make or go to the store. (I hate the grocery store.) It’s just my husband and me, plus a 21-month-old, so he eats a little bit from our plates. The serving sizes are very good–just the right amount. (I had chicken rather than salmon, and turned off the fish option in our preferences.) I’m really looking forward to next week’s menu (scallops!). The crema on the stuffed pepper last week was so delicious!

Already we’re learning new foods, like green tomatoes (a great substitute for cucumbers, which I don’t like) and fennel salad (we’ll sub it in for celery)–we’d had them before, but not as the main ingredients for dishes. I wonder if I’ll get tired of putting a big box in the recycling each week, but I did just use it (including the insulation and freezer packs) over the weekend as a good-sized cooler for camping. I think it will balance out not having to rifle through the produce drawer in the refrigerator and throw away a forgotten zucchini or soft celery every month.

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41 malaika August 13, 2014 at 7:33 am

Since I discovered a food processor, cooking meals for a family of 6 became A WHOLE LOT EASIER. Just cutting the veggies took ages! Now it’s a snap, and it’s quick and easy to cook delicious healthy meals when you have the perennial ingredients (oils, spices) on hand.

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42 Rachel Coleman August 14, 2014 at 1:47 pm

I’ve tried both Blue Apron and Plated, two similar options, and I do love them! I prefer Plated, because you can pick and choose which recipes will be delivered. With a lot of food allergies in my home, it works better for my family. And every time I invite someone to try it and they do, I get 2 more free meals. These are great services for busy people who want healthy options!

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43 courtney August 14, 2014 at 7:09 pm

I’ve done Blue Apron several times, and I tend to really like it. I also tried Plated, and BA is a LOT cheaper. It’s definitely not a budget-friendly option, but it is so, so much cheaper than going out. Also, I think it’s a cheaper way to try new recipes. Many of the things I’ve made with Blue Apron have been completely new types of foods, and like you said about the tarragon, if a recipe has some unique spice, I have to buy a whole jar for like $8– and I’ll probably only use it that one time. I love cooking, but I rarely have the time to research new recipes, shop for new ingredients, AND cook.
After using the service a couple weeks in a row, I found myself not quite getting to that last meal within the week, and the ingredients did seem to last (freshness-wise), which was nice. I have skipped each week for the last two months or so, but I just got home from a long trip, and this seemed like a good time to get myself used to cooking again, so I am starting up again next week. I like that you can cancel each week if you know you are going to be gone or skip a week if you don’t like the menu for that week.
Also, you are totally right about the portion sizes. We have two adults and one six year-old in our family, but even getting the 2 person meal size leaves us with leftovers each time.
You might think I work for Blue Apron based on this comment. Ha! (I don’t) I will say that my 6 year-old, who isn’t very picky, has liked very few of the meals. So that’s my one complaint :)

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44 Tara August 15, 2014 at 8:24 am

This got my attention! But alas, no delivery to Kansas City, MO.
Bummer. I wonder if they will ever expand their delivery areas?

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45 melissa pimentel August 18, 2014 at 4:06 am

I just signed up for my 2 daughters that I homeschool (ages 7-10). I’m going to use it as part of our curriculum. I have a family of 7, but I can’t afford to feed us all this way, but once or twice a month I will order the meals for 2 people and let them learn through cooking and then enjoy lunch by eating the fruits of their labor. :)

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46 Melanie August 18, 2014 at 3:19 pm

We tried Blue Apron a few months ago and didn’t think it was for us. I love to cook but when it comes to meals my boyfriend and I prepare on weekdays after work we like to keep it simple and we just found that a lot of their meals involved a good hour of prep. But here’s the thing, once you sign up for the 1 week free it’s IMPOSSIBLE to cancel. You think you’ve canceled and boom a shipment shows up out of nowhere. They make it so difficult. I wish we never even tried it.

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47 Design Mom August 18, 2014 at 3:44 pm

Oh man. That must be super frustrating. Have you figured out how to officially cancel yet? A commenter above mentioned she sent an email. I haven’t tried the cancellation process so I don’t know what it’s like. I wish a had good instructions for you!

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48 Melanie August 21, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Well we cancelled about 2 months ago and it seemed fine. Then out of nowhere a shipment shows up at our door and they charged our credit card. (We were on vacation so we didn’t see the box until Wednesday night and call on Thursday.) We call and they apologize, take the charge off our credit card etc so it all seems fine… Then guess what shows up once again on Tuesday??? This time they swear we are officially cancelled but we’ll see. I guess jokes on them though since we got 2 weeks worth of free meals (even though I still think it’s too much prep.)

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49 Angela August 31, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Signed up with your promo. I have mixed feelings about it. The packaging is a lot (with the cooler packs it is definitely more waste than we would normally produce). I also can’t help but think about the resources used to get the food to us so quickly (it must have gone on an airplane, yikes). I also don’t like that it is all conventional foods. I normally buy organic/grass-fed dairy, but I used the conventional yogurt BA sent (for example) while I had a brand I preferred in my refrigerator.

That said, I have been in a huge food rut lately and dread the weekly food planning. Right now, at 5PM on a Sunday, I am so relieved that I don’t have to worry about what to make for dinner. Furthermore, while most of us did not love the first meal (the Palak Paneer), we did love the side salad, the kids were excited to try everything, and it just made for a nice dining experience to try something new, talk about the foods, etc. I also like that the prep is spelled out in the first step, so if I have an extra ten minutes in the afternoon I can easily do that ahead of time.

So, I plan to do BA once a month or so to get me out of a food rut. I am hoping it will be easy to go in and cancel deliveries and cherry pick which ones I get. From looking at the website it looks like I can easily do that. I like that they send an email with the coming up menu with a button to press if you want to skip a week.

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