Written by Katie Shickman
Dinner time at our house begins with the wrangling of two toddlers into seats with very firm straps. Once the boys are secured, a warm-up food is quickly thrust onto their trays as a means of tiding them over until the main course arrives. “You may want to consider the Ritz cracker an amuse bouche of sorts.” As the boys shove fistfuls of crackers into their gobs, I squawk around the kitchen, imitating farmyard animals while attempting to create a meal that is both appealing to toddlers and adults.
Watching toddlers eat is very much akin to traveling through time to dine with primitive men. Utensils are unheard of, sanitary conditions are very low—bordering on horrifying—and protecting one’s food from a rival becomes a necessity. Developmentally, utensil use is an advanced skill and not one prioritized in our household of “whateverworks” parenting. Thus, the boys turn every meal into finger food. Scrambled eggs? No problem! Tuna salad? Yep. And my favorite, yogurt.
Before babies (a time I barely remember but assume was relaxing and relatively free of visions of humans consuming tuna salad with their fingers) mealtime was my favorite part of the day. My husband and I took turns cooking and we actually enjoyed creating meals and having the energy to discuss our days while eating them. Now, meals are fraught with tiny wars and victory is measured by the number of bites of green leafy vegetables consumed by someone who doesn’t even know what a battle of wills is.
Because I desperately want to eat good food and introduce my toddlers to a variety of tasty meals, but also because I desperately want to maintain my sanity and cannot manage meal planning grocery shopping and all of the prep work required to prepare said tasty meal, I have recently started experimenting with meal delivery systems. This isn’t the first time that I tried a dinner shortcut. A few months after our twins were born, when cereal had become our dinner staple, a concerned family member gifted us with a week of Blue Apron meals. We ate like kings! Three years later, I still remember the gnocchi with pan fried squash blossoms, which shook me out of my cereal funk and reminded me that preparing and consuming delicious food can be satisfying and comforting even on the worst, sleep-deprived day.
Without that meal from Blue Apron, I doubt that I would ever have cooked squash blossoms in my kitchen. I tend to stick with a rotating menu of quick, healthy familiars. Various delicious, somewhat gourmet food, are what Blue Apron provides; however, the recipes can be involved and often times, in my experience, exceed the time frame that they suggest as the standard for preparing the meal, which led us to cancel our subscription. I was complaining about the lengthy meal prep and too involved cooking process to a good friend of mine, whom I gifted Blue Apron to after the birth of her second child, when she said that Blue Apron gave her the confidence to cook and made her feel accomplished in the kitchen. Prior to Blue Apron, she wasn’t a cook. She baked delicious scones, but her husband did all the cooking. Since Blue Apron entered her life, she has learned a variety of cooking techniques and finds their step-by-step directions are perfect for even the most novice of chefs. She agreed with me that the prep (washing, dicing, etc.) can be time consuming, but, unlike me, she thinks the end result is worth the time spent.
While Blue Apron is not a sustainable choice in my household, I wasn’t ready to give up entirely on the meal delivery idea, so I experimented with Hello Fresh, Sun Basket and Green Chef. Sun Basket and Green Chef appealed to us because they are organic, and Hello Fresh has a family option, which offers upscale versions of favorites like baked chicken fingers. I have to say, all of the meal delivery options are very similar in price, variety and customization. A quick internet search will reveal charts that compare the various features and help you make a decision. Charts are great, and I love a good objective view, but my family, perhaps driven by FOMO, needed to experiment with all to pick a favorite.
Drum roll please… our favorite is Green Chef. Every meal we have eaten has been delicious and plentiful; we usually have leftovers to eat for lunch the next day. The food is organic, we can opt for the paleo option and increase our veggie consumption, and, best of all, most of the produce is already chopped for you, which is a huge time saver in this home. I can’t say that my toddlers love every meal and are going to start their own tiny person version of Anthony Bourdain’s show because of how awakened their taste buds are, but I can say that we have managed to avoid recreating Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods by following the detailed directions. My husband and I really enjoy eating a nice meal that actually takes the suggested 30 minutes to prepare before collapsing on the couch to scroll through all of the adorable pictures of our boys covered in organic Thai coconut steak with homemade flatbread and broccoli slaw.