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Food delivery programs. In the last few years they have grown exponentially. I see ads for them everywhere, and even my patients are asking about them now. Blue Apron, Healthy Chef Creations, Freshology.... Even Jamie Oliver has gotten involved as spokesperson for HelloFresh.
Sounds like it's time for a Dr. Gourmet review.
We started with HelloFresh. Not because of Jamie Oliver, but because we had a Groupon. Without that deal, this is pretty pricey at $69.00 for 3 meals for two people, averaging out at $11.50 per meal per person. If you don't have time to shop, that could be worth it, depending on the quality of the ingredients. What you are really paying for here is someone to shop for you, after all.
So we ordered and a box arrived. My first thought was this includes an amazing amount of wasted packaging. A big box, lots of insulation, three ice packs – none of which are ever going to be used again. But waste is the price of convenience in the world today, I guess. We see it on a small scale every time we review convenience foods, with all of the cardboard and plastic packaging. This is, however, excess packaging on steroids.
Smartly packaged, however. Each of the three meals has a box for the non-animal protein ingredients. The shrimp, chicken and beef are cryo-packed. There are instructions that are in full color and promise step by step instructions, but are, as you will see, not all that straightforward. The Shrimp and Lemon Risotto dish was labelled to indicate that it should be made first, which makes sense since the shrimp were the most perishable item in the box.
Reviewing the instructions, I was dismayed at a few things. First off was the use of concentrated chicken stock. A quick read of the ingredients in that fake stock is a litany of everything that is not fresh. Lots of fake ingredients, and even though the chicken stock concentrate that is paired with the risotto is labeled "reduced-sodium," the sodium content in the Nutrition Facts is pretty high.
The instructions are very poorly laid out, and this is true for all of the recipes. There are six steps listed for the risotto dish, but in truth this is 15 or so steps. While the recipe is designated Level 3 (or comparatively more difficult), making risotto should be a lot easier than that, and it should certainly be easier than the HelloFresh instructions describe. Suffice it to say that this recipe involves an oven, a cookie sheet, and two other pots to make a simple risotto. What? That's a lot of work for a rice dish that should be simple, and at its best is a one-pot meal. The most bizarre instruction was to throw an entire bunch of fresh thyme into the pan of cooking rice and then remove the stems at the end. A TREMENDOUS waste of fresh thyme, and that stuff is not cheap.
In the end, though, the risotto was a pretty good meal. It could have been a whole lot better and healthier with a few tweaks, however. The instructions call for 2 tablespoons of butter (not included), and that adds 150 calories per serving. The fake chicken stock makes the dish taste both fake (hello, not fresh) and too salty. The other ingredients, including the shallots, zucchini, and lemon, are quite fresh, however, and the shrimp were really fresh. Not New Orleans fresh, mind you, but fresher than I would have expected and darn good. All in all, not bad, but if this dish had used olive oil for sauteing instead of butter, less rice (it is actually a serving and a half of rice), more veggies, and replaced the butter to finish the dish with more parmesan, this would be a better dish. Oh, and wasting all that thyme? Freaking stupid. The dish is a 6 on a scale of 10, but with the tweaks noted could be an 8.
I will address the cost factor after discussing the other two dishes, but the company could both save some money for themselves and offer better food for the same price. You, however, are paying a lot to have someone shop for you.
Next up was the Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken Saltimbocca. Once again, this requires 3 pans and requires that you preheat the oven to 400°F (which is too hot for all three recipes). Again there are good quality ingredients, including prosciutto, chicken breast, fresh sage (WAY too much fresh herbs used here also), and vegetables (except for the tomatoes). Our package came with Roma tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes, with a disclaimer that the cherry tomatoes were not good enough. I am glad that I didn't have to see them, because the Roma tomatoes were pretty terrible: mealy and flavorless.
As with the risotto, some of the instructions were not terribly clear. For some reason this is labeled a Level 1 in cooking difficulty, but in my opinon it's actually more difficult to follow than the Level 3 risotto. Following the instructions exactly left the chicken a bit overdone, and the pan sauce was made in the same pan as the spinach was cooked in, not the pan the chicken had been roasting in, which would have made more sense. A complete waste of fantastic pan juices and this could have saved using the disgusting fake chicken stock. This dish only gets a 5 for that stupid behavior but also because cooking the Roma tomatoes with the spinach simply left the veggies with a mealy texture.
Last up was the Peppercorn Steak. Again: good quality ingredients, including kale, potatoes, shallots, peppercorns, and top sirloin, complemented by another packet of disgusting fake beef stock concentrate. At least in this case it did call for making the sauce in the same pan as the beef was cooked in, but this recipe also calls for using three pans where two would have done just fine. Also, roasting the steak in the oven would make more sense, because then I wouldn't have to clean up the spatter of grease all over my stove top. I am, however, actually proud of the fact that we followed the directions exactly, because they are, in a word, stupid. One could only hope that if asked Jamie Oliver might have actually stepped in to offer some good advice.
The nutrition breakdown on these is OK. The most glaring issue is that the serving size of animal protein in all three recipes (without cheese or dairy) is 6 ounces. That's actually a serving and a half, and replacing that 2 ounces of food cost with less expensive, plant-based ingredients would be both more profitable for the company and offer more food (by volume) and healthier dishes for the consumer. In short: it would cut the total calories while offering larger portions.
There is, of course, the additional sodium that could be saved by not using the disgusting fake stocks. If you do choose to purchase products like these, the first thing you should do is throw the stocks in the trash. It will make your dish both tastier and healthier – and actually fresh.
The last and perhaps most important question is that of cost. Here's the breakdown of cost for each of the meals. We priced these according to posted prices for our local Winn-Dixie:
Risotto: $2.99 for 12 oz; 3/4 Cup (amount delivered) = $1.50
Shrimp: $4.99 per lb; 12 oz = $3.74
Zucchini: $1.99 per lb; 1 medium zucchini is about 1/4 lb or $0.50
1 Lemon: $0.75 for 2 lemons; 1 lemon = $0.38
Garlic: $0.69 per head; Assume 10 cloves per head:
2 cloves garlic = $0.14
Parmigiano-Reggiano: $19.99 per lb; 1 ounce = $1.25
No salt added Chicken Stock (concentrated chicken stock provided): $3.19 for 32 ounces; 1 ounce stock = $0.10
0.25 ounce bunch Thyme = $1.00
Total Cost: $8.61 or $4.30 per serving
Chicken breast (boneless skinless): $4.99 per lb; 12 oz = $3.74
Prosciutto: $5.99 per 3oz; 4 oz (amount delivered) = $7.99
Roma tomatoes:$1.90 per lb; 2 Tomatoes = 1/2 lb or $0.95
Garlic: $0.69 per head; assume 10 cloves per head: 2 cloves = $0.14
Shallot: $3.99/lb; 1 shallot = 1/8lb = $0.50
0.25 ounce bunch Sage = $1.00
Spinach: $3.00 / 8oz package; 10 oz = $3.75
No salt added Chicken Stock (concentrated chicken stock provided): $3.19/ 32 oz; 1 ounce stock = $0.10
Olive oil: $4.99 / 17oz; 1Tbsp olive oil = $0.15
Total Cost Chicken Saltimbocca : $18.32 or $9.16 per serving
Top Sirloin: $7 per lb; 12 ounces = $5.25
Kale: $2.00 per 1 lb. bunch; 4 oz (amount delivered) = $0.50
Peppercorns: $3.99/4.2 ounces; 1 ounce (est.) = $0.95
Yukon Gold Potatoes: $3.90 for 5 lbs or $0.78/lb; 12oz = $0.58
Sour Cream: $1.00 for 8 oz; 1 ounce: $0.13
No salt added Chicken Stock (concentrated beef stock provided): $3.19/ 32 oz; 1 ounce stock = $0.10
Olive oil: $4.99 for 17oz; 1 Tbsp olive oil: $0.15
Total Cost Peppercorn Steak: $7.66 or $3.83 per serving
If you add all this up it comes to $30.28 (not including tax, if any) to buy the ingredients for two people for dinner for three nights. That means you are going to pay about $39.00 for someone to shop for you. Given that the in-store shopping time for this is about 30 minutes, that means you are paying someone $75.00+ per hour to shop for you. Not shop and cook. Not shop and cook and clean up - those three pans that these recipes take - but only to shop.
That's a lot.
Is this worth it? I don't think so, but if you absolutely don't have the time to shop (and absolutely have the money), it might be worth it. But you should throw out the disgusting non-fresh, fake stock.
Posted: February 12, 2016