For most, an easy way to begin healthful eating habits means buying organic fruits and vegetables and trying to create something that passes as a meal. But when you're short on time and money, that's not always as easy as it sounds.
If you have trouble shopping or paying for organic produce and ingredients, there are a number of new food delivery services geared at making things easier on you. Rather than stopping at the store and shopping for dinner, you get everything you need delivered directly to your door.
That's the idea behind Boulder-based Green Chef, touted as one of the nation's first organic meal kit and delivery service companies — and currently the only USDA-certified one — in the United States. Once only deliverable to customers on the West Coast, Green Chef has since expanded its operation with an East Coast distribution facility that now allows them to ship nationwide.
And, yes, that includes South Florida.
"We created Green Chef to make healthy, organic cooking easy and accessible. It empower[s] anyone to be a real home chef," says Green Chef CEO and founder Michael Joseph. "Using Green Chef, you can choose to make your own dinner from a variety of specialized meal options."
To see what it's like to use an all-organic food delivery and meal kit service, we asked the good folks over at Green Chef to let us try one of their omnivore (i.e. meat and veggies) packages for a sort of taste test. The meal kit box was on the house, so we didn't go through the payment process, but there's no commitment to sign up to purchase a box of your own.
Are meal delivery kits a gateway to more healthful cooking or a nightmare of packaging waste? Are they too much prep work or a means to weeknight time with the family? We gave it a try, and this is what we found:
1. Receive your package.
The Green Chef box arrived midday on our doorstop with everything we needed to make a few meals packed in an insulated, refrigerated, ecofriendly box. The package contained most of the ingredients needed to create three dinners that can serve anywhere from for two to six people. (I say "most" because basics like salt, pepper, and cooking oil were not included.)
Why use Green Chef specifically? The company states that using Green Chef can help save time and money while reducing food waste when compared to shopping at the grocery store for the same recipe ingredients. Prices are based per serving — about $10 to $15 per person per meal — and delivery is $9 per order.
2. Select your meal.
We decided to start with the sweet and sour chicken, one of three meals that requires a total of nine ingredients from the Green Chef box. The company estimates meals will be ready in 20 to 40 minutes, and each dish contains anywhere from 450 to 750 calories per serving. That's about how long it took us to make the dish. (Too bad the box doesn't come with someone to do the dishes when you're finished eating.)
Boulder-based Green Chef executive chef Dana Murrell and chef Sara Heilman are the masterminds behind Green Chef’s changing weekly recipes. According to the company, both were selected for their ecofriendly and health-minded values. "Basically, they were the ones best at translating gourmet, nourishing meals into a fun and seamless experience in the kitchen," says Green Chef. The company's CEO and COO — both of whom have backgrounds as professional cooks — also help to inspire the menus.
3. Unpack your ingredients.
Each Green Chef box includes all-organic, premeasured ingredients: produce and meats; sauces and spice mixes; and three "chef-crafted" recipes. The color-coded boxes, jars, and bags make everything pretty simple: Different colors let you know which ingredient to use for each of the three recipes cards, so there's no confusion about what you need to grab.
The best part of all of this is that all the ingredients in your box are organic and sourced from dozens of Green Chef-approved suppliers across the country, from the wild-caught salmon to the GMO-free soybeans.
4. Follow the instructions.
The recipe card was pretty easy to use as far as recipe cards go, each step clearly laid out with corresponding pictures and an estimated time for cooking and prepping each ingredient. It's pretty fool proof for those of you who don't know how long it will take to sauté a half-pound of diced chicken or simmer quinoa until fully cooked and tender.
If you aren't a meat-eater or you have any specific dietary needs, Green Chef offers gluten-free, paleo, and vegetarian packages as well. Don't like a certain ingredient? You can also adjust the recipe according to your preferences at any time through the Green Chef website.
Our only gripe: We couldn't preselect the recipes online, which means your meals are a total surprise until you get the box and see what you've been dished.
5. Cook your food.
Prepping the chicken was one of the first steps on our recipe card. The only things we needed to pull from our own pantry at home were a few ingredients that were not included in the Green Chef box (namely seasoning salt and pepper, and oil to season and sauté the chicken).
It seemed unlikely that a giant cardboard box that had been sitting on our doorstep all day (and in the sweltering South Florida sun) could contain anything fresh, but the vegetables were remarkably cold and crisp despite their long trip in the insulated box. Some stuff came in plastic jars. Others were stuffed into plastic bags. Everything was prewashed, measured, sliced, and practically ready to throw in the pot or pan.
6. Plate your dish.
If you're the sort to Instagram every meal, you're in luck. The recipe card even shows you how to plate your final dish.
Each recipe includes enough ingredients to serve at least two people, but we found the portions to be substantial enough to feed up to three or four. The company states each menu card is adjustable to fit a variety of lifestyles, meaning you can cook for a gluten-free couple or a vegetarian family of four — even a meat-loving household of six — using the Green Chef guidelines.
It was too much for two people, in our opinion. And that meant plenty of leftovers. Not that we're complaining.
7. Eat and enjoy.
And voila, the final product: an all-organic meal in about the same time it takes the average person to decide what they want to order off the neighborhood Chinese takeout menu.
I'd suggest giving Green Chef a try if you're short on time and hate picking through options at the grocery store. The only downside is that if you aren't planning on cooking each of the three meals over the next few days, it could be a waste of some really nicely prepared (and organized) organic fare — and money.
One additional point worth noting is that you can try the service just once; you never have to use it again. Buying is commitment-free, meaning there are no recurring fees or obligations to keep buying. Just choose your package, pay online, set the delivery date, and you'll be making your own organic meal in no time.
Green Chef. Call 888-236-7295 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday PT or visit greenchef.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.