As the cult of convenience continues to dictate our choices as consumers, meal kits are quickly gaining ground in Canada. According to Abacus Data polling from September 2018, 1 in 5 Canadian millennials had already subscribed to a meal kit at one point or another and 1 in 3 were planning to try one.
Meal kit services offer a range of menu options that you choose from, between two and four different meals per week, and have delivered to your door for quick-prep balanced meals.
Many of my colleagues subsist primarily on meal kits and supplement with meals from scratch, take-out or restaurant dining for the remainder of the week. With a discount code my boss sent me, I tried out GoodFood for two weeks to see what all the fuss was about. I’m planning to test out all the different meal kits available in Canada and provide a comparative analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each over the course of the summer.
I opted to have three different meals each week, portioned for two people. On the first week, my condo building made my life difficult by not notifying me that a package had arrived (as is the standard practice). Meaning, I didn’t pick up my box until the day after it had arrived and the freezer packs in the box had thawed out. As a result, I had to toss anything that wasn’t shelf-stable – which broke my heart as I abhor food waste. I replaced the perishables, from the grocery store and persevered.
Over the course of the two weeks, I made a total of four different GoodFood dinners. Ordering three meals was ambitious, given my schedule and the frequency of my after-work commitments but you can only order 2 different meals in a week if you opt for 4 servings of each.
I made: creamy pesto pasta with sundried tomatoes and heirloom zucchini, spiced meatballs over sweet pepper couscous, seared steaks with lemon-oregano potatoes, and Greek chicken with lemon-yogurt sauce. All of these recipes were slated to take between 20 and 30 minutes to cook. I timed how long it took me to cook each of them and in every case it took me longer than prescribed.
Not to toot my own horn but, I’m a pretty proficient home cook and was fully applying myself to the task at hand – so hypothetically, I should be able to come pretty close to executing these meals in the prescribed timeframe. The meatballs over couscous was one of my favourite dishes in terms of flavour but the cooking instructions and timing were way off. If I’d followed the instructions to cook the meatballs over medium-high heat for 6-8 minutes, turning occasionally, I would have ended up with meatballs that were charred on the outside and still raw on the inside. After an initial sear, to get a nice crisp, browned exterior, I dialled back the heat to medium-low and cooked them for about 12-15 minutes, turning occasionally, to get a nice even cook throughout. In sum, the recipe took about 15 minutes longer than the allotted 30 minutes.
On the whole, I enjoyed the final product of the dishes I made. The quality of the meat and produce was consistent with what you would find at your standard grocery store. I would give the flavour of the finished products a grade ranging from a B- to a B+. The creamy pesto pasta was a B-, I thought a bit more pesto would have helped and the tomato side salad was a disappointment. The meatballs with couscous was my favourite and I’d give it a B+ but the accompanying salad, again, was a total afterthought.
Things I liked:
- Portion size – when I cook for myself, most recipes serve 4-6 people and I’m left eating leftovers for days on end, sometimes to the point that the mere thought of microwaving the same dish a 6th time is positively nauseating. With GoodFood, I had two generous servings, meaning I only had to eat a given dish once for dinner and once for lunch.
- Diversity of cuisines – every week GoodFood offers a different selection of dishes to choose from. I was impressed with the wide array of options, everything from Greek to Japanese to North African. For the unadventurous home cook, GoodFood is a great way to discover new flavours and find joy beyond meat and potatoes.
- Lack of food waste and reduced carbon footprint – one of the most common criticisms levelled at meal kits is the amount of packaging and cardboard required to portion out individual meals. A recent study from the University of Michigan found that, pound for pound, meal kit delivery services have a smaller carbon footprint than if you were to make equivalent meals bought from a grocery store and prepared at home. On average, the study found that meal kits produce 33% less greenhouse gas emissions than equivalent meals purchased from the grocery store. Much of that reduction stems from less food waste and a more streamlined supply chain. This was one of my favourite parts of the GoodFood experience, I was provided with exactly the quantity of cilantro I needed, and wasn’t left an entire bushel of the stuff that would inevitably become a sticky puddle in the bottom of my crisper.
- Speed of meal prep – while I found the all the meals I made exceeded the prescribed prep/cook time, most of them still came together faster than if I were to make a recipe from scratch. Many GoodFood meals clock in at 20 minutes, typically comprised of a protein, base (pasta, rice, couscous, etc.) and vegetable.
- Cost – everyone has a different budget for weekly groceries but for me, the GoodFood box presented a pretty significant cost savings. For two portions of three different meals in a week, GoodFood charges $65 including delivery. If I were to buy groceries for three different meals at the store, I’d easily cross the $100 threshold and likely be left with at least some food waste.
Things I didn’t like:
- Recipe formatting – for the GoodFood box, the recipes are printed on an 8×11 piece of paper – fairly robust card stock that might stand up to the test of time if you were the kind of hoarder who would keep a recipe card of that size in a forgotten filing cabinet. I found the formatting of the recipe cards frustrating. The front of the page had a photo of the finished product and a list of ingredients. The reverse featured step-by-step instructions with images. In theory, this sounds great, a foolproof paint-by-numbers approach to home cooking. In reality, I thought the pictures took up valuable real estate and the instructions were listed in paragraph format under the corresponding image. As a result, I felt the font was a little small and it was easy to miss important instructions like, “use 1/2 of the spice mix” and then you end up tossing in the whole packet and you’re stuck with over-seasoned meatballs and flavourless couscous. This didn’t happen to me (because I’m a pro) but I could see this fate befalling anyone in a rush or distracted, which I think is probably most of their target audience. Honestly, if you often cook off recipes from your computer or iPad, I would recommend doing the same here, it was easier to follow the instructions off the recipes online (go to “Your Deliveries” and click on the recipe you’re making to see the instructions) because it was easier to follow than the paper equivalent.
- Salads – zzzzzzzzz. Oops, sorry, that was just me sleeping through the snooze-fest that was the salad game in the GoodFood recipes I prepared. If you have a hard time getting your family or yourself to eat leafy greens, the GoodFood meal kits probably aren’t going to help you in that regard. I love salad, I eat salad regularly, I eat salad as an entire meal several times a week but only because I appreciate that a good salad has to be curated – it should feature a protein, a grain, a leafy vegetable (or several), nuts/seeds, homemade dressing, ideally cheese, and maybe a touch of sweetness in the form of fresh or dried fruit. This was not on offer in the GoodFood box. The kind of salad I’ve described is a full meal. The salads I had alongside the meatballs and couscous and the creamy pesto pasta were little more than afterthoughts. In the first, the accompanying salad was literally kale, romaine and some toasted walnuts – topped with the garlic dressing served with the meatballs. In the latter, even though the pesto pasta was made with basil pesto, that would have been beautifully complimented by a simple Caprese salad (tomatoes, basil, bocconcini, and balsamic), the salad was tomatoes, an overwhelming amount of fresh mint, and a lemon dressing. I feel strongly that salad often gets a bad rap as rabbit food, and GoodFood isn’t doing much to challenge that perception.
- Palate practice – this is a relatively minor critique but because the spices came premixed in all of the dishes I prepared, there was no opportunity to appreciate all the flavours that were going into the meal. Especially as the beginner or novice home cook ventures into new culinary traditions, I think discovering the flavours and spices that are hallmarks of a particular region is part of the fun and part of the learning process. It would be nice to get a bit more context on what’s going into the meal.
On the whole, I would say the GoodFood meal kit is a convenient and cost-effective way for the time-strapped or beginner/novice home cook to discover new cuisines and get outside their comfort zone. For those of you who share my passion for cooking and aren’t fussed spending longer stretches of time in the kitchen and are excited by the opportunity to pull together a complex and nuanced meal from scratch, stick to your guns but keep this in your back pocket for when you want to take a break from meal planning/grocery-shopping.
Note: this post is not sponsored and all opinions are my own. I will be reviewing other meal kits available for purchase in Canada in the near future and will rank them all in a comprehensive post later this summer.