No, this isn’t a sponsored post. And no, I didn’t get sent anything for free. So before you tune out thinking I’ve sold my soul and written an epic headline for some free shit, hang on a tic and give me a chance. After all, this is the blogger who doesn’t cook talking about cooking – it’s gotta be an interesting read!
You may have heard of meal boxes. Gousto, HelloFresh, Mindful Chef, Riverford. The list goes on. And on. And on. They’re the new cool thing to do and while I initially dismissed them as a gimmick that would never take off, I’ve heard more and more friends, acquaintances, and general peeps using them. Why, you ask? What’s so hard about doing what generations have done for years? Go to the supermarket, buy ingredients, cook meals, and there you go – meals for the family.
I asked the same questions. After all, for nearly a decade Mr M and I have managed without the help of this latest new trend. A few choice staples in the cupboard, some meat or fish and some fresh veg and we’ve muddled through. And if things get really desperate there’s always a takeaway or a meal out, right? Plus, when I started working for myself I conjured up a Nigella-esque image of me as a domestic goddess, whipping up three-course meals ready for when my better half got home and growing into a confident, capable cook while I was at it.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Rather than spending my days experimenting with new ingredients, crafting them into potentially award-winning homecooked dishes, I am working. And so when it comes to what we eat for dinner, not much has changed.
It’s fine, but the problem is you can get stuck in a bit of a rut. While I can just about manage to whip up a few simple dishes without help, I’m definitely not the world’s most confident chef which somewhat limits the dishes served up by me in our kitchen. The last thing you want after a long day at work is to serve up an inedible meal for the pair of you (believe me, I’ve done it – just don’t mention the raw veg and overcooked pork chop dish to Jamie, he’s still not forgiven me!) so you end up sticking to the tried and testeds.
Mr M is much more competent – and confident – but again limited time and a predictable range of groceries mean even he inevitably sticks to a regular repertoire. And so before you know it, it’s chilli, fajitas, stir fry, steak, pesto pasta and so on week in, week out.
It was that rut, plus friends’ glowing reports of their own meal box subscriptions, that meant when a HelloFresh representative came knocking at our door, rather than politely saying no thank you, I invited him in and found myself signing up to this new-fangled idea and getting all excited about a brand new range of recipes soon to be served up in Casa Manning.
I can only speak for HelloFresh of course, since that’s the only one I’ve tried, but the idea is fairly simple. You sign up to a ‘plan’ that suits you – three meals a week for two people in our case – then each week you can take a look through the different dishes you could try, pick out your three and, lo and behold, a box arrives completely with every ingredient you need to make those three dishes, plus a step by step recipe card that even I can manage to follow. If you don’t get round to choosing,
there are default options you’ll end up with, and if you want to go one step further you can pick a ‘premium’ dish that incurs an extra cost. So if it’s choice you’re after, you’ve still got a fair bit.
Ironically, I signed us up to HelloFresh the week before I disappeared for three days for work, so Mr M was the one who had the joy of the first ‘unboxing’, checking out our three paper bags filled with everything for each recipe, from meat or fish to the rice, noodles or pasta, the veg and all the spices needed to create the dish. I’m sure he’ll be the first to admit that he was a bit sceptical at first (well, you would be if you don’t find cooking an issue, wouldn’t you?) but his lamb pilaf completely changed his mind.
Of course, I didn’t get to try it, but he assures me it was tasty and fairly easy to cook. Both key points, I’m sure you’ll agree. I won’t go through every single meal we’ve had since but it’s safe to say they’ve all been pretty darn good. From Turkey Katsu Curry to Spicy Beef Tostadas, Asian Sea Bass with tomato concasse and crispy potatoes or chicken rigatoni, we’ve travelled round the world with HelloFresh and we’ve only been at it a few weeks.
I have to confess I was slightly nervous the first time Mr M left me unattended to make a dish, but I’m a girl who loves a set of instructions and was pretty chuffed when it turned out tasting and (wait for it) looking just as it did in the picture. I’m sure anyone reading this who is an accomplished cook is wondering how on earth someone who quite clearly loves eating and all things food-related can find it so hard to rustle up a meal, and perhaps this might all seem a bit strange.
The answer, my friends, is confidence. When it comes to cooking, I have zero confidence. And the problem with that is it can be a bit of an ongoing spiral – a lack of confidence leads to cooking cock-ups which in turn erodes confidence further leading to even more monumental mistakes and epic failures. And before long, you’re shying away from the cooking part, instead adopting the role of sous chef and, of course, chief taster. A situation made ever easier when your other half happens to be fairly confident when it comes to the cooking and as uninterested in sorting out the kitchen as you are in sauteeing the veg.
It’s that routine, that self-fulfilling prophecy and cycle of similarity that HelloFresh has broken for us. For me, having the exact ingredients to hand plus a list of readymade instructions is slowly giving me the confidence to give cooking a go again. With each successful execution of a meal, I’m getting a bit more brave and enjoying the actual process of cooking again, without the fear of failure hanging over me like a slightly scary carcass in a cold room.
But what it’s also done is to change our routine as a couple. I remember interviewing Patrick Drake, HelloFresh’s head chef, for a piece I was working on and him telling me how many families, couples and individuals had written to them thanking them for the change it had made to their households and the way they engaged with each other at mealtimes. One couple had even attributed the saving of their marriage to HelloFresh!
I dismissed it all as marketing patter, designed to lull people in. And maybe it is. But when I signed up to something like this, what I didn’t expect was the change it would make in our kitchen. For the first time in years, instead of leaving Mr M to do all the complex cooking stuff that I was too afraid to do while I busy myself with chopping, clearing up, fetching ingredients and getting cutlery, I’m there with him, doing the cooking too.
Rather than orbiting round each other like satellites, we’re standing side by side at the cooker following instructions together, timing different steps, fetching each other’s ingredients and plating the dishes up in the exact likeness of their cardboard siblings on the recipe card together. It’s making weekday mealtimes something we do together, full of conversation and banter, rather than just another part of the routine of living together that you wile away until you get to the special occasions like dinner parties or meals out. It really is changing the way we eat together, and not just in a way that’s all about nutrition and tastebuds.
Of course, it’s not all blissful happiness (when is it, ever?) as we skip around with our HelloFresh boxes. First of all, there’s a cost. While the introductory offer of £15 per week was more than manageable, the £30-something it rises to is more of a sting on the old bank balance. And even though you confidently say you’ll take advantage of the ability to skip a week wherever you like – for weeks on end if you wish – I inevitably forgot before the cut-off day several times and ended up with us incurring the bill for the following week’s meals. A cynical ploy by HF, some might say, as they know people will forget to opt out or skip a week but hey, can you blame them?
Another part of that is that if you’ve already got plans and have forgotten to cancel your box, you’re likely to end up with a load of fresh food that isn’t going to last until you’re free to craft your HelloFresh dinner. The spices will, and you can probably freeze the meat, but you’re running the gauntlet of wastage – exactly what this is supposed to stop.
Don’t worry, I’ve found a few ways round all this for you, just in case you were thinking of taking the plunge but are worried you’ll fall into the same traps I did.
- If you’re worried about breaking the bank and just plan to use something like HelloFresh now and again, go through the app and skip all the weeks coming up. That way you won’t ‘forget’ or miss the cut-off point. You can always unskip them later on, but at least you won’t be spending unnecessarily.
- Plan your weeks to make sure you are going to be in and have enough time to cook for the plan you’ve ordered.
- If, for some reason, you have got the box but haven’t got the time or the inclination to cook the dish you’re meant to be having, don’t forget you can always use the fresh ingredients and replace them later. I once snaffled an avocado, some turkey and the spinach that came in one meal pack then just replaced them with fresh a few days later so I could still make the dish – just at a more convenient time. No wastage and I still got my HelloFresh.
And there you have it! That, ladies and gents, is how HelloFresh is changing our lives (well, mine anyway). For those of you out there who have a natural ability at cooking, or bucketloads of experience, and all the confidence that comes with those, I appreciate that this kind of thing might not be for you. I’m also aware that the cost can, indeed, be prohibitive for many and I’m not for a minute suggesting that everyone simply MUST go out and sign up to one of these right now. It’s certainly not something we’re doing week-in-week-out and we’ll still be sticking to the old supermarket shop more often than not.
But for those of you who are toying with the idea, who want to brighten up your repertoire a bit and get cooking again, whether that’s alone, with your partner, or with your children, then this just might do the trick. The Victorian poet George Meredith once said: “Kissing don’t last: cookery do” and while that may seem a bit extreme, there’s definitely something about cooking with a loved one that’s good for the soul. So if this helps, why not try it?
We paid in full for our HelloFresh subscription, bar an introductory offer that’s standard. They didn’t know I was a food blogger and certainly didn’t know I was going to write about it – neither did I!