Have you heard about meal planning kits delivered to your front door? Some examples include Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Plated, Marley Spoon, HomeChef, just to name a few! The idea is that each week, the company sends you a box of recipes and fresh ingredients so that you can easily cook healthy dinners. I’ve been wanting to try one of these services out for a while, and when I learned that one of them was now offering a Mediterranean meal plan, I knew it was time.
Ever since I learned about the brain-healthy Mediterranean diet, I’ve been trying to eat more fish and veggies. But I was stuck in a rut when cooking at home. I was balking at the idea of picking a recipe, going to the store and finding the ingredients, and then preparing all the ingredients. I don’t hate to cook, but I don’t love to cook either – and I only like the fun part, which is the actual cooking and eating part. There are a couple other things you should know about me, when considering this review: I love good food, and I’ll try anything, shellfish and beef are my favorite proteins, and I am an efficient (i.e., lazy) cook.
STEP 1. Picking a company.
There are many different ones, and they seem to brag about different things. Organic! Sustainable! Vegetarian , Paleo, and Keto )! Diabetes-friendly! Gluten-free options! Lowest cost! Hassle-free, easy, and quick! Many meal options! And so on.
Since SunBasket was the only one that advertised specifically a Mediterranean meal plan, I chose it. But really, all the companies offer brain-healthy options – for example, pescatarian (fish) or vegetarian plans, or the ability for you to go online and pick each particular recipe each week. Nutrition information is always available for each recipe.
Price- wise, each meal portion costs roughly $12-13 for almost all the companies. And almost all offer a special introductory discount for your first order.
STEP 2. Going online and signing up.
Ok so this wasn’t too bad. I selected the 4-person Mediterranean Plan to include 3 dinners for the week. It showed me the 3 default recipes, and I opted to replace one of them with one that sounded tastier to me. There were a lot of meals to choose from, but only a handful were marked as “Mediterranean”.
STEP 3. Receiving my box.
The meals were delivered while I was at work on a Monday (you can pick the delivery day). Since I live in Florida, I was dismayed to see the boxes on my doorstep on 90+ degree heat! However, the box had cooler packs that kept everythingcold. And, full disclosure, I promptly just put it all in the refrigerator, as I was too tired to cook that night.
The recipes came in a color booklet and were clear and easy, and cooking time ranged from 15-45 minutes for the 3 different recipes. Everything was clearly labeled and all ingredients were great quality and in good condition. The final meal portions were actually a very good size.
STEP 5. Cooking and Eating.
Recipe 1. One-Pan Mediterranean Stuffed Sole, with sautéed kale, tomatoes, olives, and white beans.
I sometimes order fish in restaurants, but I usually hate to cook fish at home – it’s just so stinky. Well, this time… was no different. The wild sole fillets fell apart a little in the pan, so stuffing it was a little tricky. The recipe called for zesting a lemon, and I don’t own a zester so I skipped that step.
I thought the fish tasted boring and fishy. My husband, however, liked it! So, he will eat the leftovers, and I will never cook it again. The whole dish also felt like it was missing a starch, like brown rice.
On the bright side, we both thought the easy-to-cook vegetable side dish was delicious, and I could’ve eaten this for dinner alone. This recipe inspired me to start adding olives and white beans to my veggies for flavoring and protein every now and then, so this was a win for the Mediterranean diet!
Recipe 2: Fast Honey-Harissa Pork Chops with spiced chickpeas and chard.
Pan frying the pork chops was easy overall, but one of the pork chops was a much thicker and darker cut than the other one, resulting in one perfectly juicy pork chop and one slightly dry and tough pork chop. The honey glaze had a little spicy kick to it, and the flavor was very nice. I modified the glaze just for the kids, replacing the harissa spice with garlic powder.
Sun Basket substituted the chard with red cabbage instead – they will occasionally make substitutions for a variety of reasons. We like cabbage, but the final plating felt like it was missing something green. And this time I microwaved a bag of brown rice (ready in 90 seconds), just in case it felt like a starch was missing…
The Moroccan-spiced cabbage (coriander, cumin, allspice) and chickpeas were a wonderful compliment to the pork, and the meal really came together well. I ended up putting some brown rice on each plate to make it feel complete. The African flavor profile was a gentle and pleasant change from our usual. My husband and I agreed that this recipe is going into the rotation.
Recipe 3: Chicken Cacciatore with cauliflower mash.
Ok, by this day the produce was not looking as fresh, so I knew I had to cook that night. Cacciatore is a rich tomato-based chicken stew, and I was looking forward to cooking stew on a 90+ degree day. (NOT.)
With the air conditioning cranked up, I tackled the recipe. It required me to chop cauliflower, olives, mushrooms, and parsley, which I found annoying – couldn’t they have done this for me? I suppose the produce stays fresher longer this way, but I was still annoyed. This better be good.
The cauliflower mash was little labor-intensive as well, maybe because I thought it was supposed to be the consistency of mashed potatoes. I gave up and renamed it cauliflower rice. Whenever the recipe called for water, I substituted with my secret weapon: chicken broth. (I find that this gives my food that je ne sais quoi, umami depth of flavor that takes things up a notch.)
The final result was a hearty stew that the whole family (even the kids) enjoyed. The cauliflower mash/rice was tasty, and there was no need to add a proper starch to the dish. Even the kids thought it was actual rice and ate it! This meal is also going into the rotation in the winter, if winter ever comes here to Florida.
Doing this service forced me to cook fresh food, try out new things, and reminded me of healthy foods that I love. For example, I don’t think I would have ever tried cooking with white beans or chickpeas otherwise, and eating cabbage again reminded me how much I love it. I will definitely add all the vegetable sides to my cooking repertoire. It was very convenient, and we ate less take-out than usual.
If you are environmentally conscious, the packaging that the meal kits come in will be painful to deal with - all the cardboard, heavy cooler packs, and plastic containers each week. I actually needed these things and will be re-using them, but I know not everyone will re-use and recycle.
Not every recipe was a winner. Like going to a restaurant, there can be some trial and error, hits and misses until you find your favorites.
The cost can seem high at $10 a portion, but when I factor in the time I saved by not going to the store or prepping the ingredients, and the fresh groceries I maybe would’ve thrown away when I didn’t use it all for the recipe, it’s not too bad. And considering that I could’ve resorted to ordering take-out instead, it may have saved me money. But then again, if I cook at home, someone has to clean up…
The Final Verdict
I plan to continue meal delivery service, but with some changes. First of all, I will order two meals per week instead of three, so the ingredients stay fresh, and I have more flexibility. I will filter out meals that include fish (unless my husband is willing to cook it). We will eat our fish when we eat out!
I’ll take advantage of the introductory offers and try out a couple other services. Even though the others may not advertise Mediterranean meal plans, I can pick out plans and recipes that look brain-healthy, and use olive oil as my primary oil. For example, I’ll look for chicken, shellfish, or vegetarian recipes that are low in bad fats and high in green leafy vegetables and nuts, beans, and seeds.
Overall, I think these services can be useful and inspire folks like me to get in the HABIT of cooking again, and help folks discover new foods and food preparations to add to their routines.