Meal kits have increased in popularity during pandemic

One of the hottest food trends of 2020 was the meal kit. The kits have been on the scene for six or seven years but in 2020 they really took off.

One company alone has more than 2,000 employees across Canada. The social media followers range from 80,000 to more than two million people on these sites. It is a business that benefited from the pandemic.

Social media and ad mail barrages us with offers of free food from these companies. It is hard to resist the temptation. But if you are on a tight food budget, it is not the best option. The cost of the meals is cheaper than going to a restaurant but more expensive than buying the ingredients yourself. The cost starts at $60 for three meals for two people in one week.

I polled my social media followers on their thoughts on using meal kits. The response was generally favourable but there are some snags they admitted.

Freshness of the produce was cited as an issue, since the kits arrive in one box to cover the week, and by day three or four, the quality of the produce can be poor.

When you sign up for kit suppliers’ free or discount meals, you are set up with an account. There is no commitment to buy but they do set up an auto delivery every week. The onus is on you to opt out. Otherwise, the next week’s offerings are automatically delivered and your credit card charged. You can go to their online store and opt out or cancel the subscription but you have to remember to do that.

There are a variety of reasons people order meal kits. One friend sends them to her university son. He loves it because this will be the week he doesn’t have to shop and the recipes are easy to follow.

My niece ordered because she couldn’t resist free food. Some folks like the variety in meals from their ordinary routine.

It’s great for busy work seasons like tax time for accountants. Although no one mentioned this it is ideal for someone in quarantine. The box is dropped off on your doorstep. The kits take the planning out of meal time.

A not so positive experience has been, like I mentioned, poor quality produce. Another friend has tried a lot of the recipes and now never orders meals with steak but always goes for any kind of tacos, anything Korean and anything with halloumi cheese.

Quiche is a poor choice, also. It can arrive soggy. Some folks find they are ordering the same meals over and over again and monotony sets in. And as summer comes and people are barbecuing more and spending time at the cabin there is less interest in the kits. But you must remember to go online and cancel or the orders automatically arrive.

There is a lot of packaging. The kits come prepared for two or four people. A package for four people receives double of everything. Most of the packaging is recyclable or compostable but only if those items are accepted at your local depot. There is still a lot of waste produced with the packaging. And let’s be honest, not many people are composting in the winter.

I contacted three of the most prominent meal kit providers to my area and asked where they ship from.

One company outright refused to answer until I told her I was writing a column for The Western Producer. The lack of transparency was disturbing. In the end they all returned my query. All kits for the prairie provinces are shipped from Alberta, either Calgary or Edmonton.

I would like to enquire further and ask where the food comes from. You surrender your right to support local food when you allow someone else to do your shopping.

What alternatives are there to food kits? Some local specialty food stores offer gourmet kits with many of the ingredients you need to make the recipes provided. And many local restaurants do the same or offer meals to go.

Plan your own menus for a week once a month. Shop to a list. Don’t over buy. Single stalks of celery are available at many grocery stores.

Mediterranean salmon parcels

This is a popular meal on the meal kit websites. It is easy and delicious and easily made with a few ingredients that you may have on hand. If you are opening a can of chickpeas for just this recipe freeze the rest of the can for later use.

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil 15 mL
  • 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes125 mL
  • 1/2 c. canned or cooked chickpeas 125 mL
  • 1 tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil 15 mL
  • 4-5 olives
  • sprinkle of dried oregano
  • 1 serving salmon fillet
  • sea salt and Aleppo chili flakes
  • fresh parsley
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • crusty bread or cooked white rice

Place rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). Lay out one large piece of foil per portion of fish.

Halve the cherry tomatoes and roughly chop the sun-dried tomatoes. In the middle of the foil drizzle olive oil and pile all of the tomatoes, chickpeas and olives. Sprinkle with oregano, salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

Lay the salmon fillet skin side down atop the vegetables and sprinkle with salt and Aleppo chili flakes.

Securely wrap the foil around the salmon so none of the juices will seep out. Try to leave as much room for the salmon to steam as possible while keeping it sealed. Transfer parcel to a baking tray.

Bake the salmon packet for about 30 minutes or until the salmon is just cooked, tender and flaky.

Open the package, being cautious of the steam, and spoon salmon, tomatoes and beans onto warm rice. Garnish with chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Chicken tacos

Tacos are a favourite meal kit menu.

  • 4 tbsp. canola oil 60 mL
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 in./2.5 cm strips
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. chili powder 10 mL
  • 2 tsp. cumin 10 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder 2 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika 1 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne, optional 1 mL
  • 8 corn tortillas, warmed

Toppings:

Sour cream, thinly sliced red onion, diced tomatoes, shredded monterey jack cheese, diced avocados, fresh cilantro, lime wedges or salsa.

Mix salt, pepper and spices in a medium-sized bowl. Toss with the chicken slices. Pan-fry chicken in oil until fully cooked.

Meanwhile wrap the tortillas in foil and warm in a 325 F (160 C) oven for 10 minutes.

Serve all the toppings in individual bowls or on a platter and let everyone make their own taco. Use two tortillas per taco.

Sarah Galvin is a home economist, teacher and farmers’ market vendor at Swift Current, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. She writes a blog at allourfingersinthepie.blogspot.ca. Contact: team@producer.com.

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