Simplifying weekday meals

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I’ve written before about simplifying meal planning but – in the past week – we’ve had to ramp things up when it comes to making things simpler.

Mr G is recovering from major surgery on his back. As a result, he has been told not even to lift a full kettle, so I have been Chief Nurse, as well as being Head Cook and Bottle Washer.

Planning ahead

While Mr G was in hospital, I awoke very early one morning. Mulling things over, I decided to do some research on meal kits. Given that I’m still working full time during his recuperation, some of the things that he would normally do will now fall to me. And since I can’t be walking the dog and cooking the dinner at the same time, my logic was that getting a bit of help in the way of easy-to-prepare meals might be something to consider.

I don’t want to eat ready meals so….

Organic veggie boxes have been around for many years, but recipe boxes are a more recent phenomenon. I’d been aware of some of the ones that advertise extensively (e.g. Hello Fresh) but if you Google ‘recipe boxes’ up comes a whole raft of options. How on earth do you choose?

The Independent View

While undertaking my nocturnal scrolling, I came across this article from The Independent. Albeit around 18 months old, the article reviewed 12 of the best recipe boxes that were available at the time. I clicked on the links to find out more about the top 3 rated services: Gousto, Riverford and Yorkshire based Snap (northern slang for ‘food’).

Happily, the first two were still going strong but I wasn’t sure about Snap; perhaps it is no longer trading?

The product ranges

Here’s where you’d think it would be straightforward, but there are quite a few choices.

First up, the key question. Are you feeding four or two? Hmm. Well, neither. We are a family of three. Given that I like to take leftovers for lunch the following day, I decided to opt for the ‘family of four’ option.

Then, do you want dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, low carb, 10 minute meals, everyday favourites, global kitchen, plant based.. the list goes on! It certainly seems there’s something for everyone, albeit I would concede, this is not the cheapest way to shop.

My choice

I decided to try Gousto, which was offering 50% off the first order. That means we paid £23.88 for 4 x meals for four this week.

If you’re interested in doing the same, click on any of the Gousto links I’ve posted here and you’ll get the same deal (50% off your first order in any one month, then 30% off orders in the same month). Full disclaimer: If you do this, I’d also get £15 credit towards my next box (and you’d then be able to pass on the same offer to friends in your own network).

The Independent described this company as offering ‘tasty and innovative’ meals and I have to say the pictures looked appealing. My key question was this: would the meal kit emulate something I had cooked from scratch, or would there be a ‘ready meal’ quality to it?

In reflecting on my motivation, I wanted something that would:

  • Be quick to prepare (the recipes provide exactly the quantities required, so no time spent weighing ingredients)
  • Provide some variety, with different flavours, tastes and textures
  • Take the planning and thinking time down considerably: I just selected what looked appealing, added the recipe to my box and that was it

Delivery

The delivery options were straightforward; I could pay extra for a timed delivery (albeit within quite a long window or accept the box would arrive any time during the day but with no delivery charge. I decided to go for the ‘free’ delivery, since Mr G would be at home to receive it.

Whoops! On the day of delivery, I received the following via email….

“Unfortunately, due to a small operational issue we’ve had to move your delivery to the evening delivery slot.

Your box will still arrive tomorrow, just a little later than planned – between 6pm and 10pm.”

Then, surprise! The box arrived late afternoon (thank goodness, we might have been hungry)…

Packaging

I was curious to see to what extent the packaging would be recyclable. Even when cooking from scratch (my usual mode of operation), we still – as a household – create a lot of recycling waste.

The Gousto box did contain some cellophane and plastic-wrapped items (you can’t transport a mozzarella in a paper bag), but I didn’t feel the packaging was excessive. Indeed, the company’s information booklet states a solid commitment to reducing waste this year.

What was curious was the sheep’s wool insulation that encircled the food and worked, along with two ice blocks, to keep the food cool. If we bought enough boxes, we could insulate our loft!

Sheeps wool

The Proof of the Pudding

So, onto the main event.

Breakfast bar

Were the recipes easy to follow? Yes! Although they’re designed for two people, so you have to make sure you’ve doubled each ingredient to create the meal for four. That said, the liquid quantities caught me out – I automatically doubled the amount of water needed for my ‘Avo Taco’ smokey beans, then realised that I only needed 50% more liquid.

The ‘Avo Tacos’ were really tasty and passed the ‘home cooked’ taste test. Indeed, because you’re working with fresh ingredients and perfectly-measured herbs and spices, you’re still cooking from scratch.

But, the main question has to be, “What did it taste like?”

We really enjoyed this first meal. I halved the total amount of spices, as we don’t like things to be too hot. This meant that we enjoyed all the flavour without the heat.

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Tonight’s meal is a Cheesy Tomato Gnocchi Tray Bake, which I’ve started preparing. When I get home, all I’ll do is a bit of mixing and final assembly, bung the dish in the oven and prepare some greens as a side dish.

10 out of 10?

So, how would I rate Gousto?

Actually, I quite liked it. It was fun receiving the box and digging out the carefully curated ingredients. The recipes offered taste options that meant I could choose a variety of meal types over the four days and they included both cooked meals and options for salad-based recipes. I’d certainly give it 9/10 so far. What I have changed for next time is the quantities, having decided that recipes for 2 will feed 3 nicely.

As you can see from the link to the Tray Bake recipe, everything’s really clear; you even get a nutritional breakdown, which would be especially useful if you’re counting calories.

So, bring on tonight’s dinner… and let’s see what’s in store for next week!


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