This time around the new motherhood sun, I had plans to help myself succeed, plans I didn’t know to bother with the first time. You know, plans like childcare outside the house for Linnie and summer camp for Hal; plans like washing my face every day and ordering meal kits to make sure we eat at least one satisfying meal a day. Simple plans thwarted by COVID, all of them except ordering meal kits, which saved dinnertime the first two months as a family of 4, which also inspired this post and recipe for Crispy Kale and Chickpea Bowls now on regular rotation over here. (PS—We’re going a little crazy, but I’m so thankful for all this extra time with my girls.)
We’re not meal kit people, mostly because I’m picky, Hal’s picky, and I usually enjoy making dinner. That and subscribing to anything reoccurring, other than Bravery Magazine, just makes me nervous. But after Hal came out and we came home, everyone looked to me to make dinner because I’m the dinner maker—the picky, opinionated dinner maker who’s also not very good at delegating, asking for help, or expressing my picky dinnertime opinions. (I’m a 9 on the enneagram. Can you tell?) It was a recipe for unnecessary added stress during a naturally stressful time.
Six years later and I’m no better at asking for help or expressing my picky opinions. But I’m good at finding creative solutions. So I skipped delegating, meal planning, list-making, and grocery shopping, and picked veggie-packed dinners on the internet. (I craved loads of vegetables after both births.) Dinner fixings arrived at our doorstep, and whoever had a free set of hands made dinner. My mother-in-law, and sometimes Kev, swooped in to make something super satisfying land on the dining room table night after night. It was a huge gift.
In case you’re considering meal kits to make it through a stretch of time, too, here’s our unsolicited thoughts purchased from our wallet and those coupons in the mail rescued from the trash. Note: before we ordered, I took a poll on Instagram stories to see which veggie-based meal kit you recommended between Hello Fresh, Sun Basket, Blue Apron, and Purple Carrot. Hello Fresh was far and away the most recommended, with the rest pretty evenly represented. However, more people took the extra step to write a message about their love of Purple Carrot. So, after looking at meal plans from each of the companies plus your recommendations, we went with Hello Fresh and Purple Carrot.
The recipes stretched our picky palate, so much so we enjoyed meals with ingredients we didn’t think we would.
Most of the packaging was recyclable or compostable (see here).
You get to see the full recipe and nutrition facts before ordering. They also send a booklet of all the recipes for that week. I saved several to remake some of the recipes on my own.
Because Purple Carrot is vegan, all meals are dairy-free, which is great if you find yourself nursing and needing to remove dairy from your diet in a jiffy.
The portion sizes were just right to a little on the smaller side.
At first glance, the meals weren’t quite as kid-friendly, but surprisingly our pickiest eater, Hallie (age 6), ate most of the meals and found a couple of new things she liked!
The ratio of vegetables was on the heavier side. I would have preferred a slightly higher ratio of grains.
Prep time almost always took longer than listed.
A lot of recipes seemed like they could have been developed to cook/prep more efficiently. We did a lot more dishes compared to when I cook my recipes. I’d often go through and edit the recipe before someone attempted it due to this. In fact, this recipe for Crispy Kale and Chickpea Bowls was inspired by a Purple Carrot recipe, but I reworked it to be more efficient, decreasing the prep time and dishes needed.
A good chunk of recipes used meat substitutes, like tofu and seitan. When eating plant-based, we prefer legumes for the main protein, but that’s purely preference. Even still, we enjoyed the meals and are now big fans of Field Roast Sausage. (Their corn dogs are also surprisingly good.)
The portion sizes were generous. So much so, we’d often have leftovers for lunch the next day.
The recipes were familiar yet special, which was great for vegetarian recipes. Some vegetarian meal kit menus were so simple, I might as well make it myself.
The meals tend to be more kid-friendly or can easily be altered.
There’s a large variety of meals to choose from.
You get to see the full recipe and nutrition facts before ordering.
Sour cream was in almost every recipe. We were pretty tired of it after a couple weeks. This isn’t my favorite creamy fat to cook with (I prefer plain whole milk yogurt), but that’s purely preference.
Many recipes were heavy on the butter, especially for sauteing. I edited the recipes to use less and swap in olive oil. (I love butter, especially for baking or shmeared on bread, but don’t use it as much for dinners.)
The ratio of grains was on the heavier side. I would have preferred a slightly higher ratio of vegetables.
Prep time almost always took longer than listed.
A lot of recipes seemed like they could have been developed to cook/prep more efficiently. We did a lot more dishes compared to when I cook my recipes. I’d often go through and edit the recipe before someone attempted it due to this.
General thoughts on meal kits
There’s unavoidable packaging waste. For this reason, meal kits felt like a great short term solution for our temporary problem (needing to get a satisfying dinner on the table with a new baby), but not necessarily a long term solution due to all the packaging.
If you’re new to meal kits, you may need to adjust your expectations slightly. You still have to prep, chop, cook food, and clean dishes, which takes time. What you’re buying (and saving time on) is meal planning, curated tested recipes, and portioned out groceries delivered straight to your door.
Meal kits are a great way to learn how to cook, learn new techniques, and think about ingredients in a new way. I learned a whole lot.
If we had to choose just one
Overall, we were really happy with both, but if we had to just choose one, we fell in love with Purple Carrot. Maybe it was the excess of sour cream that tipped us away from choosing Hello Fresh? If I could curate a perfect meal kit, it’d fall somewhere between these two, using olive oil instead of butter, yogurt in place of sour cream, and legumes in place of meat substitutes. Either way, I think you’ll like these Crispy Kale and Chickpea Bowls inspired by Purple Carrot. Spicy, sour, sweet, tart, and crunchy, this recipe is familiar like a gyro, doable on a weeknight, and so satisfying.
Inspired by a Purple Carrot meal, these Crispy Kale and Chickpea Bowls are a bit like a gyro in a bowl, with spicy, crispy chickpeas and a touch of sweetness from the dried tart cherries. Spicy, sour, sweet, tart, crunchy, it’s punchy and fresh yet familiar.
2 cans (15 oz.) chickpeas
2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more as needed
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 c. 15-minute rice (see notes)
1 tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
4 c. chopped kale, destemmed, about 4 stalks (see notes)
1/2 c. sliced cucumber
1/2 c. sliced radishes
1/2 c. dried tart cherries, roughly chopped
1/2 c. plain whole milk yogurt
1 tsp. dried dill (2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill)
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
a couple cracks pepper
Make the chickpeas. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Meanwhile, drain and rinse the chickpeas. Pat dry and place on the baking sheet. Toss with the oil, salt, and spices to evenly coat. Once preheated, roast for 12 minutes before adding in the kale.
Meanwhile, make the 15-minute rice. In a small saucepan, make rice according to package instructions, adding salt and butter. (Note: if your rice takes longer than 15 minutes to cook, begin the recipe by starting with the rice.)
Prep the toppings. While the chickpeas roast and the rice cooks, prepare the kale, cucumbers, radishes, and tart cherries, beginning with the kale that will roast shortly. (To quickly slice veggies, I like to use the OXO Grate and Slice.)
Once the chickpeas have roasted for 12 minutes, add the kale plus a tiny extra glug of oil and sprinkle of salt. Toss to coat and roast for an additional 10 minutes or until the kale is crispy.
Make the tzatziki sauce. In a small bowl, stir together all tzatziki ingredients. This can be made up to 8 hours in advance.
To serve, add rice, chickpeas, and kale to the base of a bowl. Top with cucumbers and radishes, a sprinkle of feta and tart cherries, and a generous dollop of tzatziki.
I like to keep a trusty 15-minute rice stocked in the pantry for all rice recipes to keep prep time to a minimum. Test a couple out and see which one you like best. Stock that.