Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Philosophy of Outsourcing and a Review of Blue Apron

There are some realities that I just have to learn to face. As a liberal living in Missouri, for example, I am always going to be sad about the outcomes of state-wide elections. I will never, not ever, be able to wear high heels gracefully and without pain. My hardwood floors will never be "white sock safe" for longer than twenty minutes in my house with a preschooler, two cats, and a dog. And I can only go grocery shopping once a week.

It's this last bitter reality I want to write about today.

I mostly like cooking. I even kind of like finding new recipes, sorting them into categories, and experimenting with creating them. I actively dislike shopping. I loathe putting the groceries away. I strongly dislike making grocery lists and trying not to forget anything. I hate with a passion throwing away food because my meal planning failed and the ingredients went bad before I used them.

My face whenever I open the refrigerator and see moldy cheese. 
On top of that, grocery shopping is an ordeal. My daughter's new school schedule allows no room for flexibility, so I can't shop after work before picking her up. And (deep breath as I accept this fact), I can't take her with me. Not if I want to actually buy the things I need to buy. Not if I want to have any patience or semblance of sanity left when we walk in the house. Not if I don't want to have flashbacks to mid-aisle meltdowns every time I pick up the cereal box. So I grocery shop on Sundays while she and my husband sleep in or go for a walk or whatever. I can grocery shop one day a week without it turning everything into a giant and unwinnable game of Which Basic Necessity Do You Want to Lose.

On top of all of that, we have to eat food to live.

I've attempted to use outsourcing in a variety of ways to balance out these demands on my time and biology.

I want (as I suspect a lot of people want) to be able to eat food in my own house without it taking hours to prepare or days to plan. I want to eat out only because I've made a conscious choice to enjoy the luxury of eating out--not because I looked in the refrigerator and realized that the I forgot to thaw out the pork chops and the bread has molded so we can't even eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

What role can outsourcing play in my food dilemma? Obviously, it can play a very big role. I can pay someone else to make the food, package it, and deliver it to my house. But getting pizza delivered five days a week kind of goes against some of my primary goals about keeping us healthy and happy.

The next step would be going and picking food up at a restaurant, but often this isn't as convenient as it initially seems to be. It takes longer than it ever seems it should, and the choices are still pretty limited in terms of getting fresh food that makes me feel like we're making healthy choices.

I found part of the solution by using a service called Time for Dinner, a local company where you can  spend a few hours going between food stations and prep a freezer full of make-ahead meals. I like this option, but you only make main dishes, so I still had to plan side dishes and snacks and shop for them.

I can competently and rather successfully meal plan through Wednesday. I can shop on Sunday morning and get us through Sunday's lunch and dinner up to dinner on Wednesday. But that's it.

It doesn't matter what else I do, Thursday won't work. You would think I could just buy one more day's worth of food. I could even buy food I cook from frozen like a pizza or some Trader Joe's orange chicken and stir fry rice. You would think this wouldn't be that hard. But Thursday will not work. It's just one of those realities of the universe. And Friday? Let's not talk about Friday.

So I'm accepting my limits. I can only grocery shop once a week, and I can only successfully plan meals for four days. That's it. That's the best I can do.

In the past, we've dealt with this reality by eating out, ordering in, or having a hodge podge of lunchmeat and dry cereal (because of course we don't have milk by Thursday) for dinner. But those are unsatisfactory solutions.

So a few weeks ago I decided to try a food delivery service. After looking into Plated, Hello Fresh, and Blue Apron, I picked Blue Apron. It had the most reasonable rate ($70 for two family-size meals a week) and the easiest site navigation in terms of picking which food I wanted. I could also opt out of foods I didn't want (I don't eat seafood or fish) and swap in a vegetarian meal whenever I wanted.

I'll admit I was skeptical. I mean, I regularly get mail at my house for people who haven't lived here in a decade, could I really trust something I intended to eat to show up on my porch?

I've gotten three deliveries (six meals), and they've all gone perfectly. The food arrives on time, packed in ice and has always been cold and fresh when I opened it up.

The food comes in a futuristic-looking foil pack, and it's clearly labeled so that I have no trouble telling which ingredients go with each recipe.

The recipe cards are easy-to-follow and contain nice little additional info like cooking tips or information about seasonal vegetables, and they could easily be reused if you choose to remake the meals with ingredients you buy yourself. 

I've had no problems with the ingredients, all of which have been fresh and flavorful, and the meals have been just outside the box enough for me to be excited about cooking something new but still within my range of experiences enough that I feel comfortable cooking them and can convince my four-year-old to eat them. 

As an added bonus, my daughter really likes the excitement of getting a "present" filled with food, and she's been interested in helping me cook the meals, learning more about food prep and nutrition in the process. So instead of the forty-five minutes I would have spent regretting all my life decisions by taking her to the grocery store where she would become overwhelmed and melt down, we can spend a little time bonding and cooking some healthy food together. Win-win-win.

Heirloom tomato and squash pasta with a romaine salad. 
A Frozen plate, for authenticity. This one got called "the best food ever." No joke.
This was my favorite. Chicken tacos with tomatillo salsa and Mexican-style corn on the cob. 
My box arrives on Thursdays, and now--finally--Thursdays work. It's more expensive than going to the grocery store, but it's less expensive (and much healthier) than going out to eat. When I first looked into it, I told myself that I would find some other way; I would figure out how to get to the grocery store on Wednesday nights and save us a little money. But the truth is, it's not that much more money, and the money is easier to find than the time right now.

I know there are some people out there (I've seen them with my own eyes) who can make home cooked meals every night of the week with (what appears to me to be) ease. I envy you, but I will never be you, no more than I will be the woman climbing the stairs effortlessly in four-inch heels or the woman who can walk across her living room floor without getting cat hair stuck to her socks. I'm learning to stop chasing versions of my life that aren't realistic, and for me, that means letting someone else pack two of my dinners on ice each week and put them on my front porch. It's working, and I'm thrilled.

Photo: castgen

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