The plastic containers of meals, such as steak frites and coconut-poached fish with bok choy fried rice, are piling up in my fridge, and they are a little too fancy to pack for work lunches, where they would suffer the fate of the microwave.
Meal kits like Blue Apron and others are biased against single people: They encourage us to sit down … across from no one. They leave us with enough food for multiple people, so we will be eating the same meal for days. Many of us cook, anyway. But nowhere is home-cooking more obviously biased against the single chef than in the current trend of meal planning by mail order.
The meal-kit business has become a $5 billion industry. I’ve tried Blue Apron, Plated and Green Chef, all of which offer the convenience of delivering weekly menus and the groceries with which to make each meal. But with all these plans, serving-size options are for two or four people, and the box comes with two to three meals per week. I get these boxes, filled with exciting new recipes and all of the ingredients to make them, only to find myself lacking in a benefit they all seem to tout: someone to cook with in the kitchen, someone with whom to share the meal.
I value all of these benefits. If I could get them in a box, I would subscribe regardless of the monthly price. But that service does not exist yet, so instead I get to feel bad about being alone, as a side dish to the convenience of getting planned meals delivered to my doorstep.
I have yet to find a meal-kit service that offers single-serve meals. As a result, leftovers can get out of hand. I typically still have leftovers from one meal when I feel pressure to cook the next, because I don’t want the ingredients go bad. (Many of these services tout their fresh, often local, ingredients as a selling point.)
No doubt, I’m not the only single person who feels isolated from the meal-kit trend, so here is how I hacked the services.
Subscribe to a plan that allows you to substitute meals. Surprisingly, there are some that do not let you replace an upcoming meal that you know you won’t like or won’t work for you. Pick the meals that will keep well for a while (remember to consider reheating methods) or can be portioned well (either before or after cooking) for up to two meals. Try to avoid meals that have to last for more than two servings. Not only will you get tired of them, but they also will start to lose their freshness. (Some of the sauces included in these boxes are definitely designed for immediate use.)
When I get my boxes, I often go through the recipes and prioritize according to whether I can save one by freezing it. This defeats the meal kit’s goal of providing fresh food, but at least I still don’t have to go to the store or come up with my own meal ideas.
With some meals, it’s easy to portion out one serving and make the next the following day. When I was getting the four-serving family meals from Blue Apron (thinking that multiple portions of two meals would be easier to handle than double portions of three different meals), I had trouble extending my raw catfish to four separate dinners. By the fourth meal, my fish was getting a little … well, fishy.
There are some meal-kit subscriptions that work better for freezing or portioning. For example, I have thrown away more mushrooms than I want to think about.
Another option is, of course, to consume the full two (or more) portions in one sitting. Generally, this does not work well for me.
You can also invite people over for a meal. Friends, neighbors, a new acquaintance — or even a romantic interest — can help you polish off a box. I tend to seek out opportunities to invite others over for dinner.
If you find a way to make it work, pat yourself on the back. By subscribing to a meal kit for two, you are engaging in an act of optimism. You don’t have to bow to the tyranny of the meal kit’s apparent insistence that the best meal is a meal with someone else. But on those days when you have company, you can more easily enjoy breaking bread with someone, along with the contentment of knowing you have used your resources well. And for once, you have avoided leftovers.