Healthy Outlook: I tried a home-delivery meal service; here’s how it went

photo by: Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World Photo Illustration

Freshly delivers fully prepared meals on a weekly basis.

I’ve spiraled beyond being a fan of convenience. Quick, easy solutions have become a necessity in my life. That’s why the idea of delicious prepared meals delivered to my front door was so appealing to me.

First, I’m not an excellent cook. I get by, but, for the most part, I can’t stand the heat so I stay out of the kitchen. Second, the unpredictability of life never ceases to thwart my grand plans … so the meat we thaw inevitably sits forgotten in the refrigerator until it’s past use, or the veggies I buy with all the good intentions in the world are but shadows of themselves when I finally rescue them from the produce drawer.

Wasting food brings me deep guilt and remorse in so many ways. Finally, I resolved not to buy anything that I wasn’t certain I’d use before it turned to the dark side. My takeaway is that as much as I love them, a girl does not survive on Clif bars and PB&J alone. (I tested a few other options in my weaker moments — Oreos don’t suffice, either.)

I needed another solution. There seem to be countless “meal kit” delivery services that may be perfect for some people because they send you measured ingredients and recipes to cook yourself. For me, that’s akin to charging me extra money to bring me groceries that I still won’t use.

I knew that an effective solution would need to do all the work for me. Eat Fit Go helped for a while, but the store seems to have mysteriously disappeared. I tried to call the Lawrence store and never heard back, and the Sixth and Wakarusa location is no longer listed on the corporate website.

Back to square one. I searched far and wide (across the internet) and compared several different companies, local and national. On top of all my other complaints, I’m fairly picky; I needed enough reasonably healthy choices that I could enjoy, and that ruled out several companies. The price was my next biggest concern, and how deliveries are handled and their schedule were also key considerations.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World Photo Illustration

Freshly’s homestyle chicken, served with butternut (squash) macaroni and cheese and green beans, is shown on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018.

I finally settled on Freshly, freshly.com. I was hesitant at first because my first delivery would be two weeks away, but after that, meals are brought on a weekly basis and with some wiggle room on the delivery date. Of the options I compared, Freshly had the most picky-friendly variety at the best price and with the most flexibility.

I got my first order Oct. 13. My six meals came in a surprisingly hefty box. It’s packed with a lot of insulation and some giant ice packs so it can sit on your front porch for up to 12 hours.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Freshly meals come in heavily insulated packages, but the insulation is biodegradable denim wrapped in recyclable plastic. Here, the biodegradable denim is shown unwrapped and ready to go in the trash on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018.

Before you panic, the insulation is biodegradable denim wrapped in recyclable plastic; the ice packs can be reused, or you can thaw them and dispose of the water-soluble gel in the trash, then recycle the plastic lining. The meals come on plastic trays in cardboard sleeves, both of which are also recyclable.

On average, Freshly meals are 500 calories and contain 30 grams of protein, according to its website. The company says its meals incorporate “nutrient-dense veggies, high-quality proteins, and healthy fats into balanced meals that are both wholesome and tasty.”

photo by: Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World Photo Illustration

Freshly’s ice packs are intended to keep food cold enough to sit on your front porch for up to 12 hours. They can be reused, or you can thaw them and dispose of the water-soluble gel in the trash and then recycle the plastic lining.

One concern for me is that several of the meals I’ve ordered so far are a bit high in fat, including saturated fat, and although dietary guidelines on the stuff and its degree of “good/bad for you” seem to change with the seasons, I’m wary of it.

However, the company does have a list of 85 banned ingredients at real.freshly.com. It includes partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats), refined sugars, several artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, MSG and artificial coloring and flavors. It doesn’t use preservatives, either.

All meals are certified gluten-free, and the company chooses organic ingredients whenever possible, according to its website. There are some vegetarian options, but I don’t think there would be enough variety to sustain me if that was all I was eating. Some of those vegetarian options are vegan, but the company doesn’t yet develop vegan meals specifically.

I was pleasantly surprised at how good the food is. The first week’s order included penne bolognese, beef lasagna with spinach pasta sheets, spaghetti squash and meatballs, and a nice green chile frittata.

The homestyle chicken — served with butternut (squash) macaroni and cheese and green beans — was, without exaggeration, the best chicken I’ve ever had. It was cooked perfectly.

The only item I really didn’t like was a chocolate-coconut muffin that came with a berry porridge breakfast. It’s my own fault because I know I generally don’t care for coconut — but I did learn that I like berry porridge, and that’s something that even I should be able to duplicate.

I wouldn’t recommend this option for families with kids because the meals are single portions, but it could be ideal for single folks and couples whose taste buds clash. Cooking for one is a lot harder than it sounds.

One small flaw in the system is that your second order is already processed by the time your first week arrives, so if you ordered a duplicate meal and ended up disliking the first one, you are stuck with it the next week, too.

Another problem is that we picky folks tend to gravitate toward things we already know we like; Freshly rotates its meal options for variety, so I’ll eagerly await the return of the lasagna.

The promotional option when I signed up meant my six meals cost $45 for the first two weeks, and shipping is free. Going forward, it will be $60 per week, and the company offers different plans from four to 12 weekly meals. There’s flexibility, too, if you want to add extra meals or skip a week.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World Photo Illustration

Freshly’s buffalo chicken served with loaded mashed cauliflower is shown, slightly scorched by the microwave at the Journal-World building, on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018.

I’ve done a bit of math in my head: the guilt of food waste plus the money we throw away cost me much more, in dollars and in well-being, than this subscription. I think it’s worth it, and for the time being, I like taking comfort in the knowledge that I’ll have six-plus fresh meals delivered to my doorstep every Thursday, ready to be heated to deliciousness.

I know how it sounds — “Can you cut it up and feed it to me, too?” asks the millennial — but having this real sustenance available when I need it (aka the occasional dinner at midnight) is incredibly reassuring. Even when I’m too busy to have a real life, my nutritional health doesn’t have to suffer for it. I think a lot of people can relate to that.

About Healthy Outlook

Healthy Outlook is a column written by Journal-World reporter and Health section editor Mackenzie Clark, in hopes of helping readers make their lives a little bit happier, healthier and more active.

Have questions about the world of health and wellness in Lawrence, or a health story idea? Contact Mackenzie:

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