Why I love meal kits

Meal kits are quite possibly the greatest invention of the decade when it comes to deciding on dinner.

Let me backup from that bold statement. I’m not a subscriber. I have many friends and family members who use the services. I’ve been gifted a few meals from people who unexpectedly had to go out of town and just got a delivery. And I loved them!

Here’s why:

IDK, what do you want?

Meal kits are amazing from a few standpoints. One: they minimize that daily family question of “what should I make for dinner.” This question is usually met with an infuriating, “I don’t know” or “I don’t care,” response, which can cause dinner prepper’s heads to explode.

With meal delivery, the options are preselected and once delivered, there are a merciful few choices to make. Chicken or fish? Tacos or noodles? And from there, everything falls into place.

They Teach Meal Design and Planning

Recipe books don’t teach you meal design, that is, how to plan for a complete meal (e.g., protein, veggies, and starch). They don’t usually say, “this x goes great with y.” Even if they do, its an after-thought. They also don’t teach cooking efficiency or portioning, e.g., how to mirepoix for an entire meal and cook multiple items at once for a family of four, with enough leftovers for a lunch or two.

The other night I fiddled with a new recipe I’m developing for chicken. It was pretty good. But I was so focused on trying out this new marinade for the chicken, and planning how I was going to cook it, that I completely forgot about a need for other things on the plate.

Luckily I had some leftover rice. Paired with carrots, celery, green onions, and an egg, I was able to throw together some fried rice for a side dish. However, I really prefer a lot more vegetables on our plates, and the meal would have been far more cohesive if I’d roasted those carrots, onions, and celery under the chicken. Such decisions need to be made early in the process.

I’ve kept the recipe cards that come with the meal kits I’ve used. Sometimes I use them to build my shopping list.

Psychology: Peace of mind and empowerment

Most of us are amateurs. I consider myself fairly deft in the kitchen, but I still make tons of mistakes and fall into ruts. Meal kits take out the “oops” factor of cooking. They expand your repertoire while minimizing the risk of failure.

For those who aren’t as comfortable with cooking on a daily basis, they help you feel proud of your accomplishments (and they ARE accomplishments). Successes in life, no matter how small, give you dopamine rushes and make you want to return to those activities. Each time you go back, you get better.

Although some might downplay the process as “I’m just following the instructions,” the truth is that cooking is an act of physical memory-making. Your body remembers the actions you take when you are following those instructions.

In college, a professor had us write out our favorite passages from books and poems in a notebook. We were required to do at least 1000 words each week. His reasoning was that the act of writing out those words would give us the physical memory of developing great works, thereby elevating our own writing. I don’t know if it worked, but I always thought it was a beautiful process.

Meal kits are skill builders that might make you want to experiment, to branch out. It can turn cooking an artful process. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll still get some mighty good dinner on the table.

Stuffed Peppers, Four Ways

I think of stuffed peppers as the sloppy joes of the modern era. Few dinners offer up the comfort and ease of a stuffed pepper. But this new “sloppy joe” also offers up a wholesome addition of vegetables that helps moms and dads ensure their littles are at least getting some good foods.

There are endless ways to switch up stuffed peppers. The cooking methods for each a relatively similar, so I’ll go over the ingredients for each first recipe. Then I’ll discuss the cooking methods. As always, my advice is to use what you have on hand.

One note: In this recipe I call for cooked rice, but it isn’t necessary for all the dishes, especially for the Jambalaya. You just need to 1 cup of the uncooked rice, along with an appropriate amount of water or stock to the pot and let it simmer along with the other ingredients until the rice is cooked. For the ratatouille, however, start with cooked rice so your veggies don’t overcook.

Pepper Prep

These recipe works best with peppers that can stand up on their own and have a large cavity. Start by slicing off the tops of 6-8 large green, yellow, red, or orange bell peppers.

Clear seeds and ribs away from the inside of the cavity (I often just use my hands for this) and discard. Chop up any remaining edible parts from the tops and set them aside for the stuffing.

Many recipes call for coating the peppers with oil and pre-cooking them, but I find those steps unnecessary. Simply arrange them in a baking pan as close together as possible.

The Classic

1 tbl butter
1 pkg ground beef
1/2 onion, chopped small
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Cutoffs from the pepper, plus one additional small bell pepper chopped small
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 can tomato sauce or crushed tomato
2 cups cooked rice
Salt and pepper
1 cup grated parmesan and/or shredded mozzarella
Fresh basil to garnish

The Jambalaya

2 andouille sausages, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 chicken breast, also chopped into bite sizes
3 tbl cajun seasoning
1/2 onion, chopped small
2 stalks celery, chopped small
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Cutoffs from the pepper, plus 1 additional bell pepper cut small
1 can tomato sauce or crushed tomato
Additional stock or water for consistency (up to 1 cup)
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup gruyere
Fresh parsley for garnish

The Ratatouille (Vegan)

1 tbl oil
1 dried bay leaf crushed
1 tsp dried thyme
1 cup mushrooms sliced
1 small eggplant, chopped small
1 zucchini sliced
1 carrot shredded
1/2 onion, chopped small
2 stalks celery, chopped small
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Cutoffs from the pepper, plus one additional small bell pepper chopped small
1 can tomato sauce or crushed tomato
2 cups cooked rice
Vegetable stock as needed
1 cup breadcrumbs mixed with oil
Fresh basil, parsley, or tarragon to garnish

The Southwestern Turkey

1 tbl butter
1 pkg ground turkey
3 tbls taco seasoning
1/2 onion, chopped small
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Cutoffs from the pepper
1 cup corn kernels
2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped (or keep the seeds if you want it spicier)
1 can tomato sauce
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup grated pepper jack cheese
Fresh cilantro to garnish

Cooking

Once the vegetables are all chopped, the process for cooking each of these is similar. Cook the proteins (or mushrooms) with the onions and garlic, as well as any dried herbs, spices, or seasoning mixes over medium high heat. Then add the rest of the vegetables, the tomato sauce, rice and any stock or water as needed. Let simmer on low for 20-30 minutes, until the stuffing is thick enough to spoon, but not dry (something like chili or other thick stew). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon the filling into the peppers. Top them with bread crumbs or cheese and put them in a 350F oven for 30 minutes. Garnish with any fresh herbs and serve.

PREP!

Stuffed peppers make excellent meal preps! You can complete a recipe up until it is time to put them in the oven. Store them in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for a month. When you are ready to cook them, defrost them in the fridge for the day and then cook them oven for 60 minutes at 350F.