The Rise of the DIY Meal Kit: Fad or Future?

Kerry Potter wrote . . . . .

Picture the scene: a typical weekday evening in my kitchen. I forlornly eat the crusts from the children’s teatime sandwiches while wondering what on earth we’re going to have for dinner, given no one’s had time to go to the supermarket. My husband and I exchange hangry words on this subject, ending with a ‘who’s busier?’ competition.

While he cajoles the children into bed, I note that everything in the fridge has disintegrated into foul sludge. Spaghetti and pesto it is, then. Cue the least Instagrammable dinner ever, eaten in front of – ha! – MasterChef.

This week, however, things are different. My husband and I jostle for position by the stove. ‘I want to cook!’ ‘No, darling, I’ll do it. You have a glass of wine. Would you prefer duck with mango, chilli and courgettini, or the Brazil-nut, artichoke and parsley lentils?’ Twenty-five minutes later, a delicious, hearty-but-healthy dinner is served.

We aren’t auditioning for Come Dine with Me, nor is my mother-in-law staying. We’re trying out Mindful Chef, a sleekly branded, gluten- and dairy-free recipe-box-delivery service backed by Andy Murray and Victoria Pendleton.

On Monday, a cardboard box arrived containing the ingredients for three dinners – you can choose them online in advance – in the exact quantities needed (one stock cube, one chilli…), with three corresponding recipe cards.

Start price for the service works out at £6 per meal per head, which seems pricey compared to a casserole cooked from scratch, but is similar to the cost of a posh ready meal, or a bargain if the alternative is a takeaway.

My only criticism? It’s one to file under #firstworldproblems: an onion was missing from the box, causing a minor panic one night regarding the well-being of a Swedish-meatball sauce. That aside, we’re converts. As are a lot of Brits right now.

Spending on recipe-box deliveries was up by 65 per cent in the first half of 2016, compared with the same period the year before, according to analytics firm Cardlytics. Pioneered by Swedish company Middagsfrid a decade ago, the idea has been embraced in the US, with market leader Blue Apron now delivering eight million meals each month.

Over here, the service has evolved from Abel & Cole’s lo-fi organic veg boxes into something far more involved (although the company still sells the veg-only boxes alongside its meal kits).

The two biggest players in the UK both launched in 2012 – HelloFresh (founded in Berlin) is valued at about £2 billion, operates in nine countries and delivers almost nine million dinners per month globally, charging from £4 per meal; Gousto shifts 400,000 per month, from £2.98 per meal.

Mindful Chef is a hipster upstart that launched in 2015 and offers vegan and generally healthy kits, and then there are the other options, such as Simply Cook, which sends you a weekly pack of recipes, rubs, herbs and oils.

It’s not hard to see the appeal – it’s cheating to a point, but not so much you feel guilty. And anyway, what was once seen as cheating has been re-spun as time-saving savviness. This is cooking-lite, without the boring stuff like having to rush to Tesco halfway through because you’ve run out of tarragon.

Giles Humphries, co-founder of Mindful Chef, says the company has a surprising range of customers.

‘We thought our key demographic would be twenty-something urban professionals, but actually our best customers are in their 30s and 40s, maybe a busy couple with young children,’ he explains. ‘They’re not having to WhatsApp their partner during the day to have a long conversation about what to have for dinner.’

One friend, a working mother of two and HelloFresh Family Box aficionado, tells me, ‘I absolutely love not having to choose what to cook each night, because it’s one of those “emotional labour” chores – the tedious think-y admin that usually falls to women to sort. Now I feel like I’m delegating that to the recipe box.’

In addition to the appeal for people who have rolled in ravenous after a long day at work, there’s also the lack of waste as you cook exactly what you are sent, with no excess. Sophie Maxwell, futures director at Pearlfisher, a branding agency that works with food companies, draws a parallel with the invention of powdered cake mixes in the US in the 1930s.

These were originally designed so you would just add water, but later manufacturers developed a mix to which you had to add fresh egg – that way people felt like they were still, to some degree, baking. Similarly, she says, ‘Meal kits work because they still make people feel like they’re cooking, and we feel good about that.’

And then there are the social-media bragging rights – the visually impressive yet still charmingly DIY results of recipe boxes are Instagram catnip. The trend for curating our lifestyles has reached the point where we can get someone else to curate our meat and two veg – and then pass it all off as our own handiwork.

Although almost everyone I speak to about meal-kit deliveries raves about them, there is the odd grumble. Some think they’re too expensive, with Giles from Mindful Chef conceding that cost is the biggest reason cited for cancellations.

Meanwhile, my friend Alex, a talented home cook, says, ‘I did them for a while but I would hold the single clove of garlic in my hand and think, “Christ, the state of modern cooking! I’ve become the person who can’t even buy a garlic bulb, I have to be given individual cloves.” There’s something a bit humiliating and infantilising about it.’

Stella’s food columnist, Diana Henry, is similarly circumspect. ‘I have mixed feelings,’ she says. ‘If you’re buying takeaways or ready meals every night and switch to these deliveries, it’s a step in the right direction. But it worries me that you’ll end up with people unable to plan and cook their own meals without this as a crutch.’

The industry is only going to get bigger, though. Supermarkets are taking notice – HelloFresh packs are now sold at Sainsbury’s. And Maxwell predicts we’ll soon see a greater focus on personalisation, with meal plans worked out according to your DNA biomarkers and metabolism.

Neil Grimmer, co-founder of Plum Organics baby food, recently launched Habit in Silicon Valley, which gathers customers’ data using a blood test and cheek swab.

As for me, my recipe-box adventure is ending – partly because of cost, partly because it has given me the kick-start I needed to be more adventurous in the kitchen.

Tonight I was tempted to do bog-standard omelettes and salad but upgraded to the far hipper egg dish shakshuka.

Now all I need is someone to send me a box containing a magic wand and a spell to clean up the kitchen.

Source: The Telegraph

VegReady – A New Plant-Based Meals Delivery Service in the U.S.

Imagine being able to enjoy a delicious, ready-to-eat vegan meal whenever and wherever you’d like. That’s the whole idea behind VegReady, a unique new food concept that’s launching July 14th on Kickstarter.

VegReady is different for a number of reasons. First, the meals don’t need refrigeration, defrosting or cooking. They’re pasteurized and shelf-stable. So they can be eaten anytime and easily stored at room temperature.

Next, they’ll be sold online directly to you, rather than through retail stores. This is intended to develop a more personal relationship with each customer. Each meal will cost $7.50 and are ordered in quantities of 10 meals at a time. The meals arrive at your address in reusable pizza boxes.

Initial VegReady Meals Sourced from Peru

The first VegReady dishes will come from the mountains of Peru, where Quinoa is the traditional high protein dish. Quinoa was referred to as chisaya mama or mother grain by the ancient Incas. The meal will contain deliciously cooked Quinoa, sautéed greens and savory vegetables. Peru was selected because it’s the first country in the world to have a complete ban on GMO’s. Following the initial launch, additional meals will be added with Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, India and Pakistan cuisines.

Meals Optimized for Your DNA

VegReady plans to work with doctors to offer custom meals created to meet your specific health needs and taste preferences. They’re also partnering with a DNA analysis firm called 23andme, so your meals can be matched to your individual DNA makeup.

Source: Meatless Monday

Soft-boiled Eggs with Prosciutto-wrapped and Cheese-crusted Toast

Ingredients

4 eggs
4 slices Texas toast
8 slices prosciutto
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Method

  1. Lightly toast 4 slices bread. Cut each slice in 4 strips (making 16 strips total). Wrap each strip with 1/2 slice prosciutto, lay on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining strips of toast.
  2. Divide Parmesan among prosciutto-wrapped toast strips, sprinkling over each one.
  3. Soft boil eggs. At the same time, preheat broiler.
  4. Place baking sheet with prepared toast strips under the broiler and heat until Parmesan melts and prosciutto crisps on the edges.
  5. To serve, cut the top off each egg and place in an egg cup. Serve with 4 prosciutto and Parmesan-crusted toast strips per person.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: ANNA magazine

In Pictures: Breakfasts Served by Family Restaurants in Tokyo

Lutein May Yield Significant Cognitive Benefits

Researchers have found that lutein, a nutrient and organic pigment found in kale, spinach, avocados, and eggs, may be effective in rejuvenating cognitive functions.

The health benefits of green foods, such as kale, spinach, and other leafy vegetables, have long been discussed by nutritionists.

The importance of lutein – a nutrient and organic pigment, or carotenoid, found in a range of foods including kale, carrots, and even eggs – has often been singled out by specialists in recent studies. Medical News Today, for instance, have lately reported on lutein’s role in reducing inflammation in heart disease.

New research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in collaboration with the University of Georgia in Athens, has unveiled yet another health benefit of lutein: the ability to counteract cognitive aging.

Lead researcher Dr. Naiman A. Khan, of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois, and his colleagues published their findings in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Cognitive aging sets in early

The researchers started from the premise that cognitive aging becomes apparent earlier in life than one might expect.

Previous studies had only monitored cognitive aging in elderly adults, but Dr. Khan and his colleagues wanted to take a different approach.

“As people get older, they experience typical decline. However, research has shown that this process can start earlier than expected. You can even start to see some differences in the 30s,” says first study author Anne Walk, a postdoctoral researcher also at the University of Illinois.

With this in mind, the researchers recruited 60 adult participants aged between 25 and 45, setting out to investigate whether or not lutein intake can have an impact on cognition.

The researchers explain that lutein is a naturally occurring substance that cannot be synthesized in the human body. This is why it must be absorbed from foods that synthesize it, such as kale and other green leafy vegetables, or else through food supplements.

Once assimilated by the human body, lutein can be detected in brain tissue as well as in the eyes’ retinas, which makes the appraisal of lutein levels more convenient, as non-invasive measurements can be taken.

“If lutein can protect against decline, we should encourage people to consume lutein-rich foods at a point in their lives when it has maximum benefit,” says Walk.

More lutein improves cognitive performance

On this occasion, the researchers gauged lutein levels in the participants’ eyes by asking them to respond to flickering light stimuli.

The neural activity in the participants’ brains was assessed by electrodes attached to the scalp, as each participant was tasked with an attention-related exercise designed to test their selective attention, attentional inhibition (the ability to ignore irrelevant stimuli), or response inhibition (the ability to suppress inappropriate impulses).

Dr. Khan and colleagues found that the participants who exhibited higher levels of lutein were cognitively more similar to younger individuals than they were to individuals of the same age with lower lutein levels.

“The neuro-electrical signature of older participants with higher levels of lutein looked much more like their younger counterparts than their peers with less lutein. Lutein appears to have some protective role, since the data suggest that those with more lutein were able to engage more cognitive resources to complete the task,” explains Walk.

Following this study, the researchers seek to gain a better understanding of how a larger lutein intake might impact the level of the carotenoid accumulated in the retina, and to what extent lutein levels actually influence cognitive capacity.

“In this study we focused on attention, but we also would like to understand the effects of lutein on learning and memory,” concludes Dr. Khan.

Source: Medical News Today


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