Sometimes, the phrase work-life balance sounds like a complete oxymoron. Between working your regular nine-to-five, making an impromptu appearance at the gym, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, sometimes personal care falls by the wayside
Luckily, we live in a time when many household tasks and personal errands can be automated for us—groceries arrive on our doorstep, a routine household cleaning service books through an app, and drivers take us from point A to point B when we don’t want to look for parking.
And when we don’t feel like cooking? Well, those possibilities seem to be endless.
In the past decade, the options for meal delivery services have expanded tremendously. Meal kit companies like Sun Basket, Green Chef, Home Chef, Blue Apron, and Plated try to take the stress out of a home cooked meal. They deliver fresh ingredients and recipes directly to your door. By eliminating the meal planning process and a trip to the grocery store, meal kit services hope to make cooking a little more convenient (and enjoyable).
But do these companies deliver on what they promised? Below, we take a look at Plated, one of the most popular and high-end meal kit subscription services on the market to see if it really gives you time back in your week.
If you're trying Plated for the first time, the concept is pretty simple: They’ll handle the meal planning and grocery shopping, you do the cooking.
When you sign up for Plated, you select the number of meals you want (choosing between 2-4 meals per week), and how many portions you want within those meals (with options for 2-4 people). After that, you tell Plated which proteins you prefer (so they can narrow down your recipe recommendations), and finally you’ll select your delivery date.
Each Plated meal box comes with your ingredients, insulated with ice packs to keep your food from spoiling. You’ll also find recipe cards and instructions in every delivery box. Plated offers delivery options six days a week, which can accommodate a wide range of schedules.
If you check out the Plated menu online, they offer twenty different recipes that you can select from on any given week. Each recipe contains calorie information and roughly how long it should take to prepare. Beef and sweet potato “lasagna,” chicken burrito bowls, Chinese pork lettuce wraps, and Mongolian steak stir fry are just a few of the recipes that the service has featured.
Most recipes on the Plated menu take 25-50 minutes to cook and contain between 550-850 calories per serving. There are gluten-free, vegetarian, low-carb, and low-calorie options available. However, their dietary restriction filters are pretty minimal. You can search for meat, vegetarian, seafood, gluten-free, and low-calorie, but you won’t find filters for popular diets and allergens, like paleo, keto, or dairy-free.
There are a few advantages to subscribing to a meal kit delivery service. First and foremost, it keeps you from reaching for the takeout menu, which offers obvious benefits to your overall health (and monthly budget).
It also spares you and your cortisol levels from the weekend nightmare that is checkout lines and grocery store parking lots. And frankly, it can be fun. Trying out a new recipe, something that’s outside your comfort zone of grilled cheese and scrambled eggs, can be a nice change of pace.
But didn’t this all start as a way to save time and energy? We need to look at that.
Let’s be clear on this: A meal kit service, like Plated and its competitors, does not eliminate the process of meal planning. It simply narrows down your Google search a bit (or cuts down on those Pinterest recipes you never got around to).
Directly on Plated’s homepage it says, quote, “Skip the ‘what’s for dinner debate’ so you can focus on everything else you have going on.” That’s ironic because with Plated’s service, you self-select which recipes you want.
Plus, even Plated’s most robust plan only covers dinner four nights a week. Which sorta brings you back to the drawing board on the other three nights, don’t you think?
While some (not all) meal kits portion out ingredients before shipping them off to your doorstep, that’s where any sort of meal prep ends. Chopping vegetables, seasoning meat, and (eye roll) dicing garlic cloves still falls on you.
Let’s face it: With the exception of cleanup (we’ll get to that in a second, just you wait), this is the single most time consuming part of cooking. Many of the recipes found on Plated’s weekly menu contain over a dozen ingredients—that’s a lot of food to chop, dice, and season.
When you select your Plated Meals for the week, there is a small section titled “What You’ll Need” under the ingredients listing. Typically, this section is minimal but might not feel that way to a true kitchen novice. For a sample Plated recipe, you will need to have black pepper, sea salt, olive oil, a baking sheet, a skillet, and aluminum foil.
That’s if everything else in your box is included.
Some consumers report that Plated has forgotten to include several ingredients in their meal boxes or has swapped out one ingredient for another without any explanation. In this review by the Observer, for example, several eggs were missing from the box, spinach was sent instead of kale, and whole canned tomatoes were included rather than diced.
And we’re talking, a lot of dishes.
Cleanup is, quite arguably, the most dreaded and strenuous part of the cooking process. Not only are you exhausted from spending the evening bent over the stovetop (up to 50 minutes for some recipes, might we add), but with each recipe varying in complexity, you just never know how many dishes you’ll have to scrub when you’re done.
At the absolute minimum, you will have to wash nine items: a cutting board, chef’s knife, casserole dish, skillet, two plates, and two forks—not exactly something to look forward to.
We’re not a typical meal kit service, but we certainly know a lot about them. Why? Because almost three-fourths of our customers tried Plated or one of its competitors before switching to our service. That’s because we listened to our customers, and eliminated the cumbersome, tedious tasks associated with meal kits so we could deliver on what they only promise: convenience.
With Tovala, there’s exactly one minute of prep work (just unpack your meals and scan a barcode), there’s exactly one utensil to wash (a fork), and you don’t have to worry about wiping down your counters or putting your kitchen back in order. We take care of the shopping, chopping, prepping, cooking, and cleanup.
Although you do still “meal plan” by selecting meals from our delicious, rotating menu (we wouldn’t want to send you something you wouldn’t enjoy). And of course, we offer gluten-free and vegetarian options to accommodate a wide range of dietary preferences.
If you still want to practice and expand your cooking skills, you can do that too. With the Tovala Oven and the Tovala App, you can select simple, delicious meals that are ready from prep-to-enjoyment in twenty minutes or less. Some recipes take as few as seven minutes to prepare, or one-eighth the amount of time of those Plated meals. Which one sounds more convenient to you?