Dear Grad School Diary,
Cooking for one can be tricky.
I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but I’ve tended to cook the same way I do back at home: the same handful of recipes meant to feed at least four people. That meant that I was effectively grocery shopping for four and storing a huge amount of leftovers. As much as I love my mom’s meatloaf, I do not love eating the same thing for a week straight. Neither do I feel good about the food waste that goes along with planning for four while only having one stomach and one wallet. Cooking the way I always did just wasn’t cutting it.
In undergrad, I was lucky to have two affordable grocery stores within a two block radius of my apartment, so I solved the food waste issue by taking several small trips to the store whenever I really needed something, instead of planning my meals for the week and buying in bulk. But here in California, that trick (which let’s be honest is not a great solution) doesn’t work because the nearest grocery store is technically only five minutes away by car but actually about an hour’s walk since I don’t have a car. So I was new to the area and starving. I had to figure this out fast.
How could I affordably break out of my wasteful and family-sized food rut?
The answer: HelloFresh!
My mom taught me to always keep an eye out for a good deal, and so when I came across a coupon in a BuzzFeed article to try a week of the HelloFresh meal kit subscription service for only $20. Twenty bucks for a full week of food sounded like a great deal to me, and the recipes looked really tasty! I was down for saving a little that week, so I signed up. Luckily, my dad also taught me to be savvy with subscription services, so when I signed up for HelloFresh I immediately set a reminder on my calendar to cancel the service before I got charged full price for a second week.
I had fun picking out three recipes from the eight meals available for my first week. You can take a look at the instructions, check any cooking utensils you’ll need, and review the nutritional information of the dishes as you select them. Every week, one meal seems extra tantalizing–like ‘Prosciutto-wrapped Chicken over Truffle Mushroom Risotto–because it is ‘premium,’ so you have to pay an extra $5 per serving (aka $10). I don’t pick those because I’m trying to save money, but I think they’d be a great idea for a special occasion like a birthday or date night! I chose “Presto Pesto Panko Chicken” with a green salad and roasted potatoes (remember when I cooked this with my roommate, Stephanie?), “Spicy Dijon Salmon” with apple arugula salad and couscous, and “Butternut Squash Agnolotti” (its like a ravioli) with kale in a sage brown butter sauce. Just the names make me hungry!
From HelloFresh you can choose to receive kits for three or four meals. Each meal includes two servings, so I opted for the three meal plan because that means six dinners for me a week (unless I share) with one night to plan to spend with friends or score free food at an event on campus. The three meals/week plan costs $60 at full price–that’s $10 a serving–which is pretty reasonable on my budget, and I only have to buy a small amount of additional groceries for breakfast and snacky things like granola bars to take to seminars. Personally, I budget $240 a month for HelloFresh, which takes care of practically all of my dinners, and then $60 a month on things like oatmeal, eggs, Nutella, etc. I spent a little more my first month here since I was starting out with an empty fridge and pantry, but this month my budget has been pretty spot-on.
Yes, you could probably live a little bit cheaper if you plan out all the cheap, college student meals (I still love a good tunafish sandwich or instant ramen) or grabbed fast food on a regular basis, but I’ve received much more than just a week’s worth of meals through HelloFresh.
1. Easy peasy
HelloFresh recipes are very easy to follow. Each meal comes with its own giant, full-color recipe card with pictures, instructions, prep time, and quick tips for making cooking fun and easy. Everything you need food-wise comes in the box, except for olive oil and salt and pepper. Plus, you get to keep the recipes to make again if you find some real winners! You can bust them out later to impress your friends. Unfortunately, knife skills are not included.
2. Creativity in the kitchen
HelloFresh has given me a much needed push out of my food rut and has helped me try lots of dishes that I wasn’t sure how to prepare on my own, like fish and pork chops. There is a different burger option each week if that’s your thing, and the entrees show a good variety of poultry, seafood, pork, and beef dishes. You can also choose a vegetarian meal plan, and you can see which recipes are gluten- and nut-free if you have food allergies. Some weeks have seasonal dishes holidays and special themes like ‘Eat Global’ which has featured a lot of (admittedly unauthentic but still really tasty) international fusion dishes like Korean-inspired Bulgogi tacos.
3. Hello health!
Eating a healthy, balanced meal is so much easier with HelloFresh. In undergrad I’d often make an entree and never give a thought to cooking some vegetables to go along with it–I know, lazy. HelloFresh meals include everything you need in a satisfying dish: protein, starch, and vegetables. And the sides are just as creative as the main dish! (My roommate Stephanie and I are big fans of the roasted potato cubes.) The meals are filling enough that I don’t feel like snacking later at night, unless its a couple spoonfulls of Nutella. Plus, each delivery comes with a card with the nutritional information of all your dishes, which is useful for keeping a food diary. Since I moved to California last month, I’ve been keeping a food diary, tracking my steps and cooking HelloFresh meals, and I’ve lost ten pounds!
4. Did I mention FRESH?
You can choose which day your HelloFresh box is delivered, and you don’t have to worry if you’re home or not when it arrives because of the insulated and recyclable packaging. In a HelloFresh box you will find paper bags on top; those have all your veggies, herbs, and pouches of things like special sauces or stocks that you might not have in your kitchen. Each bag is clearly labeled with the name of the yummy meal you chose. If you picked a dish that features more perishable ingredients, the bag will have a bright sticker that says ‘Make First’ on it. Underneath the paper bags are the meats and seafood, which rest on top of a giant gel ice pack. The packaging keeps all your ingredients fresh, and I’ve never received an ingredient that wasn’t lovely in appearance and in taste.
5. Waste not, want seconds
Since HelloFresh meals come with everything you need and the meals last me two days, I don’t have to worry about buying a whole bunch of asparagus that might go bad or the tragedy of throwing out spoiled leftovers. When I go to the grocery store, I just have to pick up a few things for mornings and afternoons. I feel really good about what I’m eating and what I’m saving.
6. Fun with food
Last but not least, I enjoy the process of cooking more. I look forward to it from start to finish. It’s fun to pick out what I want to make next week, waiting for my delivery to arrive, cooking the dishes themselves, and coming home the next day to what I know are delicious leftovers. I use the time I spend cooking to take a break from my work and my worries and focus on me. I’ll put on some music or a TV show and get to slicing, dicing, sauteeing, and searing! Most meals take 20-45 minutes to prepare, so it’s enough time to take a well-deserved break without feeling guilty about it later. I actually find that when friends ask me out for dinner, I’d often rather cook what I have planned and I definitely don’t skip meals! Cooking my HelloFresh meals has become a valuable step in my self-care routine.
When I ordered my first box from HelloFresh, I figured it was just an easy way to save some money and a trip to the grocery store for a week. After I’d cooked my first batch of meals, I was hooked! If you would like to try it out (or just save on your grocery bill) for a week for really cheap, go to the HelloFresh website and enter the code 67FOOM to pay just $20 ($40 off)! And remember to be savvy: if you only want one week of food, set a reminder on your calendar to cancel!
*Disclaimer: This blogpost has in no way been sponsored by HelloFresh. This is just my opinion of the service.