I probably don’t need to tell you that I am a Very Annoying Food Person. You know the type: the friend standing on her chair to capture the perfect overhead shot of her artisanal wood-fired pizza; the co-worker who delivers eye-roll-inducing lectures on the (fascinating?) differences between natural and Dutch-process cocoa powder. As a food editor, being a Very Annoying Food Person comes with my job.
But what you won’t see next to the delicately plated octopus a la plancha and the 48-hour homemade ramen on my Instagram feed are the thousands of ways my actual life doesn’t live up to the aspirational foodie culture to which I contribute. I frequently arrive home after work, frazzled and ravenous, to bare fridge shelves, as it’s pointless to do much grocery shopping or meal planning when I dine out for research so frequently. (I swear I’m not complaining.) What happens next is predictably unglamorous: I plumb the depths of the freezer for a pack of frozen dumplings or tamales from our last Costco run, get gloppy-sweet Chinese delivered, or perhaps locate a lone, dusty can of soup in the back of the pantry.
Many of you will relate to these sorts of desperation dinners, but as an admittedly privileged food journalist, I feel as if I’ve just revealed a shameful secret. The truth is, there’s just no way that I, or most people, have the time and/or money to prepare seasonal, healthful, and gorgeously plated dishes using local heritage meat and farmers’ market produce every night of the week. And I certainly don’t want to subsist on takeout or tins of soup. So what’s a hungry food editor to do?
The answer, as it turns out, lay in an increasingly trendy phenomenon I had long before brushed off in my foodie arrogance: meal kits. And my revelation didn’t even come via a fancy mail-order company; it was an available-at-grocery-stores frozen fish dinner. Months ago, I received samples from LoveTheWild, a Boulder-based company specializing in sustainable, quick-to-prepare frozen seafood suppers—which I promptly stashed in the office freezer and then completely forgot about. I just couldn’t imagine writing a sexy headline about frozen fish, you know?
But one night, as I was mentally preparing myself to battle through Denver rush-hour traffic on an empty stomach to get to an even emptier fridge, I remembered the frozen fish at my office. I tucked a box marked “Rainbow Trout with Salsa Verde” into my bag. At home, I read the instructions while my oven preheated: Place the responsibly raised fish (no need to thaw) on the included parchment paper; top with frozen sauce cubes; add veggies such as broccoli and sliced peppers if desired; fold over the parchment and seal into a neat packet; and bake. That was it.
Fifteen minutes later and with low expectations, I unfolded the parchment to find a perfectly cooked, fresh-looking piece of trout enrobed in an appealing bright green sauce. My husband had been skeptical too, but as we forked bite after bite of the tender fish and herbaceous sauce, we both had to admit that it tasted loads better—not to mention being better for us—than the bowls of cereal we likely would have consumed instead. It may not have qualified as Instagrammable, but it was a perfectly respectable and unbelievably convenient dinner—even for a Very Annoying Food Person like me.
Three More Local Meal Kits We Love
These almost-ready-to-eat suppers are super convenient and, more importantly, delicious. —Denise Mickelsen and CS
Gluten-free, vegan, Paleo, and even Keto-diet subscribers can all be accommodated by Green Chef’s home-delivered meal plans. Recipes take around 30 minutes to get on the table, and tend to be inspired by bold, global flavors; think tamarind lamb samosas, ponzu chicken with shiitake mushrooms, and Moroccan cauliflower. As you might expect from a Boulder-based, 100 percent organic meal kit company, the packaging is mindfully minimal, and features compostable jute and less plastic than other kits we tried. Place your order at greenchef.com.
Last summer, the creators of Marley Spoon, Inc., debuted their affordable meal kit, Dinnerly, in Colorado. We were skeptical that they could deliver meals we’d want to eat at just $5 per serving, but indeed, they do. By cutting down on packaging materials, limiting recipes to six ingredients or less, and foregoing printed recipe cards for digital downloads, Dinnerly is a subscription service that families, in particular, should enjoy. The recipes are simple, but really tasty: think turkey burgers with baked sweet potato fries and griddled onions or harrisa-spiced chicken legs with potatoes and spinach. Each meal takes about 30 minutes to prepare and feeds, in our opinion, more than the “2 adults and 2 kids” Dinnerly suggests. (We had leftovers for lunch the next day.) If you’re looking to dip your toes into the meal kit phenomenon, this easy-on-your-wallet option is a great starting place. Check it out at dinnerly.com.
If home delivery meal kits just aren’t for you, the Juniper Pig, an artisan butcher shop in Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace, is a local, pick-up solution for a speedy home-cooked dinner. There, you can grab ready-to-cook packages of marinated meats and vegetables—no chopping required. Lime-chile chicken and fajita packs (available soon in chicken and steak) are all set for the grill, and pork shoulder comes with prepped chunks of potatoes, bell peppers, leeks, and carrots, all ready to go into your slow cooker. The ingredients are fresh, the packaging is minimal, and before you know it, dinner is done. Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas St., Aurora, 720-328-8930