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News / Life / Food

Those who cook at home love meal-delivery services

By Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune
Published: February 3, 2024, 5:05am

MINNEAPOLIS — Jessica Bergman lives alone, but she doesn’t cook alone. There is an imaginary friend in her kitchen, one who has strong opinions, it would seem, about her cooking habits.

“She doesn’t like to use two pans,” Bergman said as she pulled down a skillet that hangs over her stove in her northeast Minneapolis apartment.

“She expects you to have different kinds of vinegar,” she said while whisking a sauce.

And, as Bergman followed instructions to roll up an omelet and slice it into thin strips, “This is something pretty she likes to do.”

That friend, in theory, is Martha Stewart. Bergman regularly cooks with meal kits from Marley Spoon, a brand Stewart endorses.

“I just call it Martha Stewart’s meal kit,” said Bergman, who works in corporate learning and development. “It sounds like Martha’s delivering it to you.”

Of course, Stewart isn’t really there, but with her advice on the recipe cards and her face plastered on advertisements, she helps distinguish this meal-delivery service from the dozens that have sprung up in the past few years.

It’s been more than a decade since Blue Apron and HelloFresh first popularized the idea of meal kits. They all tend to operate the same way: Answer questions about your food preferences, make the first recurring payment, choose your meals and get weekly shipments of food.

Those early brands remain some of the biggest names in an increasingly crowded field, where they’ve been joined by Marley Spoon, Gobble, Green Chef and more. And those are just the meal kits where you dice, chop and assemble everything yourself.

As consumers seek more ease, speed and convenience, some of these services streamline the cooking process by sending premade sauces, cooked grains and casserole dishes ready to pop in the oven. Others ship fully prepared meals right to your door.

“There are so many options,” said Wendy Foty of Minnetonka, Minn.

Foty began ordering prepared meals from CookUnity shortly before a knee replacement that largely kept her out of the kitchen for a couple of months. She and her husband, Tom, were both impressed with the chef-designed meals.

“It tastes like it’s home-cooked,” Tom Foty said. “And not so much like a TV dinner.”

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The pandemic helped create a new market for prepared food in a class far beyond Lean Cuisine. When restaurants first shut down, they cleared out their larders by selling raw ingredients and semi-prepared foods like sauces and salad dressings to customers. Even after they reopened, some restaurants found that their customers had formed new eating habits.

“Once we went back to indoor seating, that takeout service was still present,” said Jeff Lakatos, the former executive chef of ie-Italian Eatery in Minneapolis.

When he moved on to start his own business, he decided to give customers more of what they wanted: restaurant-quality food, easy and fast. He launched Earnest Provisions a little more than a year ago, selling two customizable meals per week for delivery or pickup in Mendota Heights. The only work on the part of the customer is warming it up in the oven.

“There’s no cooking, and there’s no chopping. Everything is just ready to go,” Lakatos said.

In Bergman’s kitchen, she was preparing stir-fried curry rice noodles for lunch. She trimmed the ends off snow peas and chopped Chinese broccoli.

Bergman likes the act of cooking, especially with a teacher like Stewart.

“There are some techniques I’ve learned that I maybe would have thought was fancy, even just zesting lemon and lime,” she said.

Bergman has used a variety of meal-delivery services for about seven years. So far, this one is her favorite. The recipes are novel, she said, and the food feels healthy and veggie-packed. The meal kits cut back on food waste and save her money, too.

“I’m a single person. I have so much food waste if I’m having to buy full portions of everything,” she said. “And for me, with the time savings of not having to go run to the store, the cost difference is negligible.”