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Friday, May 17, 2024

Meal Kits Get My Picky Kids to Eat Real Food

On a recent weekend evening, my spouse addressed our two children. We have a second-grader and a kindergartener. “What do you want for dinner?” he asked, bracing himself for yet another night of Dino Buddies Nuggets and boxed macaroni and cheese.

“I love mashed potatoes!” one cried out.

“Steak!” the other shouted, dancing.

My spouse’s jaw dropped. He looked at me, stunned. Mashed potatoes? Steak? Who were these kids? Surely not ours—we assumed they were mostly made up of factory cheese powder and Nutella. But here we are. Within the past few months, my picky eaters have filled their bellies with such exotic fare as apricot compote over roast pork and meatloaf with hoisin glaze. If you’re a parent at your wit’s end, trying to serve your children a hot, home-cooked meal every night, I highly recommend a meal subscription kit.

Taste Sensation

Blue Apron Meal KitBuy at Blue Apron (Subscription)Buy at Amazon

Like many Americans, I’m a second-generation immigrant who grew up in a large extended family with a rich and emotionally resonant food culture. But also like many Americans, I intermarried and moved far from home. Instead of stuffing my kids full of lumpia at weekend parties and bringing home freezer bags full of homemade pork buns for the week, I’m stuck cooking and feeding my family. Every day. By myself.

I was already starting to burn out on meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking. The pandemic exacerbated an already fragile situation, and then my husband took a job that required him to be out of town during the week. For several months. That’s when my second kid started exercising his free will. My son has many excellent qualities, but being flexible and enthusiastic about eating is not one of them. This is a kid who has rejected restaurant ketchup for putting in too much apple cider vinegar. 

Oddly enough, my own love of food worked against me. When my children were just learning to eat, I shelled fresh garbanzos, baked bread, and macerated strawberries in sugar and buttermilk. But faced with daily rejection, and tons of food waste, I started to wither away and die.

By the time school started, my kids were down to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apples, and plain spaghetti noodles. As for me, I was eating a diet that consisted mostly of what my friends called my “sad beans”—cans of seasoned black beans over rice—because I didn’t have the energy to make anything else.

Turn the Beat Around

At a loss—but knowing something, anything, had to change—I signed up for Blue Apron. Before the first order came in, I opened the app on my phone, showed my kids the list of available meals, and told them that they each got to pick one.

To my surprise, they took it seriously. They looked at the pictures, discussed their choices, and decided whose meal would be served on which night. On the nights that I’m cooking her pick, my 7-year-old shows up in the kitchen. The recipe card has clear instructions, complete with photos; all the ingredients are labeled and correspond to the pictures. She can help wash, peel, chop, and stir. It helps a lot that she can read now.

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When it comes to food, my kids want what I want—a sense of control, ownership, and agency. They can see the picture and they know what to expect. Even if they don’t like it, they’re not surprised or grossed out. Meanwhile, I didn’t spend all week planning and grocery shopping. I can spend Saturdays taking the kids to swimming lessons and doing laundry, then just unpack a box on Sunday night.

Everything comes neatly arranged and prepackaged. The recipe card even has a cooking time estimate. I know that even if I drag myself and the kids in the door at 5:30 pm, I can still have a hot, complete meal on the table by 6. As a bonus, a four-serving meal size usually is enough for me to have leftovers for lunch the next day.

The Best We Can

It’s not a perfect system. As someone who used to turn a single chicken into roast chicken, pot pie, and noodle soup on consecutive nights, I understand that the abundance of packing material might seem abhorrent. But once you’ve thrown out crisper drawers full of cauliflower that your kids said they would eat, and then did not, Blue Apron packaging a single serving of mascarpone becomes much less of an issue.

Also, I may have outsourced the meal planning and shopping, but I do have to come up with the energy to cook the food. The meals are tasty but not particularly fresh, seasonal, or cultural. There’s a lot of broccoli. My mom is staying with me for a month, and it’s hard to eat a bland baked chicken breast when there are now Tupperware containers full of homemade tinola and pinakbet in the fridge.

So no, Blue Apron is not quite the relationship that I wish my children and I had with food right now. Yes, I would love to have homemade minestrone and adobo bubbling in the Instant Pot when they come home from school and to walk around a farmer’s market with them as they squeal over fresh asparagus.

But in the meantime, my kids get to eat hot, fresh food; the chance to use their tiny chopping knives and stir bowls; and a moment to sit down and reconnect with their mom after school over dinner. Blue Apron has saved my family’s relationship with food and mealtime, my kids’ relationship with food, and my sanity. My apologies to the canned bean industry, but we have other things to eat for now.

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