3 Vegan Meal Delivery Kits Get Put to the Toddler Test

vegan meal delivery kits

If there’s one thing every parent knows, it’s that toddlers are completely nutso lunatics with Tyrannosaurus Rex level appetites (and, ahem, tempers). Little angels. Mine also happens to love gnawing on furniture. I wish I were kidding. So what’s any desperate mom to do? Well, I gave three vegan meal delivery kits a try.

Yes, I still have all of my furniture (mostly) intact. Do I have my sanity? Let’s not get carried away. But I do have some advice when it comes to meal delivery kits—especially if you’re looking for vegan options.

While my daughter’s been raised on a vegan diet since birth, she’s recently become rather selective about the vegetables she’ll delicately nibble on before making a face and/or spitting them out directly onto our floor and asking when I’m serving “something else.” I’m sure it’s just a phase (RIGHT?!), and just the other day she did ask for a snack of carrots and tomatoes, which she ate all up. But I think she might have just been dehydrated. Generally speaking, we are challenged at getting her to willfully gobble down anything green. (What color are mommy tears?)

So I put the Purple Carrot, Fresh Realm, and Sun Basket to the test—all of the companies sent me a complimentary week’s worth of vegan meals to try.

The goal was to not only let someone else do the meal planning and shopping for me, but to also see if I’m missing any secrets to keeping my daughter’s appetite sated.

1. Sun Basket

There’s a huge focus on organic ingredients here, which we really liked. I couldn’t tell if the produce had been pre-washed already or not though (Purple Carrot definitely needed cleaning). And Sun Basket doesn’t have a fully vegan option, so I was left with cheese I had to gift away.

The Seitan Sausage and White Bean Soup turned out rather tasty, but it needed a little doctoring—the broth was really watery, so I added some tomato paste and a few more veggies. It wasn’t enough as dinner by itself, especially for my darling Threenager, so I served it with quinoa and some roasted beets and a salad.

The Rigatoni with White Beans and Arugula was really delicious. We’re in the process of legally changing our daughter’s name to NOODLE, so she was rightfully impressed, too. I did however eliminate the arugula (I put it in a salad for the grown-ups) and tried to convince her that the leeks were in fact just “crispy noodles!” She gave me a death stare and proceeded to munch on the rest of the meal, delighting in opening up the rigatoni into “WEALLY BIG NOODLES!”

The Sauteed Kale and Chickpeas with Tomato-Olive Relish never made it to my daughter’s plate. I’m a realist, and I hate food waste. She had the leftover noodles. I ate the chickpeas again for lunch the next day. It was just okay, though. I had high hopes for it as I’m a big fan of kale, chickpeas, and olives. But it just didn’t seem to work together. Something was off about it all.

Sun Basket included a return shipping label, except we tried twice to have the box picked up to no avail, so we eventually recycled it.

2. Purple Carrot

This was the clear winner when it came to recipes. My daughter sucked down the Thai Coconut Curry with Tofu, Zucchini, and Cherry Tomatoes much to my surprise. I mean, literally, she tipped the bowl into her mouth and licked it. And asked for more. Twice. She even ate the zucchini, which we had otherwise considered to be her mortal enemy based on the slimy trails it has left on our walls after previous attempts to serve it to her. I too was pleasantly delighted with this recipe, although my sauce came out much darker than what was pictured. It had a great flavor and I loved the fresh lemongrass.

If we don’t change our daughter’s name to NOODLE, TACO is our backup.

Black Bean Tacos were also a hit—they’re already a staple in our house, so it was a no-brainer. My daughter antagonized the kale slaw, so I supplemented with some cucumber and carrot sticks. I also added some rice to the beans mixture because I knew I would need extra for her.

I’m not a fan of asparagus, and neither was my daughter. So we mostly dug around “the green sticks” in the Lemon Asparagus Risotto, which was otherwise sublime and well-balanced, but it too felt like it needed “something else” alongside it. I baked some tempeh and added a side salad.

The Purple Carrot delivery was a day late, so we had to improvise the night it was supposed to arrive. The box doesn’t come with a return label, and if there was any mention of recycling it, I missed that, too. But by far, the recipes were carefully put together and so delicious. It felt like high-quality restaurant meals and I’ll be making the curry again for sure.

3. FreshRealm

FreshRealm shipping container

These meal recipes were designed by the WholeTara, but they were mostly WhollyDisappointing. I may have had chickpea burnout from the last SunBasket meal, but FreshRealm sent two chickpea recipes and two quinoa recipes. I felt like I was trying to order a vegan meal somewhere in the 1980s in central Pennsylvania and all I got was a falafel and a salad. They were all quite underwhelming.

IMG_8706
My version below the image sent by FreshRealm.

The Crispy Green Goddess Falafel completely crumbled and did not contain the white tahini sauce pictured. It did have a nice flavor, and my daughter ate it up, but it was nowhere near a complete meal for her. Fortunately, I also made the Clean Quinoa Tabbouleh, which she also enjoyed. That too did not look like its photo, which featured white quinoa instead of the red undercooked quinoa we received.

The last meal was a Nourishing Buddha Bowl with more chickpeas and quinoa plated next to avocado, spinach, carrots, and cabbage that I never made. If I want to eat plain veggies and beans, I can do that anytime. We were looking for real recipes and alchemical kitchen creations. So, I turned the chickpeas and quinoa into a seriously delicious veggie chili (with two kinds of lentils and Beyond Meat crumbles) and put the shredded carrots and purple cabbage into an accompanying slaw with a cumin-paprika dressing I made with Vegenaise.

Overall, the FreshRealm meals were really basic. Part of the meal kit allure (I had hoped) was exciting and new recipe ideas. I can easily put chickpeas, avocado, and quinoa in front of my daughter for a few peaceful minutes (which I do on the reg already). But most everything felt like side dishes instead of mains. And shipping around glorified salad ingredients seems a total waste of resources.

FreshRealm is really excited about its innovative shipping container, which is much like a mini-fridge in a box with shelves you pull out. But it seems like it may have put more effort into that aspect than recipe curating. Or maybe vegan meals aren’t a huge demand for this particular service.

Are Meal Delivery Kits Worth It?

The big question I’ve been asking myself is “Will I do this again?” Would I spend the money on meal kits? I honestly don’t know. Because I cook regularly from scratch, following recipes made everything feel more daunting–I’m used to winging it and having to follow step-by-step instructions actually took more focus for me than usual. I did like that the meals were there and ready to be made—but in some cases, by the time I got to the final meal, ingredients were already turning. I had to supplement or shop on more than one occasion to make the meals as directed. And as was the case with FreshRealm, I had little interest in the meals that were sent, but if we didn’t make them or use up the ingredients, we would have wasted all the food, which was not an option for me.

They were all also one-dish entrees. Anyone with a rabid little bundle of joy knows you need a busy plate of food to keep them nibbling. At least, that’s the case over here. Even if my daughter will eat the entrée in its entirety, if we don’t have a variety of food on her plate to try, she will repeatedly ask me “what else are we having?” until I cry and crawl under the table or muster the courage to distract her by pointing out that the squirrel outside our window looks exactly like Queen Elsa.

And then, of course, there’s the whole utility of the programs. If we were to order from these services regularly, I’d need a storage unit just to house all the boxes and ice packs (there are still a bunch of them on my porch I haven’t dealt with). And a fatter bank account. The (un)sustainability of shipping pre-chopped garlic and half of a cucumber around is difficult to justify, even for a delicious dinner. All of the food is also packed into smaller containers inside the boxes with stickers and labels. I noticed my trash filled up a lot faster during the meal kit weeks than when I cook from scratch. And it’s just cost-prohibitive to do this weekly. At least on our budget, and we are happy to spend a lot on food.

If innovative recipes and cutting corners are considerations, which I do think they should be if it means we’re all eating healthier, there are easier solutions, like investing in some great cookbooks, or following some chefs online, and prepping ahead of time. This can mean spending an hour or two over the weekend  menu planning, cleaning, chopping, and even partially cooking veggies, big batches of rice, beans, and lentils, etc. It does make a difference. Set a meal plan and shop according to recipes—it’s easy to become your own meal kit delivery service. Keep an organized fridge so certain foods always go in the same area so that you can take a quick look for ingredients and inspiration and keep from wasting forgotten food.

Perhaps you really do love the idea of having healthy food delivered right to your door. Then perhaps a CSA box is the best choice. CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) are often delivered directly by farmers, and they feature seasonal fruits and veggies. There are apps that can help you find meals based on the ingredients on hand, and by having the veggies dropped right to your door, you really have no excuse not to use them up.

The meal kits are nice if you’re new to the whole cooking-everyday-for-a-toddler situation, or just beginning to learn to cook for yourself. Having the recipes on-hand and ingredients all labeled can be helpful too. They may also be good when you’re coming up against a really busy time, like maybe you’re getting ready to travel, so you want to avoid grocery shopping. Or maybe you’re traveling and don’t want to shop at your vacation spot and be left with lots of perishables there. Meal kits could work well in that capacity, too, and they could work to keep you from eating out every night (if they deliver to your vacation location). They might also be useful around the holidays when you have guests to feed and not a lot of time as you’re prepping and using up fridge space for holiday meals.

Will meal delivery kits stand the test of time? I sure don’t know. But if they can help to serve as a segue to healthier eating, and emphasize the importance of home-cooked meals, then that is worth any price.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.