Back in the 1950s, the first TV dinners became available, offering busy families a quicker and easier solution for dinner. Flash forward several decades, and the heat-and-eat meal has lost some of its luster. Today, people want home cooked meals, made with fresh (not frozen) ingredients. But they are still as busy, if not busier, than families in the 1950s.
Enter the meal kit or subscription food box. Like the frozen TV dinners of time past, today's meal kits promise convenience and a tasty meal. In just a few years, more than 100 meal kit companies opened for business, the New York Times reported. Over the next decade, the food subscription boxes are expected to bring up to $5 billion, according to Inc.
But, if you make a week's worth of meals from a subscription box, can you actually call yourself a “cook”?
Why Do People Like Meal Kits?
Perhaps the most significant draw of meal kits is the convenience they offer people. When you purchase a meal kit subscription, you're paying to have someone else pick out meals, create recipes and measure out ingredients.
You're also paying to have the kit shipped directly to your home (or office). There's no need to rush out to the grocery store to get ingredients for dinner. Since everything you need is in the box, there's also no risk that the store will be out of the exact ingredient to make tonight's dinner.
Typical Instructions for Making a “Meal”
Another reason why meal kits are appealing to people is that they typically include detailed instructions for the meals you end up making. Often, those instructions are very clearly laid out and illustrated with pictures or photographs. For the most part, the meal kits assume that the people using them have no or very limited experience in the kitchen.
Although the kits usually include pre-measured ingredients, they do typically expect the home cook to chop or cut up specific ingredients. The instructions will detail the correct size to cut ingredients into and will also provide clear visuals, which you can compare your handiwork to.
When You Prepare a Meal Kit, Are You Really Cooking?
Meal kits pretty much hold your hand throughout the entire process. Although some, such as HelloFresh, give you the option of picking out two or three meals from a larger selection for the week, generally recipe planning is done for you. Someone else handles the shopping for ingredients and even the measuring of those ingredients.
Essentially, meal kits are the “paint-by-numbers” of the cooking world. Since there is so much structure to them, some have wondered whether you can call yourself a “cook” when you prepare food from a subscription box.
Of course, you have to wonder if that even matters? Perhaps you've gotten to a certain point in your life where you've realized that you'll never be a famous chef or that people aren't going to beg to be invited to your dinner parties. But that shouldn't mean that you don't get to prepare meals at home, usually fresh ingredients, from time to time.
You might not be the mastermind behind the meals you make from a kit, but you're still doing some of the heavy lifting, and you're still turning on your stove or oven.
Still not convinced that meal kits are really “cooking”? Some of the biggest names in cooking, from Mark Bittman to Sara Moulton, have put their names behind or considered working with subscription boxes. If even people who have built their careers on getting more people to cook at home are standing behind meal kits, then we're happy to say that they are actual cooking!