Meal Kits for Inspiration in the Kitchen

Blue apron cover pic

I think we can all agree that simplifying weeknight meals is a top priority. Whether you’re a busy working parent or a retired Baby Boomer, trying to cook homemade dinners can be a real pain.

As a result, a lot of different meal  delivery kits have become popular in the past couple of years, such as Plated and Hello Fresh, but my go-to (and the most popular of the bunch) is called Blue Apron.

So what is it, you may ask?

Each week, you get mailed all of the ingredients (less salt, pepper and cooking oil) you will need to make a well-portioned meal, along with step-by-step recipe instructions with pictures. The services vary slightly, but in general, the meals are truly delicious while being reasonably priced (Blue Apron’s costs, for example, are $60 for 3 meals for 2 people, or 2 family style meals for 4 for $70).

Whereas some people who are new to cooking enjoy learning new techniques they never thought of before, I like trying ingredients I never would have purchased myself (chicken demi glace or the nut-spice mix dukkah, for instance).

Hello Fresh recipe

A recipe from Hello Fresh.

The team of Smart Perks is all about giving you the best bang for your buck, which is why I started meal delivery services in the first place. Shipping is free and you can cancel or skip weeks, but this way I’m not spending time driving to the grocery store, waiting in line behind the person writing a check while trying to calm their crying baby, and then ultimately making a meal that leaves leftover ingredients I won’t use.

Seriously, who among us finishes a whole head of cabbage in one meal, or the rest of the bag of arugula before it goes bad? It’s an awful feeling to throw away perfectly edible food because you didn’t use it before it spoils, and that’s a huge advantage to the carefully packaged individual portions of ingredients in meal delivery kits.

Now, on to the fun part: the meals themselves!

Since I already order Blue Apron, I chose to highlight one of their meals here, but I’m also including two sample recipes from the other major meal kit services. Hey, whatever floats your boat!

blue apron curry photo

Doesn’t this motivate you to try this dish?!

 

Blue Apron’s Trinidadian Chicken Curry with Coconut Grits and Collard Greens:

See what I mean about the recipes being exciting and different? I for one would never think to cook this meal on a Thursday night after a long day of working, exercising and volunteering, but here we are! Just cooking away at a fragrant Caribbean curry with toasted coconut and fresh lime and cilantro accents. Not exactly the type of meal I think of, but totally a dish I am happy to have in my repertoire. Warm, filling, and just the right amount of spice!

Ingredients:

  • 4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs
  • ¾ Cup Yellow Grits
  • 1¾ Cups Light Coconut Milk
  • 3 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Bunch Collard Greens
  • 1 Lime
  • 1 Bunch Cilantro
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Coconut Flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon Butter
  • 2 Teaspoons Trinidadian Curry Spice Blend (Curry Powder, Ground Nutmeg, Smoked Paprika, Dried Thyme, Ground Cumin & Ground White Pepper)
2P_010516_4_TriniWestIndianRoti

The ingredients laid out for easy cooking.

Although I linked to the recipe, here are the basics:

Step 1 – Prepare all of your produce by washing and drying it. Combine the coconut milk, salt and 1.5 cups water in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Zest the lime, mince the rind, and quarter it. Pick the leaves off the collard greens and the cilantro, discarding stems. Peel and mince the garlic cloves. Dry off chicken and sprinkle on salt, pepper, and spice blend.

Step 2 – Cook the grits by slowly adding them to the boiling coconut milk mixture, then reducing the heat and whisking occasionally, cooking for 12 minutes. Turn the heat off, and add half of the butter and the lime zest, and salt and pepper. Keep covered.

Step 3 – As your grits cook, heat a nonstick pan until just hot. Add the coconut flakes and toast by stirring frequently for about 3 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when they’re golden brown. Then transfer to a plate.

Step 4 – Also while the grits are cooking, add 2 teaspoons of olive oil in the (now-empty) pan, adding the garlic and collard greens when it’s hot and seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook 2-4 minutes, and then transfer to a plate.

Step 5 – In the same pan used to cook the coconut and the collard greens, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil until hot. Add the chicken and cook for 5-7 minutes, making sure to cook through. Turn off the heat, and then add: the rest of the butter, the juice of 2 of the lime wedges, 1 tablespoon of water, and salt and pepper to taste, stirring until combined (and mixing up the yummy brown bits from the bottom of the pan).

Step 6 –Divide coconut grits between two bowls, topping with the collard greens and pieces of chicken. Garnish with the coconut, cilantro and 2 leftover lime wedges.

Still not your thing? Try one of these recipes from Plated or Hello Fresh.

smoresS’mores Fondue – Can you say ‘yum?’ This Plated dish takes all of the elements of a delicious s’more and turns it into a one-pan delectable dessert in under 10 minutes. Crunchy toasted marshmallows sit atop chocolate ganache, just waiting for your graham crackers to dip themselves into the sticky treat. No campfire required.

Jamie’s Incredible Sicilian Eggplant Stew – This dish was created by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, a frequent Hello Fresh contributor. Combining rich eggplant with salty baby capers and olives, tart tomatoes and crunchy almond slivers all atop warm couscous certainly sounds like a brilliant idea.

For more recipe inspiration, check out the Smart Perks Pinterest page. Juicy Lucy cheese-stuffed meatballs, anyone? Be still my beating heart!

In the words of Julia Child, “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” So try!

Blogger Katie U., a Smart Perks employee, can’t wait for her chicken curry leftovers for lunch.

New Year, New You

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutions

Who, me? Blogger Katie agrees with Calvin! © Bill Waterson

Come mid-December, we start wrapping up the previous year and looking forward to the upcoming one. During this holiday season, as we sit around with friends and family, recounting the trials and tribulations of 2015 – we end up eating cheese plates and cheesecake, drinking beer and wine and soda, maybe capping the long nights with a cigar and heading to bed way past our bedtimes. But while this type of over-indulgence is what the holidays are about, the New Year is always about the New You!

Champagne and Cake.jpg

Cupcakes and champagne – I’m about that life!

That is, until it’s February and you realized you didn’t even keep your New Year’s resolutions for a month. And you wouldn’t be alone. According to Franklin Covey, a time management firm, 30% of New Year’s resolutions are broken by the end of January. The thing is though that when you start to backslide, you think, “Well, I already got off on the wrong foot, might as well try again…later!” and get discouraged, and give up.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can successfully set and keep – and even exceed! – your New Year’s resolutions if you keep three things in mind.

  • Set Realistic Goals
  • Think Short-Term, Dream Long-Term
  • Plan It Out

All too often we think of our resolutions as make or break it. Trying to commit to huge changes like, “I’m going to write a book in 2016!” when you haven’t so much as written a paragraph in 2015, sets yourself up for failure. Instead, we outline the three most common New Year’s resolutions and small ways you can make big changes, leading to a happier, healthier you!

Fat to Fit Before After Diet Weight Loss Success

1. Lose Weight

Ah, the most common resolution we make. Who doesn’t want to lose a few? Actually, according to some estimates, between 30% and 40% of us vow to shed some lbs annually. If your plan is to incorporate more veggies in your diet or hit the gym more, this might just work. But science says setting a goal to lose 30 pounds is most likely not going to work. Why? For the same reason that agreeing with your aunt you’ll meet her coworker’s friends’ daughter’s boyfriend for coffee in three months: you’re making vague, faraway promises you can’t (or won’t) keep.

The best way to lose weight is to make small lifestyle changes that can lead to you losing those 30 pounds. For example, set the goal of determining your ideal daily caloric intake and then logging your calories each day with a site like http://www.caloriecount.com/. At the same time, start a workout routine that’s appropriate for your lifestyle and level of current fitness; again, it’s all about moderation! Throwing yourself into a new rigorous workout is a good way to throw out your back.

Are you a person that’s worried they’ll judge you at the gym, and you’re just not cut out for running miles and miles outside in the snowy January weather? All the more power to you if you can, but if that’s just not you, check out SmartPerks’ solution: The Total Gym machine. It offers complex workouts, utilizing all of your muscles that need to firm up, but without putting too much strain on your body. I know a huge factor that keeps me from working out as often as I should is the struggle to drag myself to the gym, so getting a full-body exercise in my own home is a huge plus. If it’s good enough for Christie Brinkley, it’s definitely good enough for me.

Losing weight is a commendably healthy goal to set for 2016, so we don’t want you to let yourself down. Just go slow!

2. Eat This, Not That

Similar to the losing weight resolution, but not fully, because you can be at a totally fine weight, but still eat too much chips and guac or French fries. Most of us could stand to eat better, even if we think we’re really on top of our diet. And while the SmartPerks office is a great place to work, there is one downside: the abundance of snacks. Between the homemade toffee, apple pie bars, caramel popcorn, and bowls of Hershey’s kisses, it’s a sweet tooth-owner’s dream. Tasty though these treats might be, they’re certainly not good for my thighs.

Popcorn

How could anyone say no to a handful of these?

So, one of my personal 2016 resolutions is to cut back on the daytime snacks. When my blood sugar levels are dipping around 10:30 am and 3 pm, I need to turn to something wholesome like a piece of fruit or dried soybeans, not those delicious, mouthwatering, scrumptious apple bars… dang it, Mary!

Of course, it might be obvious to cut down on the sodas and sweets, but often our biggest issue is our main meals themselves. Oversized, low on fiber, or high in sugar, we might be able to fool ourselves into thinking our veggie burrito is healthy, but we’re not fooling the scale. Even something like salad dressing can be a shockingly caloric addition to an otherwise healthy salad. For example, Newman’s Own Family Recipe Italian, a vinaigrette-style dressing, is loaded with unhealthy ingredients – two tablespoons is 130 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 320 milligrams of sodium. Certainly not a good option with which to top your greens. Something I do to cut down on calories but not on flavor is I make my own dressing.

Katie’s Apple Cider Vinegar Dressing:

Salad dressingThis dressing is excellent on kale salads, roasted vegetables, or any kitchen sink salad. This makes ¾ cup, and after using you can keep in a Mason jar or Tupperware in the fridge.

 

  • 1 small shallot, diced small
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar – I often use closer to ½ cup to thin out the dressing
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons honey (or maple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (or any citrus – grapefruit works great!)
  • Pinch each of salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine ingredients in mini Mason jar, and shake until your preferred consistently! Store in tightly closed jar for up to two weeks. Upon use, shake jar to re-emulsify ingredients.

Two tablespoons of this dressing equated to 14 calories, .5 grams of fat, and 214 milligrams of sodium, without losing out on any flavor.

Another way of managing your eating habits? Subscribing to a food delivery service like Blue Apron or Home Chef (Pro Tip: Use the SmartPerks promo code “SP30FREE” to receive $30 off your first order.) The best thing about weekly meal kits is they’re chef-curated so they’re probably more inventive than anything you whip up. You can also pick and choose which weeks you want based on the meal plans listed online. Also, since they’re specifically portioned, you know exactly what nutritional value (including calorie content!) your meals have.

On top of that, they are usually very balanced, representative of the good parts of the food pyramid, so you know you’re getting your veggies, too. For example, one of the available meals for Home Chef is “Winter Quinoa and Arugula Salad with Blue Cheese, Candied Walnuts, and Apricots.” Now, doesn’t that sound healthy and yummy?

Quinoa Salad

Home Chef’s winter salad

If your New Year’s Resolution is to eat healthier in 2016, know that you can do it, it just takes some planning, self-control and motivation. And for your coworkers to not bring in treats.

3. Break the Habit

Always Late

Whether it’s smoking cigarettes, biting your nails, being perennially late, or procrastinating on the job or elsewhere, make 2016 the year to break the bad habit.

nail biting

 

 

We’ve all got something we do that we shouldn’t, right? If your resolution is to finally learn some healthier habits, we encourage you to get to it! Though some are worse for you than others, anything that negatively impacts your life should be stopped. For example, I’m a nail-biter, guilty as charged. Whenever I’m nervous, bored or tired, I gnaw on my nails like there’s no tomorrow. So far, nothing has helped…though I hold out for next year! I’ve heard no-bite nail polishes can really help, but I’m not so optimistic about me actually taking the time to paint my nails.

Another issue I face – like an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans – is sleeping problems. Sometimes, even after getting 7 hours of seemingly restful sleep, I’ll wake up groggy and exhausted. There are plenty of tips out there for getting a better night’s rest, including avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine (go figure), consistent sleep scheduling (“catching up on sleep” on the weekends is a big no-no), and regular exercising (perhaps a New Year’s resolution double-whammy!).

In addition, setting up your bedroom as a sleep sanctuary can help get you in a relaxed mindset. Just recently, I bought some black-out curtains for my bedroom windows to keep out light and a new cozy throw blanket to stay warm during winter. I also light lavender candles in my room about an hour before bed for aromatherapy. I have found that buying a new set of really soft sheets, a fun duvet, or a great pillow help to make your bed the most inviting place for you to unwind from a long day and catch some z’s.

Cozy bed

How cozy does this look? From MessageNote’s Pinterest

To help you in The Pursuit of Sleep, check out SmartPerks’ deal for My Pillow, a machine-washable, always-cool foam pillow that cradles your neck and head, helping to guarantee a sound night of sleep. Use promo code “smart2” for 50% off your first order! Saving money and sleeping better? Say no more!

Whatever your New Year’s resolution is, whether it’s specific or vague, big or small, a lifestyle change or a daily tweak, SmartPerks wishes you the best of luck in accomplishing your goals for the new year. And as we head into 2016, don’t forget to enjoy the remaining days of 2015!

Blogger Katie U., a Smart Perks employee, bit her nails the whole time she was writing this blog post.