The New York Times announced last week that it would partner with Chef'd to launch a meal kit service that will ship the ingredients for New York Times recipes to consumers' doors. In doing so, they join, well, just about everyone.
Meal delivery kits provide recipes with pre-measured ingredients—you just to do the chopping and the cooking. The idea is that most people really want to make dinner, they just don't have time to shop and plan. This business is booming—more than 100 companies and growing. In 2015, it was a one billion dollar industry, and it's projected to at least double in the next few years. The Times' announcement came just months after one of its highest profile columnists, Mark Bittman, left to join Purple Carrot, a vegan meal delivery service.
It makes sense for trusted media outlets like the New York Times to wade into this crowded field—people are already accustomed to coming to them when they're wondering what to make for dinner. Plus, having a bank of tested recipes that people actually want to cook helps them stand out in the crowd. Say you're dying to make Melissa Clark's braised chicken with artichokes and olives—a few clicks and the recipe ingredients will be on their way to your door. Full disclosure, Cooking Light has partnered with Fresh Realm in a similar way—as has Real Simple. Bon Appétit works with Popcart to help readers buy ingredients for recipes with one click (though those ingredients are not pre-measured).
Are these services actually helping people to cook wholesome, delicious dinners? Some of them are. Over at BuzzFeed, Alison Roman recently put eight of the most popular kits to the test. She found lots of problems: Badly written recipes that didn't work, kits that arrived missing key ingredients, and lots of waste. But she highly recommended SunBasket and Marley Spoon.
Although the popularity of these services is skyrocketing, people are starting to notice a problem: packaging waste. Picture the prep for your average recipe, with every single ingredient individually packaged. Because the kits provide everything for a recipe (except salt, pepper, and oil) you're likely to find two tablespoons of vinegar in a teeny, tiny plastic bottle, a single clove of garlic in its own little bag, and three sprigs of parsley in a plastic clamshell. Plastic packaging at grocery stores can be excessive too, but certainly the meal kits are much worse in this regard. On the other hand, the kits may help consumers cut down on food waste. No more buying a giant bushel of parsley because you want three sprigs. No more sad, wilting celery in your crisper because you needed one stalk.
These kits aren't perfect, but their incredible rise in popularity argues that people really want to cook—which is great news. They just need a little help.