Blue Apron is really impressive. Once a week they deliver a box of pre-measured ingredients and the step-by-step recipes for turning them into three delicious meals. I like services that fall into this category of giving you “super powers.” In this case, Blue Apron gives me everything I need to prepare amazing dinners I would otherwise have no business cooking.
As a subscriber, I’ve learned a lot about cooking and have come to appreciate the entire ritual. It‘s a wonderful opportunity to unplug after work and lose yourself in the task. It’s also cheaper than takeout and usually more healthy.
But many friends who have tried the service fell off after a few weeks, or even the first meal. I’ve been on the verge of throwing in the towel a few times myself. These are amazing, restaurant quality meals for $10 a person, but the effort required to prepare them week after week can be fatiguing.
So as a veteran of over 120 meals prepared, here are my top tips for surviving and enjoying your Blue Apron subscription.
Sort it out
When your box arrives, all of the ingredients are mixed together. Divide them by recipe and then add each set to a separate bag or container. These should go in the fridge immediately.
When it’s time to cook a meal, just pull out a bag and recipe card and you’re ready to go. You’ll want to eat all of your meals within 4 or 5 days of receiving the box, and this helps you plan it out.
Side note: I’ve heard people comment on the packaging and how wasteful it seems. It’s really not that bad and I have seen improvements over the past year. You get one of these per week, how many Amazon boxes show up to your house every day?
Each recipe card provides an estimate for prep and cooking time. If you are cooking solo, add at least 30 minutes to the total estimate.
Getting a second set of hands is a huge help and brings you closer to those estimates. Some recipes are easy to divide and conquer, but others are more linear and hard to break up between two people.
Getting your kids involved as sous chefs will NOT save time, but it’s a lot of fun and they may pick up some skills and an interest in cooking.
In general, you need at least a full hour that requires 100% of your attention. It’s really hard to pause or stop once you get going.
Read ahead on each recipe card before starting so that you can better sequence the steps. Sometimes step 1 is to boil water, but then you don’t add anything to the pot for another 30 minutes. You will also spot places in the recipe where something is simmering or in the oven, allowing you to take care of certain prep work. This can be more efficient than doing everything up front.
Devil is in the prep work
Speaking of prep, some recipes get intense before you even get near the stove or oven. Ingredients are pre-measured, but you are washing produce, mincing garlic, zesting lemons, peeling vegetables, separating stem from leaf, small, medium and large dicing, and much more.
The recipe card will show a picture of the fully prepped ingredients sitting neatly in individual bowls, sometimes as many as 10. Instead of loading your ingredients into all of these containers, lay out three, or even four, cutting boards and pile them up there until you need ’em. Way less dishes to do at the end.
Grind it out
On many Blue Apron recipes, you’re adding salt and pepper after almost every step. It’s okay to skip a few of these when alarm begins to set in. And seriously avoid the type of salt and pepper dispensers where you have to manually grind out the seasoning by twisting the top, unless you are fine with the prospect of Tommy John surgery in your future.
Having said this, I suspect real chefs use way more salt and pepper that your average home cook, so there is a risk of under-seasoning as well.
You will find that some tasks (e.g., picking off tiny, individual Thyme leaves) take up outsized portions of the prep work, but only make the final meal maybe 1% or 2% better. Learn to recognize these, and edit them out when you want to get to the table sooner. I’ve skipped over entire ingredients in order to finish cooking in under 40 minutes, and each time the meal was still really, really good.
Recipes will vary, but some call for seemingly every bowl, utensil and container in your kitchen. It’s a little dispiriting to finish a satisfying meal and then remember the disaster zone you have to deal with.
As you cook, try to rinse and set aside to dry knives, dishes, cutting boards, etc. as soon you are done using them. You can usually take care of a lot between recipe steps and cut down on clean up after the meal.
A marathon not a sprint
If you’re used to ordering takeout or preparing simple meals in 20 minutes or less (nothing wrong with that!), there is a good chance fatigue will set in after a month or so. No matter how many incredible meals you’ve pulled off, the effort required week after week can change the way you view that box when it shows up on your doorstep.
Best advice if this happens to you is to take a week off every so often so that it doesn’t become a grind. Just log into the site where you can “Skip delivery” when you need to.
Hope this has been helpful if you cook with Blue Apron or a similar service. If you are curious about trying one, I highly recommend it and have a few invites that will provide a free week — happy to share!
When I’m not cooking, I’m spending time with my family or building Level Frames, another service that gives you “super powers.” Use Level to custom frame any poster, print or photo in 5 minutes or less.