Meal kits are the way to go if you wanna take the grocery shopping and guesswork out of cooking. The concept is simple: you get a weekly delivery of pre-measured and chopped ingredients – all you have to do is to mix and cook. And don't worry about the cooking part – the kits come with recipe cards, often accompanied by photos or even video tutorials explaining how to get dinner on the table in a matter of minutes.
All good if you know how to cook already!
But what about complete novices behind the kitchen desk? No need to hide behind the apron – in this article, we'll cover all you need to know about meal kits and explore whether meal kits really can teach you how to cook.
So get your spoons and spatulas ready – let's get it cooking!
What's Included in a Meal Kit
A meal kit comes with all ingredients you need – except for basics such as salt and pepper. In most cases, ingredients are pre-chopped, measured in the exact quantities, and put into separate labeled containers making it as simple as possible for you to put together a hearty meal.
Besides, you get a recipe booklet or recipe cards with step-by-step instructions on how to whip up your dinner. Alternatively, you can find the recipes online. A few services have the recipes online only.
This is the main difference between a meal kit service and a meal delivery service sending you pre-cooked meals: the instructions, meaning you're expected to do more than just throwing the tray in the microwave and eat.
Cooking is often a reason people choose meal kits instead of pre-made meals or takeout: you get the convenience of home delivery while keeping the joy of making your own meal rather than having it all served. Making your own meals can be an appreciated moment of mindfulness and presence in an era where we're mostly hiding behind screens. It's also a great occasion to bond with family members to take the act of cooking from chore to pleasure!
Is It Actually Cooking?
Whether or not meal kits count as real cooking is a hot potato. It has been compared to paint-by-numbers: it tells you what to do while not necessarily explaining why or rooting that deeper understanding. Critiques can thus argue that meal kits take the art and science out of cooking. Can learning without context be considered learning, or is it cheating?
Up to you to decide. One way to see it is that we all learn in different ways – and learning by doing might not be less valid than learning by understanding. You may very well be able to transfer what you learn from meal kits into cooking in general, and in that case, meal kits have served an even bigger purpose.
However, real mastery may take a level of understanding and application beyond simply following steps on a card. Many meal kit companies help you with this by providing free video tutorials on specific steps that could be a little more challenging.
In any case, meal kits are a great way to spark an interest in and passion for cooking. Take a look at our list of food susbcription boxes for learning how to cook.
Advantages of a Meal Kit
The opinions on meal kits from experts in the hospitality industry differ. Mina Newman, executive chef of Sen Sakana, is positive about the introduction to new flavors that these kits offer:
“Meal kits help to educate people on different spices, cooking methods and techniques, and they help when guests come to new restaurants,” she said. “I think it makes them feel more empowered to be adventurous with what they’re ordering.”
Silvia Baldini, "Chopped" champion and founder of The Secret Ingredient Girls, is also seeing possibilities rather than hurdles:
"I believe meal kits are creating a new paradigm, allowing wholesome ingredients to be easily purchased and delivered in people’s homes."
No More Grocery Shopping or Chopping
Say goodbye to meal planning, trips to the grocery store and long lines at the checkout, and meal prep – peeling, chopping, and making sure you've got the right quantity of each ingoing ingredient.
No More Overwhelm
One advantage of meal kits compared to going to the grocery store is that it takes out the overwhelm. While freedom of choice is great, it can feel too much walking down the endless aisles in a supermarket. As a new chef, it's also tempting to fall into old habits while at the store and grabbing that frozen pizza instead of whole foods to cook your own meal.
With meal delivery kits, your options are limited – but always a curated selection by someone with cooking expertise, such as seasoned chefs, nutritionists, or recipe designers.
Just like having a personal trainer, the recurrent nature of meal kit delivery puts a healthy pressure on actually cooking what you get. The kit comes with delicious chef-crafted recipes that are easy to follow, explaining each step on the way to an awesome dinner in an easy and accessible way – regardless of your previous kitchen experience.
Many meal kit providers also offer instructive video tutorials to learn basic cooking techniques.
Since many companies let you order the same recipes for at least a few weeks, you can reorder one meal kit and practice until you master it. A fun and strategic way of following your progression!
The Right Amount of Risk
Magic happens when you expand your horizons and step out of your comfort zone. Meal kits allow you a safe container to explore things you might never have tried before – all while having someone (metaphorically) holding your hand along the way. Learning how to finesse your cooking skills within the walls of your own kitchen has never been easier!
Guide to Kitchen Utensils
Most services have guides on their websites to help you choose the right utensils and appliances for your new kitchen experiments. This can come in handy since you don't have to figure it all out on your own!
Get Out of a Rut
Can't stand the thought of instant noodles or takeout? No matter your cooking habits (or lack thereof), a meal kit invites you to broaden your horizons and try out new ingredients and types of dishes. Your taste buds will thank you!
Learn New Cooking Skills
There's a plethora of cooking skills and techniques beyond cooking and frying. So even if you're a seasoned home chef, a meal kit service gives you a personal invitation card to the lands of master chefs. Get ready for new tastes and textures! Many services let you choose your desired level of complexity. That way, you can get just the right amount of challenge versus familiarity. This also comes in handy if you're several people cooking with different levels of mastery.
Less Food Waste
Choosing meal kits means less food waste. How come? Ingredients often come only in the quantity you need for each meal. No more buying huge jars of that exotic spice you just need a pinch of, or throwing away fresh vegetables.
That said, ordering meal kits always means a certain amount of packaging waste. It can be a good idea to compare companies before making your choice and make sure that as much as possible is recyclable or can be sent back to the company.
Trade Fats for Flavor
The recipes in a meal kit help home cooks experiment with spices and natural flavor enhancers instead of using excess fat. An advantage of this is that you feel full faster when a meal satisfies a wider spectrum of tastes. Recipes are often carefully crafted and nutritionally balanced by people with expertise in the food sphere, such as chefs, health coaches, and nutritionists.
Learn The Best Healthy Swaps
Eating healthier does not have to equal depriving yourself. That's why it's important to learn what foods to replace old, less healthy ingredients with. Complex carbs, healthy fats, green protein, and natural sweeteners will become your new best friends in the kitchen under the guidance of a meal kit!
Learn Tricks to Save Time
If you've done something the same way since you learned to cook, it can be easy to be blind to alternative and maybe smarter ways that'll save you some precious time. Meal kits teach you the latest and most rad techniques that can cut some valuable minutes in the kitchen.
There are companies helping out with meal planning only – that way, you can go to the grocery store and select your own ingredients. You get weekly meal plans tailored to your needs with shopping lists and recipes. A meal plan can save you serious money by telling the exact amounts you need for your recipes and reduce the risk of grabbing for those chocolate bars on your way to the checkout. If you wanna learn how to cook, check with the meal plan company how much they support you with the cooking procedure.
There's a multitude of meal kit delivery companies and meal plans targeting specific diets, such as vegetarians or vegans, and allergies like gluten or dairy. So you can definitely learn how to whip up a nutritious and delicious meal regardless of your preferences or allergies! Plus, the advantage of meal kits and delivery of recipes over ready-made meals is the possibility for you to tweak the recipes and find ways that work for you.
So... Can Meal Kits Teach You How to Cook?
It all depends on what you define as cooking. As mentioned above, some people argue that meal kits don't give the fundamental understanding of why certain techniques need to be applied, making customers dependent on the kits to whip up something similar in the future.
But some people learn by doing. Meal kits can serve as a valuable introduction to cooking and build confidence to take the skills and cooking methods from their weekly meals in the kit to other meals. And then, meal kits have already served a purpose.
Another aspect is that it wouldn't be strategic of meal kit companies to teach how to cook since this could make people canceling their subscriptions and do it on their own. But there are more reasons for subscribing to a meal kit than learning how to cook, the convenience being the maybe biggest.
Finally, to some people, cooking means a certain element of art in addition to the pure science that can be reduced into step-by-step. Is improvisation an element of cooking? Carefully selecting the right ingredients, and being able to plan a meal – maybe even craft your own recipes? A loose definition may count even nuking a pizza as cooking, while a stricter one rules out meal kits as real cooking.
In this article, we've covered all you need to know about meal kits and what they teach you about cooking to make your own informed decision.
Ultimately, to answer the question "can meal kits teach you how to cook?", we need to agree upon the definition of cooking. Since there's no hard and fast definition, in theory, cooking could be anything from microwaving a frozen pan pizza to making a 3-course dinner at a Michelin star restaurant.
Assuming we land somewhere in between, meal kits can definitely help you amp up your cooking skills. An advantage is that they let you focus on the cooking itself. No need to worry about meal planning, passing by the grocery store, making sure you find all the exotic ingredients in the exact quantities, and then rinse and repeat every day.
Meal kits give you a hands-on experience where you can enjoy the result of your efforts almost instantly. And few things are as rewarding as enjoying a home-cooked meal!