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One of the biggest challenges I have found for our traveling family is coming up with a good routine for eating healthy and exercising given our sometimes disjointed schedule of being home, then away, then home again. We will get in a good routine at home with cooking at home, working out, etc. only to go out of town and have it all blown to shreds. When we get back in town we are usually tired, running behind, used to eating out, the fridge is empty, and it is so easy to just continue the cycle-of-takeout longer than we should. It sometimes takes us a couple weeks to fully get back on the “bandwagon” of planning out meals, grocery shopping, cooking, exercising, and then it seems that as soon as we do that we go out of town again and reset the clock. This isn’t the glamorous side of family travel, and I don’t write about it much, but it is very much our reality.
We’ve been doing a little better at all of that recently with our travel being a bit less frequent and me trying to really stay healthy with baby #2 on the way, but we are far from perfect. A couple of weeks ago I was brainstorming ways to try to do better with cooking at home and I came across a service that looked interesting called Plated. Now this is clearly not 100% travel related, but I’m sharing it because I think it is a service that can fit very well into the lifestyle of someone who isn’t always at home day in and day out.
If you aren’t familiar with Plated, they deliver all the fresh ingredients you need to make specific meals right to your door. You can select from about a dozen different meals they have available for that week, tell them how many people you are cooking for, and they will ship you virtually everything you need to make that meal (along with a detailed recipe card). I’ve been to some amazing food markets around the world, but my local grocery store is not one of them, so I love any reason to not have to go there.
The Plated ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible, and while not all of their food is organic, they use 100% domestic and sustainably sourced seafood, 100% antibiotic-free meats with no added hormones, and produce that is fresh, seasonal, and hand-packed. I love supporting my local farms for many reasons, but the reality is I’m not always home on their delivery day for my area or local farmer’s market date, so this sounds like a decent back-up option in terms of quality food.
According to their website, the food is shipped using “insulated, mylar liners made of thin metalized plastic to create a temperature-control barrier and keep your food fresh and cold. Additionally, we pack each box with non-toxic, non-hazardous gel packs, and individually package your fresh ingredients to ensure they arrive in exceptional condition. For longer delivery routes, we add a protective layer of polyurethane foam beneath the plastic liner. Your ingredients will keep at your door for up to 24 hours after your expected delivery date.”
All that sounded great, but I was worried how it would all play out in reality. Recently we received and cooked our first Plated meal and here is how it went…
Review of Plated:
The box was delivered by FedEx on the date they said it would be. It is a little worrisome to see meat and produce sitting on your front porch when you get home, but when I opened the box the ice packs were still at least 90% frozen, and the meat was indeed still cold. The box itself appeared to be very well insulted and everything seemed to still be well chilled and fresh…though I will admit shipped meat does still freak me out a little bit.
We put one of the two meals away and decided on the Chicken Souvlaki with Spinach-Feta Rice (I am not fancy enough to know what souvlaki means) for our first Plated meal. The shipment came with virtually everything you needed to make the dish including white rice, two boneless and skinless chicken breasts, a lemon, garlic clove (yes, they sent one peeled clove!), baby spinach, English cucumber, fresh dill, oregano, honey, nonfat Greek yogurt, and feta cheese. Having all the ingredients right there for me to use was ah-maz-ing.
The only things they expected me to have were pots/pans, salt, pepper, water, and olive oil. My pantry gets bare, but even I can manage that measly list of ingredients.
The next step was to read through the recipe card before starting to cook so you know what to expect. They estimated the meal would be ready in 35 – 45 minutes, and that was pretty accurate. I’m by no means a “chef”, but even I was able to follow the simple instructions complete with pictures very easily.
They had me doing simple things that aren’t hard, but that I normally don’t do for family dinners, like zest lemon and use fresh dill. The only part of the instructions that didn’t work as well as they made it sound was toward the end where you wilt the spinach in the cooked rice. I guess my rice was just no longer really hot enough, so that didn’t work until I did it over some low heat for 30 seconds or so. Otherwise, everything worked out very well and I made a meal that was much fancier and more flavorful than our typical weeknight fare.
You have to order the number of plates for the meal in even numbers, so we just ordered two plates for our family of three. Since our daughter is still pretty small, there was enough food to dish out a child’s plate and still have enough for the two of us. However, while we loved all the flavor combinations in the meal, our five-year-old wasn’t quite as impressed with the “lemon taste on my chicken” and gave it the thumbs down after trying her requisite bite. So, I turned her chicken into a chicken quesadilla and we were all happy.
The Downsides to Plated:
Of course, nothing is perfect, so here are the downsides I have noticed so far. First, there were more dishes to clean than normal as the prep was a bit more extensive than my normal weekday go-to recipes. It was worth the extra dishes, but that is worth mentioning since more dishes means more time required. Second, if you are feeding kids they may not like the more complex flavors in some of the dishes, and if they are big enough you have to order extra plates to feed them that will increase the price point per meal very quickly. When you sign-up you also have to pick a subscription service for weekly or bi-weekly shipments, however you can easily skip weeks or the cancel button can be very easily found on your subscription page. I also used a prepaid Visa card in case cancellation was tricky.
I wish you could just select meals certain weeks instead of opting out of certain weeks, but it is what it is. Finally, this does require planning ahead as you need to know you will be home for the delivery date in advance, and then you need to actually use the food within a few days.
I love that it makes me plan ahead some, but that can be a drawback if your schedule is really unpredictable. They say the insulated boxes can sit outside for 24 hours, but I would personally worry about that here in the summertime.
Overall Impressions of Plated:
Overall I am thrilled with this service so far. I got to cook good food at home without having to do very much advance work! Heck, I could even order the Plated meals while I am out of town and then have them arrive once we get back in town without going to the grocery store! Plates start at $12 each, so that’s $24 to feed the 2.5 of us for dinner which isn’t “cheap”, but it is less than we would spend eating out for sure. Honestly even when we buy our own ingredients it isn’t much less than that for many meals we cook at home since we buy local and organic stuff when possible. On my first order I got two of the four total plates we ordered for free thanks to being a new customer (you can get that deal via a referral link like mine, too).
If you are going to place an even bigger first order I have seen four plates free when you order six, though that seems to default you into a larger subscription. No matter what you do, make sure you are getting at least some of your first plates free!
You can get one meal, two meals, or however many you think you will make within a couple of days. They deliver on Wednesdays and Saturdays so you can plan accordingly. I am very hopeful that this can become one of our tools for eating good food at home more often despite our sometimes crazy travel schedule.
Have you tried Plated or a similar service? What did you think? How do you keep up with cooking and routine at home when you are in and out on the road.