Growing up, my mom had a menu of maybe five go-to meals for our family. She was a working single mom and I was an extraordinarily picky child, so those meals were pretty basic and beige. Two or three times a week I’d find this note on the counter afterschool:
“Preheat oven to 350’F at 4:15. Put pan in oven at 4:30 with foil. Love, Mom”
Casserole it is.
There’s nothing wrong with casseroles. But by the time I went to college, I knew how to make very few things in the kitchen that didn’t come with instructions on the box. And so when I got married, and cereal for dinner three times a week didn’t cut it, I realized I was out of my element. I tried this recipe or that one, but after a run of overcooked meats or bland pasta dishes, I resigned myself to this truth: I was not a good cook.
Fast forward a few years and add a couple of little ones and a pandemic-induced state shutdown. Where we used to get a break from my bland cooking with a Chipotle night, a pizza delivery, or hire a babysitter for a fancy steak house date, we were now stuck at home, quickly tiring of spaghetti and turkey meatloaf.
On a whim, I signed up for HelloFresh in late March. HelloFresh is a subscription service where you choose the menu for each week, and a box filled with fresh ingredients arrives on your doorstep. You choose your own plan–meats & veggies, veggie only, family friendly, low calorie–and you choose how many meals and servings. We chose three meals a week under the Family Friendly plan. Our bright green box arrived on Thursday! Each meal’s ingredients were packaged together to ensure nothing was missing and a full-color recipe card described step-by-step how to create each meal.
I pulled out the ingredients for our first meal: Cheesy Beef Tostadas. I looked at the onion nervously–I had maybe chopped an onion twice in my life. Why chop an onion when you could use the dried stuff from the spice cabinet? (I knowww) So I set to work, meticulously slicing and chopping vegetables, seasoning and cooking the beef. Placing the beautifully finished meal before my husband, a hog dog in front of my three year old (because HelloFresh is great but it’s no miracle worker), we dug in. I could have cried. This meal was perfect. It tasted just like a meal I would have at a Mexican restaurant…except I was in sweatpants and this was my house!
Every week I would use the HelloFresh app to select my menu for the week. We eventually adjusted to two meals a week, and sometimes skipped a week. There is no subscription fee, you just pay for the meals you choose that week. When family came to visit, we “meal planned” by upping our number of servings and meals for the week. I loved that there was absolutely no cost to changing our plan from week to week–just the normal cost of the meals. Plus, we got to keep the recipe cards, so we could recreate the meals from our normal Kroger grocery list. It broadened our horizons…I made Korean Bulgogi meatballs, learned the best way to roast vegetables, and whipped up tzatziki sauce for a Greek dish.
The Best Part
But what I love most is what HelloFresh did for my confidence. The first couple of weeks of HelloFresh, I would get a little nervous during meal prep. After a month, I looked forward to my routine of chopping, seasoning, and serving. I was a good cook. I decided to branch out into baking. With a dozen summer peaches on my counter, I baked a peach pie from scratch. Following a morning of strawberry picking, I whipped up a fresh strawberry pie. And then my biggest accomplishment…an absolutely perfect cheesecake with graham cracker crust. I was so proud of myself! (My husband enjoyed the benefits of my new hobby as well) The kitchen was no longer daunting, but rather, inviting. And I love that I have a new skill I can share with my daughters as they grow up. Now…what to make for dinner tonight?