Chefs Debate Whether At-Home Meal Kits Make Us Better Or Worse Cooks

Are services like Blue Apron helpful, or are they just a "half-assed version of cooking?"

Over the past several years, meal kits like Blue Apron, HelloFresh and others have made their way to our doorsteps as a one-stop shop for dinner. Pre-portioned ingredients and step-by-step instructions leave us with a full meal in under an hour, and maybe even teach a kitchen skill or two along the way.

While some people can’t get enough of the delivery service, others might be hesitant to wholeheartedly accept the kits for their wasteful packaging and tendency to hinder creativity in the kitchen. But what do professional chefs think?

We asked them to share their honest opinions on the concept of DIY meal kits, and here’s what they had to say.

Seamus Mullen, chef and author of “Hero Food

When Mullen isn’t tending to his Spanish food empire or sitting as a judge on a Food Network show, he’s lending his voice to the wellness community. Mullen was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2007, and since then has advocated for healthy eating and exercise as a top priority.

For him, meal kits are a “take it with a grain of salt” kind of institution. “Initially I thought that these meal kits were great ideas, but after having played around with a few of them and asking friends who have tried them, I kind of feel like people who like to cook [and] want to cook, they don’t necessarily want a half-assed version of cooking,” he said.

Plus, the chef doesn’t necessarily think they’re something that can be a longstanding part of our everyday lives. “I think there is an overall interest in eating better at home, but I suspect that this isn’t sustainable, that it’s likely to be short-lived.”

Meal kits, such as this one from Blue Apron, come in pre-portioned packages that arguably create more waste than traditional groceries.
Meal kits, such as this one from Blue Apron, come in pre-portioned packages that arguably create more waste than traditional groceries.

Einat Admony, chef-owner of Balaboosta, Taïm and Kish-Kash

Admony has been a pioneer in Israeli cooking for years. Before she started serving New York her authentic falafel and couscous-based dishes, she was cooking in the Israeli army. To say she has a well-rounded worldview of food and dining would be an understatement.

“I understand the increase in meal kits, especially for a not-so-ambitious cook who thinks he’s a foodie,” she said. “They come in nice packages, the produce is fresh and the recipes are easy to follow.” But despite these intriguing details, the chef isn’t 100% on board with the concept. “I do think they eliminate the creativity and the freedom of open thinking,” she explained.

Joe Sasto, culinary consultant and “Top Chef” finalist

Sasto is dedicated not only to the art of cooking and pasta-making, but to the importance of being surrounded by family when doing it. “Growing up, food had so much power and the whole thing of cooking was part of that. It was cooking, food, and family … To get together and bond over food and using that as the entertainment, whether that comes from you doing it on your own or you following a box of instructions, I think it has a positive impact on people.”

But in spite of all that, Sasto’s biggest concern with the kits is the sourcing of their food. “Whether it be lamb chops or baby spring onions—they need 100,000 pounds [of it]... where is that product coming from? Is it still sustainable at that point? Is it supporting big Monsanto-type farms? Then you start to think of all the negative effects and unintended effects that it can have by supporting these things,” he said.

He urges customers to learn more about where the meal kits are sourcing their ingredients to make an informed, responsible decision.

A HelloFresh package moves through an automated scanner at the FedEx Ground distribution center in Jersey City, New Jersey.
A HelloFresh package moves through an automated scanner at the FedEx Ground distribution center in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Mina Newman, executive chef of Sen Sakana

Newman’s expertise lies in fusing flavors and offering diners a mix of both Peruvian and Japanese cuisines at her restaurant. That’s why she’s an advocate for meal subscription services, which often introduce customers to foods they’ve never had before.

“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

For Baldini, these doorstep deliveries are a move in the right direction for healthy at-home meals. The Italian-born chef believes in wholesome ingredients— not just once in a while when dining out, but every day when sitting down for a meal. “The restaurant business needs to adapt to the next generation of consumers: a generation willing and demanding authentic and local food experiences,” she said.

For Baldini, it’s not just about the kits providing a means to an end. Instead, they’re changing the accessibility of healthy meals. “In general, technology was previously used to create cheap and abundant supplies and products,” she added. “I believe meal kits are creating a new paradigm, allowing wholesome ingredients to be easily purchased and delivered in people’s homes.”

Nicole Taylor, food writer and author of “The Up South Cookbook

Like most busy moms, Taylor needed a way to feed her growing family, and much to her own surprise, she turned to meal kits for support. “Five months ago I had a baby and I knew I needed to set myself up for success,” she said. She went with Peach Dish, an Atlanta-based company that focuses on Southern cuisine.

Aside from the boxed dinners being convenient, they also gave Taylor and her family a way to stay connected to authentic Southern food. “What I liked about it was there were a lot of familiar names in Southern cooking of who developed the dishes, so it felt inspiring to taste their Peach Dish, and it wasn’t just one-note. So, I kind of found a newfound respect for the meal kit.”

Responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.

Meal kits to eat healthier in 2019