Even before pandemic times, the question of dinner (what to make, when to make it - or more specifically, when do I have time to make it) was a topic of interest on many FB moms groups.
I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but not enough to cook everyday for just my husband and me. After I had my first baby, for the first time in my life I felt a strong urge to personally cook dinner for him. My theory was, I can’t be with him all the time, BUT, I can control what goes into his little body. So I became an obsessive home cook. During my first maternity leave I would time myself and figure out the actual amount of time (not what the recipe suggests) it would take to go from food-in-fridge to food-on-table. On average it took me about an hour.
So, when I went back to work, I asked to leave the office everyday at 4:30 pm. This gave me a chance to get home, change into my “cooking clothes,” cook an entire meal from scratch, and get dinner on the table by 6:00 pm.
That worked…. Until 2020.
In the pandemic I wasn’t just cooking dinner, I was cooking All.The.Time. Breakfast was usually fried eggs, with fresh fruit and [store bought] pastries. Lunch was a mishmash of leftover + frozen foods; dinner, was a whole other story.
I took on dinner like a full-time job. After cooking through my repertoire in the first 4-5 weeks, in week 6 I started coming up with “themed weeks,” where, in any given week, I’d give myself a “theme” and make foods that were related to that theme. One week, the theme was “pancakes” and I learned to make the Japanese savory pancake, okonomiyaki, as well as sweet potato latkes, all in the same week.
After 6 months of coming up with creative, fun, and super-time-consuming recipes, the jig was up. I still loved to cook, but with working full time, laundry, cleaning, and kids, I knew I needed to try something else.
I had started to look into ready-made food delivery services because a friend (fellow working mom) asked me to help her find a food delivery service that could work for her family. While I was doing research, I also started to keep my eyes open for all sorts of food delivery services (so I can send them her way). Here’s a starter list:
Good: keep costs down, easy reheat
Not-so-good: not enough protein for me. I’m also not a salad person and the meal plans are not very attractive to me personally (mostly leaves & grains)
Cost: depending now how much you order. (This site gives you the general overview of how much per meal: https://www.thistle.co/order-thistle/build-plan/)
Good: local, husband and wife shop. Easy reheat (2-3 mins in the microwave)
Less good: no reheat instructions/labeling. Some of the entrees were too spicy (kids couldn’t eat it). They deliver weekly and the meals can get repetitive/boring after a while.
Cost is $11-13 per “meal” (box).
Weee Bundle: choose complete “sets” to be delivered on the dates of you choosing
Good: some variety, though mostly Asian (Chinese, Korean, Japanese). Usually 2-3 entrees, with or without soup. You can order multiple days at once.
Less-good: It’s a lot of scrolling to get to something you might wanna eat. If a set contains anything spicy or weird (chicken feet, pork stomach) I skip it.
Quantity of food is dependent upon the restaurant. Sometimes we have too much, other times too little.
Cost is around $30-$60 a meal. I always cook a vegetable dish to supplement
Chefus: Chinese home cooking. Available for lunch and dinner.
Good: price is super reasonable (one meal was $21 and it fed all of us with leftovers). Usually 3 entrees with soup.
Less good: it’s a rotating menu, but a set menu for each day. Also, I think you can only order one meal at a time.
Cost is under $30 per meal (for a family of 4)
Bentocart: similar to Wee bundle, choose a delivery date and pick a restaurant who will deliver
Good: Much bigger variety of restaurant options. Can mix-and-match entrees (so not necessarily a ‘set” meal)
Less good: it’s more expensive. Entrees range from $10 to $40. Also the delivery window tends to be too late for us (after 7:00 pm) so you’d have to order a day before (order for Tuesday delivery for Wednesday’s dinner)
Cost: Varies. Depending on the restaurant you choose.
Dror Catering: Events catering pivoting to providing daily meals. Order by 8:00 pm to get next day delivery
Good: HUGE portions. The lowest portion is for 5 people (for $89) and it ended up being about a week’s worth of food for us. They also gave us a bunch of "free stuff to try” so we’d be encouraged to order again. Great value. The basics (chicken cutlets) are well done
Less-than-good: Some of the flavor profiles were not familiar to us, so whole entrees were tossed out because no one would eat it. A lot of the same food also meant that we ended up eating the same (or similar) foods for several days.
Shef: Similar to Nextdish or Bentocart, where you order per entree.
Good: lots of variety of cuisines, from Indian to Italian to Napalese to American comfort food.
Less-than-good: not as big of a selection as Bentocart. Entree items are limited to what each chef can make at home.
Personal chefs: I also looked into hiring a personal chef shop, cook, and deliver meals, and the minimum for that would be closer to $400-$500 a week. This is the cost breakdown I got from one chef (based in SF):
(4 meals with 2-3 servings of each)
Planning/Shopping/Emailing Heating Info ($55/hour), 1.5-2 hours - $75
Delivery - $20-$40 (depending on distance)
Cooking/Cleaning/Packaging ($65/hour) 3.5-4 hours - $240
Food Cost (weekly estimate) - $150-$200
(There are probably personal chefs who charges a lower per hour rate than $65, but this gives you a general sense of the cost structure)
I'm still cooking, but now only 2 nights a week. We consistently get food delivered on Mondays (Mondays are consistently my busiest workday). My husband and I take turns cooking Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays, with "fresh" food on 2 nights, and leftovers for the 3rd night. For lunch we try to eat leftovers, or make a simple salad/sandwich at home.
My takeaway? There's not one "right way" to make dinner happen. Whatever works for you and your family will be [slightly] different for what works for other families. Do what works for you.
What’s your cooking + meal delivery strategy? What’s worked well for your family? Please share any thoughts and comments below.
Let Be Merry help you find the right food-prep + meal delivery strategy for you and your family! We’re here to help.
Our NEW order from Harborview Restaurant in SF using a delivery service
A sample Nextdish dinner: I usually order 4 entrees, 2 with meat and 2 with veggies
Bento boxes from Leichi ordered through Tuango: https://tuangoeats.com/
When I had/have time to cook, this is one of my favorite meals to make: whole roasted chicken with rosemary from our yard, sautéed vegetables, and rice pilaf loaded with vegetables made from scratch.
Another weeknight favorite: grilled ribeye steaks, air fried potatoes, roasted brussel sprouts. My husband made this entire meal by himself
One of the best meals I learned to make this year: duck confit cassoulet (with white beans and sausages). SO comforting on a cold winter night. Paired with roasted vegetable and a nice, crunchy bread
One of my kids' favorite meals is Chicken Pot Pie! It's actually pretty easy to make BUT super time-consuming (takes about 2 hours start to finish)
Fancy takeout from Harborview Restaurant in SF