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Sliced, Sealed and Delivered

Meal kit delivery services may be the future of food, but does our future look healthy?

By Andra Coberly

The box looks like any other box: big, brown, box-like.

Inside, though, is unlike any package I’ve ever received. It’s a cornucopia, and I say that knowing “cornucopia” sounds oldfangled and lame. But this is not lame. This is beautiful.

Neatly piled within the box, among ice packs and insulation, are plastic baggies of spices, fresh herbs, vegetables (lots of vegetables), grains and pasta. There’s a tiny box containing a single organic egg. Little jars of sauces and mixtures labeled “gazpacho” and “aji sauce” line one side, and cold containers of fish and chicken fill the bottom.

It’s slightly overwhelming, this cornucopia.

But then we find the recipes, and we realize that all the ingredients are color coded. My husband and I stick ingredients for two meals in the fridge, and we start working on tonight’s dinner: chicken bruschetta pasta with lemon-basil pesto, goat cheese and balsamic tomatoes.

This is our first meal kit delivery experience, and we feel like total newbs. Still, it’s fun and easy and the food is delicious. The meal seems as though we spent all day looking for a recipe, buying groceries, preparing sauces and measuring ingredients — except we didn’t. We opened a box and started chopping, sautéing and mixing.

That’s why Michael Joseph calls his company, Green Chef, “your personal sous chef.” Green Chef, based in Boulder, served up its first meal kit in the fall of 2014. That’s when it joined Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Plated in a sector that is predicted to grow from $3 billion to $5 billion over the next 10 years. Meal kit delivery has been called the future of food.

There are numerous perks to meal kit delivery: You avoid obnoxious lines at the grocery store, you can try new dishes without scavenging the internet for recipes, you don’t have to plan—at all. But what about health perks? How nutritious is the future of food?

From my experience with Green Chef, I would say it’s pretty to very nutritious. Green Chef is not a diet meal kit company. It was not developed to help diners lose weight. The owners simply consider their meals wholesome and healthy. They offer omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and paleo meal kits, and they specialize in veggie-centric, organic dishes. In fact, they are the first 100 percent organic meal-kit company.

“Our philosophy is about putting fresh, organic vegetables into your diet,” Joseph says. “That’s something we have done since the beginning of the company. When you have Green Chef meals, you’ll always have fresh, organic veggies because that is fundamental to a healthy diet. That’s also how we are transforming non-vegetable eaters into vegetable eaters.”

Joseph calls himself the Colonel Sanders of Green Chef, and he’s not just the founder and CEO; he’s also a customer. He and his wife are on the paleo plan— which features dishes like Thai mango chicken salad and steak and eggs. He tells me it’s helped him lose weight.

Still, I opt for the omnivore plan. The three meals in our box — the chicken dish as well as lime-sole gazpacho and smoky zucchini corn cakes — are exactly what Green Chef promises: fresh, loaded with vegetables, tasty and easy to make. They are also satisfying, leaving us full, guilt free and happy.

The health benefits of meal kits are easy to see even before you open the box: They manage portion sizes, take out most processed ingredients and limit temptation. The dishes are filling, so there’s no need to go foraging for cookies post dinner. Plus, each meal is limited to 450 to 750 calories per serving, and all nutritional information can be found on their website.

What became even more compelling, once I cooked a Green Chef meal, was how easy and enjoyable the process of making and eating a healthy home-cooked meal could be with a little extra help. Like any family, we do our best in the kitchen, but it’s so common to get stuck in a cooking rut, to become bored and uninspired while writing grocery list after grocery list. Sometimes you just want something special to show up on your doorstep.

Getting people excited about cooking at home may be the biggest nutritional victory for meal kit delivery services.

“We’ve turned a lot of non-cooks into cooks,” Joseph says. “You are cooking something new but in an approachable way. It’s like going to a great restaurant and having what the chef serves you, but the chef is you.”