MEAL KITS, Part 2: Fresh in: 30

Meal kits have become a multi-million dollar industry in a few short years. The target audience are millennials who either don’t have time to shop and cook, or who don’t know how to cook because their parents never learned to cook. They must hark back to their grandparents generation to pick up their family’s culinary tradition.

I’m not in the target group, far from it. But I like the idea of trying foods and combinations that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. I recently finished my third set of Blue Apron meals. (See “Ponderings" October 12.)

Not wanting to be left out of the act, and in an effort to compete with Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Terra’s Kitchen, Marley’s Spoon, Peach Dish, Home Bistro, and many others, the Giant Eagle, specifically the Market District, has jumped on the meal kit bandwagon. Their Fresh in: 30 line can be found in the Market District stores and at a few Giant Eagles such as McIntyre Square, where I first noticed them.

The meals offered at the moment include (in alphabetical order):

  • Falafel with Tabbouleh and Tatziki: Garbanzo beans, fresh Mediterranean vegetables, bulgur wheat, Greek yogurt, panko bread crumbs, diced cucumbers, fresh dill and lemon.
  • Pork Piccata with Fresh Pappardelle Florentine: All-natural pork tenderloin medallions, piccata sauce, chicken stock, fresh pappardelle pasta, spinach, cherry tomatoes and capers.
  • Sirloin with Parmesan Risotto: All-natural sirloin steaks, Brussels sprouts, diced onions, diced butternut squash, Arborio rice, chicken stock, Parmesan cheese and beef gravy.
  • Spicy Thai Curry Noodle Bowl with Chicken: Marinated chicken breast, Asian vegetable medley, bamboo shoots, Asian Thai spicy curry sauce, rice noodles and fresh cilantro.
  • Sun-Dried Tomato Panko-Crusted Salmon: Salmon fillets, sun-dried tomato panko bread crumbs, jasmine rice, squash and tomato medley and marinara sauce.
  • Vegetarian Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms: Portabella mushrooms, vegetable stuffing, goat cheese, sun-dried tomato panko bread crumbs, arugula, roasted tomatoes and fresh lemon.

Two additional Fresh in :30 offerings, Chicken Alfredo and Garlic Shrimp Linguini seem to have fallen by the wayside.

The available selections won't be found in every store. The placement of meals must be determined by demographics. I’ve seen the Falafel only at the Waterworks.

I have tried three Fresh in: 30 meals, two of which I’d give a B-minus rating, one a C-minus. The ingredients provided, for the most part, weren’t terrible. But, in my opinion, the meals were unexciting, a little too cautions. Certainly the foods described were in the boxes, but there wasn’t much in there that I couldn’t have easily purchased myself, nor was there anything I hadn’t prepared in my kitchen over the years other than fresh pappardelle.

Our first Fresh in: 30 dinner, Pork Piccata with Fresh Pappardelle Florentine, was the most interesting only because of the fresh pasta. The box also included six little squares of pork to be pounded thin, a bag of baby spinach, a bag of lemony piccata liquid, a tiny bag of capers, and a small bottle of broth. The meal was flavorful but offered nothing new to us other than the pasta, and there was an awful lot of liquid left in the skillet at the end of the meal to be poured down the drain. Not sure why. Maybe I misunderstood the directions.

Whoever dreamed up the Sun-Dried Tomato Panko-Crusted Salmon must have thought that tomatoes three ways would be a good idea. Can’t have too much of a good thing, right?. Wrong.

When I plan a menu I try to be careful about redundancy, that is, not to serve the same ingredient in more than one element of the mail. Here, the tomatoes three ways included barely detectable sun-dried tomatoes in the Panko (I had to check the list of ingredients to reassure myself that they were in there); small plum tomatoes to sauté with the zucchini and yellow squash that looked like it had seen better days; and marinara sauce on which to place the salmon. There must be more interesting yet cost-effective ways to present a salmon filet.

A personal preference with which you may disagree: I don’t think that pink salmon on a bed of red sauce is a particularly attractive combination. And why was Jasmine rice chosen as an accompaniment to fish with marinara sauce?

The Sirloin with Parmesan Risotto was promising. The vegetables and risotto were quite good. But the meat was so chewy that on the second night I struggled through the second piece of sirloin and broiled my husband a hamburger. (We’re small eaters, so the dinner for two was enough for us for two nights.)

I’m guessing that when you consider the price charged for these meals for two, around $16, the company isn't about to include better quality beef.

The Market District would do well to give its customers credit for having more adventurous palates than the meals they’ve put together so far.

With Blue Apron and a hundred other meal kit companies breathing down their neck, the Market District would do well to perk up its Fresh in: 30 program, or abandon it.

Posted on Thursday, November 17, 2016 at 11:31PM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | CommentsPost a Comment

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