Much Depends on Dinner: Thoughts on Homegrown Foods and Other Meal-Delivery Services

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table
Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

Have we heard the last word on meal delivery services? Are you really hoping we have?

Permit me one more — or 800 more — because I have been thinking a lot about my family’s subscription to Homegrown Foods. Specifically, I have been thinking, “Why on earth do we pay for this service? And why do I love it so much?”

I am not the target demographic for meal delivery services. I’m way too old to have been shopping online since birth. I did not grow up expecting every imaginable good or service to come directly to my door.

I’m not new to the kitchen or intimidated by techniques or ingredients. I am a dedicated, obsessive meal planner. I make grocery lists that are the shopping equivalent of targeted tactical airstrikes. I keep pantry staples on hand that cover most of the world’s major cuisines.

Moreover, there’s no shortage of high-quality food coming into our house. We have year-round CSA shares. We fill our freezer with meats from Ferndale Market. You should see my collection of dried beans.

So, a service that does my meal planning and shopping for me? Why would I outsource the only part of my life I feel like I’m any good at?

That was my thinking when Homegrown Foods offered me a trial box last year. Everything was delicious. But I couldn’t figure out what hole it would fill in my life. Still, every Saturday morning, when I sat down to plan meals for the week, I would think about the convenience and comfort of that box. One particular Saturday this spring, I asked the other three dinner eaters in my household what they might like to eat in the coming week. And all three shrugged their shoulders. “Whatever you make.”

Within three minutes of the last shrug, I was a new Homegrown Foods subscriber, demographics be damned.

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table
Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

And now, every other Wednesday, three pre-planned, pre-prepped meals show up in a cooler on our doorstep. Someone else has done all the shopping, a lot of the mixing, some of the chopping. But most importantly, someone else has already done all the thinking.

So much thinking goes into dinner. So much.

Dinner is a big deal in my life. It’s my anchor. If I know what’s for dinner, I can figure everything else out. On Monday morning, when nobody can find their permission slips or their shoes or the almond milk, and I realize I’m not prepped for a 9 a.m. meeting, I can look at the menu on the fridge and know that, no matter what, we are all going to come home at the end of the day and eat something nourishing together.

But sitting down with a whiteboard, a family calendar, a blank grocery list, and a cup of coffee, as I do every Saturday morning, is both a soothing ritual and an exercise that bares all of my privileged 21st-century self-doubts. I can knot myself up a thousand different ways: Are we eating too much meat? Too many carbs? (The easiest solution to that is more meat.) Should we be eating more legumes? (Yes.) More vegetables? (Yes.) More fish? (I give up.)

Why do I keep complicating our lives with new recipes? Why do I rely so much on the same old standards? Am I making the most efficient use of what’s already in the fridge, freezer, and pantry? No, am I? Am I really?

Should I just relax already? (Finally, an easy answer.) But we all know what happens when I just relax already: egg sandwiches for days. (Okay, seriously, I have never just relaxed: There has been a menu on the fridge every single week for the past decade. Every single week.)

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table
Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

You know what my biweekly meal delivery from Homegrown Foods is for me? It’s permission to just relax already. It’s permission to just enjoy dinner as dinner — and enjoy many things that, in my decade-plus of obsessive meal planning, it has never occurred to me to make. Chilaquiles, fried chicken, tortilla soup, shrimp Caesar salad. (See? When you overthink dinner, you can overlook some great ideas.)

The quality of the ingredients has been unimpeachable. The recipes have always worked, even when I started out thinking, “Hmm. I never do it that way.” Every single dish has been a winner. If any of those things weren’t true, I’d have canceled right away. The dinner standards are high at our house, especially when we’re spending $40 for a family dinner for four (plus leftovers).

We did try one of the national box delivery services, when we had a very generous coupon. The quality of ingredients just wasn’t there, the packaging waste was mind-blowing, and in just two weeks I sensed a tedious predictability in ingredients and techniques. We haven’t tried the other Minnesota option, Local Crate, but we like their commitment to local foods, hometown chefs and less packaging.

And this is where I should wrap this all up with a singular pronouncement. Meal delivery services: savior of our national culinary souls or expensive, wasteful scourge? Sea change in how we live in the kitchen or fleeting, gimmicky blip?

But, nah. As you can see, I’ve already got myself wrapped around the axle about enough food and cooking issues. This one, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy.