Do Recipe Boxes Help Reduce your Waste?
If you follow @the_plastic_free_life on Instagram you might have seen on my stories last week that I tried out a Mindful Chef Food box for a week. I bought five vegan meals and I chose these from a list of recipes online. This was the first time trying a food box and It has been an interesting experience so I wanted to share my thoughts on using recipe boxes and to see whether Recipe boxes actually help you reduce your waste.
What are Recipe Boxes?
There are loads of different recipe boxes on the market and they are the answer to families who need convenience as well as a healthy, balanced meal. I have numerous friends who use and rate different recipe boxes. I have heard all about Hello Fresh, Gousto and Mindful Chef who send you the exact ingredients to create a dish depending on the yield you have selected. You get an easy recipe to follow which can be great for someone who is new to cooking or has little confidence in the kitchen. The idea is you have a subscription and pay a certain amount each week depending on how many recipes you want, usually with a maximum of 5 recipes, so you still need to do some food shopping each week. The recipes change each week so you don't need to repeat and have the same food every week unless you want to.
Why Did I choose Mindful Chef?
So the reason I decided to try a recipe box now after all this time was because I have become more conscious of my food waste. Living on your own can sometimes make it difficult to avoid food waste, some products I might come in a certain size pack and it can be a struggle to eat it on my own within a matter of days. Kale and Spinach are a perfect example for me, the bags are just too big for me to consume before it goes off so I usually avoid these. I know you might be thinking, just freeze them and reuse which is a perfectly good option to prolong the life of food. Unfortunately I live in a small flat and only have space for a fridge with an ice box. I batch make recipes when I can so my ice box is usually filled with pre made food and does not have the room for these too. After a friend told me about how much she enjoyed using Gousto and how great it was for reducing food waste, I started looking into recipe boxes to see if they would work for me. I came across Mindful Chef and liked them because they are a B corp and donate a school meal for every meal bought. They have a great selection of Vegan recipes which are jam packed of veg, with most meals having your 5 a day veg in them. Their food is sustainably sourced and they use local where they can. I decided to try out 5 meals for the week and selected the date for delivery. You don't need to be in for delivery as they will leave it in a safe place and they have special ice bags which can leave the food cold for up to 48 hours. (these can also be sent back to them to be reused)
My First Thoughts
I was actually really excited to try the recipes as they all looked amazing and different to anything I would usually make. I was looking forward to making new dishes and trying new food that was delicious and really healthy. When the box arrived I opened it to see 5 paper bags with numbers on, I thought great, it all looks plastic free which I was hoping for.
Unfortunately this is not the case, there was quite a lot of plastic in each bag as they use plastic packaging on any herbs and spices, rices and some of the veg. There was a good range of loose veg and the majority of the veg came loose and it was good to see smaller quantities of things like Kale and spring onions which meant I wouldn't be wasting any food. The issue however, is I instantly felt uncomfortable with the plastic pots of herbs and spices. I couldn't shake the thought that I had these exact ingredients in my cupboard which I had bought from my local packaging free shop. It felt like I had taken a step back here by having to use something I had already in my cupboard, in plastic packaging. It would like going to the supermarket and buying a bag of bananas in a plastic bag when you had a bunch of bananas you had bought loose the day before. I was feeling a little deflated and like I had made the wrong decision, what made it worse was that some of the produce could have easily been loose, for example tomatoes. Instead these came in a cardboard box covered in plastic.
I shared my thoughts on instagram which started some great conversations with people about the food boxes and the amount of plastic packaging in them. Mindful Chef actually contacted me with a response to my first thoughts about the plastic packaging which I really appreciated.
"Hi There, we are so excited to see you have given us a try and we cant wait to hear what you think! We completely understand who you feel about the plastic, however, you will be happy to know that we're on a mission to remove all single-use plastic from our boxes in 2021. We do completely appreciate that we have a long way to go with our packaging. Our aim was to be fully home recyclable by the end of 2020 however, the pandemic has somewhat delayed this goal as we were unable to do as many tests as we have liked. we want to assure you that we are still trying, and we have been doing lots of trials this year and last year with plastic substitutes."
The Benefits of Recipe Boxes
Reducing food waste
The obvious answer here is the reduction of food waste which is why I decided to try a recipe box out. Because you use all the ingredients in the box and you can choose how many people you want to cook for it is great for this reason. I selected my box for two people so that I could have my dinner and lunch covered. It was great knowing I wasn't wasting any food that I had bought. Because I chose the vegan box, any veggie scraps went straight into my compost bin so these recipes really had zero food waste.
Trying new foods
I enjoy cooking but I am guilty of falling into making the same dishes every week. I tend to try a new dish and then make it constantly until I am bored. Food recipe boxes are a brilliant way to find new recipes and try foods you may not have thought about before. My recipes were creative and full of a flavour using foods like beetroot and Black rice which I had never cook with previously.
Building Confidence in the Kitchen
If you lack confidence in the kitchen or struggle to find inspiration for new recipes then recipe boxes can certainly help with this. Their range of recipes are not only easy to follow but tend to be dishes you wouldn't usually choose to make yourself. Because you keep the recipe cards too, they can help you build a great range of go to recipes to make yourself in the future.
Maintaining a Balanced Diet
I think this week is probably the healthiest I have ever eaten. I have eaten so much veg and have used such a variety of veg in each dish. Each dish has your 5 a day in and because the portion sizes are catered for you, I have honestly felt great this week. I have snacked less and felt really good knowing I was eating healthy for the week. The picture above is just one of my recipes which as you can see is packed with veg.
The Downside to Recipe Boxes
They are quite expensive
For 5 meals for two people with Mindful Chef, this would usually cost £61.00 which in my opinion is very expensive and definitely out of my price range. I managed to get a voucher for 15% off my first box which made it a bit more accessible but still more than I would want to spend on 5 meals. I haven't tried any other recipe boxes but i think Gousto is £37 a week for 4 meals so cheaper than Mindful Chef but has less veg in. I also didn't find the recipes as appealing and adventurous as Mindful chef. I think if you were to buy the ingredients yourself from the supermarket it would probably cost half of what you pay.
The Plastic Packaging Waste
This was the biggest put off for me, Although they are great at helping reduce your food waste, I feel that they are just creating another issue whilst solving one. There was quite a lot of plastic packaging involved in each meal and like I said, when you already have these ingredients in your cupboard, it feels really pointless and completely unavoidable to be creating this plastic waste. To make matters worse, most of the plastic, packaging cannot be recycled so will end up in landfill. The picture above is the plastic waste from one recipe and each recipe had about this level of plastic waste. The amount of plastic waste can vary between the different companies you use but it looks like none of them are completely plastic free yet.
The Food Doesn't always stay fresh for as long as you need
Having 5 meals delivered, all with fresh produce can cause its problems with trying to keep it fresh. I had to really think about which meal to make first based on the ingredients I had. When it came to making my last dish, my spring onions which I had already kept in water in the fridge were a little worse for wear. Although I still used them I think you could easily miscalculate which meal to make first and end up with some food wastage. If you are looking into trying a recipe box like this, this is certainly something to keep in mind and something I wish they had more advice on when buying.
My Final Thoughts
I have been very back and forth on my feelings towards recipe boxes, they do have a lot of great benefits and I can see why people love to use them. I have certainly enjoyed cooking and have really loved the meals I have created. It has been great to use veg I had been avoiding because of the food waste I created and from a food waste point of view, these are an excellent way to reduce food waste. However I still feel that a lot more needs to be done to make these recipes boxes plastic free in order to reduce their impact on the environment. It would be great to be able to opt out of some of the ingredients like spices which are usually already in the cupboard. There are also some easy wins like putting rice and pasta in paper bags rather than plastic ones which I believe could easily be achieved. There are definitely pros and cons to using recipe boxes and it can be difficult to decide which ones out-way the others. I suppose it is all about which one works the best for you and your lifestyle. When I asked my audience on instagram whether plastic or food waste was more important to them when food shopping, 60% said plastic waste. We can be easily put off something if it has plastic packaging but if you are reducing your food waste, you are still making a difference. What I have learnt from this experience is how beneficial meal planning can be; it can help reduce both plastic packaging and food waste if you carefully plan your meals and build your recipes around healthy produce which you can find without plastic packaging. This is what I have done for next week, using some of the recipes I have tried this week and some further research for new vegan recipes jam packed with veg I have put together a great list of meals which can help me balance everything and hopefully be a cheaper option to the food box. I would say that recipe boxes do help solve an issue of food waste which is a huge impact to our environment as rotting food produces methane but it has certainly created more plastic waste than usual which is a problem for me. This is why I personally think meal planning could be the best option to tackle both.
I would love to know if you have tried a recipe box before and what you thought.
All the best