(This article was originally published on Medium.com)
My review of Green Chef is from the perspective of a Dietitian who wants to see America healthy again.
If you read my first article — A Dietitian’s Review of Blue Apron & How it Could Save America’s Health — then you know how much I support the idea of these meal delivery services. I support them because they teach you how to cook; a basic human skill required to lead a healthy life. Cooking gives you control over what you eat, and prevents you from being subjected to the confines of a single — usually unhealthy — menu. When you decide to cook, your decision doesn’t have to be between the cheeseburger and the double bacon cheeseburger. Or between the bag of Fritos and the frozen pizza. When you decide to cook, you get to choose the ingredients and determine for yourself how healthy your meal is going to be. The possibilities are endless. [Okay, maybe not endless (anyone else on a budget here?), but the healthy possibilities at home do far exceed those found in chain restaurants and convenience stores.]
And while you’re learning how to cook, why not learn how to do it nutritiously? Let’s see how nutritious Green Chef cooking can be…
1. Lemon Herb Salmon Orzo
The Rave: What I loved most about this dish was the gremolata. Have you ever made a gremolata? I hadn’t until Green Chef and honestly, it was a game changer. It seems odd that something so seemingly insignificant — garlic, dill, lemon zest, olive oil and salt — could have such an impact on flavor, but it really added another layer to this dish. I also loved how this dish mimicked a staple recipe in our house, and that it was done so much better (obviously, because it was created by a chef). We commonly make salmon, orzo and vegetables, but never like this. The flavor was highly enjoyable without sacrificing nutrition.
The Disappointment: People who know me know that I like me a green dish (always trying to get that folate). Unfortunately, this dish didn’t have much green in it. In its defense, it was seasonal (fall/winter) dish, and it did have lots of root veggies which offer their own set of nutrients. To introduce more green into these seasonal dishes, winter greens could be used; kale, chard, collards.
The Nutrition Review: This recipe clocks in at 590 calories which falls just slightly over my recommended range of 300–500 calories/meal for healthy weight maintenance. If you’re relatively active, that extra 90–100 calories per meal every so often won’t break the waistline so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I flagged Blue Apron for providing too high of a meat portion; they typically served 6 oz of meat/person when Dietitian’s recommend 3–4 oz per meal. The Green Chef salmon fillets were also about 6 oz each, providing 34g of protein per person. Remember: the body typically uses 20–30g of protein at a time (unless you’re an athlete in which case you can afford to eat more); any extra is converted to glucose to be used as immediate energy and if left unused, it is stored as fat. So keep your portion sizes in check — 3–4 oz per person.
On a good note, this meal is high in fiber and potassium (studies show that americans are severely lacking in these nutrients) from the whole wheat orzo and vegetables, high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats from the salmon, and rich in cancer-fighting antioxidants from the herbs and dill gremolata.
2. Sage Roasted Chicken
The Rave: You guessed it — the gremolata. I mean, once you’ve had chicken and potatoes, you’ve had chicken and potatoes. Not terribly too much going on there. But the gremolata made it. Walnuts, sundried tomatoes, garlic, and parsley. All powerful flavors that work wonders together. If you’re looking for a trusty, comfort dish, this one’s got your back.
The Disappointment: Didn’t realize I needed an oven-safe saute pan (which I don’t own) so I had to transfer everything to a dutch oven mid-cooking. Not THAT big of a deal in the grand scheme of things I suppose, but it did add a kink in my flow and give me an extra pan to wash. If you don’t have an oven-safe pan, a dutch oven would work. If you don’t have a dutch-oven, then you’ll have to transfer everything to an oven-safe pan to finish in the oven. I suppose you could also just finish it on the stove by covering it with a lid and turning the heat to med-low.
The Nutrition Review: This recipe clocks in at 540 calories and uses 6 oz meat per person; however, these thighs were bone-in so the actual meat portions were closer to 3–4oz. This meal was again, very rich in potassium and fiber from the veggies, providing 50% and 30% of the daily recommended intake respectively. Sodium however, was a bit high at 720mg/person, about ⅓ of the daily intake recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease.
3. Chickpea Kofta
The Rave: I saved the best for last. This little vegan number was the most flavorful, filling and satisfying of the three. At first glance, the process of getting this dish together is a little intimidating because there are several moving parts, but I decided to make it when I was crunched for time (hence the reason there is no photo) and had no problem getting it on the table in 35 minutes. Kofta is similar to falafel, but a little softer and just as delicious. The Indian/Middle Eastern spices and coconut-cilantro chutney really up the flavor factor in this dish.
The Disappointment: Again with the oven-safe saute pan; it’s nice to have one, but not necessary so don’t let this scare you away. Besides not having any leftover coconut-cilantro chutney, there wasn’t much disappointing about this dish or cooking experience.
The Nutrition Review: This recipe clocks in at a fiber packed and belly filling 660 calories. It actually provides you with 24g of fiber which is 86% of the recommended daily intake! That’s a lot of fiber. While I love to this see this, I also like to warn those who are not used to eating this much fiber at meals because you may experience some stomach cramping/bloating/gas/etc. Drink plenty of water before and after this meal to avoid discomfort. Again, an excellent source of potassium and iron, and a great use of plant based proteins, providing 26g of protein from the chickpea kofta and the bulgur.
Overall, Green Chef provides nutritious and tasty meals. The common use of spices, herbs and garlic really add a flavor punch to these dishes without sacrificing nutrition, and introduce you to flavors you may have never tried before.
Recipes are high in fiber and potassium, nutrients that Americans are lacking. The most recent USDA Dietary Guidelines mark dietary fiber and potassium as a nutrients of concern because low intakes of these nutrients are associated with health concerns. Fiber is critical for cholesterol reduction, gastrointestinal health, and satiety, which prevents us from overeating (aka — weight gain, which increases risk of disease in and of itself). Potassium is an electrolyte, and helps regulate blood pressure and muscle contractions, aiding in normal digestion. If you’re low in both fiber and potassium, your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes and heart diseases increases.
Chances are that if you’re not eating enough fiber, you’re not eating enough potassium. High fiber foods include things like fruits and vegetables, which also contain high levels of potassium.
If you’re looking to learn how to cook with more fiber rich foods, this meal delivery service might be for you.
Blue Apron vs. Green Chef
Who wins this round? Green Chef, hands down. I considered three things when comparing: Flavor, Nutrition, Packaging and Waste. The two were pretty equal when it came to flavor and packaging; both have delicious recipes and both delivered ingredients in individual packaging (yes, everything comes in its own package). But Green Chef recipes clearly had more vegetables (which inherently increases the nutrient value of the dish), were lower in calories, and higher in heart-healthy fats (less butter, more nuts and olive oils). Green Chef also had no food waste. In my Blue Apron review, I mentioned how several ingredients were partly used (like half of a beefsteak tomato and garlic clove) and then instructed to discard. None of that happened with Green Chef.
I also liked how Green Chef color-coded recipes and ingredients, making it easier and faster to gather the ingredients needed for meal prep. Even small things like this make the cooking process easier and more enjoyable, so you are more likely to continue cooking.
What about cost?
Blue Apron is cheaper, but not by much. Three meals on the two-person plan costs $59.94 with Blue Apron, and as low as $62.94 with Green Chef — a vegetarian meal with Green Chef, that is. Three omnivore meals with Green Chef costs $71.94. Green Chef is all Organic so the price will naturally be a little higher. Whereas Blue Apron charges the same amount for dietary preferences, Green Chef charges different amounts for different plans like vegetarian, omnivore, vegan, carnivore, gluten free and paleo.
What meal services are your favorite and why?