This post was originally written for and shared on Medium.
Who am I and why should you care about my review?
My name is Ashley and I am — you got it — a Registered Dietitian. While I love to cook mostly plant based nutritious fare, I am definitely not opposed to consuming butter, bacon and cheese on a regular basis. Nor do I ever leave out the carbs. I mean, what is life without bread, pasta and rice? No life. That’s what.
I have strong opinions about how the media, flawed-research, and food companies have negatively influenced the eating habits of Americans. They have simultaneously played a role in leading you, the American consumer, to believe that you no longer understand what eating well looks like. But I promise you do. Because it doesn’t take a nutrition science degree to know that an apple is far more nutritious than a bag of cheesy poofs. Or that drinking water does more good than sucking down soda all day.
My review of Blue Apron is from the perspective of a Dietitian who wants to see America healthy again.
THE GOOD: it gets you cooking.
I have provided nutrition education for all kinds of folks and have noticed a common barrier to eating well among them all: cooking. Or the lack thereof. We don’t cook anymore. Whether it’s because we don’t have time, we don’t know how or we simply don’t like it, cooking just isn’t happening. Instead, we’re eating more of our meals at restaurants and fast food establishments, and snacking on highly processed foods from the convenience store.
Blue Apron gets you in the kitchen and teaches you how to cook. A basic human skill required to lead a healthy life.
THE BAD: meals are rarely nutritious and may help you pack on the pounds.
My three meals were very high in calories, included excessive portions of meat and were lacking in nutrient-dense vegetables.
- Chicken & Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwiches with Collard Green and Carrot Slaw
The Rave: I may be a dietitian but I love me some southern food. I live in Charleston, SC and I’ve had some of the best chicken biscuits on the planet; this one however, was pretty damn good. The collard slaw was killer. Not only do the carrots and collards impart some serious nutrition, but the slaw wasn’t drenched in a creamy based dressing, keeping it on the lighter side without sacrificing flavor.
The Disappointment: The biscuit was too crumbly. So much so that I could barely enjoy both the chicken and the biscuit at the same time. There was also too much chicken to fit on the biscuit. I ended up eating only half of my portion of chicken on the biscuit. This meal also had a lot of moving parts to complete before getting it on the table. If you’re not comfortable juggling several tasks in the kitchen, maybe hold off on this one. Additionally, this meal didn’t fill me up, which sounds surprising for an 800 calorie meal. Fiber is responsible for satiety and this meal was definitely lacking in the fiber department.
The Nutrition Review: This recipe clocks in at 800 calories, far too much for one meal. For weight maintenance and optimal nutrient intake, Dietitian’s typically recommend consuming between 300–500 calories per meal. Furthermore, the meat portions were too high. Each chicken breast was about 6 oz and Dietitian’s recommend 3–4 oz per meal. The body typically uses 20–30g of protein at a time; any extra is converted to glucose to be used as immediate energy and if left unused, it is stored as fat. One ounce of chicken offers eight grams of protein, giving us 48 ounces in this one meal! On a good note and as mentioned earlier, the slaw is the nutritional star of the show here, providing high amounts of essential vitamins and cancer fighting phtyonutrients.
2. Beef Albondigas with Sautéed Summer Squash and Pan con Tomate
The Rave: Loved the spice blend in the Albondigas — very unique to my typical Italian spiced meatballs served over angel hair. And that garlic-tomato rubbed baguette? Well, you know I love bread. The toasty bread also offset the otherwise softness of the squash and Albondigas, creating a nice balance of textures. There is no denying that this meal was delicious.
The Disappointment: Again, too much meat (5 oz each) and not enough vegetables. Additionally, this recipe instructed me to discard the garlic clove and half of a beefsteak tomato (which are huge) after using just a bit of it to rub on the baguette. I know there are bigger food waste battles to fight, but teaching newbie cooks to discard a perfectly usable food only contributes to America’s Food Waste issues. It could instead suggest to mince up the remainder and add to the current meal, or save that partially used garlic clove/tomato for use in a future meal. I ended up tossing the tomato into the current meal, and saving the garlic clove for later.
The Nutrition Review: This recipe clocks in at 780 calories and uses 10 oz meat (5 oz per person); again, too high for one meal. Squash and tomatoes are excellent sources of Vitamin C and B6, but these vitamins are destroyed with heat. Cooking tomatoes does however increase the amount of cancer fighting lycopene, so there’s that. These veggies are also low in fiber, a nutrient critical for cholesterol reduction, gastrointestinal health, and satiety, which prevents us from overeating. Replacing the squash with a high fiber veggie choice — like broccoli or greens — is a small change that would make a big difference in nutrition.
3. Fresh Basil Fettuccine with Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes and Zucchini
The Rave: The fresh basil fettuccine. So freaking good. This made me never want to buy dried pasta again. I also enjoyed the simplicity of the sauce — if you can even call it that: butter and pasta water, topped with parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. This recipe was simple to prepare and took the least amount of time to get on the table.
The Disappointment: The pasta to vegetable ratio. Too much pasta, and not enough vegetables. A rule of thumb when trying to eat for optimal health and weight maintenance is to properly balance the two. Ideally, a one to one ratio.
The Nutrition Review: This recipe clocks in at 605 calories, closer to the recommended goal of 300–500 calories per meal. However, as mentioned above, there could have been more vegetables, and more nutrient-dense ones at that, to increase the overall nutrition profile of the meal.
Overall, Blue Apron meals are convenient and tasty. No grocery shopping, no measuring ingredients, and most importantly, no last minute scrambling trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Recipes and ingredients are delivered straight to your door; cooking doesn’t get any easier than this.
Recipes could however, use less meat, more vegetables and an overall better balance of food groups to create more nutritious meals. Plant based diets with small amounts of animal products (think the Mediterranean diet) have shown to impart immense health benefits; I’m not making this stuff up.
Butter was used in 2/3 of my meals. I mentioned earlier that I love butter, but I use it once — maybe twice — a week, and I use it intermittently with heart healthy oils like canola and olive oil. It’s all about balance.
There is great opportunity to help increase the health of our nation through meal services that reach the masses.
To all the Meal Services Out There: Consider Catering to Additional Dietary Needs
According to the American Heart Association:
Over half the US adult population is overweight or obese. And children? One third.
Thirty five percent of Americans are pre-diabetic.
Twenty seven percent of the US population is living with some form of heart disease.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Americans have crappy diets and these crappy diets are literally killing us. There is great opportunity to provide medically specialized meals for those who need it — like diabetics, people with kidney disease or those with high cholesterol. In the world of Dietetics, we call this Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT); using food to manage or reverse disease. Most states require that a licensed Dietitian perform MNT, so if a meal service company wants to add this component to their program, they will want to be sure they have a Dietitian on board or they’ll be paying one hefty fine. All threats aside, this kind of offering could really set a meal service apart while helping to combat America’s leading causes of death.
If you’re a meal service company looking to add a Dietitian to your team, I’ve got one in mind…