The kids and I have been watching MasterChef Junior (thanks to your comments on this post) and the show is spilling over into our real life in the best possible way. My kids want to cook. And not just cookies and cakes and popcorn: they want to make dinner.
After we’d been watching the show for a week, Sarah asked me to sign her up for cooking lessons. (I offered to teach her; she said no way.) I loved the idea, but I didn’t want to do lessons: they’re expensive, for one, and if one kid goes then all four will want to, and that’s really expensive, and then somebody would have to drive them … )
I found a middle ground and ordered her cooking lessons in a box. Sarah adores Kiwi Crate and Green Kids Crafts, and I realized that a ready-to-cook meal service is pretty much the same thing: a self-contained kit you get to put together yourself.
I ordered a family plan from Blue Apron, a ready-to-cook meal service that makes it easy to cook dinner at home. They deliver farm-fresh ingredients right to your doorstep, in exactly the right proportions, and provide detailed step-by-step recipes so even novice cooks can make dinner from scratch, all by themselves.
That’s exactly what Sarah wanted to do, even though she’s quite a few years younger than Blue Apron’s target market, who uses the service as an alternative to takeout, or as a means to minimize decision fatigue: she wanted to cook dinner from scratch, all by herself. Emphasis on all by herself. I’m allowed to hang out in the kitchen when she’s cooking but I am not allowed to help unless something’s on fire.
Blue Apron sounded like it had a lot in common with the handful of cooking classes I’ve taken in my life: a set menu, simplified prep, pre-portioned ingredients, step-by-step instructions. I thought Sarah would be set up for success in the best possible way. And compared to cooking classes, which start at $50 a person around here, Blue Apron is a deal. The family plan costs $8.74 per serving, or just under $35 per four-serving meal, but instead of a class for one and a tiny tasting portion we get dinner for six and an enthusiastic junior chef. (Stay tuned for info on how to get free meals.)
I didn’t tell Sarah about our Blue Apron delivery until the day it was scheduled to arrive. I described it as “like Kiwi Crate, but for dinner,” and told her she could cook for us that night, all by herself. She was over the moon—and she made me promise not to help. I agreed.
Our family plan box contained all the ingredients needed to make two meals, of four adult servings each. (That plan also works for a family like ours: there are six of us, but the younger kids eat smaller portions. Blue Apron also offers a two-person plan.) Our dishes were the Andouille Sausage and Chicken Jambalaya with Barley and Bell Pepper and Chinese BBQ Beef Skewers with Garlic Gai Lan and Jasmine Rice, and they came with step-by-step, full color instructions. You can view many more Blue Apron recipes here. (No account required; they’re free and available to all.)
Blue Apron ships the ingredients in a refrigerated box, so everything stays fresh even if you’re not at home when the package arrives. Everything was individually portioned and labeled, right down to the tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce that made us all go awww; the meat was vacuum-packed to stay fresh longer. Every single item we needed was included, except for salt, pepper, and olive oil.
Sarah was able to make both recipes independently; she drafted her siblings to play along. The step-by-step instructions—and especially, the photos—gave her a huge confidence boost. They also helped her learn how to time an entire meal, not just one individual dish. (I was recruited to monitor the skewers—only once they were in the oven—so they didn’t burn while Sarah was making the gai lan. (I’d never tried it before either: it’s also called Chinese broccoli and it tastes similar to broccoli rabe. Like most leafy greens, Will and I loved it and the kids didn’t.)
This was a great experience for Sarah. She was so proud of herself for making an entire meal for the six of us, without parental help. She learned new techniques: she minced ginger, and browned vegetables, and threaded meat on skewers. She learned how to taste her food and adjust the seasonings. (The day after she made the jambalaya, she realized she’d forgotten the onion. She’ll never forget that again.) Sarah could recreate both recipes again with no problems.
(It was only after Sarah cooked her way through the box that I found out where the name “Blue Apron” comes from: because chefs around the world wear blue aprons when learning to cook, it’s become a symbol of lifelong learning in the kitchen. Blue Apron designs their menus to ensure you’re always learning new cooking techniques, trying new cuisines, and using unique ingredients.)
The kids loved both recipes (minus the leafy greens, sigh). The jambalaya made enough for a dinner party; our family of six had plenty left over for lunch the next day. We demolished the skewers in one sitting. That may be because we were starving. Blue Apron says their meals can be prepared in 40 minutes or less, but if your cook is a grade-schooler, double the time estimate.
I think this would be a great starting point for any new cook (not just one who’s in grade school) and a solid stepping stone to further kitchen pursuits. I can also see this being a fantastic housewarming or new baby gift.
Sarah’s dinners were a smashing success, and now she’s begging me to cook every day. (Mom, you go read your book. I’ll make dinner. I’m not even kidding.)
Sarah’s asking for another Blue Apron box for her birthday (she’s likely to get it; don’t tell). In the meantime, we’re choosing recipes off the Blue Apron site that we can make together: I’ll purchase and portion her ingredients, but she gets to do all the cooking herself. (Roasted poblano chilaquiles and chicken schnitzel are at the top of our list.)
If you want to try the service, here’s your chance: the first 100 readers will get 2 meals off their Blue Apron order free. Just click here to get started.
Thanks to Blue Apron for sponsoring this post.