Learning To Cook: Is A Food Subscription Worth the Cost?

About two months ago I got sick of going grocery shopping, so I decided to try out a subscription food service. I noticed that when I went grocery shopping I would be spent for the rest of the day. I kept meaning to go after work, but by the time I finished work I was so drained I could not deal with getting dressed and organizing myself enough for a shopping excursion, so I would wind up going on a Saturday and then spend the rest of the day staring at a wall because I could not deal with anything.

Nice braised chicken with carrots, dates, and sweet potato.

Nice braised chicken with carrots, dates, and sweet potato.

I also noticed I would get overstimulated when I would go shopping. I would see a bunch of pork chops and butternut squash and fresh mozzarella and other stuff and I would wind up impulsively buying a bunch of stuff that would languish in my fridge. One bad impulse purchase was a bag of pears. Those sat in my fridge for two months because the stuff I would buy to cook with them would go bad and be thrown away.

I also really like having projects to work on. I figured out when I did cross stitch that it was worth the additional cost to buy preassembled kits. If I had to buy all the components and organize them on my own I was less likely to finish a project. Getting a project with all the component and all the thread colors cut to the same size and in the qualities I needed was the small push I needed to actually finish a project. It is stupid how easy it is to give up on something where there are too many small hurdles to get over.

I noticed with my food that I was doing the same thing over and over again because it was hard for me to get organized. I would go to the grocery store planning to buy stew meat to make beef stew, but then I would see the meat was as expensive as six meals worth of chicken thighs and I would not buy it even though I was tired of what I was working with. It was hard to push myself to try new things, even though I really wanted to do them and was excited about them.

Why I chose Plated

I looked at several subscription food services, and I chose to go with Plated. I read reviews of their boxes for a few months and it looked the most promising. Their meals were generally a little more complicated than some of the other boxes I saw. They seemed to have a lot of things I am excited about, namely Asian dishes and some more homey dishes like meatloaf.

Sophisticated recipe with good flavors and well composed.

Sophisticated recipe with good flavors and well composed.

Each week they have seven options for meals. Each meal is targeted for two people, so I would have a set leftover that I can eat the next day for lunch but not so many leftovers that I would have them for a week and get tired of them. You choose between one and seven meals each week, but it generally assumes you are going to order three. One thing I don’t like about this service is that if you want to change what you get for a week, you change your whole plan rather than picking and choosing how many you do each week.

They also have a few premium options where you can get more expensive ingredients like scallops and duck or add a dessert.

I get three sets of ingredients for three meals delivered each week. This costs $72 a week. This breaks down to $12 a meal with each recipe composing two meals.

Cons of Plated

So far there are a couple of things I really don’t like about my service.


I will be up front that this is moderately expensive. I pay $24 for each recipe I make. When I go to Costco and buy chicken, I can get six meals worth of chicken for less than twenty bucks.

$24 for mushrooms and chicken? Not quite...

$24 for mushrooms and chicken? Not quite…

Some of their options for meals really don’t seem to be worth the cost. One option was grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Those ingredients are like five bucks.

I know that you are not just talking about the food cost when you are dealing with something like this. My cost includes shipping and packaging the ingredients. It also includes the cost of research and development by the people running Plated.

Generally speaking, getting this service is more expensive than eating out. It is also more work than eating out or buying some kind of prepared food. I am mentioning this because one thing people talk about with cooking for yourself is that it is supposed to be cheaper than eating out. It really isn’t. You can cook at home much cheaper than eating out if you do thinks like macaroni and cheese, but if you want to make adult food it is more expensive. There is also the cost of peripherals like pots and pans and other equipment.

I could feed myself more cheaply.


Plated’s menu is somewhat repetitive. Last week one meal was chicken meatballs with broccoli and peanut sauce. Next week one meal is the same thing with beef instead of chicken.

Being repetitive isn’t necessarily a con, per se. I have certain things I always like to make, like meatloaf. I missed the last meatloaf they sent out because it was the week before I began. I got a meatloaf this week and was happy to get to try it.

I am just at a point where I realize that I am going to get tired of things after a while because they are going to be somewhat repetitive.

Oversimplification and Missing Components

I don’t mean missing components like they forgot to send a vital ingredient in the box. They have been very good about that. I mean missing components in that they have oversimplified the dish.

The first week I had a ginger salmon in miso broth. Miso broth is supposed to have a base of dashi, which is a fish and seaweed based Japanese broth. It adds a depth of flavor and a richness that is necessary for a miso broth. The ingredients that were sent to make this dish were just miso paste and soy sauce.

These look beautiful, but the meat was rubbery. Buying a thermopen was the best thing I have ever done.

These look beautiful, but the meat was rubbery. Buying a thermopen was the best thing I have ever done.

I had dashi bullion crystals in my pantry that I used to doctor the dish. I find myself doctoring all of these dishes. They don’t include enough spices for most of the dishes and I wind up having to add things I have in my pantry to season the dishes properly.

They consistently tell you to make the oven too hot. I think they are targeting this at busy people who want a recipe that can be done in half an hour. They sent me a set of turkey thighs that should have been roasted for an hour on a lower temperature, but they were trying to get things done faster and they wound up being rubbery.

I have started to almost throw the recipes out and modify them to be more complicated. One thing they send a lot of are meals that are meant to be cooked on a sheet pan. I am searing my meat, then braising everything in the oven longer and slower than they say to. After I started doing that and I invested in a meat thermometer, I stopped having so many misses.

I have read some people complain that the meals are too complicated. It concerns me that this trend will continue with fewer components and more simplified directions that lead to not optimal results.

Food and Other Waste

One reason I wanted to do this service was because of food waste. I would make a large portion of food that I could not finish before it went bad. I wanted to make sure I had a limited amount of food that would be cooked so I would not throw half of it out.

This was a beautiful dish that I wound up throwing all the leftovers away on because I waited too long and the steak turned grey.

This was a beautiful dish that I wound up throwing all the leftovers away on because I waited too long and the steak turned grey.

I don’t throw half out, but I still throw a decent portion out.

Some of these meals give you way more food than I thought they would. Some of these provide enough food for four or more meals. I had a stuffed acorn squash meal that provided five large meals for me.

In addition to the food waste, there is the packaging waste. It’s nice having a lot of packaged ingredients, but it does contribute a bit of waste, specifically the ice packs. I can compost the insulation and I am reusing the boxes to pack up my books, but I will acknowledge I am not being environmentally minded here.

I have noticed that the food is starting to pile up. I had to throw one meal out because I left it in the fridge for too long before I even got a chance to cook it.

I am going to give this some more time. I had Thanksgiving, Christmas, and now New Year’s interfering with my ability to move food out of my fridge. I am giving it some time before cutting back or cancelling the service. I want to try and see how this works when winter finally hits and I don’t want to drive in the snow to feed myself.

Pros of Plated

I wanted to get the cons out of the way to try and put the pros in a better perspective.

Quality is Good

Even though I complained about the cost, the quality of food is good. The meats are antibiotic free. The produce is nice.

The meals are sophisticated. Even though I complained that they didn’t include dashi with the miso broth, they are one of the few services that would actually have a miso based dish.

I have not gotten a piece of meat or produce that I thought was just garbage. I have a few that I let get a little too old, but generally speaking the food quality is top notch.

The recipes have a lot of vegetables, which I appreciate. The nutritional content is well balanced. I could get take out cheaper, but it would be less healthy. It’s nice to have a well balanced meal with lean protein, veggies, and some starch that I don’t have to plan out that is good quality.

Stuff I Would Not Normally Try

I was excited to do the stuffed squash. It was one of those things that I always wanted to try but I was afraid to do on my own. I was afraid of cutting my finger off, so I was kind of happy to get some in my box so that I had a reason to figure out how to do that.

My first stir fry!

My first stir fry!

I have a wok in the basement that I have never used. Both my ex and my dad did stir fry but I was not trusted to use one because they thought I would hurt myself. Having a chance to pull it out and try it out was a good experience. I knew I might ruin my food, but this is a learning experience.

These dishes include weird mushrooms and other spice blends I might not try on my own. It’s cool to get a chance to work with things I would not be able to find on my own or I would not know what to do with if I did.

I Don’t Have to Leave My House

Mentioned earlier that I find going grocery shopping to be very draining. I have two jobs along with working on books and tech talks. Losing a day of productivity so that I can go out and buy milk and eggs vexes me to no end.

All the squash...

All the squash…

I feel helpless. I will be laying on my chair with my pugs staring at the wall cursing myself for being worthless because I can’t function after doing something that everyone in the world seems able to do. It fucking sucks.

I am trying to figure out the actual cost of this service. I look at the base cost of $72 a week, which I totally know I can do cheaper and causes me some feelings of discomfort. I feel like it’s wasteful to spend this much money on food for myself when I am one person.

One thing that causes a lot of ill will in my marriage was that I was angry at my ex-husband for doing stuff like this. He had a meat CSA where he would spend hundreds of dollars on organic special meat. He would go to the farmer’s market every week and buy a dozen eggs for five bucks. I felt like we were spending money we didn’t have on specialize food just to be snobby and feel like we were better than everyone else.

When he moved out I was planning to live off of beans and potatoes and live a lot cheaper. I feel like by doing this service I am a hypocrite because I am doing a thing that I judged him for when we were married.

I finally got to a point where I realized I have to do a lot of things for my own mental health. Losing a day of productivity to leave my house and buy food is not worth it.

I am looking at the cost as not just paying for the food, but paying to avoid having to do something I don’t enjoy doing. If I am too depressed to leave the house I don’t have to worry about not being able to feed myself. Having all of the ingredients and having a nice set of directions calms me down and lets me do something that makes me feel better.

I tend to get overwhelmed by choices. If I have a “babysitter” to tell me that I have one choice for what I have to cook and it’s something I picked out that I know I like, it’s easier for me to function.

It’s been a little bit of a running joke this year at my conferences that I need people to remind me to feed myself. I get hangry and overwhelmed by choices and then I can’t make any because I am too hungry to process what I want, so I wind up curling up in a ball losing my ability to function. Having meals automatically sent to me each week removes a lot of the anxiety I have about things and gives me an activity I can throughout the week that doesn’t require me to do things that cause me mental health issues.

So Is It Worth The Cost?

Overall, I am finding this experiment to be a success. I don’t know how long I will continue to do this. I am hoping to get comfortable enough with my cooking skills to be able to try things without a safety net.

I have had to do a lot of things for my own mental health recently. I went to my parent’s place for Christmas and even just going back home for a few days really threw me into a depression. I came home last night and was so happy to be able to have access to the things I need to take care of myself.

As god as my witness, I'll never be hangry again!

As god as my witness, I’ll never be hangry again!

I didn’t have my tea. I didn’t have a space that was mine where I could just focus and chill and be on my own. I didn’t control when I ate and what food I had.

I don’t like how necessary it is for me to control my environment right now. I know I used to be able to function without these things in the past. I hate how tenuous my grasp is on my ability to be functional. I am hoping this is just a rough patch in my life where I have to control everything.

If I can get some mental health from paying $72 a week for someone to box up a bunch of ingredients and send them to my house so that I don’t have to deal with a world that currently overwhelms me, then that’s worth it to me right now.

I don’t like admitting I need help. I don’t like admitting that doing every day thinks like grocery shopping or visiting my parents overnight throws me into chaos. It really sucks. I am deciding instead of being annoyed that I am paying too much money for ingredients to keep myself alive and functioning, I am going to be grateful that these services exist and I earn enough money to be able to afford to do this so I can keep my job and be productive. Saving twenty bucks a week by going and buying them myself but losing a whole day to the endeavor is penny wise and pound foolish.