Our Totally Unscientific Food Box Experiment

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 9.46.26 PM
Screenshot from plated.com, the recipe and food delivery service.

For a few months this spring, our household had trial memberships to two recipe and food delivery services: Plated, the “Chef-designed responsibly-sourced recipe and food delivery service,” and Blue Apron, which features “Fresh ingredients, great recipes, delivered weekly.”

I called it our food box thunderdome experiment.

“Why?” said the spouse. “For science!” said I.  (Also, I was sick of all of our recipes and we were both working late hours. The family was in a cooking rut and time-crunched. And, both Plated and Blue Apron had trial offers that made testing them out fairly affordable. Cheaper than a babysitter + dinner + a movie, at least.)

“Science?” he said. “This isn’t scientific. To be scientific, you’d have to control for date, time, temperature… essentially getting two boxes on the same week and then comparing to groceries on the same week—and no. That is not going to happen.”

“No problem,” I said. “I declare this a totally unscientific food box experiment, all mistakes and impressions are my own doing, and reproduction of this experiment is at your own risk.”

And away we went. We ordered nine different meals from Plated, including their “first two plates free” trial. Plated’s “recommend your friends” option also gave us more free meals. Thank you, friends! Then, we ordered nine meals from Blue Apron, including their “first three meals free” trial.

For both services, there were hits and misses. Here’s the totally unscientific breakdown:

Delivery: Both boxes arrived when they said they would, with thorough insulation.  Box size is nearly identical. All of the produce was fresh and ready-to-cook: Avocados were ripe, fruit was ripe, vegetables were ripe. There were no rock-hard avocados. This was fantastic.

Home Ec 101: A base order is two Plated meals of two plates each or three Blue Apron meals (feeds two to three people each) per delivery.

Selection: We could select meals from an available menu at Plated. We had to list our preferences and a selection was chosen for us by Blue Apron.

Minimum Cost Per Box: (This was per our experience only. YMMV depending on the number of family members and how well you work those refer-a-friend deals.) Blue Apron was $59.95 (three meals, no choices aside from dislikes and allergies). Plated was $48 plus the monthly membership (two  meals/four “plates,” with multiple delivery options).

The Breakdown: Three meals from Plated costs $72, plus membership; three meals from Blue Apron costs $59.50. This is a $12 difference, plus Plated’s membership fee.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 9.46.35 PM
Screenshot from blueapron.com, a recipe and food delivery service.

Membership Fees:

Plated has three options: $10/month billed monthly; $8/month billed annually; and pay-as-you-go (this puts the per-plate cost up to $15/plate). There is no minimum monthly order, although each Plated order must include four plates.

Blue Apron has a minimum three-meal plan, but you have to un-check the calendar when you don’t want a box or else, surprise, a food box will appear on your doorstep. (This totally bit me in the butt a few times.)

A very not-scientific gut feeling: Our feeling was that many of the recipes from each service could be made for much cheaper. That’s obvious with some of the tomato-and-cheese and chicken items. But not all of the recipes were a budget blow-out, especially when we factored in driving around for ingredients and the cost of certain spices. With Plated, we were able to pick the menu items that provided the most bang for our buck. With Blue Apron, we weren’t able to choose. We also found ourselves less motivated to cook the third meal of the week from Blue Apron, especially since we didn’t pick it. That’s pretty expensive apathy.

Allergies: We could stipulate no dairy, meat, fish, etc. on both. Only Plated offered no-gluten-added meals, which was really important for us and led to much less food substituting versus Blue Apron.

While a lot of produce arrived bagged in a group, with a contents labeled, we received wrapped single items from Blue Apron—always carefully tagged. Photo: Fran Wilde.

Packaging: Plated’s packaging seems more environmentally conscious. The items aren’t individually wrapped unless they need to be (sauces, grains). Both Plated and Blue Apron send liquids in bottles that can be re-used. Other packaging can be recycled. There just feels like a lot more of it from Blue Apron. And really, non-scientifically speaking, there’s a lot of packaging in general, from the boxes to the cold packs and on. If you got these meals regularly, you’d be drowning in cold packs.

General Impressions About the Recipes (From Me, My Patient Spouse, and Our Child):


Me: I loved Plated’s recipes. They were beautiful, delicious, and highly intricate to cook. I learned many new techniques.

The Patient Spouse: Was all good.

The Child: Nope. Not for me. Too spicy, too fancy. Too much fish. Nope. nope, nope.

Blue Apron

Me: I also loved many of Blue Apron’s recipes, though it felt like we wasted a lot of food. Three meals a week is more than we wanted, but that was the minimum. We often substituted out the pasta and couscous because of food allergies. And oh my goodness, does Blue Apron love zesting! Lemons, limes. Seemed like every recipe required zesting. We didn’t need that much zest, really.

The Patient Spouse: Was all good. Have you figured out how to stop the boxes from coming yet?

Me: Nope, still trying.

The Child: Some of it was okay. I liked the gnocchi. Can we have more gnocchi? But without those flowers. (There were edible zucchini flowers for one recipe. Those got the nope.)


1. The best part of this unscientific experiment was when we all started cooking a recipe together. In the kitchen, all of us, at one time. That happens sometimes, but not always. There’s something that happens when you all have to figure out a new recipe together. It’s kind of like a puzzle.

2. Another big pro: Never having to go back to the store for a missing item on a complex recipe.

3. And not having to buy a big box or tin of something that we’d only use a bit of unless we wanted to be eating elaborate food for a month.

4. And we can reuse the recipes.


1. Price and selection—and the contents of each box were a bit overwhelming at first.

2. There was a lot of packaging for each, and there’s no way to return the cool packs for reuse.

3. Being stuck with items one or more of us couldn’t eat was annoying (especially when it came to allergens that were not specifically weeded out).

The Upshot: The upshot is that these boxes are spendy, unless you go with their “suggest a friend” option—and for families, it may be way on the fancy side.

I have some friends whose picky kids turned into gourmet chefs once they started getting into the “build-your-dinner” kits. Not mine. Nope.

I’m no food photographer. And this was delicious. Photo: Fran Wilde.

But for an occasional “night-out” dinner in? The fun of cooking together again without having to remember anything at the store? Or having to figure out which recipe? That was so good. That means, for us, Plated would be a better choice.

Both services seem to default to auto-enrollment in regular/weekly food deliveries. Plated’s team helped me work that out pretty quickly. It took me forever to figure out how to stop the boxes from coming on Blue Apron. I unchecked everything on their widget. Twice. They still came.  (Eventually Blue Apron did help me fix this; thanks you guys!)

Our Favorite Recipes: Blue Apron had catfish and jicama slaw with amaranth and watermelon radish. So very good. A hands-down winner. Pan-seared salmon with lima bean and olive relish was also good, but this is one that we had to substitute out the couscous.

Plated had vegetable lasagna, chicken paillard (so much fun smashing the chicken to make paillard, I can’t tell you.), miso rice portabellos, and chicken tikka masala. It was all just completely awesome. (I wish I could link you to these pages at Plated.com, but I can’t.)

So, one family, two food subscription services: Plated and Blue Apron. When we emerged from beneath our pile of boxes (oh so many boxes), we discovered something: We liked cooking again.  I’ll call that a win.

10 Ways to Survive Your Three-Year-Old Son

MVP has crazy eyes. You don't know what this almost 4-year-old will do next!
MVP has crazy eyes. You don’t know what this almost 4-year-old will do next! images: Cathe Post

Hello, I’m Cathé, and I have a three-and-a-half-year-old son (Hi, Cathé!). I love him. But recently, we have had to come home from errand runs early simply because he will stop holding my hand in the parking lot and run off, not keep his hands to himself (in an aisle of glass at a store), scream and hit when he doesn’t get something he wants, or other embarrassing behaviors that I never thought my children would exhibit in a million years. Also, if I hear the word “no” in a whiny tone one more time!

I know I am not alone. I recently attended a BBQ where the parents of a handful of boys (between the ages of 3-and-a-half and 4-and-a-quarter) handed each other another beer and talked about the embarrassing similarities in our boys’ behavior. I came home that evening to an email from a co-worker asking for help with her little boy who was acting in the same manner.

How are we to survive this?! Well, it isn’t easy. But, here are some tips that might help you feel better in the short and long term:

1. Take pictures. Laugh. Delete the pictures…or make a blog: We’ve talked about Why My Son Is Crying. Love it or hate it, the idea of taking pictures during the not-so-happy times can serve a humorous purpose at a later time. For instance, on your son’s wedding day, bring out the bath pictures and the tantrum photos. Okay, maybe that is cruel. But, if you ever have grand-kids who are in trouble with mom and dad, you can show them that dad had hard days too.

Put a geeky drink in a geeky glass.
Put a geeky drink in a geeky glass. All images: Cathe Post

2. Drink: I have heard several parents recently say they never imbibed in booze until they had a three-year-old son. If you like wine, there are geeky varieties for almost any fan. If it is a mixed drink you are looking for, I have a board on Pinterest and there are books available.

3. A Fence: This can be a very geeky way to survive your energetic child. If you have a chain-link fence, you can use Fence Weave to create any 8bit design for a colorful enclosure. Otherwise it is still nice to know that if you let your child loose so you can regain your sanity they will at least be contained.

MVP is more than happy to mail himself somewhere.
MVP is more than happy to mail himself somewhere.

4. Boxes: Put your kid in them, tape them up, and address them to Abu Dhabi like Garfield used to, or let your kid go crazy with the green finger paint so he can pretend he’s the Hulk and smash the box to bits.

It's amazing how fifteen minutes with an educational app can slow down a little body.
It’s amazing how fifteen minutes with an educational app can slow down a little body.

5.Tablet devices: Screen time is a big deal to many parents. But that screen time can also make the difference between meltdowns and angelic behavior on a shopping trip. One GeekMom spied triplets who each had their own iPad Mini on a shopping trip. I even turn to technology like my Kindle to give to my three-year-old in a pinch; this includes keeping him from taking a nap so he sleeps at night, and keeping him from touching all of the trophies at the Taekwondo studio his sister attends.

6. Snacks: If your kids are anything like mine, they graze all day. Enough kids out there graze that there is now a service for it. Yes, Graze is a service where a box of healthy snacks shows up at your house for as little as $5. Other geeky snacks can be found out there. There are Pinterest boards, so they must be real.

7. A garden hose (and other cheap water play): Getting into geekery of the maker variety, you don’t have to have a real Slip N Slide or kiddie pool to have the geekiest and wettest yard in the neighborhood. You can make a splash pad, a kid wash, or even throw in a bit of science with the color spectrum.

8. Broken gadgets: One GeekMom keeps broken gadgets so her kids can go to town with that screwdriver without caring if the device is put back together. There are also books available with ideas on what to do with your broken computer and other gadgets.

Ready! Set! Jump! The kids love jumping on this "crash" cube chair.
Ready! Set! Jump! The kids love jumping on this “crash” cube chair.

9. Save the furniture!: Autism furniture is a great way for kids who have to spend a lot of time indoors from destroying your furniture. One GeekMom recommended a swing that hangs from the ceiling. We have ceiling heat so we have pillows instead. The rule in our house is you sit correctly on the couch, and the coffee table is for eating at. If you want to jump on the furniture, you go to the crash pillow (we purchased from a local company) and get the jumping out of your system. It has worked so well that we asked Santa for a cube last year that has been very popular. We love the autism furniture because it is extremely durable. You don’t need to have an autistic child to appreciate the furniture.

Decorate a kitchen timer with geeky stickers. Set it for a reasonable amount of quiet time.
Decorate a kitchen timer with geeky stickers. Set it for a reasonable amount of quiet time.

10. A kitchen timer: Yes, a simple and loud kitchen timer can save you for up to an hour! My husband received a bell timer for his birthday a few years back. We slapped some Mario stickers on it and mounted it between the kids’rooms. When quiet time is needed, we set the timer for anywhere from five to thirty minutes. When the bell rings, the kids can come out of their rooms. Oh yea—we make them try to go potty before we stick them in their rooms so there are no excuses for coming out early!

Do you have (or have you had) a 3-year-old that’s driving you crazy? Have you tried any of these methods or have any of your own? Let us know in the comments!

Making Halloween Costumes From Cardboard Boxes

When my eldest son, Brad, was three, I introduced him to the concept of Halloween. Dressing up and candy! Who wouldn’t love that?

“I want to be a tractor,” he announced, fully confident in my abilities as a costume designer.

Halloween costume, do it yourself, homemade
Oh, John Deere!

“A tractor?” I asked incredulously, mentally sorting through our box of dress up clothes.

He grinned and nodded, already anticipating the joy of portraying a piece of heavy equipment. How could I possibly say no?

And, so it began. In October, while other parents were buying ready made costumes or choosing fabric at a well-lit store with piped in music, I found myself scrounging through dumpsters for the perfect cardboard box to transform my kid into an inanimate object.

That first year, I decorated a box to look like a John Deere tractor. I removed the bottom of the box, cut a hole in the top, and painted it bright green with the customary yellow stripe. Black cardboard wheels, suspender style straps, and a cardboard tube for the exhaust pipe completed the project. Dressed in a plaid flannel shirt and a straw hat, my son slipped into the box and was ready to hit the (dirt) road.

Halloween costume, homemade, do it yourself

Utilizing cardboard and hot glue to craft Halloween costumes became a family tradition. My husband was no fan of the local craft store, but he could wield a box knife with the best of them. We became a team – he the builder of cardboard creations, me the painter. And the boys became confident in their dad’s ability to construct anything. The year Brad asked to be a backhoe – complete with fully-functioning digger arm – we had to rein him in.

Over the years, we worked side by side with the boys to create some one-of-a-kind costumes. Halloween became a month-long holiday as costumes were planned, scrounged, and constructed.

My boys are beyond trick-or-treating age now, but I still find myself eyeballing the recycle bins for good cardboard. Just in case.