Meal Kits ease weekly dinner preparations

Chef Seth Freedman’s Pork Lettuce Wraps with Cucumber Sesame Rice Noodles is one of the recent meals on the menu at Peach Dish, a meal kit service based in Atlanta. Meals start at $12.50 per serving.

Credit: HANDOUT/Lizzy Johnston

Credit: HANDOUT/Lizzy Johnston

Chef Seth Freedman’s Pork Lettuce Wraps with Cucumber Sesame Rice Noodles is one of the recent meals on the menu at Peach Dish, a meal kit service based in Atlanta. Meals start at $12.50 per serving.

Each day around 5 p.m. families, couples and singles across the metro-area grapple with one of life’s toughest questions…what’s for dinner? Too often, the answer may be found at a drive-thru window. Finding healthy, quick dinner options that can be prepared at home mostly required advance planning and a trip to the grocery store.

The meal kit market was just taking off when Emily Golub founded Garnish & Gather in 2012. She had faced her own dinner dilemma after joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group and coming home to a box of mystery veggies that she didn't know how to prepare. Golub spent a lot of time on Pinterest searching for recipes before deciding to create a service that helps families cook more, eat healthier and spend more time together.

Garnish & Gather provides ingredients in pre-portioned kits that you prep and cook in your own home with the help of a recipe card. “Part of our desire is to recapture the feeling of accomplishment of cooking with your family,” said Danielle Moore, VP of Community for Garnish & Gather. “When we started out, the challenge for us was to deliver the message that eating locally is important and eating with your family is important. We spent a lot of time helping people understand what a meal kit is.”

Meal kits — not to be confused with meal delivery services which bring fully prepared meals to your door — give you all the ingredients to prepare a meal in your home. You provide only basic items such as salt, pepper and oil. With most services, you create an account online, decide which meals you want to order and either pick them up at a nearby location or have them delivered to your home.

You can order meal kits from national companies such as Plated, Hello Fresh and Blue Apron but if you prefer to support local efforts, here's the skinny on two homegrown brands.

The cost: A meal that feeds 2-3 people costs $30. One that feeds six is $60. You can order 1 -5 meals for the week. There is no penalty for skipping meals. Each week, you may add a kid approved option to your family dinner which brings the cost of a four person meal to $52.

The concept: If it grows in Georgia, Garnish & Gather will source it here. They work closely with farmers and will change recipes based on what is or isn't available. Recent meals include Jerk Veggie Soft Tacos and Smoked Trout Salad. They also offer 10 snacks and meals designed just for kids that range from $6 – $8.

Delivery: Everything from Garnish & Gather is hand delivered. To get your meals free, you can pick up your kits from more than 30 locations around the metro area. For $10 and Garnish & Gather will deliver to your house. There is no minimum order for delivery.

Good to know: Since customers were asking about ingredients, the company began offering some products at retail. For example, if you love the marinara sauce from one recipe you can order it online and recreate the meal later. In addition, staffers at Garnish & Gather know their customers very well. They are careful to screen recipes to make sure individual customers do not receive items they don't like.

The cost: Meals are priced at $12.50 per serving. A standard box includes two servings of two of the week's meals for $50. There is a minimum purchase of $45 per week. Volume discounts are applied to any orders above four servings. You can get up to 12 servings of a meal for $130.

The concept: Create an account and subscribe to order seasonally inspired weekly meals featuring items from a number of local businesses such as Southern Swiss Dairy, Miss Ginny's English Toffee and more. Order before midnight on Sunday to get your box by Tuesday (soon you will be able to select a shipping day.) Recipes are not heavy-handed but represent the work of Southern chefs and feature new American cooking. About 85% of the ingredients are local or organic.

Delivery: Boxes are shipped via a third-party service. A minimum of four servings is required for delivery and the maximum delivery is eight servings. Subscribers get free shipping. If you are not a subscriber, you can have just one box shipped for an additional $7.

Good to know: There are seven to eight different menus each week so you can order a different meal item for each night of the week. Meals can be prepared in 30 minutes or less and offer great flexibility. "We've done all the boring parts, the meal planning, the calorie counting and the measuring," says owner and president Judith Winfrey. "You get the joy of putting it together and eating it. It takes the pain of dinner away."