Think about this scenario. You’ve just made it home from work, tired and hungry. You just want to get your dinner eaten so you can relax. You pull your meal kit out of the fridge, read the recipe and begin to prepare the veggies. Disaster! The carrots are bendy, the zucchini is squishy and the less said about the parsley the better. It doesn’t happen often, but we’ve all been there. The nature of Meal Kits is that they send fresh ingredients, which is absolutely fantastic. However, this can mean that if ingredients aren’t stored right they won’t last the 5-6 days you need before you’ll cook that meal. This article will help you get the most of those meal kits and ensure you’re always cooking with ingredients that are as fresh as when they arrived.
Here are the major headlines:
- Game Changer – Eat your meals in the right order, starting with fresh salad, chicken and seafood dishes to ensure you’re always eating the freshest meals.
- Vegetables – Most vegetables are best kept in their existing packaging, preferably in a separate drawer. There are a few exceptions.
- Herbs – Use a damp paper towel wrapped around your herbs to keep them fresh. Slight differences for tender or woody herbs.
- Meat – Store in the fridge and eat before the ‘use by’ date. Can be frozen on the day your box arrives if necessary.
The Trick – Eating your meal kits in the right order
This was an absolute game-changer for me, which I discovered through a lot of trial and error. By simply eating my meals in the right order, I’ve never since had any problems with ingredients not making it into their meal. If you’re like me and often eat your meal kit dinners on days 4, 5 and 6 after delivery, you need to apply this trick.
Because some ingredients have a shorter/longer natural shelf life, the day you cook your meals becomes majorly important. When your meal kit arrives, take a look at the ingredients for each recipe and plan out when you’re going to cook each meal. Aim for the following order:
- Fresh Salad
This order makes sure your ingredients have the best chance of still being fresh on cooking day. In general, Meal Kit services promise that meals will last for at least 4 days so that should give you plenty of time to get through those fresh salad, chicken and seafood meals.
If you want to check out their specific policies, you can see Marley Spoon’s FAQ page and HelloFresh’s FAQ page.
Keeping your veggies fresh
Veggies can be one of the biggest culprits for going off quickly. This is especially frustrating when you need to make a last minute dash to the supermarket to finish a meal. When your meal kit arrives, there are a few things you can do to give those veggies the best chance.
Leafy Greens like Bok Choy, Lettuce, Spinach and Kale don’t enjoy being stored with too much moisture, which is why plastic bags can actually help them go off quicker. If you want them to last longer, you’ll find success by rinsing them, then wrapping them in a paper towel or tea towel. These should then be placed in a container or sealed plastic bag, in the fridge.
Squash and other root vegetables such as potato, pumpkin, garlic and onion should never be stored in the fridge. You’ll want them in a cool, dark and dry place such as a pantry or kitchen cupboard.
All other vegetables are quite happy being placed in the fridge. I recommend leaving them in the paper bags that arrived with your Meal Kit or use a vegetable drawer. This is intended to keep them separate to any fruit, which I have always thought is a bit unnecessary. It transpires that most fruits release a gas called ethylene that causes vegetables to ripen far quicker than normal. So, keep them separate!
Keeping your herbs fresh
Herbs have a tendency to quickly become wilted and sad when they sit in the fridge. Not only is this unappetising but it also impacts the flavour of those herbs. Fortunately, there are ways to extend the shelf life of your meal kit herbs and keep that fresh flavour. In order to do this, you need to be aware of two different categories of herb: tender and woody.
Tender herbs have green leaves and soft stems, think Parsley, Tarragon, Coriander and Mint. If you have a salad spinner, they can be washed and dried (skip this if you don’t have a salad spinner). Then get the herbs out of their plastic packaging and wrap them up in wet kitchen towel. Place your bundle of herbs/kitchen towel in a zip-lock back and this will keep them fresh for over a week. Basil is a little odd because it doesn’t like the cold – just place in some water and leave out on your counter.
Woody herbs include anything that has a hard stem. These are more likely to last in their original packaging, so you shouldn’t need to do anything if your planning to use them in the first week. To keep them longer, place them in a single layer on a paper towel before rolling it up and placing them in the fridge. Some people suggest you need to dampen the paper towel, however I haven’t felt that has improved the shelf life of my herbs.
HelloFresh have a fantastic blog post on this, which is well worth reading.
Keeping your meat and seafood fresh
Meat and seafood are the easiest ingredients to keep fresh as they simply need placing into the fridge. It’s worth taking note of the expiry dates to make sure you’re planning to eat that meal before the meal expires. Most Meal Kit providers use some form of vacuum technology to pack their meat and seafood, which enables it to have a longer useful life. Sometimes this can leave what’s known as a ‘containment odour’ in the meat which you can smell when you open up the packet. This is absolutely nothing to worry about as long as you’re not past the ‘use by’ date and the meat has been kept in the fridge. Give it a few minutes and the smell will be gone!
If you know that one of the meals is going to need to wait for a while, then it’s possible to freeze any meat you get in a meal kit. I’ve checked this with all the major providers and it’s fine because the meat is never frozen before arriving at your door. Make sure you freeze it on the day it arrives and give it at least 12 hours to defrost fully before you cook with it.
When should I avoid eating an ingredient?
Sometimes we’ll face a scenario where an ingredient’s looking a bit ‘suspect’. The question of whether it’s edible or not is complicated because you really don’t want to nip to the shops to buy a replacement. This means it’s very easy to take additional risk with the food we eat. So, I wanted to provide some helpful tips to help you identify whether food is safe to eat or not.
Because there are so many different types of vegetable, it’s hard to give any hard or fast rules. If your vegetable is mushy, limp, moist or has changed colour then it’s probably best to throw it out. Sometimes you’ll be able to get away with chopping off the worst part of the vegetable and saving the rest. Here’s a handy guide to different vegetables and what you should look for.
Fresh herbs are usually pretty obvious when they’ve gone bad. In particular, any blackened leaves should be disposed of. If the herbs are just slightly wilted then they’re still good to eat, so don’t throw them away if they’re just looking a little sad. Often, you can pick off any leaves that are looking worse than others and still use the rest in your dish.
For meat, seafood and dairy, I always rely on the smell. None of these foods should smell rancid, strong or unpleasant. If the surface of meat feels sticky or slimy, that’s another sure sign it should be in the bin. If you stick to the ‘use by’ dates then you shouldn’t face any issues. Remember that there may be a slight containment smell when you first open the packaging, so always give your food a few minutes to air before deciding.
I hope you found this guide useful, so you can make the most of your meal kits. If you want more content from Food Box Mate, give me a follow on Facebook or Instagram and I’ll keep you up to date. For more information on Meal Kits, I have the most detailed Meal Kit guide on the internet (a brave claim!)