New food delivery services are springing up like weeds.
I’m primarily interested now in a substitute for restaurants. As I currently use restaurants, they provide variety in my food, but aren’t particularly convenient or healthy. Restaurant delivery services have been improving, but the user interfaces for ordering still seem clumsy and primitive (few restaurants seem to care enough to interface well with delivery services, and even fewer restaurants have both healthy food and adequate nutritional labeling).
I presume I’ll eventually want a substitute for shopping at grocery stores, but that’s not going to going to be valuable until services have a fairly broad choice of fresh produce with a convenient user interface.
I’m usually willing to order well in advance, which opens up a wide variety of options that are intermediate between restaurants and grocery stores.
An ideal service would provide full nutritional information in a form that I could import into services such as Cronometer. By “full”, I mean including nutrients such as zinc, omega-6, and omega-3. I don’t think I should hold my breath while waiting for that.
I have some constraints which severely limit which services I use:
- ethical: no factory farmed vertebrates
- roughly paleo: I won’t use a service that encourages me to eat more grains, but I will accept beans
- I want to exclude several foods to which Robert is allergic
GoodEggs is very good at delivering a small selection of high-priced, high quality food, more like a replacement for farmer’s markets than anything else.
I dropped them for a while when they dropped Mission Heirloom (RIP) products (they apparently imagined they could compete with Mission Heirloom, but I haven’t seen signs that they know how to compete at anything other than delivery).
I’m probably going to resume using them soon for beef and maybe occasionally fresh produce. I see that they have some prepared meals, but few that fit my constraints.
I used Amazon Fresh while they carried Mission Heirloom products. Those two companies got along poorly, and it was much too common to discover that items became unavailable when the order was filled.
Amazon Fresh is probably comparable to a large grocery store in terms of variety of goods available, although their search system was clumsy enough that it was hard to tell. They seemed somewhat oriented toward junk food, and didn’t come close to Berkeley Bowl’s variety of fresh produce.
I might have stayed with them for the occasional item that I don’t see in stores, but their pricing model actively discourages that (a monthly fee, regardless of how much I buy).
Many quick rejects
Many services wouldn’t save much time. E.g. Blue Apron doesn’t appear to save on cooking time, and it’s likely not flexible or comprehensive enough to replace any of my twice-a-week trips to grocery stores.
Many services make it hard to handle allergies, or are filled with animal products that don’t meet my standards, or don’t have enough information about ingredients for me to evaluate the food.
Methodology looks superficially promising, but more careful reading leaves me suspicious. Their sample menu lists some entries for “pastured chicken” (good), but their sourcing page lists: “Chicken: Jidori”, which seems to refer to this company, which says its chickens are grain-fed (bad, and not what pastured chickens eat). Plus, they don’t provide a complete list of ingredients, which adds to my suspicions.
I tried Hungryroot. I’m frustrated at how close they got to being a service that I like, then carelessly(?) failed.
I’m able to get a tolerable set of choices by restricting their offerings to vegan and gluten free.
I’m somewhat annoyed at their requirement that I sign up for an automated weekly delivery that, by default, chooses meals which include allergens that I want to exclude. It’s mildly cumbersome to use their web site each week to swap those for something else or skip delivery. Although I guess if I used it enough, the system would learn to mostly avoid those allergens.
Their meals that pass my filter have lots of green vegetables and beans.
The food tastes better than I expected, given the high vegetable content. But there’s not much variety in what meets my constraints. Everything seems like a small variation on veggies and beans with oil and vinegar.
They also offer some grain-free vegan cookie dough that sounds quite tempting. Alas, they load that up with too much added sugar, so I’ll stick to making my own.
The meals have a really impressive fiber content. I estimate 70g of fiber per 2000 calories!
- vitamins B12 and D (but I expect to supplement those anyway)
- mild deficiencies in B3 and selenium (which I could make up for with other foods without too much trouble)
- a moderate deficiency in omega-3
The main nutritional problem I have is the high omega-6 content (over 40g per 2000 calories, around 19% of total calories), due to heavy use of sunflower oil. That’s over twice what I consider a safe upper bound, and I’m having difficulty limiting my omega-6 consumption even without oils such as sunflower.
If I wanted to get an acceptable omega-6/omega-3 ratio while eating mostly Hungryroot meals, I’d have to do something like take 8 or 9 omega-3 pills per day (versus my current one a day). That’s a sign of a suspicious diet. Plus, I’m concerned about omega-6 being damaged in processing, and Hungryroot doesn’t indicate whether the sunflower oil is cold-pressed or extracted with chemical solvents.
I’d still be using Hungryroot if they used extra-virgin olive oil instead of sunflower oil. As it is, I don’t trust them to care about any nutritional aspects beyond those that show up on a standard nutritional label. (Hungryroot has nutritional labels that are slightly more comprehensive than usual; for some strange reason they always show B6 as 0, when that’s obviously false).
Model Meals has food that mostly qualifies as paleo, and most of the animal products meet my standards. Exceptions: ghee isn’t paleo, and seems unhealthy for me; they use mayo that has unlabeled eggs, so I presume it doesn’t meet my health and ethics standards (maybe other animal products fall in this category as well, so I need to check each meal somewhat carefully).
The list of ingredients is readily available for each meal, but no indication of quantities.
One dinner included a lot more garlic than I expected. I like that much garlic, but Robert objected to the smell. I wish they had given some hint about how much garlic it had.
They’re somewhat low in fiber, but still better than most restaurants. I.e. it’s close to what mainstream authorities recommend, and something like half of what a genuine paleo diet would provide. So I want to balance these meals with some that are higher in vegetables. The meals are close enough to adequate in other nutrients that it’s mainly fiber that limits my health-related willingness to use Model Meals.
The food is somewhat on the boring side, so it won’t fully replace restaurants, but it’s a decent choice for when I’m too busy to cook. I plan to continue using Model Meals for 5 to 10 meals per month.
Model Meals has a relatively convenient web interface, and a refreshingly straightforward pricing model.
There’s lots of room for improvement in this industry, and enough change happening that maybe I can hope for some?