I mentioned earlier that I do most of my grocery ordering online, and have been since about week 7 or 8 of the pandemic. Over the years (of life, not the pandemic), Andrea and I have experimented with a few “food boxes” to have them delivered to the house. Some were “fresh veggie” orders and others were special meal collections, but while the convenience was good and the contents were quality, we found sometimes the portions were off or we were getting things we wouldn’t normally choose to eat — sometimes we were choosing three dishes out of 7 for example, but only really liked two of them. The other five weren’t terrible, we didn’t hate them, it was edible, but they were often not dishes we would care to repeat. Or, for one box, the prep time was frequently off the chart. It would say “ten minutes”, and then Andrea and I together would spend 30-40 minutes. Not a great solution for a week night.
SupperWorks had a different model. It was designed, generally speaking, for you to book a spot in their calendar, go to their store, and assemble the ingredients into packages yourself. They would have perhaps 8-10 “work stations” set up for different meals, such as a glazed pork chop recipe at one station and a stew at another. You would go in, go to a free station set up for a specific recipe, and follow the directions. Kind of like an IKEA store but you assemble all the ingredients in the box yourself. For example, you would put two tablespoons of soy sauce into a bag, and then add the pork chops, a dozen or so other pre-chopped ingredients, and seal the bag while attaching a label with the cooking instructions. If you wanted a bit more soy or a little less maple sugar, you could adjust your assembly accordingly.
You do this a few more times around the store, essentially pre-assembling all the ingredients for a few meals, and you’re good to check out. When you get home, you freeze everything you can and any time you want to make one, you take out a bag, thaw it in the fridge a day or two before, and then just follow the instructions. Everythings is already pre-assembled with the right quantities and ready to cook.
It’s more expensive than buying all the ingredients yourself, but it is all pre-assembled and ready to cook. No re-measuring, you’ve essentially prepped all the meals in advance, with the store doing most of the sous-chef duties for you. At first glance, as I said, it might seem expensive, but my wife does most of the cooking and is generally frugal, and even she considers it value-for-money for prep and meal-planning options.
Some people used to make social outings of it. Find a friend or three, book a night, and go and assemble while chatting. It’s hard to have more than two people at any one station, and you might not all want the same recipes, but it was easy enough to find open slots. Weekends, weekdays, weekday evenings.
The pandemic messed that business model up entirely, of course. People couldn’t be in the store wandering around and touching all the food stations, even with having to wash your hands between stations so there’s no cross-contamination of foods (to prevent allergic reactions). You could always pay them in the past to pre-assemble the meals for you, but the cost differential was not insignificant. Take into account the fact that you were already paying a premium for their sous-chef duties, and the price of pre-assembled packages could get out of hand quickly. Not to mention the need for a large freezer to keep everything!
SupperWorks pivoted with the pandemic and now everything is pre-assembled for you. It’s the only option. But we like the meals, partly because we get to CHOOSE which foods are in our order. No need to pick something you don’t like to fill a quota; no need to pick something with a huge prep time.
Prices vary as do personal thresholds for cost. They have a cheesy mashed potato-bacon casserole that we like, and yes, we could easily make it ourselves. This is more like a store-bought one, but tastes fresher. It runs $14.00 and is big enough for all three of us for a meal. That’s not bad for price. Meanwhile, we also have Cranberry Chicken with Apples, done up as a split meal (instead of serving 4-6, we split it into two orders to serve 2-3, which is just right for the three of us usually). With the full meal split, we get six servings for $48.00. Some orders come up with sides, some don’t. Lots of DIY sites could offer the same meal so you could get it down to less than $4 per person instead of $8, mostly by buying in bulk, buying stuff on sale or in lower-quality cuts of meat, and substituting sweat equity for cost up-front.
We find that we (aka I) tend to slightly over-order in a month, so if I do two months in a row, we tend not to order the third month as we are too backed up in the freezer department. If you reorder from month 1 to month 2, you get a discount for month 2. Similarly for subsequent months. Discounts range from 10-25%; my discount for October was 15%, and I ordered five different types of meals.
First, there are the full meals split into two meals each. For this category, I ordered Cranberry Chicken with Apples, Maple-Kissed Pork Chops, Creamy Lemony Dilly Chicken & Orzo, and Italian Herb-Crusted Pork Tenderloin. They’re a bit heavier than we normally eat, so we don’t often do more than two in a week, and often only one, hence why with four meals split into eight dinners of three portions, we often end up having to skip a month after two orders in a row.
Andrea and I are often of two minds on these ones. The meals are excellent, no issue there, and it’s nice to have all the prep work done, BUT Andrea also sells Epicure and it wouldn’t be that difficult to Epicurify the recipe to do it ourselves. Except we would have to do all the prep, have all the other ingredients ready, plan in advance to do all of that, etc. These are easier, and particularly so for mid-week meals. The only other catch is that Andrea’s version would likely be better than these ones, after a bit of experimentation. Still, it’s a pretty good set of dishes and makes for easy meal-planning.
The second category is what I considered fully pre-assembled meals, like the Cheesy Mashed Potato-Bacon Casserole. Basically, you open it up, wrap it in tinfoil, throw it in the oven, and you’re done. They’ve already got it fully ready to cook, no additional assembly is required. These are pretty close to just store-bought, and can’t be split.
The third category would be soups and sides. I ordered Asiago-Herb Mashed Potatoes and Andrea chose a Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup + Italian Wedding Soup. But the one I am excited by, and I’m surprised to ever utter these words, is a Maple-Crumble Mashed Sweet Potatoes. Here’s the thing. We don’t really like Sweet Potatoes. Yet I accidentally ended up with it as a side for something small last month, and it was AWESOME. So I ordered a full-sized one for this month.
The fourth category on the list is lunch-time meals. They’re kind of like small TV dinners, I suppose, except it’s higher-end obviously and often smaller versions of the larger dishes for the month. They’re about $9-$10, you throw them in the microwave to cook them from frozen, and they are good lunch-time options for work to have something hot for lunch when we don’t have a lot of time. I picked up an Apple Maple-Glazed Chicken, Dad’s Favorite Meatloaf, and a Quinoa Veggie Stew (yeah, that one’s not for me hehehe). I did a turkey dinner one in October around Thanksgiving which is how I ended up trying the sweet potato side, and they’re pretty good for a change of pace.
And finally they also have some dessert options. Most of the time, these are like the storebought solutions, pop them in the oven to bake, and voila! One Fudgey-Fudge Brownies. Pretty rich, though. SupperWorks also usually throws in some sort of extra bonus, which is often six chocolate chip cookies, ready to bake. Pretty good ones too, no mess or mixing required.
Some people do hard-core ordering each month with 2-3 per week because they love the time advantage of avoiding prep or the convenience of weekday cooking after working all day. Some do it because they love the taste.
We’re not hard-core, but we are regular customers. Because the meals bring us #MoreJoy. And inspire us sometimes to find a personal recipe version of the meal to do on our own.