Macy Crowe
The Bulletin

While crafting a delicious meal can be satisfying, it rarely saves time and energy. Planning and shopping for a week’s worth of meals in itself can be a daunting task.

Today’s busy pace demands a solution that’s fast and healthy for families or singles. Millions have started leaning on meal delivery services for two or three meals per week. Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Sun Basket and Plated are among some of the brand names printed on cardboard boxes filled with meals and delivered nationwide.

Bend resident Darlene Nastansky signed up for Blue Apron because she and her husband work full-time jobs and had trouble organizing and shopping for meals each week. For the last year, they’ve been receiving deliveries once per week. Each box contains meal kits of three, two-person dinners.

“We don’t have to think about different meals to cook,” she said. “We don’t have to go grocery shopping, we can spend more time at home just hanging out with each other.”

Oregon has its own version of a meal delivery service — SoupCycle — with locations in Portland, Corvallis and Bend. Of course, meals are delivered via bike.

“What we notice in our customers is there’s generally a meal per week, and the schedule for that evening is so tight that getting that meal in is difficult,” said Nate Schlachter, owner of SoupCycle. “I think it’s really a testament to how busy people are and the prioritization on convenience.”

Soup’s up

Every Tuesday, SoupCycle’s Jim Marshall packs a variety of soups, wraps and salads into the large tented orange trailer behind his bicycle. He rides his fat tire bike up and down the west side of Bend, delivering lunch and dinner to customers at their homes or workplaces. Marshall is the Bend manager of SoupCycle.

SoupCycle originated in 2008 when Schlachter, Jed Lazar and Shauna Lambert started making soup and delivering it to a small group of friends on bicycles. From there, the group began cooking out of a commissary kitchen in Portland and launched the meal delivery brand.

The Bend location opened in 2015.

“What kept me subscribing is every Wednesday I’m psyched, because dinner is done,” said SoupCycle customer Denise Rowcroft, of Bend. “It’s the convenience, it’s the regularity of it, and that I know it’s high quality.”

The company sources locally as much as possible, with the priority being Oregon farms first and all organic. All of the meals are cooked in the commissary kitchen in Portland and delivered to Bend once a week by a courier service, which the company pays carbon offsets on.

“We try to keep a really carbon-neutral footprint on what we do because we are a bike-based delivery company,” said Marshall.

About half of the deliveries are dropped off at homes and the other half at offices around lunchtime.

On the menu

“Every nationality across the world has their own version of soup, which is unique for a food,” said Marshall.

With more than 60 different recipes, SoupCycle primarily serves soup, but has expanded the menu to include wraps, salads, bowls, snacks and more. For example, the Yakisoba Noodle Bowl with buckwheat noodles, fresh vegetables, shaved almonds and ponzu sauce is a new item on the menu.

The steak salad is also new: a marinated flank steak over a romaine lettuce, onion and cucumber salad with ginger scallion dressing. In the summertime there will be a different cold soup option each week. Additionally, the company serves a beef-bone sipping broth, trail mix and a variety of juices.

“We offer a meaty, a vegan, a vegetarian and a chef’s choice (soup) every week and two different green salad options, four different bowl options and now we’re doing wraps as well, and we pair that with Sparrow Bakery breads,” Marshall said.

In the future, SoupCycle is working hard to find foods that can travel well on a bicycle to grow its offerings and customer base. In June, they will expand the menu to include pantry items such as coffee, tea, dried fruit, chips and granola. They will also start delivering Carman Ranch grass-fed beef and Yakobi Fisheries frozen fish for customers who would like to incorporate more of the cooking aspect without having to drive to the grocery store.

“We have a new partnership with an Alaskan fish company and we’re going to start offering frozen pound pieces of salmon, halibut and cod that people can have delivered to their house as well,” Marshall said.

Mailed meals

The national meal delivery companies have reportedly become popular among Bend natives.

Blue Apron is a California-based meal delivery service that delivers all of the ingredients for a planned meal and a step-by-step process for creating it. For the two-person plan, three meals cost $60 per week.

The company currently dominates the meal delivery business, providing services to about 8 million customers, according to a Blue Apron representative.

What appeals to so many users are the pre-portioned ingredients with the perfect amount for a 700-calorie meal per person.

One example of Blue Apron’s weekly menu includes a seared cod and créme fraîche sauce, Taiwanese-style chicken and spiced beef pitas with garlic labneh.

The one downside, Nastansky notes, is that Blue Apron’s packaging is large and difficult to properly recycle, which for some is enough to sway them from the brand.

Sun Basket is another California-based meal kit option with most of the food providers on the West Coast.

Sun Basket offers several different types of meal kits including, paleo, gluten-free, vegetarian and family plan options. If you are gluten free, this may be the best option for you with recipes like the Thai turkey salad with cabbage, basil and mint or Cuban shrimp mojo tostadas to spice up your dinners. The classic menu includes recipes and ingredients for three 30-minute meals for two or four people, depending on the plan you choose. The two-person classic meal plan costs $74.93 per week.

Plated’s meal kit service sends customers pre-measured ingredients with step-by-step directions. Plated recipes call for more attention than some of the other meal plans, so this may be the best service if you are looking to practice your culinary skills. Its meal plan differs from other delivery brands because it gives the customer the choice of two to four servings per night for two to four nights. Each serving is enough for one to two children, so if you have two young children to feed, the two-serving option would be enough food for the three of you. Servings cost $11.95 each for the two-serving-per-night plan.

In 2016, HelloFresh had 850,000 subscribers globally. The classic plan, the most popular offering, delivers three meals each week for two or four adults for $9.99 per serving. The food prep time for HelloFresh meals is less than some of the other brands, typically because there are fewer ingredients. There is a vegetarian meal plan available. There’s also a family plan option for three meals for two adults and two children and each serving costs $8.74.

Are you a vegan? Purple Carrot is the delivery service for you with all plant-based dishes. Some examples of dinner recipes are the vegetable chow mein with baby leeks and miso mustard sauce and the sweet pea flatbread with truffled fingerling potatoes and kite hill ricotta. This is one of the more expensive brands: the one- to two-person meal plan is the most popular Purple Carrot option with three meals costing $68 per week. The prep and cook time for Purple Carrot meals is 40 minutes or less. The costs of these meal plans may be expensive at first glance. But if time spent at the grocery store, leftover ingredients and discussions (or bickering) about what’s for dinner are factored in, those plans are money savers as well as time savers.

“I think for us it saves money because we never leave the grocery store for less than $60 and we usually only have one meal,” Nastansky said. “Whereas, for $60 we get three full meals with Blue Apron.”