When eggs and bacon alone aren't enough
EC: Do We Really Need Breakfast Meal Kits?
Credit: Photo by Maxine Builder

The concept behind HelloFresh—and any other meal kit delivery service—is pretty simple. Pick a dish from an online menu, get all of the ingredients shipped to your house in a cardboard box, then assemble and eat it. The underlying idea is that these meal kits are healthier than eating out, and more convenient than meal planning and grocery shopping. For the most part, they've been limited to dinner offerings—until now. HelloFresh recently introduced a brand new breakfast meal kit, with recipes like a Chorizo Breakfast Sandwich and a Chickpea and Egg Breakfast Skillet with Shakshuka Spices.

There are a couple of catches though, starting with the simple fact that you can't order the HelloFresh breakfast meal kit on its own. It comes as part of a regular subscription, along with two or three standard dinner recipes. Also, as Stacy Gordon, HelloFresh's chief product officer, explains in an email, these meal kit breakfast recipes aren't for when you're in a rush, and they'll take about 20 to 30 minutes to prepare. "The meals that we’re kicking off breakfast with are hearty and filling enough for dinner, but also make delicious weekend brunch options," Gordon says.

The Gussied-Up Grits breakfast meal kit sent to me by HelloFresh definitely hits those marks. The dish is basically a pile of grits topped with a stir-fried hash of potatoes, red onions, and spinach. According to the recipe card, the spinach fills you up for the day, but I think that might be the grits. It also takes 35 minutes to make, which isn't exactly convenient for an everyday breakfast. It's probably more time than I've ever spent making breakfast for myself, even on a weekend.

In case you can't tell by now, I'm generally skeptical about meal kit delivery services. I never feel like the recipes are exactly what I want to be eating. Like, I've never looked at the list of recipes on offer and said, "Wow, I can't wait to eat that." It's more like, "Yeah, I guess I could eat that." Plus, the argument that getting meal kits delivered to your door is more convenient than grocery shopping is a moot point when you can order groceries online, too. I'm also turned off by the propensity toward single-serve packaging. It feels wasteful to get bare cloves of garlic in a tiny plastic bag when garlic already comes in a protective skin.

I'm not necessarily HelloFresh's target customer, though. "Our customers are primarily families," explains Gordon. "This means households of at least two (couples) and also families with children (young and grown)." Neither of these things describe my current living situation. "That being said," continues Gordon, "everyone loves breakfast, so we’re looking forward to bringing these unique takes on familiar recipes to all age groups and audiences."

That's why, as a professional breakfast journalist and semi-professional breakfast eater, I was excited to try out HelloFresh's new breakfast meal kit for myself and see if I could finally be convinced that meal delivery kits were a good idea, even for breakfast.

When I came home from work on a Thursday, a big cardboard box had arrived at my door. It contained three meal kits in smaller cardboard crates, wrapped in what's best described as silver, space-age thermal bubble wrap. The proteins were vacuum-sealed at the bottom of the box under some ice packs. The box of ingredients for the so-called Gussied-Up Grits fit pretty neatly on my fridge shelf, though I did have to make some room among the cans of LaCroix.

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Credit: Photo by Maxine Builder

What I really appreciated is that only the items that really needed to be contained—specifically the spinach, grits, and raw bacon—were in plastic bags. The red onion, potatoes, and tomatoes were able to roll around free in their own, all-natural packaging. (By that, I literally mean their vegetable skin.)

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Credit: Photo by Maxine Builder

The prep was only supposed to take five minutes, but that must be for folks with the knife skills of the Bride in Kill Bill. I had to quarter the tomatoes, dice the red onion, cube the potatoes, wash the spinach, and gather up all the other ingredients that weren't included in the meal kit, like butter, olive oil, salt, and pepper. It wasn't technically challenging, but it took time.

And then there was the actual cooking, which had a lot of moving parts. The quartered tomatoes went on a baking sheet and into the oven to roast. I needed to fry the bacon to extra crispy, then dump the veggies into the same pan—all while constantly stirring the grits in their own saucepan. Again, not impossible, but I wish I had an extra hand.

By the time the dish was on the table, I had been prepping and cooking for close to an hour, nearly twice as much time as I thought I'd spend making this dish. And, in all fairness, HelloFresh's new line of breakfast meal kits aren't designed to be made on a busy morning before work or school, though that is a goal of the service. As Gordon explains, "We know that not everyone has 20 to 30 minutes to spend cooking on a weekday morning, and as we continue to build our repertoire of breakfast recipes we will include delicious quick prep meals for our customers that are perfect for the on-the-go consumer—like yogurt with homemade granola."

But considering I spent an hour on this meal? It was fine. It looked close to what was pictured on the recipe card, at least.

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Credit: Photo by MAxine Builder

When I took a bite, I was kind of disappointed. That's not because it tasted bad. The grits were good, the vegetables were vegetables, and the bacon was salty and delicious. This was certainly one of those situations where the sum of the whole was greater than the individual parts. But it felt like it was missing something. Maybe because I spent so much time making what ended up as a fairly simple dish, and I wanted something with a bit more pizzaz.

Don't get me wrong. I get the appeal of a service like HelloFresh. It really is more convenient than I thought it would be, especially for dinner when I've got the time and energy to make a meal but struggle to make it to the grocery store, or if I'm coming home from a long day and want to cook something that's not instant ramen.

But a breakfast meal kit delivery service feels excessive somehow. Most of the time, all I want for breakfast is a fried egg with some toast and maybe a slice of bacon. That's part of what I love about the meal; making a delicious, satisfying breakfast at home is easy, and you don't need a lot of ingredients or fancy techniques. The first things I learned to cook as a kid were scrambled eggs and pancakes, and I'd be perfectly happy with eating those all of the time.

So as an activity for a leisurely weekend morning, maybe instead of going to brunch, I can see why this HelloFresh breakfast meal kit could be useful. But I also wish I had put an egg on it.

By Maxine Builder and Maxine Builder