REVIEW: Do Recipe Boxes Provide Convenience or Aid Laziness?

09:00 a.m. 10 February 2022

You don’t have to be living on the subsistence level to be affected by the cost of living crisis. All but the wealthiest among us are noticing rising food bills, and many are having to make tough choices to ensure there is food on their family’s plates.

Inflation is expected to reach over 7% this year, and even that number doesn’t reflect true increases in real-world groceries.

Food writer Jack Monroe, who first rose to prominence by writing a blog that shared inexpensive recipes she created as a single mother with a young child, has recently received a lot of press for having pointed out that for many people, food inflation far exceeds the official CPI figure, meaning those with the lowest incomes face the biggest price increases of all.

For too many people, simply feeding their families is becoming increasingly difficult. For many others, budgeting for food is possible, but certainly tighter than it used to be.

The good news is that careful planning can reduce the cost of meal prep (although I agree this won’t help those whose budgets don’t even stretch to the essentials).

Saving money in this way usually requires a trade-off in terms of time: planning the menu for the week to eliminate waste and make sure you only buy what you need; shop around for the cheapest place to buy these ingredients; and cooking from the basics rather than relying on ready meals and meals.

Of course, the way many of us live our lives today means we crave the exact opposite: groceries delivered to our doorstep, often on very short notice, because we didn’t plan in advance. There’s nothing wrong with that – provided we’re happy to happily set fire to five pound notes in the process.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with paying for convenience, but throwing away large sums of money out of laziness when people have nothing to eat is unforgivable. And even…

I’m sure you’ve seen the TV commercials for these boxed recipes that are shipped to your door. At first glance, they seem like a good way to encourage people to cook from ingredients rather than ordering takeout or eating ready meals loaded with additives. But when you look a little deeper, you wonder who has so much money to spend?

As an experiment, I went to the site of one of the biggest suppliers of recipe boxes, and I selected a typical dish: a risotto with bacon bits and mushrooms. Helpful, the website gives you an exact list of ingredients, which included risotto rice, bacon bits, onion, garlic, and chestnut mushrooms.

So far, so good. But then the big shock. Ordering enough to make this meal for four people (with just 80 grams of risotto rice per person, so no huge portions) costs £24.99. I put the ingredients on a major supermarket website, and they were only £6. Even if you factor in delivery costs, the total cost is still less than half of what you’ll pay for the recipe box. And in both cases, you still have to cook the food yourself.

Have we really become so helpless that we can’t make our own shopping list, but are we willing to pay a £19 bounty for someone else to write a list of just nine ingredients?

Another one of those recipe box websites just sends you little containers of herbs and condiments, waiting for you to buy all the other ingredients.

I’m looking at one of the recipes right now – pasta with chorizo, tomatoes, peas and parmesan. After shelling out £2.50 for the recipe box, all you have to do is go to the supermarket and buy, um, pasta, chorizo, tomatoes, peas and parmesan cheese. Are people really that gullible?

Who buys these things? These aren’t even the people who don’t have cookbooks, as the recipe box website helpfully gives you the method of cooking the dish along with a full list of ingredients.

I understand people are busy and willing to pay a little extra for convenience. But when people are literally hungry, it seems obscene to be willing to spend so much money out of sheer laziness.

So here’s my suggestion: if you have as much money as you think it’s okay to throw in those overpriced recipe boxes, why not just order the ingredients online from a supermarket and donate the difference at your local food bank, where it will likely feed an entire family for several days.

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