DIY Zero-Waste Meal Kits

add lemon juice

I understand the appeal of meal-kit services like Blue Apron. You go online, choose a dish you want to “cook” and the pre-measured ingredients and accompanying recipe appear on your doorstep in a neat and tidy cardboard box. After a long day at work, you don’t panic over what to make for dinner, you don’t shop, you don’t measure. You simply assemble your dinner—kind of like you would an IKEA bookcase.

But you also pay a price for that convenience—as does everyone else who lives on the planet. Blue Apron alone—it has plenty of competitors operating the same way—delivers 5 million meal kits per month. Great if you own stock in the company and can thus afford to move to pristine Mars.

Convenience Is Overrated

When you finish preparing your meal, simply toss out the single-use plastic baggies and plastic clamshells that housed every teaspoon of spice, every bit of vegetable, every smidgen of sauce, every bit of garnish. Melt and toss the freezer packs. Toss the thermal bag it all came in. Recycle the cardboard (well that’s something…). The amount of waste generated by these meal-kits makes the packaging at Trader Joe’s look sustainable. (Click here to view some Blue Apron trash.)

I thought I’d try making a meal kit for my lentil dal recipe. I did have the ingredients on hand, which I shopped for previously. So that does involve those pesky trips to the farmer’s market on gorgeous Sunday mornings, where I hear live music as I shop, meet and chat with neighbors I run into, talk to friendly local vendors who know me and buy the best tasting food I can find anywhere. So, that is less convenient than clicking an option online and having a box of food from God knows where mysteriously appear on my doorstep, perhaps via drone. I also have to ride my bike to the grocery store, getting fresh air and exercise along the way, to buy ingredients like rice and lentils that I pick out myself. There is that.

Lentil Dal and Rice Meal Kit

I assembled the ingredients below in about five minutes. (Of course my time does not including shopping.) I even went all out and pre-measured the salt. I didn’t include the oil or water you need to make this. From what I’ve read, the kits do not include basics but maybe these companies will partner with Nestlé some day and start to ship tap water too.

I didn’t chop the onion and tomatoes or mince the garlic in advance but you could do that and put those ingredients in more glass jars. I prefer to chop right before I cook to keep everything super fresh.

kit components
Pre-measured lentil dal ingredients

Due to all the kinds of spices I use for dal, the list of ingredients looks long in the original blog post. For my meal kit, I threw all the spices into a single glass jar. Apparently these would all be in separate plastic baggies if you ordered something like this meal.

spices
Spices for dal: turmeric, cumin seed, fenugreek seeds, coriander, mustard seed, sesame seeds (okay not a spice…)

I found a cardboard box to put this all into and did some merchandising with an unbleached ribbon I found in my sewing supplies.

Food in a box

“But Anne Marie,” you may be saying. “How is this at all convenient? It hardly compares to ordering online. Why would I put all of this in a box?” So here’s an idea: what if you gave this as a gift or started a meal kit exchange with your friends and neighbors? I would LOVE to get a homemade meal kit (and more glass jars!) as a present.

You could assemble the pre-measured ingredients for just about any recipe. Or you could make smaller snack kits if you want to give a bunch of them away for Christmas: cookie dough, hot chocolate, flavored popcorn. And you could also write the recipe out much more artistically than I have done here (I was in a hurry…).

22 Comment

  1. eva says: Reply

    Wow, I love this idea.

    1. Thank you Eva 🙂

  2. Becky says: Reply

    Not only do they generate lots of garbage, they are way more money than most would spend on a homecooked meal ($9 a person and up!), but you’re eating food from who knows where that you cannot verify how it was raised!
    Yesterday was a busy day here – I didn’t get home until almost 6:30 and had to get a quick dinner on the table. I went with scrambled eggs and toast -quick, inexpensive and easy. I know today is going to be another long day, so I’m starting a batch of beans in my crock pot, so that when I get home I have another quick, easy building block ready to go.

    1. They are SO expensive Becky! I made the dal for dinner tonight and it took no time at all since I had everything all set out and measured. It didn’t cost even $9 and that’s for about four people. Thank goodness for eggs. And beans. I like to cook them in advance too. So good to have on hand.

    2. 'Becca says: Reply

      For $9 a person, why not just eat in a restaurant?!? It would be LESS WASTE! Aargh.

      1. Lol. I thought that too Becca! Meal kits aren’t cheap! They are kind of like assemble-it-yourself takeout.

      2. Becky says:

        Take out is way cheaper. And less wasteful too!

      3. And less work!

  3. Good idea, thanks for the tip! 🙂

    1. Thanks for checking it out 🙂

  4. Shar says: Reply

    What a great idea! What a great way to exchange recipes and you would be guaranteed to have all the ingredients! Blue Apron is a little too ridiculous on the convenience scale.

    1. Thank you! Blue Apron is also VERY expensive!

  5. christine says: Reply

    Need these ideas because the need is great but the creativity to do it is not! I will have to try and think of more meals I can do this with.

    1. Thanks Christine 🙂 I was amazed at how quickly I put this together. I made dal the following night in record time too.

  6. Sandy says: Reply

    HI Anne-Marie, Love this post. I came across an article a few days ago about these types of services and was dismayed at all the waste generated. I think it a grand idea to start a “prepared meal” chain delivery where one could make up and deliver a box, then the recipient could do the same and pass on the tradition. I had a sourdough friendship cake recipe like that once. Brings people together in a delicious way, brings delight and surprise into everyday life all while teaching the benefits of zero waste. Thanks for posting…I’m trying out your recipe with elder children 🙂

    1. Hi Sandy. I think we read the same article. I was equally dismayed 🙁 I love your idea of a prepared meal chain delivery. That’s sort of what I had in mind too. I hope your older kids like the dal. It’s quite tasty 🙂

  7. 'Becca says: Reply

    I like your kit! My partner occasionally makes us Mexibean Mealpax by browning several diced onions in the big soup pot, mixing in two #10 cans of beans and a couple diced tomatoes and lots of spices and maybe some peppers or olives, using some of it for a meal while the rest cools, and then spooning it into quart freezer bags. We can thaw one out whenever we want burritos or nacho bowls, or put one in the blender to make bean dip. The bags can be washed and reused. And he even gave them a catchy name!

    There are some recipes made from dry ingredients that are combined all at once with water or milk, that can be packaged in a single jar with instructions tied on with a cute ribbon. I’ve received mixes for bean soup, pancakes, and muffins set up this way, and my DIY instant oatmeal recipe is easy to pack in a jar.

    1. Thanks Becca. I love your partner’s Mexibean Mealpax. I didn’t make resolutions exactly this year, but I do want to be more organized and start cooking larger quantities of food so I can freeze some of it. I think I’ll try this with pinto beans or black beans. Happy 2016 🙂

  8. I love this idea. I usual precook a bunch of freezer meals because I work long hours but I could also pre put together meal ideas like this for the week. What a great gift idea too! Do you have more recipes for DIY meal kits?

    1. Thanks so much Stephanie. Precooking and freezing is a great way to go too. I hope to write more posts on DIY meal kits (I have a long to-write list…). Right now the only other similar post I’ve written is a chocolate chip cookie mix in a jar, which does make a great gift (hot chocolate would too): http://zerowastechef.com/2015/12/16/gifts-in-jars-chocolate-chip-cookie-kit/ A few people left comments here, on Facebook and on Instagram that they assemble bean soup in jars in advance. I’ll have to try that one. I think lots of bean dishes would work well for this, like channa masala or spicy black beans.

  9. Catherine says: Reply

    I am in full agreement here!

    Another option is to take a book from the 70-80’s which was all about making one’s own mixes and updating it for today’s tastes, “Make-a-Mix-Cookery” by Eliason, Harward and Westover. While they weren’t thinking ZW (more preservative free, cost cutting).

    I think the little bit of effort in meal prep Is a relaxing way to refocus at the close of the day and share in creativity with family and guests.

    1. Thank you for the book recommendation, Catherine. I agree, a little bit of prep pays off!

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