The Convenience of a Meal-Kit, Minus the $$$? A Review of Meal-Plan App Mealime
I tried out the meal-planning app Mealime for one month and this was my experience.
Disclosure: I reached out to the Mealime team and received their premium subscription service at no cost for 1 month in exchange for an objective review of the app.
I know so many people who have started using delivery meal-kits as part of their weekly cooking routine. And why not? All the ingredients ready to go, the novelty of a new recipe, and the ease of not having to google around for what you're going to cook. For a lot of non-enthusiastic home cooks, it's a great compromise. And with so many competing options: Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, Home Chef, it seems like the options are endless.
Now I have tried some of these meals (from Blue Apron and the more "prepared food" HungryRoot) and I enjoyed the ease and simplicity. But as someone who doesn't loathe grocery shopping, there are a couple things that keep me from trying these more frequently: Cost, and all that packaging!
So when one of my college friends (thanks Scott!) suggested I try the app Mealime, I was on board! We tried the free version at home, and I enthusiastically reached out to the Mealime team, to try out the premium version of their app (where you can see nutrition facts and fine-tune your experience) in exchange for writing the review (see disclaimer). In exchange, I diligently used Mealime for all our dinners (and leftovers for lunches) for one month.
Back up, back up! What is Mealime? How does it work? Ok here goes:
What is Mealime?
Mealime is a FREE app for your smartphone that generates meal plans! (Yes, free). It has the very cute logo seen to the right. The major downside of Mealime is trying to tell someone the name ("Me-line?" "It's like MEAL plus Lime, but without the," "MEEELLIME?" "No without the extra L, like Meal like food, and lime like a lime but without the... ugh just give me your phone I'll download it for you.")
Download the app, sign up for an account and it will let you "build a meal plan." You can then select your preferences INCLUDING your diet/lifestyle, food allergies, and diet likes and dislikes! (You can see in my screenshot below) These include Classic, Flexitarian, Low-Carb, Paleo, Pescetarian, or Vegetarian. In addition to diet types and allergies, which you can see below, you can also pick out specific ingredients you don't like. For example, lots of people don't like mushrooms. You can select them out and never see a mushroom in a recipe!
Once you make these selections, you then choose how many meals you want to make per week, between 2-6. Currently, the meal-plan generates meals that might be described more as "dinners," so this doesn't generate breakfasts or "lunches" although if you do meals with greater servings, most of these re-pack well for lunches.
If you choose "Advanced," Mealime then lets you choose the recipes you want to make. If you choose "Simple," Mealime will generate the meal plan for you (you can still swap out recipes you don't think look appetizing).
Once all that is done, Mealime generates a very easy-to-use grocery list for you! You can go through your cabinets, check off what you already have, hit the store, and stock up for your week of meals.
So yes, Mealime does require that you go to the grocery store (or order your groceries delivered, if that's what you do), and so is unlike meal kits in that way. However, many Mealime ingredients are used in multiple recipes and if you don't hate grocery shopping (I don't), this is a much more cost effective way of trying new recipes.
Cooking with Mealime:
My family doesn't follow any particular "diet," so I used my month with Mealime to try out four different diets! We did "Classic," "Low-Carb," "Vegetarian," and (I believe), "Flexetarian." All provided extremely tasty recipes, many of which I saved to make again and again (even when I wasn't using a Mealime meal plan).
How easy was it?
The grocery shopping list and recipe instructions were typically A+. I found myself needing more cooking utensils and bowls than the recipe "utensils list" typically called for, but I am not amazingly efficient in that regard. With the premium app I could take notes on the recipes and remind myself to grab an extra mixing spoon or something like that.
One major downside (which is true for many recipes) was that nearly every recipe on Mealime said it took 30 minutes to make. This was never true! Again, I'm not the world's most efficient home cook, but I'd say I'm at least average and I never made a single meal in 30 minutes.
That being said, most recipes were easy and very, very tasty on all the "diets." We only had one bust (portobello mushroom pizzas turned into squishy mess for us); everything else was enjoyable and some recipes were downright delectable. Below are some of the things we made. Click through!
The "Greek frittata" and "stir-fried pork with pineapple and bell pepper" were two of my favorites! That pile of ingredients is for "sweet potato & lentil stew with crusty bread" which we opted to make in the slowcooker and was insanely good.
What is the difference between free and premium Mealime?
The premium subscription has more recipes available, includes nutrition information, and can let you customize your meals by caloric intake (if that's something you're trying to do). It also allows for more personalizing - you can let Mealime "create" your meal plan, but you can add your favorite meals first, you can add notes on recipes, and you can look at your previous meal plan! Also the Mealime team is very easy to reach over email or through the app and you can get help from them.
Overall, you definitely don't need the premium app to get good use out of this product; the free version is excellent. However, the premium version is $6 per month; so if you just love your Mealime experience and you want all those extra recipes, it won't break the bank.
Lets talk nutrition.
I believe when I used the premium app (back in January/February) I could see the estimated nutrition facts, but I couldn't screen for total calories (which is a premium feature now). As a dietitian, I was interested in specific nutrients that we tend to look at for patients or clients, depending on their issues (since all know calories aren't the ONLY important feature of a diet). I found that while sugars were listed close to the top with calories, fats were broken down by subtype (cool) and saturated fat took a bit of scrolling to get to (less cool). Now I know that some of us are more concerned about this nutrient than others, but I wish it had been more prominently displayed. Ditto sodium.
Secondly, the cooking fat for almost every recipe was coconut oil, which was curious to me. For more tropical or even curry-themed dishes, the added flavor made sense, but it seemed most recipes called for coconut oil which is not a neutral flavor. Further, I thought that often other oils (olive, canola) could have worked just as well and reduced the saturated fat content. I asked the Mealime team about this and co-founder Maria responded:
"We use coconut oil as one of our primary cooking oils/fats because we think it provides a good balance between different factors and fits many different types of eating preferences. It has a decent smoking point, it's not highly processed, and it can be found in most grocery stores."
On one hand, using a similar fat for every recipe keeps you from having to buy tons of different cooking oils, but as we all know, coconut oil has been the subject of rather undue praise, since its fat profile is not ideal. Also, the level of processing in coconut oils can vary substantially and this might not be captured on the label the way you could see with, say, an olive oil.I think it's worth noting that the idea of coconut oil having a more satisfactory smoke point than other cooking oils is also a bit of a myth.
In my recipes, I used coconut oil only if I thought it would add to the flavor of the dish but deferred to spray oils or other cooking oil for most dishes. which improved the kcal and fat profile for most of the recipes.
The way nutrition facts were displayed and the ingredients list made me wonder if improvements could be made if a dietitian or nutrition-focused chef were added to the team. Maria noted that they don't currently work with a dietitian, but they try to emphasize healthy proteins and plenty of vegetables and fruits. This is definitely true.
However, as someone who sees a clinical population, it would be AWESOME to see options for meal plans like DASH (for hypertension or heart failure), or low-carb designed FOR diabetes, or low-fat for fat malabsorption issues, etc. I recently spent a long time with a patient figuring out how we could alter her baked ziti recipe so she could still serve her favorite foods and avoid significant GI distress - I would love the ability to point to an app, say "Download THIS" and know that a dietitian was behind the more medical aspects of the meal plan. This is not at all a knock on Mealime, which is an awesome and convenient app for a healthy population, but a hopeful suggestion!
In terms of diets: Paleo and low-carb were included (although it seemed that Paleo included dairy- so non-dairy paleo folks who try it out might want to click "no dairy" in their preferences) but there are not currently vegan options (sorry vegans!).
Maria let me know that "Mealime currently has 6 diet types, 10 allergies, and over 100 dislikes as customization options in the app! This allows our members to make their meal planning truly personalized. We develop and test all of our recipes in-house so as we build up our recipe collection, we are able to introduce even more options."
So hopefully, as Mealime expands they will have the capacity to build more vegan recipes into their repertoire and reach more people.
Verdict: The Mealime app is a fun, convenient way to get the novelty and flavor of a "meal-kit" without the cost! My personal nutrition and cooking style led me to alter some of the cooking fats (and salt) in the recipes, but overall we really enjoyed our experience. I definitely recommend you download the app and see for yourself.
Have you tried the Mealime app? Let me know about your experience below or share to firstname.lastname@example.org!