Eating Well During Quarantine

I’m going to do something that I’ve never (at least not to my memory) done in my blogging life: recommend a product. About a month ago, I finally caved in and subscribed to a meal service. I’ll tell you a little about my process in selecting one and how it’s helped us to eat well during quarantine.

I’ve looked at multiple meal services over the past few years. Some have been appealing but I didn’t think they could accommodate my food restrictions (I’m gluten-sensitive and have lots of other foods that I can tolerate only in moderation) as well as the fact that I live with a picky middle schooler and a partner who will try almost anything but really likes meat. And all the plans seemed too expensive to order for just one person. So I always gave up on them.

I reconsidered this year because I was scheduled to go on a writing retreat. I’d be spending four weeks in an apartment on a college campus in a small town with no transportation. I needed to eat healthy but also minimize my time cooking (because the whole point of a writing retreat is to get away from normal distractions and responsibilities so that you can just write). So I decided to use the four weeks to experiment with a meal service. I looked at several. There are so many more options now for those of us on gluten-free diets. Some of the meals looked positively luxurious.

But I wanted simple. I wanted meals that I could cook – not microwave – with very little effort. And I wanted to be able to mix and match ingredients if I wanted, rather than feeling like I had to use something for a specific recipe.

I decided that HungryRoot was the best plan for me. HungryRoot operates a little more like a grocery service than a meal preparation service. When you sign up, you’re asked about your dietary preferences. Do you have any food allergies or restrictions? How many people are you feeding with each meal? Are you aiming for weight loss? How long do you want to spend cooking? How many breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks do you want the service to provide each week? (Their website is kind of crap in terms of showing people what options are available before you join. I had to do some digging and ultimately decide to sign up for an account before I really figured it out).

After you do that, HungryRoot configures your first week of groceries. With HungryRoot, you don’t get meal kits. You get groceries: a bag of shaved Brussels sprouts, some precut veggies for stir-fries or salads, preseasoned and cooked tofu, boxes of pasta, and so on. You can prepare them the way that they want or you can mix them up. You can even integrate them into food you already have at home. I opted for 10 meals per week initially (4 lunches and 6 dinners) because I was going to be in the middle of nowhere and wasn’t sure what I’d be able to access other than the campus cafeteria and maybe pizza delivery. Each meal has 2 servings, so HungryRoot gave me 5 suggestions. Their meals mainly fall into these categories: pasta (yes,plenty of gluten-free options!), bowls, stir-fries, salads, and flatbreads. Each recipe generally has a base (veggies or gluten-free grains for me), protein (my choices lean toward tofu, beans, Beyond Burgers, chicken breasts, and chicken sausage), and a sauce. They provide suggestions on additions (pantry items like Parmesan cheese, dried cranberries, etc.).

Photo of brown wooden table covered with food items, including tomato sauce, cauliflower linguine, stir-fry veggies, salad mixes, packaged tofu nuggets, chicken sausage, grilled chicken breast, Thai peanut sauce, and sesame ginger dressing.
This week’s HungryRoot order includes ingredients for two stir-fries, a pasta dish, and salad.

About a week before I – and my first HungryRoot order – were supposed to arrive at the writing center, universities started closing and it was clear that I wouldn’t be going. Since I’d already paid for the first order, I decided to have it delivered to my home and that I’d use it to try to eat healthy during quarantine. I switched up some of the recipes so that they’d be more appealing to my family. I swapped out some of the tofu for extra chicken breast or chicken sausage so that my middle schooler would eat them. I figured we would try the first week and if it didn’t work, I’d cancel the service. But it did work, pretty well in fact. We can easily cook healthy meals in about 10-20 minutes. The portions serve 2 people well, but it turned out that they could easily be stretched to serve 2 adults and a tweenager who hates veggies.If we were doing a veggie stir-fry with quinoa, we’d just add in some chicken breast and cook some rice for the kiddo.

After the first week, we downgraded our service to 3 meals per week, which prices at $69. HungryRoot works on a points-system. After the service configures our meals based on our dietary preferences and our ratings of the meals we’ve tried, I make changes. Sometimes I have points left over, which is cool because you can buy individual items, like a pack of broccolini or an extra serving of grilled chicken breast. Those items help us to stretch the meals to feed three people. Or sometimes they end up helping us make quick and healthy lunches. So generally, we end up with 3-4 meals worth of food for 3 people. We just got our fifth order. On the menu this week: pasta with chicken sausage and tomato sauce; a peanut chicken & vegetable stir-fry; a sesame ginger stir-fry with tofu; and a salad with tofu bites. That leaves us a few days each week to cook other easy meals, with items we can get from our grocery pickup and delivery services. Fajita bowls, tacos, burgers, and homemade pizza are on the regular rotation now. About once a week, we throw something on the grill.

A lot of people on social media are talking about all the junk food that they’re eating at home. But because of my health issues, I can’t afford that. Food is medicine for me.

Only recently have I gotten my GI issues under control and deviating too much will result in a flare up that could further compromise my already immunocompromised body. As a breast cancer survivor, I’m already working with fewer lymph nodes than the average body. So I’ve had to practice pretty strict social distancing: remaining home except for medical appointments and wearing a mask even when I go for a walk in my neighborhood. Quarantine means that I can’t make my weekly visits to the Dekalb Farmers Market to stock up on organic produce and meat. My body needs more nutrition than frozen and processed food can give it, but I can’t always rely on local grocery delivery (or even pickup) to have what I need in stock. I never would have guessed that the meal service that I’d planned to use for a 4-week writing retreat would be such a big help to my family as we try to manage this period of isolation, but it is.

If you’re interested in trying HungryRoot, you can use this link for $15 off your first order, which will give me an extra $15 too! My kid will be so happy about all that extra tofu!

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