Have You Chef'd Yet?

Written by Nancy Sayles Kaneshiro

In my previous blog, I reviewed Blue Apron, an on-line subscription meal delivery service. It was a fun assignment but I concluded that the selections, while delicious, would be even better if they were a little easier to prepare and healthier, especially for people like me with diabetes who need to watch what we eat.

Since we all know that healthy eating is at the top of the list when trying to live well and manage diabetes, the editors at DiabeticLifestyle.com were cheered to learn that the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recently teamed up with another food delivery service—Chef'd—to provide diabetic-friendly selections to their wide variety of meal kits. So, when the editors asked me to review dishes from the Chef’d/ADA approved offerings I thought, well, it’s a tough job to open a box delivered to my door, follow a recipe and enjoy a dinner my endocrinologist would approve of–all without stepping foot into the supermarket —but SOMEBODY has to do it.  So, here it is.

Let the Cooking Begin

For these tastings, my husband George volunteered to be my guinea pig (ok, poor choice of words), so I let him make the first dinner choice. We started with Pan-Seared Salmon with Balsamic Barley Pilaf

Since we eat salmon all the time, I thought how hard could it be?  Well, let’s just say my dish didn’t look like the picture on the recipe card. There was nothing particularly wrong with the dinner, but I’ve got to say, there were a few shortcomings.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the actual food that was at fault and I really don’t think it was the cook either. This one needs its preparation instructions revised. I followed the recipe card to the letter, even if I either didn’t agree with it or felt I knew how to “fix” it. The cooking time, I believe, was the main problem. The barley was actually crispy (translation: burnt!) and the salmon, overcooked. Everything was under-seasoned as well. 

So while this dish had all the right ingredients for a diabetic-friendly meal, the execution didn’t cut it.  When I take the time to cook a “special” meal I really don’t want to feel deprived. In my view it should taste wonderful. So, I’ll go back to seasoning my own salmon, searing it on each side and popping it into the oven for less time than Chef’d  recommends. Such a shame, though. That barley pilaf really had promise—I may even try it again myself someday. 

The next night was Spicy Shrimp and Tomato Pasta. For this dish, I’ve got good news and bad news.  While it was really quite tasty (a little heavy on the basil, but that’s my own personal taste), the portion can only be described as MEAGER.  I actually wondered if it was a mistake, but like the ingredients in all the meals, everything is measured exactly and packaged to protect freshness and factor in carb counts. Since I don’t routinely eat pasta, I gave the entire amount to my husband and it still wasn’t enough for a dinner. The flavor combination was quite good, but there’s no way two adults can leave the meal satisfied. Fortunately, there were some leftovers in the fridge that I added to my own dinner. (And by the way, my appetite has been surgically reduced to that of a gnat, so if it’s not enough for me, it’s really not enough for anyone!)

The following night saw the Carne Asada Tacos come to life. Now, THIS was a homerun!  The marinade was so good the flank steak came out tender and perfectly cooked. The salsa prep was a breeze and delicious and I even learned how to prepare the whole wheat tortillas so that they didn’t resemble cardboard Frisbees.  The black beans were yummy, too, and I don’t even LIKE black beans. As for portion size, the kit made four tacos. I ate one, my hubby ate three and we were both happily satisfied.

The last night of this taste-test found us preparing Korean Beef with Spinach Brown Rice and Baby Bok Choy. Like the tacos the night before, the flank steak marinade was delicious.The rice-spinach combo was a little odd, however. The rice portion was miniscule (presumably due to the carbs???) so I didn’t blink when they showed the size pot it should be prepared in—the smallest one I own. But then I was instructed to fold in the 10 ounces of baby spinach! Too much volume for my little pot.

I ended up transferring the whole dish to a larger wok in order to get it all blended.  Because there were beans left over from the previous night, the portions worked for this particular dinner. I thought my husband’s review articulated it best. “It was fine. Good taste. Nothing wrong with it…except that it wasn’t Korean,” he said. Since we regularly enjoy a variety of Korean dishes, we are pretty familiar with the flavor palate, and it was definitely missing.

The Final Analysis

These Chef’d meals are terrific if you are short on time and want to prepare healthy, diabetic-friendly meals without running to the market every five minutes. The most important trip you need to make, however, is into your own pantry. Following the instructions to “add a pinch of salt” and/or pepper to these recipes just isn’t enough. Since we routinely avoid salt around here, we never run out of granulated garlic, black pepper and some mixed, salt-free seasoning (ours comes from Costco).      

Something else to consider is that Chef’d meals are more expensive than some of the other meal services. The upside is there are no subscriptions to be locked into, discounts are applied and shipping charges decrease as the meals you order increase. I’ve already told you that some of the portion sizes are puny but to be fair the Chef’d dishes are described as ala carte—and they’re not just whistling Dixie. So, if you decide to try it, I suggest keeping the makings on hand for a tasty veggie or salad to accompany the main event.

And finally, kudos to Chef’d and the ADA for joining forces to form this alliance and include complete nutritional information for each recipe—serving size, calories, carbohydrates and fiber—it’s all there, enabling those of us with diabetes to know exactly what we’re eating and helping us to make smart and healthy food decisions. Going forward, I predict these recipes will be honed and improved over time. One thing is for certain, Chef’d has its culinary heart in the right place. 

See you next time!