This is the most maddening part of cooking with meal-delivery services like Blue Apron

Megan Willett

Meal-delivery services — such as Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and Plated — make cooking more convenient, except for one thing: the cleanup.

These food startups take the guesswork out of food prep by doing all the measuring and shopping for you. They then send everything in a refrigerated box that is waiting at the door when you get home. All you have to do is follow the step-by-step instructions to make a perfect meal.

Plus, each meal costs roughly the same as ordering from Seamless or Grubhub. Blue Apron starts at $8.74 a person, Hello Fresh starts at $9.08 a person, and Plated costs $12 a person.

This all sounds great, and in practice it works smoothly. But the problem is the number of unnecessary dishes and utensils you end up using.

My least favorite thing about all these services was the cleanup. The people who curate these recipes are not afraid of dirty dishes, and the instructions often show multiple pots and pans, numerous tiny bowls filled with prepped produce, and several knives and utensils needed to quarter, dice, julienne, chop, slice, and trim all of the ingredients that have been sent to you.

That's a whole lot of dishes to wash, most of which are barely used. Suddenly the work of getting a 35-to-45-minute recipe on the table could involve an extra 15 or 20 minutes of cleanup work.

Some people would argue that the reality of cooking is making a mess, and while I don't disagree, with meal-delivery services, I'm not in charge of how much of a mess I want to make.

If I wanted to cook for myself, for example, I would never cut seven different kinds of produce and place each one in its own individual bowl.

The instructions don't clearly say which ingredients you can put in the same tiny bowls — which can cost as much as $25 for a set of eight — as you prep, or if you can reuse the same knife or cutting board. These are things you're expected to figure out on your own by reading ahead in the steps or simply through trial and error.

But because the instructions rely so heavily on visuals, the beginner chef like me would be tempted to try to put each ingredient in its own separate bowl, just as in the pictures.

I learned to start looking ahead in the recipes and combining ingredients if I would be using them at the same time. For example, instead of putting these ramps, mushroom heads, and radish slices into their own individual bowls for three seconds, I left them on the cutting board.

This dramatically cut down on the number of dishes I would have to wash later. Call me lazy, but that's just the kind of cook I am.

If you decide to use these services, you're getting a lot of amazing benefits, including minimal food waste, pre-portioned meals, easy-to-follow recipes, and a pretty amazing end result.

But be prepared for the number of dishes you will most likely use, because it can become maddening.

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