COMING IN HANDY: Frozen foods, or meals delivered with fresh ingredients, are all the rage

Grant D. Crawford, Tahlequah Daily Press, Okla.
·5 min read

Mar. 2—With the U.S. economy's downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and people looking for safer dining alternatives, many have been experimenting with meal kit delivery services.

March is National Frozen Food Month, an opportunity to consider ways of preparing food other than the conventional methods.

In Tahlequah, Virginia's Chicken Store offers an assortment of frozen goods for lower prices than most places, and owner Dennis Mounce said the products taste better, too. After he and his wife, Virginia, worked for his parents' frozen food store in Roland about 20 years ago, the couple opened a location in Muskogee and Broken Arrow, before debuting in Tahlequah.

"We're the cheapest cats in town," said Mounce. "There's nobody even close to our prices."

Mounce purchases frozen products directly from manufacturers, such as Tyson, Simmons, Pilgrim's Pride and others. The companies typically produce food for grocery stores and restaurants, and he buys the excessive products that weren't sold to those places. Mounce tries to purchase all products the restaurants don't take.

Customers can find deals for better-tasting food, making it ideal for those on a budget. There are wings, nuggets, fillets, and chicken fries, along with french fries, pizza sticks, tater tots, and more.

Mounce said patrons notice the difference between buying frozen food from Virginia's and at a grocery store.

"It's amazing the flavor difference between going to Walmart or something and buying frozen chicken strips, and coming to my store and buying frozen chicken strips," he said. "Mine are 100 times better. Restaurants can't serve crappy food. They'd go out of business. Grocery stores, they sell a ton of variety, so they're not too particular about the frozen products they sell."

Buying online subscriptions for meal boxes has made cooking at home easier, and it's become a bustling industry with a variety of options. Some companies send boxes full of ingredients and instructions for to cook quickly at home; others offer pre-cooked meals with no prep required, and they're ready to eat within minutes.

Local resident Michelle Newton has tried both Hello Fresh and Factor. She said Hello Fresh sends people packages with pretty much every ingredient needed for a home-cooked meal, except for basic items like oil, butter, salt and pepper.

"It comes in a big box with ice packets in it," Newton said. "The bottom of the box is your meats that come with the foods, and there's an ice pack. Then on the top, there are brown-paper bags and each of them is labeled for the meal. So if you're having the ravioli, which was one of my favorites, it has everything you need in the pack, and if it calls for certain herbs, that's there."

While the cost was about the same as dining out, Newton said it made choosing dinner easier and more convenient. With Hello Fresh, she said, customers can cancel their subscriptions anytime or suspend them if they plan to be out of town. Patrons can also have their packages shipped elsewhere if they plan to leave town, but would still like to cook a fresh meal.

Newton said Factor offers fully-prepared meals, but they don't actually come frozen. She uses them for lunches when she's on the go. While she doesn't necessarily save money, she can get healthier meals for the same cost as picking up fast food, and she enjoys the convenience of being able to quickly have something ready to eat.

In a Saturday Forum on Facebook, the Daily Press asked readers if they've tried any meal kit delivery services lately.

Robert Johnson said he loves to use Home Chef.

"We can pick and choose what recipes we want for each week and no commitment so skip any week or weeks," said Johnson. "Recipes are great, easy to follow, and the food is good!! They have 15-minute kits, oven ready meals, or regular ingredient and recipe. Highly recommend."

Susan Feller said she's tried all of the companies and loves them all. Her favorite is Home Chef, but it's the most expensive.

"The least expensive is EveryPlate, and it may be my next favorite," Feller. "It is very similar to Hello Fresh, but far less expensive. My only complaint with it is that it does not have many green vegetables. So I make a side salad."

Pat Maltby said his family recently switched services.

"We wanted to eat healthier so we recently changed from Hello Fresh to Gobble and couldn't be happier," said Maltby. "We are a family of two, and we think it is price competitive to buying the product in the store. Each meal takes 15 minutes to make, which is great with our busy schedules."

Alyssia Hylton has noticed one negative aspect of using such services.

"The only bad thing I've noticed about these subscription packages of food is that typically if you expressly say that you only want one, they will sign you up for recurring charges without your consent," she said. "Once the package has arrived at your house that you did not consent to, they will not refund the charges."

What you said

A Daily Press website poll asked, "What do you think of online meal ordering services that deliver ingredients that can be used to cook at home?" Of all respondents, 24.3% said they are high-quality but too expensive; 13.5% said they are high-quality and reasonably priced; 8.1% said they are of average quality and overpriced; and 54.1% had never tried them.