Trying to plan and decide what to eat for dinner takes up too much time in the day. Time that could be better-spent binge-watching Netflix shows with your flatmates and avoiding pending assignments. If you’re anything like me, eating like a rat is what gets us through the day. It’s not that I want to eat the same three meals every week - it’s fine, but after a long day of doing nothing, having to think about what meal to eat and then cooking is the last thing I want to do.
Plastered all over social media is chef Nadia Lim’s ‘My Food Bag’ ads, catered towards wholesome families with busy lives, needing a solution for what to feed their kids while juggling a full-time job and a partner who only knows how to make mince on toast. However, My Food Bag and other alternatives like Hello Fresh are pretty gourmet. Don’t get me wrong, it looks so good, but it’s definitely not a cheap option and does require some cooking skills. So why can’t I stop thinking about them? Most probably because of the ads, and my malnutrition.
Bargain Box is the solution. Run under the My Food Bag company, Bargain Box is the cheaper alternative that offers ‘Family Faves’ for household groups with two to six members, and provides the choice between classic or vegetarian. You have the option between three to five nights a week, and each dinner is pre-picked and sent to your door. All you have to do is cook it. Each serving ranges from $6 to $13, and overall prices range from $88 to $183 per week depending on which options you choose. Although you have to still get breakfast and lunch groceries, for a family, it’s a viable option.
But what about for students? I decided to order a classic box, three nights for two people, to investigate whether or not Bargain Box is a sustainable option for students who can’t be bothered figuring out what to cook or sick of Subway three meals a day. The mini box would usually cost $88, but for the first order you can save 30% with the coupon save30, which took it down to $61.59. This is not sponsored by the way, I just love a good savings.
The menu is sent earlier than the food, and the order arrives on the weekend before the meals are due to be cooked. The delivery comes on a Sunday afternoon, and is fit with ice packs (that are super handy to keep) in special compartments fit to be left outside for a bit if no one is home. On the menu this week was fish burgers with sesame chips, onion braised chicken and mash, and cheesy beef pasta bake. I definitely looked forward to the meals, anything’s a good change from broccoli and rice every day. However, there was a catch - they required ‘pantry staples’ such as soy, sesame oil, vinegar, mayo, beef stock, and so on. Bold of them to assume I have milk in the fridge, let alone any of the above ingredients - but I made do with what my flatmates had.
Honourable mention to the activity book they sent which included more yum recipes and games for kids to play. Luckily I don’t have kids, but what I lack in offspring I make up for in flatmates who love an activity book.
Monday Night: Fish Burgers
As I told the people of Critic, I am not a fishy bitch. Is fish my first option? Only when it’s fresh, but I will live by the notion that anything tastes good in a burger. Bargain Box recommended to eat this one first, for no reason other than what I assume is to avoid freezing the fish or the fish getting stinky, who am I to argue.
The steps: Prep and cook fries, cook fish in the oven, mix together your salad, mix your mayo, toast your buns and serve. Overall it only took about 25 minutes, and was the easiest meal of the three.
The mayo step was particularly interesting, as it required mayo in a bowl with oil and soy sauce mixed in. It really added a twist to the egg sauce that mayo fundamentally is. The sesame on the chips really gave an extra level of flavour to potatoes which are already perfect in my eyes. The fish burgers itself were fine, but I’m a sucker for good fish. Would eat again if it was in front of me, wouldn’t go out of my way to buy.
X-factor: Simon Cowell/10
Tuesday Night: Onion Braised Chicken
Chicken is my absolute fave. She’s versatile, she’s juicy, she’s always there when I need her. So Bargain Box had me looking forward to chicken, even though the name was daunting. First of all, I have absolutely no idea what braised is. Call me a fool, but my cooking skills are minimal when it comes to most foods. After cooking it, I still don’t know what braised is, but regardless it was good.
The steps: Cook potatoes and parsnip and mash together with spinach. Cook onions, prep and cook chicken with the onion and stock. While doing all of this, cook the beans, then serve. Overall it took me 45 minutes.
This one was definitely worth the work. The mash potato was so creamy and the spinach added a level of skinny that I had never thought of before. The chicken was so good too, and the caramelisation of the onions was time well spent. Good job Nadia Lim, this one wasn’t bad, and I probably wouldn’t share it with my flatties.
Flavourtown: We’re riding the bus to Flavourtown/10
Wednesday Night: Cheesy Beef Pasta Bake
Here’s the real hard hitter. Pasta is amazing, cheese is even more so. I looked forward to this meal most, pasta bake most likely has a special place in everyone’s hearts. I’m hungry even thinking about it. You’d think that pasta bake would be simple enough, cook some pasta and meat, add cheese and bake. But you’d be wrong, this one involved something called a ragu, and to be honest I am still unsure what it is.
The steps: Cook the pasta. Make a cheesy ragu which I assume is just cooked vege. Add the meat and all the ingredients to a pan. Make cheese sauce, and grill everything mixed together in an oven. Overall this took me like an hour because I’m an idiot.
This was probably the best dish of the week. The pasta, the cheese, everything about pasta bake has my heart. However, the mince was, dare I say, disappointing. I’m not sure if it was the freshness or the way it was cooked, perhaps it was because I froze it and you weren’t supposed to, or it may have been because I’m used to that good quality meat. I’m not complaining, the meal was top tier, it simply leaves room for improvement. The meal took way too long to cook in my opinion, but it was definitely worth it.
Flavourtown: Holy Pasta, Batman/10
X-factor: Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated/10
I definitely ate proper meals this week, and for that, I am eternally grateful. The latter two meals were my favourites, and I enjoyed cooking meals for once. Would I make an effort to cook more meals like this in the future? Probably not, I’m fine with my quick rice on rice daily. But I appreciated the effort Nadia put into creating a box full of bargains. The amount of dishes created was unnecessary, though. Sure, if you have a dishwasher that would help, but we only own one pan which made it difficult to cook the extravagant meals. The ratio of time spent cooking versus the time spent scoffing the food down was also inexcusably off.
In terms of price breakdown and portion size for one person, it doesn’t seem worth it in my specific situation. For example, each meal came to a total of $10 for per serving, and two servings meant I meal-prepped for lunch the next day. However, without the discount it comes to $15 per meal, which is approximately what I spend on groceries in a week. The fish burgers can be easily replicated for a cheaper price, assuming there are staples that Bargain Box expects. It would cost about $17 for similar products, and would have more servings than the two servings provided in the box. In defence of Bargain Box, there has to be some sort of compensation for delivery costs and ice packs, and most of their ingredients are free range. Regardless, the price may outweigh the convenience. If not, get your steps in and hit New World Gardens instead.
At the end of the day, it’s probably not a go-to option for students; it can get expensive and we all have such diverse lifestyles. Some of us have specific dietary requirements, some of us only eat Maccas, or some cook for their whole flat. For a couple, this could be a really good option in terms of variety and convenience, but for a lonely rat like me, I’ll stick to my cheap groceries for now.