Home-Cooked Dinners For Busy Couples? It's Possible With 'Plated'

plated, breakfast love dinner

Spend less time cooking—and more time with the person you're cooking for.

I always find time to cook because I love doing it—and more importantly, I love the person I cook for.

But finding time during a busy work week is, well, you probably know how it is. Even with all the modern conveniences—Pinterest recipes, grocery delivery services, the microwave—each night at 6 p.m. I find myself in the same predicament.

As I ride the bus home from work, I frantically Google "dinner ideas" and chide myself for not preparing better. My inner dialogue goes something like this: "Ooh, these Charred Corn Tacos with Zucchini-Radish Slaw sound divine but they call for cumin...was it cumin or cayenne I bought last week? If I have to buy cumin that’s another $6.99 to the grocery bill...at that point we might as well order takeout."

By the time I settle on a recipe that calls ingredients I'm pretty sure I have at home, pick up any remaining ingredients, make a second trip for the ingredients I thought I had but realized I didn't, and start cooking, it's 8 p.m. and my boyfriend is hovering. The bickering starts. By the time we sit down to eat, it's close to 9 p.m. and we're ready for bed.

Enter Plated, a service that that lets you order dinner subscription boxes online. The company claims to deliver everything you need to make a gourmet meal in 30 minutes—that includes packets of spices instead of whole containers and exact portions for the recipe at hand. It's perfect for busy couples who want to prepare home-cooked meals with a dash of convenience. A coupon code presented itself, so I tried it.

From the five available options (they rotate the selections every Tuesday), I chose Chicken Rollatini with Arugula-Basil Salad and Apple Cider Pork Burgers with Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad. I ordered on a Tuesday night and an enormous brown box arrived at 6pm Wednesday by courier. The company's website says the box can sit out for an entire day and the food will still be fresh. While I didn't test their claim, I certainly believe it— the special packaging kept everything quite cool.

I was also impressed with the quality of the ingredients—produce fresher than I've bought at the grocery store, antibiotic-free meat, beautiful shiny brioche buns and perfectly portioned spices. The best part? No trips to the grocery store because everything except olive oil, salt and pepper was included.

By 7 p.m. I had already started cooking. The directions were clear and easy to follow, except that the picture of the Chicken Rollatini showed four cutlets and only two were included. A friendly customer service rep via Plated's online chat reassured me I wasn't missing any ingredients and that although the directions didn't say so, the chicken actually needed to be butterflied to create four cutlets (luckily, I'm an expert butterflier, but I pity the newbie facing that daunting task).

Both meals were ready in thirty minutes flat. We agreed the apple cider pork burger with the apple-onion dressing was the tastier dish. But the chicken rollatini was quite good, too—the proscuitto certainly gave it an upgrade, but "the gravy was bland," proclaimed my Italian-American prince of a boyfriend. In fairness, I think most people would have found the gravy—a red sauce that was ultimately just a can of seasoned, crushed tomatoes—totally acceptable.

Also included was enough arugula to feed a family of six. Along with the raw brussels sprouts salad, the veggies seemed a bit uninspired. That said, I understand that keeping meals simple, fast and boxable has some limitations.

At $15 a plate for non-members ($12 for members), the service is not cheap, but certainly cheaper than takeout. Plus, at a slightly higher price than a home-cooked, grocery store meal, it's well worth it.

Why? Well, on one of the nights I used Plated, my boyfriend and I were finished with dinner so much earlier than normal that we decided to take a walk around the neighborhood and catch up. We rarely get to do that. I cook because I love to, and I love who I cook for, but what makes it all worth it is those precious few hours a day we get to spend together.

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