Becoming a “Mindful Chef” – A user experience

As part of my practical experience for my Personal MBA, I have documented my experience using the Mindful Chef as an 0% food waste model. Operating on the equivalent of Just-It-Time, or perhaps more accurately Just-Enough, Mindful Chef seeks to remove food waste by providing only what is needed.

It had been another week of take-away meals, I had checked the scale that morning and I was not trending in the right direction (5kg above my November weight), I was even considering asking Just Eat for frequent flyer miles…things were getting bad.

Living alone has it’s perks. I get to eat whatever I want. Living alone has it’s drawbacks. I get to eat whatever I want. I needed an alternative.

On a recommendation from a friend (who was upfront with the disclaimer that he had invested in 484 shares of the company), I decided to see if I could become a Mindful Chef. I knew it would be cheaper to buy direct and possibly end up throwing away food at the end of the week, or more likely that I wouldn’t buy the food in the first place. I recognised that a good plan, that I followed, would be better than the perfect one, I ignored.

The Concept – Quality food, 0% food waste and socially conscious

Top quality products, no refined carbs (no pasta, no white rice, no bread) and seasonal vegetables. For me, a key part is the more sensible balance of food on each plate, in terms of quantity and ratios. The greens portion would be more than the Carlsberg token gesture I usually pretend is enough.

With “An astonishing 400 million meals’ worth of edible food [being] wasted by supermarkets & manufacturers in the UK each year.” – Mindful Chef targets a 0% food waste model, which is why I have included this review as part of my Personal MBA in the Circular Economy. I want to go beyond the theory.

For each meal purchased, they donate a meal to children in the world’s poorest communities through One Feeds Two. I am encouraged by the increased desire of a broader social impact that companies are beginning to demonstrate.

The Sign-up took a few minutes

  1. How many people? – 1,2,4 (prices naturally come down per person)
  2. What are you looking for from our service? 
    1. Eat Less Carbs – Un-ticked  – as they don’t do refined carbs or gluten already, which I, ahem, avoid
    2. Discover Recipes – Ticked
    3. Save Time – Ticked
  3. How do you like to eat? – All are gluten and dairy-free, I decided to start with Balance
    1. Protein-packed or
    2. Balance or
    3. Pescatarian or
    4. Plant-based
  4. Please select any food groups you don’t want us to send – Beef, Lamb, Pork, Chicken, Fish, Shellfish, Vegan – I left them all, a mistake we have made since the agricultural revolution is relying on too few staples.
  5. Gave me 12 recipe options, recommending 2. Each cost – £8-£10, so compared to my Just Eat minimum order of usually £12+ for most places, it is cheaper than. Most options indicated that they take around 30 minutes to cook and range between 510-630 calories (which is probably less than my take-away).
  6. Needed to pick 3 meals. This is where it got tricky, they all looked delicious.
    • 4 Vegan options,
    • 1 Beef,
    • 2 Chicken,
    • 2 Pork,
    • 2 Fish,
    • 1 Duck.

They all looked appetizing and I hadn’t eaten that evening yet… I took the recommended 2 and 1 other.  I could have “unlocked” another 1-2 meals for the week. It gave me a warning of “Unless you’re a recipe box expert, we recommend you start with just 3 recipes” – This was a fair warning for someone who was hardly cooking. I think the reality is, they know their market, I’m likely to go out 2-4 evenings a week, then be lazy 1-2 evenings. On reflection, 3 suddenly seemed like a bit of a stretch.

I could chose Sunday or Monday delivery (It was Tuesday evening) and I used a mate’s voucher at check out – £20 thank-you. I had to leave “Safe place” instructions, which were frustratingly limited at 50 characters, even Twitter is more generous.

I could edit up until Thursday for the Sunday delivery, with the option to skip and change deliveries each week. There is the ability to select meals up to five weeks ahead, which they have pre-selected for convenience. This was a relief, given the paradox of choice.

I considered setting myself a reminder to review each week, but then realised that I was not too worried, if I forgot, then at worst, it would take me out of my comfort zone. Well, that was it, until my delivery on the Sunday and I decided it was time for some fried chicken (aiming for better, not perfect).

My First Week

My meal plan:

  • Chicken Kiev with mustard parsnip mash – delicious
  • Pork & apricot meatballs with spiced quinoa – delicious as well
  • Coffee rubbed steak with sweet potato wedges – also delicious

So, every meal was delicious. The ingredients were top quality, it reminded me of my time living in Milan. Meals are simpler, as the quality of ingredients are better. There was no need to disguise the taste by drowning it in chutney, mayonnaise or tomato ketchup.

At the end of each meal, I was left a little hungry, no, that’s not true, not quite satiated would be more accurate. I think this was partly because I’m used to eating bigger quantities and partly to compensate for my craving for a calorie surplus in the evenings, as I attempt to reduce my calorie intake during the day and then simply exhaust my will-power.

A Meal Example – The “Coffee rubbed steak” ingredients (and guest appearance from my trusty Ninja)

They provided simple quality and apportioned ingredients. I realise that I could probably source all of the ingredients myself at a cheaper price. Then again, I could also walk the 12 miles to work for free. I have to balance the time, cost, effort and alternatives. I have a clear focus list of priorities and food shopping is not it.

I know, I could probably go shopping myself for the ingredients – with some effort to get the diversity and quality – for perhaps £5, this would involve a trip to the market, 1hr. I would either need to decide beforehand what I wanted to cook, or buy and then figure out what to cook, at least 0.5hr. I would probably not get the portions right and end up eating the same meals on repeat. Most meals cost about £8.50. So £8.50-£5.00 = > £3.50 x 3 meals => £11.50 or £7.66 per hour, not worth it.

I realise I could substitute for cheaper quality ingredients and although the per meal price does come done for Mindful Chef, if greater portions (2-4 people) are ordered, so perhaps not sufficiently for a family on a tight budget, the time value is a very individual decision.

Can you tell which picture is mine and which is their’s? 😉

Being in a new flat, I am still building up my cooking equipment, which could be to the reason for some of the differences. Lighting the rest?

And, as far as their “0% food waste model” is concerned, I was only left with one lemon as a surplus at the end of the week. G&Ts anyone?

My one gripe – the amount of (necessary?) packaging

Ideally there would be less packaging, which is tricky given their delivery model. It seems that convenience and waste are currently opposing forces. Mindful Chef state their packaging is 95% is recyclable which is better than most supermarkets (I’m assuming, I did read that a Deli at a well-known supermarket would not accept someone bringing their own container). They didn’t have packaging ridiculously in excess of needed, like certain online delivery companies do, I can think of one Prime example.

Of course, I cannot gripe without proposing an alternative.

Although 95% is recyclable, I’ve seen some interesting comparisons between paper and “plasticky” type cups, where after transport, chemicals and energy used, the “plasticky” ones had arguably less of an environmental impact.

Mindful Chef do give the option to return some of the reusable packaging every 4 weeks. So, looking at the order of “reduce, reuse, recycle”, reusable would be better, and that is my proposed alternative.

I am surprised that no-one has developed a reusable and stack-able option for deliveries. It could even be made relatively secure, at least as secure as a locked suitcase, perhaps even secured to to the property being delivered to. Then using a similar model to gas canisters, have an exchange/return option. When one is dropped off, the other can be picked up.

After a week of being a Mindful Chef

I am 1.5kgs down, which is not solely as direct consequence of Mindful Chef. Nothing is done in isolation, the mind and body works like that, there are linkages. Being conscious of being healthier, I was exercising more last week. The improved meal plan definitely helped pull the first lever (diet) and I was also pulling the second lever (exercise).

Overall, I like the ethos of this company and I will continue to support them. The meals are delicious, convenient and healthy. The following week on round 2 of meals, I caught myself thinking, what would be easy to cook, I then thought that that would be a waste and proceeded to take out the ingredients that had been delivered. I realised once again, a good plan that I follow is better than the perfect one I don’t.

If you want to give it a try, help support this blog by feeding me, it’s great for you to:

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