Daily Harvest meals deliver convenience and nutrition, but not always flavor

After noticing a drastic reduction in my energy levels over the last year, my 2021 resolution was simply to eat healthier. More whole and plant-based foods. Fewer processed foods, sugar and bleached, enriched flour.

I bought a magazine filled with anti-inflammation, “clean” recipes. But many of the dishes took forever to prepare and some of the ingredients — like teff or umeboshi plum paste — weren’t available without a special trip to an ethnic market.

At that point, I decided to give the Daily Harvest meal-delivery service a try. I’d been intrigued by their ads for a long time: Images of cups conveniently pre-filled with frozen, exotic, organic fruits or veggies, along with harder-to-find superfoods like maca, organic date paste and maitake. A simple whir in the blender and — voila! — an instant, nutritious smoothie.

So I took advantage of their “$25 off your first order” promotion and ordered a box. On first inspection, Daily Harvest made a great impression. Its packaging is a millennial-friendly mix of bright produce, offset by plenty of white space and “I’m your coolest bestie!” language: “Like doing everryyyyythinggg with your iPhone? Download our app. We’ve got ya covered.”

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In comparison to the HelloFresh service I tried last year, the packaging seemed more compact and eco-friendly. Bowls and cups are recyclable paper; waste is minimal.

Also unlike HelloFresh, Daily Harvest prep time also is minimal. The primary menu options are smoothies, “oat bowls” (glorified, microwavable oatmeal), chia bowls, soups, harvest bowls, scoops (ice cream-like frozen dessert, made from nut- or plant-based “mylk”), flatbreads, lattes and other snacky things. All ingredients are organic, gluten-free, plant-based and preservative-free. Sweetness stems from more natural sources, such as date paste or organic maple syrup.

Most of the foods can be prepared in a couple of steps: Add milk to the smoothie cup, blend and drink. The harvest bowls can be heated on a stovetop or microwaved.

The flatbread, typically topped with items such as artichokes, tomatoes, basil, tomatillo or peppers, is perhaps the most time-intensive. It needs to be baked in a 450-degree oven for 15-20 minutes and microwaving is not recommended.

In an (organic, non-allergenic) nutshell, here’s what I liked, and didn’t like, about this healthy meal-delivery option:

Pros:

  • It’s a nice balance of convenient yet healthy. Most prep is minimal, although the box comes with a handout that suggests ways you can amp up protein and nutrition counts. For instance, you can add a fried egg, prosciutto, red pepper flakes and microgreens to the artichoke + spinach flatbread. (And I would highly recommend this, as the Daily Harvest carton probably tastes better than the naked flatbread.)
  • Packaging is thoughtfully designed and eco-friendly.
  • The smoothies, oat bowls and scoops are delish. They are just sweet enough, contain interesting flavor combos and are easy to customize. I folded walnuts into my pumpkin + chai oat bowl and organic peanut butter into my apple + cinnamon oat bowl and they both tasted wholesome and satisfying. Their refreshing smoothies, in flavors like acai and cherry (with greens cleverly folded in), are probably their standout product.
  • It really does prove that food is medicine. I actually felt better after eating this food. While some of the meals weren’t very filling (likely due to the lack of sausage and mozzarella), they gave me a more sustained level of energy. The difference was dramatic enough to convince me that I need to find easy, long-term ways to incorporate more plant-based foods into my diet.

Cons:

  • It’s expensive. Like any meal-delivery service, you’re paying for someone to pour those humanely plucked blueberries into a cup for you. They do offer start-up discounts, but prices run $6.75 to $8 per item. That adds up quickly, especially if you aren’t digging some of the food.
  • The harvest bowls need work. Granted, I may have taken too big of a leap to transition from “Pepperoni from Around the World Deep-Dish Pizza” to a Broccoli + Cheez (never trust cheese spelled with a z) Harvest Bowl. But my boyfriend, who loves vegetables, described the latter as “tomato-flavored porridge with cold pumpkin chunks.” And then he ate a chocolate chip cookie to get the taste out of his mouth.
  • The flatbreads left me flat. Regardless of how I baked them, the flatbreads came out soggy. I will note, though, that even a tiny sprinkle of pink Himalayan salt improved their flavor significantly, so I imagine add-ons like eggs or Parmesan would help, too.

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.

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