Years ago, in a dimly lit vegan restaurant in the East Village of Manhattan, I ate a “lasagna” made from layers of raw squash, cashew cheese, and seemingly nothing else. It had the consistency of cardboard and the seasoning of a rock, and I smiled politely at my friend and new health coach, sitting across the table, as she pored over the benefits of such a meal.
As a former dancer having hung up my black leotards and pink tights, I wanted to move out of a world of calorie-counting and into one filled with actual knowledge about nutrition. Between growing up in the South, where meat was served at every meal, and my dancer’s education — which simply taught me to eat less of everything without considering nutritional value at all — I had a thing or two to learn. That night’s dinner was meant to show me how good plant-based cuisine could be. (Or, in my opinion, not.)
For years, my relationship to plant-based eating ebbed and flowed, but I continued to educate myself on which foods would benefit me on a cellular level, and began learning how veggies and meat alternatives could lift my mood and nourish my body. Over time, I fell in love with hearty grain bowls and garlicky sautéed greens, spinach smoothies, and veggie stir fries with crispy tofu, putting them in regular rotation.
Cut to The Great Quarantine of 2020: My husband and I are living in Los Angeles, drinking dirty martinis and ordering pizza delivery too often, and on the week of lockdown, I find out that I am pregnant. All of a sudden, I couldn’t read enough literature about what and how to eat during the next 40 weeks. This eagerness to brush up on my nutritional intake, coinciding with the awakenings that touched many of us this year — from social justice to the environment — put me on high alert as to how I ought to spend my time, money, and energy from here on out, especially until new parenthood hit us like a ton of bricks. So when I had the opportunity to try Simple Feast, a plant-based meal delivery kit service available in L.A., I jumped at the chance.
Like every good meal delivery kit, each Simple Feast delivery comes perfectly portioned and broken out by meal, specifically by day, and ready to cook (or reheat) with easy-to-follow instructions. (It’s worth noting: You could enjoy your dinners in whichever order you want, but the chefs consider when each meal will be at its peak tastiness and order each day accordingly. So if it’s labeled Day 1, it’s probably best to start there.)
What’s particularly unique about this service, however, is that the meals are planned by chefs trained in Michelin-starred restaurants — and you can tell. I’ve tried enough clean-food, veggie-forward regimens to know when someone has experience crafting plant-based meals that actually taste good. (It’s easy to tell otherwise.) Who else would think to pair a fresh-cut Persian cucumber with sliced fennel, green grapes, cilantro, green onion, and a lime-pepper vinaigrette?
Each salad was bright and crunchy with complex flavors. The mains, like vegetable lo mein, chickpea-mushroom fritters, and margherita pizza (I had to get my pizza fix somewhere), were perfectly pre-seasoned, approachable, and satiating without feeling dense. The meals are made with organic and local ingredients, helping to not only limit their carbon footprint and sustain local farms, but also ensuring each ingredient makes the shortest trip from the farm to your fork.
Each meal is served with a main and a side, which was a welcome break from the same protein-and-vegetable combos we’d been cooking throughout quarantine. It was refreshing to not only break up our routine (what even is a day when you don’t leave the house?!), but also to sit down to a proper meal at the end of each day — which we might not have had the energy to pull together otherwise.
Plus, each meal only required a prep time of roughly 20 minutes. The roasted vegetable and tempeh burritos sure beat the leftover lunch I was scrambling to throw together between Zoom calls. Spaghetti bolognese alongside braised fennel and arugula with gremolata and toasted sunflower seeds served as a perfect dinner for at-home date night.
What surprised me most about each meal was that they were full of flavor. The marinara on the pizza — one of the most integral elements of a great pie — was full of depth; the vegan mozzarella was the best non-dairy cheese I’ve ever had, all salty and creamy. There was the welcome addition of antioxidant-rich parsley and cilantro, while sides like warm cabbage-lentil salad with black olives, caper dressing, and pickled red onions ensured I still got plenty of protein, potassium, iron, and zinc.
One complaint people often have about meal delivery service kits is the amount of waste that comes with them: piles of sauce-stained cardboard cartons and other non-recyclables that can inspire more guilt than goodness. Every piece of packaging that came with my Simple Feast order was recyclable, or better yet, biodegradable. In 2020, when it seems like the choices we make are more important now than ever, I deeply appreciate this solution to minimizing waste.
I’m three weeks away from my due date now, and as my energy starts to dip as low as my average walking pace (read: waddle), I couldn’t be more grateful to have no-fuss, easy-to-make meals on hand that will nourish me and the little babe. Simple Feast has proven to me that you don’t have to sacrifice quality, flavor, healthful eating, sustainability, or convenience. (So, we can have it all?) Hopefully other food delivery services will take note. We’ve come a long way from the raw vegan lasagna of my past, and I’m certain it’s only getting better from here.