Now that eating out isn’t an option and most people have plenty of free time at home, cooking has emerged as a useful and soothing way to pass the time. And since restaurants can no longer be open for dining in, a lot of local businesses have quickly pivoted to offer grocery boxes and other takeout-style services that go beyond an entree, so it’s a good idea to check in with your local favorite to see how you might be able to support them.
I’ve seen grocery offerings from Cinnamon favorites like Tilda and Palette that look absolutely wonderful, and I’ve also heard great things about the produce that Imperfect Food delivers that’s available in LA. But the grocery boxes that have impressed me the most so far during this quarantine are the ones offered by Tender Greens — they’re not only affordable but also designed around specific types of food prep that make them very useful. Delivery minimum is $15 and will be free on orders of $70 or more, pickup is also free and available at multiple locations all over Los Angeles.
The items offered in the boxes are subject to change based on availability, but stick to major setups: Veggie Box ($25), Fruit Box ($30), Fruit & Veggie Box ($30), Farm Fresh Box ($20, offered in partnership with Oxnard’s Scarborough Farm), and then a Pantry Box ($40) or Morning Box ($40), that include products geared toward baking or a traditional Italian dinner of pasta, bread, and wine, respectively. Finally, there’s an Indoor Picnic option ($65) that includes crackers, cheese, meat and wine for a temporary escape. If you need more sides or just want prepared foods, they also offer meat cooked to order, a la carte mashed potatoes, cooked rice, bread, soup, all manner of dressings, raw chicken, milk, eggs, butter, flour, sugar, and so on.
While the Indoor Picnic and the Pantry Box full of pasta, bread, and wine are the most tempting options when I’m browsing online for what to fill up my own pantry with, the Veggie Box and the Farm Fresh Box are probably the best deals. Yes, grocery stores are still open, and plenty of people are willing and able to stand in line and brave the risk of exposure, but for those of us who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or taking care of someone who is, delivery and pickup is not only safer but even essential. Tender Greens doing the organizational work for you is an added benefit — if I get the Veggie Box, these items go together in recipes.
I ordered the Veggie Box a week or so ago after my friend and Cinnamon contributor Mackenna suggested it, and brought it to me so I could keep quarantine. What I like about grocery boxes is even if I was desperate and needed to go pick it up myself, going to one location to pick up one item is way safer than going to the store and picking out twelve separate items. It’s limited exposure, saves time, and helps a business that would otherwise be struggling, while most grocery store chains are doing fine right now. At the time I ordered the box included sweet potatoes, yukon potatoes, tomatoes, celery, carrots, onions, garlic, turmeric root, ginger root, asparagus, parsley, cilantro — and a requisite roll of toilet paper.
Aside from cans of chickpeas and coconut milk — and eggs at breakfast — almost every meal I’ve made over the past few weeks has included some combination of items out of this box, and the proportions were right too. A couple sweet potatoes, five potatoes and five tomatoes, two onions and lots of herbs can combine to make 5-7 meals for a single person, and at least 3-4 for a couple. Plus the freshness of these veggies outlasted anything in my fridge from the traditional grocery store. Even though my fridge is fully stocked right now, looking at the carefully selected ingredients in these boxes makes me happy, knowing they exist in this curated form is strangely comforting.
Tender Greens was initially started in Culver City back in 2006 by three men —self-described as “two chefs and a foodie” — and they have been committed to serving fresh, sustainable food in a way that few places were in the early 2000s ever since. Over the years, the company has scaled up to thirty locations, mostly in California but including two in New York and two in Boston, and each location is run by its own executive chef, another unusual touch for a fast casual chain restaurant. What does chef run mean when it comes to casual dining? It means that the idiosyncrasies of taste from a real human being still dictate the menu. Even the ingredients included in the grocery boxes show this kind of human insight.
The Tender Greens grocery boxes were impressive to me because they weren’t overpriced, and delivered a lot of value for the cost; I recently lost the bulk of my income, and a lot of shoppers are in the same boat. Initially, the Farm Fresh box was priced at $40 and offered in a bigger size, but the company adjusted and cut back on size and price to the $20 version after taking a lay of the land. A lot of people are coping with strict budgets right now, and the company tailored their pricing accordingly. It’s also nice to support a company that might be a bit bigger, but has still maintained their initial values as part of their DNA — working with local farmers and making sure the menu or items being offered are chef-driven.
At this time of social distancing and stay at home directives, grocery boxes are a good way to honor the responsibility we have to each other to stop spreading the virus, and still get what we need to find some solace in cooking fresh food while stuck inside. One of the only things that can get my mind out of an endless cycle of anxiety and worry is diving back into the world of cooking, and that all began with some diced carrots, celery, potatoes and cilantro from my first grocery box that turned into a hearty soup.
As soon as I feel better though, I’m ordering a Morning Box and whipping up some cookies. Vegetable soups are great when you’re sick, but I’m already planning what to make when I get better.