While things are slowly beginning to open back up in California, everyone is evaluating risk their own way. While some are happily dining out already, others, like my family, aren’t ready to come out of quarantine just yet. 

The past few months have been hard. And boring. So, so boring. It’s pretty difficult to keep a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old sane after spending 90+ days out of parks and playgroups, cooped up at home. To say I’ve been branching out in my desperation to keep them occupied and learning is an understatement.  

When Sun Basket first reached out to me, asking if I would be interested in testing them out, I did what I usually do and passed it on to my editor. At the time I was up to my eyeballs in stress, and I couldn’t imagine having the time to cook while also trying to wrangle my tiny human beasts and work remotely. I had attempted other meal kit delivery services before, and while I enjoyed the food in all of them, I am not big on having to cook. It’s one thing to spend an hour in the kitchen when inspiration strikes, it’s another to be pressured by the guilt of an expiration date. Why is it that everything is always expiring when we’re too busy to cook it? 

Charlie and his Sun Basket (Tara Finley)

The second time Sun Basket emailed me, that same email almost got deleted by my 2-year-old Charlie, who had commandeered my laptop to cheerfully bang away at the keyboard. Utterly exhausted, I saved it from his ruthless email management style and mulled it over. My kid loves to bake, so why wouldn’t he love to cook? 

I replied back to Sun Basket with a pitch: cooking activities for kids. 

They loved the idea, and sent me a box of three meals for two. Just like his mom, my kid loves receiving packages and opening up boxes. He was delighted to pull everything out and quickly claimed the bonus box of crackers for himself. 

We had three meals to prepare: chicken breasts with olive-leek sauce and sautéed kale, Tex-Mex black bean and quinoa bowls with guacamole, and bucatini pomodoro with olives, pine nuts, and ricotta salata. 

First up was the Tex-Mex black bean and quinoa bowls with guacamole for lunch. Complete with onions, bell pepper, lime zest and summer squash, I was begrudgingly prepared for a lot of chopping. I was more than pleasantly surprised that all of the work was basically already done. Literally all we had to do was add the pre-chopped summer squash to the prepared tray of all the other ingredients, and bake for 20 minutes. SO EASY. The best. Charlie (my sous-chef toddler) loved opening the bag and dumping it out, and spent the rest of the cooking time happily chopping* and consuming all of the cilantro. 

Charlie checks the recipe instructions (Tara Finley)

The food tasted great, and the portion was perfect for splitting between Charlie, his brother Jasper, and myself. The meal was a guiltless 480 calories, gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, and soy-free. 

Next we tried the bucatini pomodoro with olives, pine nuts, and ricotta salata for dinner. I was stoked they included this in our complimentary box, as my kids are obsessed with olives. I’ve never seen kids go to town on kalamata and green olives like they do. Needless to say, this was basically their version of the perfect meal. 

This one was a little bit more work, and when I say a little, I mean very little. All we had to do was cook the bucatini (Charlie loved stirring the pot), cut the olives and tomatoes in half (a wonderfully time consuming activity for any kid), and zest/juice the lemon. While I tackled the citrus, Charlie completed steps one and two with pride. I was able to teach him some tricks on slicing, and he got a great beginning education in the kitchen. We both had a lot of fun with this one. Stress-free and simple, this vegetarian, soy-free dish was a hit with the whole family at 650 calories per serving. 

Lastly, we tried the chicken breasts with olive-leek sauce and sautéed kale. We saved this one for last because I detest kale and similarly dislike cooking chicken. Aprons at the ready, Charlie and I rolled up our sleeves while baby Jasper watched from his carrier and set about to tackle this last dish. 

Charlie does the prep (Tara Finley)

I already knew the boys would love it because of the aforementioned olives. As soon as I opened up the package, I knew I loved it because the sauce was basically already made. Like I said before, I’ve tried a lot of meal kit delivery services. I always ended up cancelling them pretty soon after the first box because I just couldn’t commit to involved cooking. The fact that Sun Basket already has so many things prepared for you is amazing and not something I had experienced before. It was a relief, honestly. 

This recipe was the hardest in that I had to spend eight minutes actually cooking the chicken. Given that the entire purpose of this experiment was to involve my kids in a new educational activity, I was okay with that. Charlie learned all about food safety while watching studiously from his stool. 

Next up was the kale, already chopped! I was loving how little work this all was. Charlie got to add the kale to the pan and stir with his dedicated wooden spoon. He was very proud of his work and loved watching the leaves wilt before his eyes. 

Charlie then got to dump the premade sauce into the same pan and as the recipe suggested, add as many olives as he liked. I’ll let you guess how many ended up in there. 

Pasta maestro (Tara Finley)

Thanks to the sauce, we enjoyed this meal as well. At only 370 calories per serving, this healthy chicken dish was paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and carb-conscious – perfect for trying to curb the quarantine fifteen Mom and Dad have seemed to pack on the past few months. 

At the end of the experiment I was pleasantly surprised. While I knew without a doubt that Charlie would love spending time in the kitchen, I didn’t expect the endeavor to be so easy. We were able to spend quality time together thanks to the uncomplicated nature of Sun Basket’s meals. In fact, we enjoyed ourselves so much that I purchased a plan (in full) for the family in an effort to cut down on our grocery bill and the rotting ingredients I’ve purchased in a fit of energy and inspiration that always seems to disappear when meal time comes around. 

I love that I can teach my kids about healthy cooking and clean eating through recipes that are convenient and quick. Dinner time is much less stressful now! 

*We use a set of children’s training knives that are toddler-safe. No tiny fingers were harmed in this experiment.

LA Weekly