How the Meal Hero team is cooking through shelter-in-place

The Meal Hero team eating dinner
We’re parents, tech-experts, and foodies on a mission to make dinner easier for everyone, ourselves included.

Although most of us are food fanatics at heart, we’ve been thrust into a period of extreme home-cooking along with the rest of the world.

We understand the overwhelm you might be feeling as many of us are experiencing it too. We’re also starting to embrace this new level of home-cooking and are getting creative with substitutions, trying new recipes, going back to basics.

We recently surveyed our Meal Hero teammates on how they’re handling cooking right now and want to share some of the results with you! We hope you learn some new tips or at least feel like you’re not alone in all of this.

Pantry meals from A to Z! Tell us something you’ve recently made with what you have on hand.

  • Banana oat pancakes! So delicious and healthy: eggs, almond milk, bananas, oats
  • Burrito bowls with rice, beans, and whatever veggies I have left.
  • Chicken Parm
  • Flourless gluten-free banana almond cookies. They are very gooey and take less than 20 minutes to make.
  • Fried chicken and Eggos
  • Fried rice — frozen veggies and tofu with the rice
  • Instant-Pot lentil soup. It’s quick and easy and I normally have most of the ingredients on hand (celery, carrots, onion, garlic, lentils, and some kind of leafy green like chard or kale)
  • Lasagna
  • Lentil soup — easy to throw wilting veggies into
  • Orzo with canned artichoke hearts, lemon, parm!
  • Pasta puttanesca with canned tomatoes, pasta, olives, capers, and anchovies
  • Quiche! You can literally put anything into a quiche — it’s great for cleaning out the fridge.
  • Spaghetti with shrimp, clams, and Alfredo sauce
  • Tadka Dal and Cuban Black Beans
  • Tuscan white bean pasta with sardines
  • Tacos, Japanese curry, spaghetti & meatballs, teriyaki salmon, pelmeni, basil chicken, pineapple bread, cinnamon rolls, mochi muffins, green onion pancake, layered beef pie, Taiwanese golden croissants, and soy milk
Example of common items you'll find in our kitchens

We like to think of ourselves as creative problem solvers both in and out of the office! Check out these interesting ingredient substitutions the team has made recently.

What’s been your most creative ingredient substitution during this time?
  • “Chicken skin instead of pancetta for bolognese.” — Tam
  • “We like a certain spinach lasagna recipe but didn’t have lasagna sheets so we just turned the filling into a pasta sauce and it worked great.” — Lucy
  • “Cannellini beans roasted and smashed instead of hummus.” — David
  • “Fish sauce mixed with vegetable dumpling filling because I didn’t have shrimp but wanted the flavor.” — Araminta
  • “Used two forks because I don’t have a whisk.” — Susan
  • “I didn’t have any fresh bell peppers to put in my cajun red beans and rice, but frozen kale worked!” — Jason R
  • “Mushroom + lentils to make bolognese instead of meat. It wasn’t my intention to use meat but it sure tasted meaty!” — Linda
  • “I made a blueberry pie but ran out of flour for the crust. I made up the difference with pancake mix.” — Jason V
  • “Oil for butter in baking recipes.” — Steph
Scallop and noodle dish and text that says "little victories"

Have you had any “little victories” in the kitchen?

Celebrating kitchen wins — both big and small — reminds us that cooking is a process we get better at with practice. We highly recommend keeping track of moments when your family loves a dish, you master a new technique or when you just wing it and create something actually delicious.
  • “I made chicken cacciatore, a dish I’ve always loved but never tried to make.” — Jason V
  • “I was really craving dim sum so I decided to make dumplings from scratch. I was super determined to make the kind with the clear wrappers. The process took me almost an entire Sunday, but it was super worth it.” — Steph
  • “I love that all my meals are at home. I’ve literally lost weight from simply eating at home. Eating more salads that my partner made and eating my main meal with my kids around noon has made a big difference.” — Sivan
  • “This morning the goal was to make black beans and eggs, and I really wanted sweet potato with it but didn’t have much time. Slicing them very thin and pan-frying with the lid on ensured they cooked through while the high heat made sure they got a good sear on the sides and held up against the black bean broth when served.” — David
  • “Being at home all the time with a flexible schedule, I am able to set times through the day to sit down and eat a filling meal. Meals have priority over everything else.” — Patrick
  • “A successful sourdough starter and loaf! Also, a huge batch of shishito pepper jam.” — Araminta
  • “I made leg of lamb in the oven for the first time and it was really hands-off easy.” — Susan
  • “I feel like my household is more okay with ad-hoc recipes rather than trying to make everything perfect every night. Oh and I finally made veggie stock with all the scraps I’ve been saving up in the freezer — it turned out so well!” — Lucy
  • “I’ve been very creative with my ‘meal of the day menu’ for weekdays and ‘dessert menu’ for weekends. I am planning to make Taiwanese pineapple cakes this weekend!” — Michelle
  • “I cooked an ambitious multi-course Easter brunch for my 5 roommates. Menu: beet and ricotta hummus, charred kale citrus salad, quiche in a sweet potato crust, turmeric fried cauliflower rice, roasted Brussels sprouts, and citrusy cheesecake. It only took 10 hours of shopping and cooking time… I need to get more efficient.” — Joe
  • “The coolest thing that’s happened so far was learning to use my tongue to make sauces. I made a stir fry and needed a sauce. I didn’t have oyster sauce, so I winged it with soy sauce, fish sauce, some sugar and a little mirin. But the sauce didn’t taste right. What was missing? I could feel what was missing (the front of my tongue wasn’t activating). I had sweet and salty, I needed something else. I tried vinegar on my tongue and the front of it activated, so I knew it was what I needed. Added that, plus a little sesame oil and I had a pretty balanced sauce. Super cool how you can literally “feel” flavor, I never thought to try it like that. Tasting your food is important (obviously), but actually using your tongue as a “map” to flavor is something new to me. EDIT: reading about this more, I don’t know how true it is. But… I do think you can identify “gaps” in flavor with your tongue, and then try to fill in those gaps by tasting different ingredients and seeing how they fill it in.” — Julian
  • “Made poached eggs for the first time on a camp stove without anything but a pot of water and a bit of vinegar!” — Linda
  • “Baking chicken every Sunday and storing it in pyrex containers. Batching cooking FTW! I’m also now good at broiling to finish things off.” — Arti
Ways to structure cooking at home: team structure, lunch league, team flexibility, or a combination

Have you learned any new cooking skills while sheltering in place?

  • “I’ve learned how to make a lot of old family recipes (i.e. dosas, panipuri, different chutneys) from my mom!” — Nandika
  • “As silly as it sounds, we got a rice maker and I’ve been using that so that’s my new skill.” — Tjarko
  • “I’ve learned a new technique for making bread with more bouncy texture and holds moisture for longer.” — Michelle
  • “I made hummus from scratch for the first time! I really want to try muhammara next.” — Joe
  • “Making boba tea at home” — Tam
  • I’ve learned the right ratios for a good salad dressing with miso, I now know how to effectively cook potatoes in under an hour, and we’ve pulled off several Indian dishes where the seasoning order turned out to be the secret — put some spice in at the end, who knew?” — David
  • “Does making Eggo waffles and peanut butter count?” — Patrick
  • “I learned how to bake flourless sugar-free cookies.” — Susan
  • “Bread baking, and just relaxing more about baking in general. At the end of the day, the stuff always turns out good, even if a little weird sometimes. Also, brewing coffee since I don’t get it in coffee shops anymore (usually I’m an espresso guy). Aeropress is legit.” — Julian
Freshly baked bread and text that says "food trends"

Have you tried any food trends while quarantined?

  • Pork panko (pulverized chicharron)
  • I’m going to try Dutch oven stew/soup recipes when my Dutch oven finally arrives.
  • Whole, minimally processed foods
  • No, but I bought an Alison Roman cookbook and I feel like her recipes are trending these days so I’ll see if they live up to the hype! #shallotpasta
  • Does subscribing to a CSA count?
  • Not yet, but going to hop on the buffalo cauliflower train this weekend. I also have been devouring ‘breakfast cookies’ bade with just oats, bananas, and chocolate chips.
  • Not sure. Unless beans are on trend now. We were into beans before beans were cool, man. XD
  • Bread baking I guess is the one.
  • We’ve been putting the Instant Pot to very good use and making a lot of new dishes with it.
  • Dalgona coffee, no-knead bread, beyond meat
  • I am back to true Mediterranean food
Woman sitting on floor next to overturned pot and spilled tomato sauce with text that says "kitchen fails"

Have you had any kitchen fails while in quarantine?

We learn from our mistakes and honestly, most of us who haven’t failed feel like we just haven’t tried hard enough yet! Here are some insightful (and humorous) slips the team has had to keep us humble and hungry to learn more.
  • “Oh yes. Everything from straight-up burned cashews when trying to roast nuts to overly complex spice combinations that turned into mud. Actually the latter was the most impressive. Three spicy things combined that turned into the blandest dish I’ve eaten, and this is comparing to porridge, mind you. That bland. Like woah.” — David
  • “My roommate made cookies and when she pulled them out of the oven they had all cooked together. We joked she was intending to make a cookie cake all along.” — Mary
  • “Sourdough pretzel fail! They were hard as a rock and didn’t brown. I didn’t have lye, and the baked baking soda trick did not work.” — Araminta
  • “I’ve developed a quest bar addiction as a coping mechanism for social isolation. The record number of quest bars I had in one day was 6… trying to wean myself off but I’m concerned about the withdrawals haha.” — Joe
  • “I tried a stir fry with frozen veggies. I screwed it up because I didn’t drain and rinse them enough, so there was a lot of water and it just cooked things down to mush rather than frying. It was the first time in a long time I had an “Oh, I just ruined this dish” feeling. So I had to fix it by frying it up in a separate pan before topping with sauce. It ended up a bit mushy but at least had a nice flavor! I was happy with it in the end.” — Julian
  • “We roasted a chicken then made a stock from I made stock from the carcass. That stock cooked all day and it was perfect. Then I went to make some butternut squash soup, left the dutch oven on the stove all night, and woke up to the smell of sweet burning chicken. Lost the soup, but shockingly, the pot made it through with only a few scratches.” — Jason R
  • “This was not during quarantine but one time I accidentally made ice cream with salt instead of sugar for a group of kindergarten students. Suffice it to say, they were not pleased.” — Nandika
  • “I burned some kabocha squash a while back trying to multi-task and do dishes at the same time..but that’s pretty typical of me.” — Linda
  • “Yes, I made chickpea and tomato soup with rosemary and used way too much rosemary.” — Jason V
Meal Hero team waving while on a team outing to an orchard

Anything else you’ve learned that you want to pass on?

  • Good vegetables don’t need a lot of seasoning. Unless I’m making a soup, I want to taste part of what was there at the start.
  • Save fruit scraps to make a tea or infused oil.
  • Only go into a grocery store if you can buy over 10+ items at a time to reduce the number of trips. Plan ahead all the recipes before buying a single ingredient.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be creative. Enjoy and learn from the process!
  • Freeze your bread…Pouches of tuna are such a good value…Broil baked chicken at the end to make it crisp.
  • The silver lining to quarantine cooking for me has been having all my roommates available to eat dinner together. It is very grounding to me to have chosen family to eat with every day.
  • Cooking is more fun when I plan on which recipes I’d like to make and shop for the ingredients accordingly.
  • If you feel like eating chocolate cake in bed, eat chocolate cake in bed! Be kind to yourself!
  • Life is pretty good being at home with my loved ones
  • Just to take it easy on yourself.

Hang in there, we’re sending love from our kitchens to yours!

Man sprinkles herbs on pasta
Woman displaying plate and fork full of fresh meal
Meal Hero team member cutting vegetables in a kitchen
Meal Hero team member chops garlic in a kitchen

We hope you’ve had some big kitchen wins in the past few weeks. If you’re starting to feel a little overwhelmed or a bit uninspired, Meal Hero can help you take ingredients from #fridgetotable and get meals on the table more easily. Just enter in what you want to cook with or need to use up to see custom recipe recommendations. Try it yourself at mealhero.com

Never miss a blog post

Sign up for our email list to get them straight to your inbox (plus other helpful cooking tips).

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.