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Get back to home cooking with ‘recipe bags’

Owner Denise Fernandes with a Dinnerit recipe bag.

Monday-night meatloaf, Tuesday-night spaghetti: it's a cliché to run through the same dishes week after week, but with busy schedules it's a common one – unless you opt for takeout instead.

As online shopping for prepared meals and groceries expands its reach across the country – the latest player is Amazon.ca, which launched its virtual supermarket in October – two Greater Toronto Area players are looking to fill the space in between, delivering meal plans and ingredients but letting customers do the cooking.

Inspired by "recipe bags" long popular in Sweden and similar programs in the U.S., meal-planning and grocery-delivery company Dinnerit (dinnerit.ca) opened in August, targeted at those who like to cook, but want to outsource the planning. The service brings a meal plan and major ingredients (they expect that you stock common items such as spices, oils and vinegars) to your door on a weekly, preorder basis, with four servings each of either three or five recipes. Feed four with three dinners a week for $99.

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"We have always loved home cooking," says owner Denise Fernandes, noting that her family had found it challenging to plan and shop for healthy meals while managing two full-time jobs and childcare. "We wanted to create an easier way to make it a reality for ourselves and others."

Competitor Fresh Canteen (freshcanteen.com) has been offering a similar service since June, the difference being a higher degree of customization (that also means ordering is a little more work and costs are slightly higher): You can choose either two or four servings per meal ($12.50 per serving), and pick from six recipes, half of which are replaced weekly.

The service "allows creativity in the kitchen without the headache that often surrounds planning a meal," says Fresh Canteen community manager Lisa Steele.

While both services currently deliver only in Toronto, future plans include wider national availability and a broader range of packages and promotions. And given the expected growth in online food shopping in this country – it's currently estimated at less than 1 per cent of the grocery sales market, compared to 2.5 to 3 per cent in the United States – they're well poised for expansion in their niche. The "recipe bag" market is less crowded than the rapidly proliferating options for full-meal delivery, notes Fernandes.

"Although the tangible outcome between our service and meal delivery is the same, the benefits are very different," she says. "Our service offers customers the reassurance of knowing exactly what is and is not in their food, the joy of learning about a variety of new ingredients and how to use them."

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