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Chef-driven meal kits have become a popular home cooking trend

From homemade to home delivery, COVID-19 restrictions drastically changed the dining habits of Albertans in 2020.

From homemade to home delivery, COVID-19 restrictions drastically changed the dining habits of Albertans in 2020.

And a Calgary-based culinary brand strategist said healthy creations from local food producers and eateries will continue to influence the way we eat in 2021.

"The luxury of time has given people more thoughtful purchases of ingredients from farmers markets and local grocers," said Jessie Cayabo, owner of Bonafide Media and PR.

And while a significant segment of diners rely on large delivery chains to satisfy their cravings, chef-driven meal kits from a broad cross-section of restaurants are becoming more popular.

"These meal kits from restaurants are really giving amateur cooks more confidence. They are training wheels for the home cook," said Cayabo, pointing out that chefs pivoted early in the pandemic and began turning signature dishes into make-at-home kits.

She said when the first lockdown hit, people turned to comfort food in a big way. 

"Making bread was huge. People started making sourdough bread. It has continued all year and will be big next year."

Cayabo said the trend to stockpile items from large chain stores forced Albertans to look elsewhere to buy groceries.

 "Shelves were empty, people were hoarding pantry staples and proteins, so many started buying direct from farms and butcher shops. And people wanted to buy local more than ever because the local businesses were hurting."

She said while the cost was sometimes higher, people were able to pay "a little more because they were saving money in other areas – they weren't travelling like they used to."

Cayabo said the uncertain times have also caused people to think more about food waste.

"There were a lot of people growing vegetables from scraps (in the spring) and I believe the satisfaction of recycling and repurposing could be a habit that will stick."

The extra time "has given people a chance to get back to basics and that's a great thing."

Cayabo said there was huge interest in pantry staples like grains and pulse, adding farms like Gold Forest Grains in Sturgeon County and Highwood Crossing in High River had record-breaking sales in both milled flour and grains.

“I believe the interest in grains and pulse had a lot to do with time. Time to proof dough and time to soak pulse."

Cayabo said immune-boosting foods – like elderberry syrup from St. Albert’s So Elderberry Good – are becoming staples in homes across the country.

In addition, natural energy-boosting beverages – like Calgary-based Rviita all-natural energy teas – give people a mid-afternoon jolt in a refreshing organic way.

Alberta-made condiments and flavourings – most of them of the spicy variety – also became more popular in 2020.

Another growing trend for home-bound diners is creating salad dressing from scratch. Cayabo said, “It's as easy as merging great things already in their cupboards."

The plates that people put their food on are also evolving as pottery and ceramics are gaining traction for tabletop trends.

"I think it has a lot has to do with mimicking the dining experience you're getting at a restaurant with beautiful dishes and serve ware, while at home," said Cayabo.

And for those who are not cooking, the home meal delivery business is not expected to slow down even as the pandemic eases.

But Cayabo said because of the large percentage taken by the delivery companies, she encourages diners to order direct and then pick up their meal.

“You’re supporting the local restaurant, and that’s important.”

Gary Poignant is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Great West Newspapers. This story was funded by the Google News Initiative.