My main job as a kid was to stay out of the kitchen, as both of my parents liked to cook, my mother on weekdays and my father on weekends.

Besides … I hated to wash dishes (lower middle-class homes didn’t have automatic dishwashers until much later).

My mother was the classic quality American home cook of the 1950s-’60s specializing in “meat and potatoes.” We four children were expected to be on time for every breakfast (7 a.m.) and dinner (6 p.m.), even as teenagers.

We would tease Mom about her set meal schedule. Breakfasts: Monday, French toast; Tuesday, chipped/cream beef on toast; Wednesday, pancakes; Thursday, porridge; Friday, eggs; Saturday waffles. Dinners: Monday, beef roast left over from Sunday; Tuesday, fried chicken; Wednesday, pot roast with potatoes; Thursday, meat loaf; Friday, hamburgers or steak.

Dad also required a dessert every night, probably contributing to my general distaste for dessert. There never was a deviation, that I can remember, unless on vacation; our family vacations were usually tenting camping trips, with Dad doing all the cooking on a gas- or wood-heated griddle.

From age 18 to 32, I mostly lived alone and learned to cook a limited menu: steaks, preferably very rare; omelets; corn, then from a can; and Caesar salad. In fact, my friends would joke that if invited to my place for dinner, they knew what to expect.

I sheepishly admit that otherwise in those bachelor days, I usually ate soup cold from the can, pizza and Chinese food; cheap and no dishes to clean.

Who would have predicted that now we can cook at home from boxes following cartoon-like recipes? Two years ago, Shirley ordered some meals from an online free trial ad; we loved it. Believe it or not, I am now the cook in our house, shooing Shirley out of the kitchen. Each week we get a box on the front porch with two days of gourmet meals for two from Martha and Marley Spoon. We can adjust menus and service by computer. We like the Martha Stewart emphasis on sauces and spices with liberal use of olive oil and garlic. (I am French, after all.)

Marley Spoon was founded in Germany by Fabian Siegel in 2014. It made an impact in Europe and Australia in the food package delivery business. The company came to the United States in 2016 with venture capital money and joined up with Martha Stewart in 2017 because of her menu ideas, her marketing prowess and her name recognition. An initial public offering in 2018 brought in approximately $70 million.

The packaged food business is very competitive. Leading services include HelloFresh (2011), Blue Apron (2012), Plated (2012), Green Chef (2014), Home Chef (2013), Sun Basket (2014), EveryPlate (2017), Nutrisystem (1972, but 1999 for delivery systems, weight loss diets), Diet-to-Go (1991), Purple Carrot (2014, vegetarian), Freshology (part of Diet-to-Go), Factor (2017, special diets) and bistroMD (2005, caters to seniors) and some others.

The complexities of the business include, of course, marketing and delivery, but other critical issues include the recipes/menus per se, and then ingredients: quality, freshness, provision, packaging and shipping temperatures and coolant methods.

As my readers now expect, our old friends the Chinese and apparently the Koreans started food delivery services back in the 1700s and 1800s with noodles and soup delivered by foot or bicycle. Pizza delivery in the United States began in New York City about 1945, but in Italy about 50 years earlier. Other restaurant deliveries in New York City began in the 1950s.

Grocery delivery began in the United States in about 2004.

The origins of meal box delivery began in 2007 in Sweden and Northern Europe. Meal box delivery began in the USA in 2011-2012.

Companies have come and gone over the years, but in 2018 the volume of U.S. meal box delivery was an astonishing $8 billion and is expected to grow to $12 billion by 2022.

Stand back. Let’s cook.

Dr. Stephen Imbeau and his wife, Shirley, have been in Florence for more than 30 years and raised their three children here. He and Dr. Joseph Moyer started the Allergy Center about 21 years ago, and it is now one of the largest in South Carolina. Contact him at citizencolumnist@florencenews.com.

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