Convenience and health are often at odds when it comes to following a healthy diet. If only shopping, cooking and preparing healthy meals could be as easy as hitting a drive-through or pizzeria during a lunch break. For increasing numbers of Long Islanders who have gone gluten free, dairy free, low fat, low carb or “paleo” that dream is a reality, as they outsource meal preparation to a growing number of diet delivery services.
Thirteen years ago when 5 Squares launched in Westchester County, a diet delivery service was unheard of. Today it’s more commonplace—busy professionals are catching on to the convenience and the portion-controlled nutrition. Owner Monica Lynn started the company when she was a fitness competitor trying to cook her own tasty meals free of wheat, sugar and dairy. She grew the company to employ a kitchen staff of professional chefs who cook meals that are delivered daily by truck to a varied clientele across the metro New York area. “We offer different options including gluten free, as diets have changed. A lot of our female customers sign on to lose weight for six weeks and men tend to appreciate the convenience and stay on forever,” she said.
The $43-per-day service includes five meals delivered overnight in a cooler, where they can be left without a signature. Dieters can customize their menus for allergies or food preferences. On a recent weekday, breakfast was a gluten-free protein strawberry muffin with Canadian bacon, a mid-morning snack was 5 Square’s own protein bar, lunch was a turkey burger and salad, the second snack was lentil soup and dinner was cumin chicken breast over rice with a generous serving of cauliflower. The food was tasty, but the magic bullet of weight loss was apparent: Portion size. The protein-packed meals seemed alarmingly tiny at first glance, even though they were surprisingly filling. The sizes and calorie count was much less than many are accustomed to eating, therefore sticking to the plan might require an adjustment period.
For those looking for more meat than potatoes, Middle Island-based Caveman ToGo, which launched this year, cooks paleo meals and delivers them to CrossFit gyms in NYC, Suffolk and Nassau (or groups of 10 people or more). Paleo, short for paleolithic, is the diet du jour that attempts to recreate pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer nutrition. No grains, dairy, processed oils or refined sugar, but plenty of meat, nuts, fats, vegetables and seafood. Co-owners Byron Carter and chef George Caso found that the growing ranks of local paleo eaters were looking for a way to combat the lure of the quick and easy fast food meal. “People don’t trust themselves to stick to a diet. You might not want to eat grilled chicken and broccoli eight times a week. You just pick it up where you work out and pop it in the fridge at work or home,” Byron explained.
At Crossfit Mettleworks in Deer Park, owner Dana Siegfried has been eating on the plan for months. “I can’t cook any of this,” the CrossFit competitor laughed. “I can’t even remember the last time I went food shopping.” I tried the “Primal Rib,” a generous hunk of meat accompanied by a sweet potato purée and sautéed wild mushrooms. The meal was tasty, filling and the spices and flavor help in the absence of refined carbohydrates. Lunch for the next day consisted of chili-rubbed chicken thighs, roasted broccoli, squash and tomatoes. The company is expanding options for customized menus but right now, customers can only swap out pork or fish for chicken. The standard size meals cost $13 but He-Man cavemen can opt for the “beast” for an extra $10 to get an additional three ounces of protein.
Chefs Diet is a national company that delivers to Nassau County. Representative Joseph Maniscalco said many of their customers are busy professionals who are looking to lose weight. He compared the cost of a lunch salad in Midtown with the cost of a Chef’s Diet meal, which works out to less than $15 per meal (the plan is $45 per day for three meals and two snacks).
“This is gourmet, restaurant-quality, food. It actually ends up being more of a value than eating lunch out.” The service offers a range of meal plans, including standard, kosher, heart healthy, diabetic, “vegiquarian” (fish but no meat) and even a children’s option.
I tasted two day’s worth of Chefs Diet meals, which surprised me by being so hearty and generously portioned. Besides several aspects that were obviously dietetic, like the chicken and tuna salads being very light on the mayo, it was easy to forget the meals were part of a diet plan. There was breakfast oatmeal, pancakes, salmon, pork loin, even a cookie and a carrot cake. It’s up to you, however, not to raid the fridge later.