Dinner at Your Doorstep

Food preparation and delivery services boost fitness (and free time).



The mantra comes at us from all sides—that the true secrets to weight loss and better overall fitness are better nutrition and more exercise. And as challenging as it can be to get up early and hit the gym, or roll from bed to the floor and do a few push-ups and crunches, both can sometimes seem simple compared to the difficulty many people have doing one basic thing: cooking dinner.

Whether it's a time crunch that keeps you from eating right or a general disinclination to use your kitchen for the task for which it was intended, several area food preparation and delivery services have emerged to help you eat and live better. And keep in mind that what you're getting for your money will be far different than the mail-order food peddled by many national weight-loss services.

"There's a lot of services out there that will shove diet food down your throat," says Bill Abbot, president of Fit Fresh Philly, a home food delivery company that serves the Main Line. "And they're not really that healthy. [The companies] know they're not healthy."

That's because such prepackaged foods and nutrition bars are often highly processed—so, among other things, they're full of salt and preservatives. "Freeze-dried food," says Katie Cavuto, owner/chef of the local Healthy Bites Delivery service, with an audible shudder. "Unless you're an astronaut, there's no point to that on this planet; there's something inherently unhealthy about it. Maybe it's just a personal preference, but I'm really not into shelf-stable meat products."

What home food delivery services provide is entirely different: carefully prepared meals designed around a rotating menu or personal preference, fresh preparation using nutritionally sound ingredients, and speedy delivery for consumption within a few days (at the most). Some even combine their tailored food preparation with a personal chef service.

Fit Fresh Philly provides clients with set daily menus featuring everything from blueberry oatmeal to filet mignon. The selection changes quarterly, with two menu choices per meal. The day's freshly prepared selections—breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks (one savory, one sweet)—are delivered the evening before. All food is packaged in microwave-safe containers with reheating instructions. It's delivered in a cooler bag that's locked after it's filled and can only be opened with a client's key.

Even if a client was inclined to do his or her own cooking, sorting out the truly healthy and nutritious products from those that claim to be so would almost constitute a second career. For example, Abbot gets his low-carbohydrate wraps from a company in Queens, N.Y., that consumers in this area otherwise might not have access to.

"It makes sense for a lot of people to let someone else do the work for them rather than cutting into family time, personal time or even work time," he says. "It's easier to have a trusted source out there who does the due diligence and looks at all the labels."

Cavuto, who holds multiple degrees in fitness, nutrition and cooking, agrees. "Most of my shopping is done someplace like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's," she says. "I always use fresh ingredients as far as vegetables and produce. My whole philosophy is to use products in their least-processed, freshest state possible. I think that's when food is healthiest."

Making the menu appealing and healthy to clients is a major challenge for any food preparation service. Fit Fresh Philly bases its recipes on the Zone nutrition system, which emphasizes a balance of carbohydrates, "good" fats and lean proteins. "It's definitely important, and the well-balanced approach is key. It's based on very well-researched science," Abbot says. "The difficult part is that it does take some work and it does take some understanding of basic nutrition. It takes a lot of thought, and the recipes really come into play."

The goal, he adds, is not only to provide great-tasting and healthy meals for clients, but also to eliminate the lure of restaurant food by making Fit Fresh meals taste as close as possible to the things that might tempt clients away from their healthy lifestyle. The rotating menu reflects things you might find at your corner bistro or bakery—only without the unhealthy ingredients found in many mainstream food-service kitchens.

"People sometimes get hoodwinked and a little bit desperate—and then the diet food is right around the corner. But, intrinsically, they know what they need to eat," Abbot says. "What they're looking for is a way they can eat real food and have someone else make it healthy for them."

Like Cavuto, Lisa Minelli Endlich, owner of Finally Food and Fitness, uses her own recipes and modifies client favorites by incorporating healthier ingredients and cooking styles. While most chefs begin their training in classic (and inherently unhealthy) cuisine, both Cavuto and Endlich have used their focus on health to modify traditional recipes.

"It's very personalized, because maybe you have a diabetic or maybe you have a family with three healthy children," says Endlich, who incorporates the techniques she learned at the Culinary Institute of America and cooking in Switzerland for 15 years into her personal chef and fitness service. "It has to be on their terms," she says.

The trick is in the small changes, Endlich says—steering clients toward techniques like steaming rather than frying, using fresh herbs instead of salt, and avoiding canned soups in recipes.

With all these services, the goal is to provide dining consistency for clients who otherwise might be grabbing fast food or leftovers at odd hours—or even skipping meals entirely. Having the prepared food delivered eliminates that problem. "It's great for them to have a meal to take into work so they can eat at a regular hour," Cavuto says.

"If they have these meals planned ahead, it provides them with consistency. And consistency is key as far as fueling their metabolism."

But good nutrition is of little help without a monitored fitness program to accompany it. Along with running her own chef service, Cavuto is affiliated with Stay Young Fitness Corp., a personal training service that helps her clients get the benefits of both better nutrition and proper exercise. "When combined with the trainers and the meal plan service, we're really on top of [clients' needs]," says Damien Young, president and CEO of Stay Young.

Endlich, meanwhile, is a Nordic walking instructor (see "Heel-to-toe Invasion," page 10) and certified fitness trainer who also folds her exercise training into the portfolio of services she offers. "If I'm doing the personal chef aspect, I tell my clients, 'You don't have to do the food shopping, you don't have to cook, you don't have to clean up.

Take a walk with all the time you're saving,'" she says.


RESOURCES
Finally Food and Fitness
, Lisa Minelli Endlich, (484) 363-3867, mychefsite.com/finallyfoodfitness
Fit Fresh Philly, Bill Abbot, (610) 825-7499, fitfreshphilly.com
Healthy Bites Delivery, Katie Cavuto, healthybitesdelivery.com
Stay Young Fitness Corp., Damien Young, (877) 438-3484, syfitness.com

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