For the first time, Americans are spending more money eating out than at grocery stores. According to a Census report, Americans spent $7.1 billion more in restaurants last year than on groceries.
This is not a healthy trend. It’s much easier to eat well when you cook your own food. Restaurant meals are linked with poor diet quality, as well as higher rates of obesity and related health conditions.
But not all restaurant meals are created equal.
In recent years, more food outlets for health- and fitness-conscious consumers have opened. These retailers make it easy to eat a healthy meal when cooking at home isn’t possible.
The Perks of Prepped
Prepped meal services offer several benefits. First, they take the guesswork out of healthy eating. Meals are well balanced, with proper portion sizes, and most include nutrition facts on the packaging. Similarly, some services offer meals for specific fitness goals, from carb loading to muscle building.
Several St. Louis-area companies even employ registered dietitians or nutritionists to plan menus and assist customers.
Prepared meals are also very convenient. If you’re like me and often squeeze in workouts after work, it’s tempting to call for delivery food afterward. Having a few prepared meals on hand ensures you have a healthy choice at home. Dinner is ready with the press of a couple microwave buttons and a few dishes to wash.
Finally, prepped meals can inspire you to try new flavors or ideas. I’ve sampled different ethnic-inspired dishes through these services, and I’ve been exposed to foods like protein pancakes that have become staples in my diet.
The Local Lineup
Several retail stores and delivery services in the St. Louis area offer healthy prepared meals:
Feed Your Vitality (feedyourvitality.com) offers Paleo and anti-inflammatory diet meal delivery, plus options for certain specialty diet protocols. Individual meals range from $6 to $12; meal subscription plans begin at $8.86 per meal.
fit-flavors (fit-flavors.com) was founded by a chef and personal trainer and employs a registered dietitian. With three retail locations, it offers a variety of seasonal entrees and snacks. Vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free and nut-free items are available. Meals start at $4.25.
Fit4Me (fit4mefoods.com) offers online ordering with pickup at retail locations in St. Peters and Ballwin. The menu includes Paleo, vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian, dairy-free and nut-free options. Entrees range in price from $6.50 to $13.75.
Metabolic Meals (mymetabolicmeals.com) is a nationwide meal delivery service based in St. Louis. Meal packages range from six to 21 meals per week and are priced at $9.50 and up. All meals are gluten- and soy-free with organic ingredients.
Pure Plates (pure-plates.com) has five retail locations locally and offers meal delivery. Meals start at $4.99 and include vegetarian and gluten-free options. A 30-day meal plan is available. Pure Plates also offers nutrition counseling at its retail stores.
Healthy Home Habits
Despite several options available locally, prepared meals may not be for everyone. Fortunately, home cooks can capture some of the benefits.
First, take a few hours per week to meal prep. Cook two or three batches of your favorite lean proteins (such as roasted tofu or grilled salmon). Roast a couple of trays of colorful vegetables, and prepare several portions of your favorite starches (sweet potatoes hold up well in the fridge). Yogurt parfaits, overnight oats and egg casseroles are great options if your mornings are hectic.
Second, portion out your meals. It’s not necessary to do this at every single meal, but measuring occasionally helps keep your portion sizes in check. Use a food scale if you have one, or estimate portion sizes using your hands:
- The palm of your hand is about the size of a 3- to 4-ounce portion of lean protein.
- A 1-cup serving of cooked vegetables is about the size of your fist.
- A 1/2-cup serving of cooked starches — like pasta or rice — is about the size of a cupped handful.
- 1 tablespoon healthy fat (like peanut butter) is about the size of your thumb.
A healthy meal should include each of these components.
Even if you’re dining out, the hand method can help you to know proper portion sizes. Just ask for a box when your meal arrives so that you can immediately wrap leftovers.
A few simple changes can be very helpful in keeping your health and fitness goals on track. But should you find yourself struggling, keep in mind the many great local prepped meal options and consider taking advantage of their services.
Author: Kimberly Yawitz is a registered dietitian and freelance writer who enjoys trail and obstacle course races, paddling and Crossfit. You can read more of her work at dietvsdisease.com and in the St. Louis Track Club newsletter.