Can the Internet Really Supply You With Healthy Meals?

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You’ve probably heard about one or more of the new meal delivery services on the market. Popular services include Blue Apron, Plated and Hello Fresh. If you’re not familiar with any meal delivery service providers, check out this in-depth review of the various choices currently available.

There’s no question having pre-portioned ingredients with recipes and directions delivered directly to your door is convenient. However, convenience comes with a price. Most of the meals cost between $9 and $13 per serving.

So, do these meals live up to the hype? Can the internet really supply you with healthy meals?

What is a “Healthy” Meal?

To review and compare the available options for getting healthy meals online, we’re going to use the following criteria (which are fit for the vast majority of healthy people). A healthy meal is one that:

  • Includes a lean protein, a high ratio of fruits and/or veggies, a whole grain, a serving of dairy and a healthy fat
  • Doesn’t include excess fat or added sugar
  • Is between 500 and 700 calories per serving (very active individuals and athletes may need more calories per meal)

Comparison

Blue Apron – Meal #1: Spaghetti Bolognese with Butter Lettuce Salad & Creamy Italian Dressing

Lean protein: No
Fruits and vegetables: Yes
Whole grain: No
Dairy: Yes
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 770
Saturated fat: 11 g
Trans fat: No

Blue Apron – Meal #2: Za’atar-Spiced Chicken with Pink Lemon Pan Sauce & Pearl Couscous

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Minimal
Whole grain: No
Dairy: No
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 750
Saturated fat: 9 g
Trans fat: No

The Results
Both of the meals from Blue Apron come in over the 700 calories per serving mark, though both are less than 800 calories. If you are eating a 2,000 calorie diet, though, that’s still almost 40 percent of your calories in one meal. These meals are also relatively high in saturated fats, clocking in at 11 g and 9 g per serving, which is more than half of the recommended allowance of 16 g per day on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Blue Apron includes video tutorials with each of their recipes to demonstrate proper cooking techniques. All of the video lessons are available on YouTube. If you have trouble accessing any of the videos, you might be getting blocked by a content filter on your internet connection. Using a virtual private network can help you bypass the content filter so that you can access the videos no matter where you’re preparing to cook.

Hello Fresh – Meal #1: Wasabi Lime Salmon over Soy-Simmered Rice with Baby Bok Choy

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Yes
Whole grain: Yes
Dairy: No
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 660
Saturated fat: 4.5 g
Trans fat: unknown

Hello Fresh – Meal #2: Dukkah-Crusted Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Sugar Snap Peas

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Yes
Whole grain: No
Dairy: Yes
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 510
Saturated fat: 4 g
Trans fat: unknown

The Results
In this review, Hello Fresh’s offerings both came in under 700 calories per serving and all of the meal options included a lean protein, a serving of vegetables and a healthy fat. Hello Fresh does not document the amount of trans fat in their recipes, so that information was not available for comparison. Also, at less than five grams per serving, both of their recipes also included a relatively low amount of saturated fat, at less than 5 grams per serving. If you want to try Hello Fresh’s recipes for yourself – they include them on their website (see Recipes at the top of the navigation screen).

Plated – Meal #1: Soy-Glazed Turkey Meatloaf with Coconut Rice and Greens

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Minimal
Whole grain: No
Dairy: No
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: Yes
Calories per serving: 840
Saturated fat: unknown
Trans fat: unknown

Plated – Meal #2: Cheesy Sweet Onion Panini with Truffle Fries

Lean protein: No
Fruits and vegetables: Minimal
Whole grain: No
Dairy: Yes
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 870
Saturated fat: unknown
Trans fat: unknown

The Results
Of the three services we reviewed, Plated fared the worst. Their meals were both over 800 calories per serving, and the site doesn’t offer information regarding trans or saturated fats for their recipes. Also, there was very little focus on healthy ingredients, such as whole grains and vegetables. While the meals looked delicious, they probably can’t be called healthy.

In this limited review, Blue Apron and Hello Fresh both fared well in their offerings of healthy options. Their meals were low in calories, relative to the other options, and included many of the other markers of health, such as lean proteins and a high ratio of vegetables.

Meal delivery services claim they can deliver all the ingredients, recipes and cooking instructions you need to create healthy meals in your home. A closer look, though, indicates you might need to supplement some of these meals with other ingredients so that they can give you all the nutrients you need.

This is where you come in. Everyone has a different diet and everyone’s body processes food differently. So while healthy meals are available through the internet, you need to do a little homework to make sure these services’ meal options live up to their promises and offer the kind of food that will support your lifestyle.
About the Author: Cassie is a fitness professional and writer. She loves helping people learn about health and fitness and teaching them how to make the healthiest choices for their body’s individual needs.

Don’t be Misled by Poor Nutrition Advice: “Avoid foods with too many ingredients, ingredients you don’t recognize….”

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I typically tune out nutrition conversations when I’m out in public so I can stay sane. Yet there is no shortage of really bad advice being spread in person, print and over the internet by self-proclaimed nutrition experts. And I’ve found that people like to group foods into strict categories (“good” or “bad”) in an effort to simplify and better understand the complex science of nutrition. Yet this rarely works and the top 3 common reasons that are cited to avoid a particular food or food group are misguided and not based on science:

1. Avoid the interior isles of the grocery store and only shop the perimeter. While this might expedite your trip to the grocery store, it won’t help your diet. If you avoid the isles and stick to the perimeter you’ll avoid plenty of healthy and convenient foods including canned tuna, dried beans, nuts and seeds, 100% juice, frozen meat / fish / poultry, frozen fruits and vegetables.

If you want to know a little more information about how frozen and canned produce compares with fresh, here’s a segment I did on this topic for CNN:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/qdGy99HRftU]

2. Look at the list of ingredients and avoid foods with more than 5 ingredients. The number of ingredients on a food package has nothing to do with it’s nutrition value or how healthy it is (or isn’t). If I make an omelet with eggs, onions, green bell pepper, red bell pepper, spinach, mushrooms and cheese, is it automatically unhealthy because it contains 6 ingredients? Do you automatically consider a recipe “unhealthy” or “fattening” if it contains a long list of ingredients? Of course not. What if you eat a salmon dish from a restaurant – do you ask how many ingredients were used to prepare it and judge how healthy it is based on the total number of ingredients? I hope not. If you don’t  stick the “unhealthy” label on a recipe or restaurant meal based on the number of ingredients it contains, don’t do this with a food that comes in a package.

3. Never eat a food that contains ingredients you don’t recognize. I recognize most of the ingredients listed on food packages. But sometimes (okay often) I go to restaurants and I feel like I’m reading a foreign language. Feijoada? That’s Brazilian rice and beans. How about Aringa? That’s Atlantic herring. I appreciate the creativity that comes with fancy menus but I’m not sure what I’m ordering. So here’s my point: unless you are a food scientist or chef who is well-versed in wide variety of cuisines, chances are you won’t know every ingredient listed on a food label or restaurant menu. Just because you don’t know what it is, this does not mean that it isn’t healthy.

The next time someone tells you to avoid a food based on any of these 3 misperceptions, consider sharing some of this information with them. Friends don’t let friends spread poor nutrition advice 🙂