If you had asked me two years ago when I lived in Paris if I liked to have meals delivered, I’d have responded “blasphemy!” Now, however, new meal-prep services are emerging that provide healthier, tastier, and lower cost meal-delivery options. The top meal-prep services have carved out a niche that separates them from meal-delivery services like Postmates and Seamless that deliver food from nearby restaurants, but do not operate their own kitchens. Unlike ingredient-delivery services like Blue Apron, meal-prep services require less time investment from its customers and can be enjoyed in any hotel with an in-room microwave. Some meal-prep dishes are lower cost and more customizable than hotel restaurants and can also be delivered to your Airbnb address.
When traveling, staying fit and eating well can sometimes feel mutually exclusive. After a few evenings of multi-hour multi-course meals out, more and more elite travelers are taking a night or two “off ” and ordering in a lean broiled low-sodium wild-caught salmon fillet, the way you would make it for yourself at home.
Though many meal-prep services such as Metabolic Meals (www.mymetabolicmeals.com) only provide weekly or monthly sub- scription services, some also offer à la carte orders for one-off meals. These companies market first and foremost to busy, health-conscious residents, but travelers can also take advantage of these companies’ fresh, local, convenient, and delicious meals.
Torben Schulz, co-founder of EatFirst (www.eatfirst.com), a meal-prep service now serving customers in London explains: “Restaurants prepare foods to be consumed on site. It is made to be perfect to eat when you are still in the restaurant. After about a half hour of delivery, this food loses its taste and structure.” In contrast, EatFirst “blast chills” its freshly prepared foods, with clear instructions on how to heat the food in the microwave or oven so that the quality of the food is at its highest exactly when you want to eat it. I asked Torben to explain what “blast chilled” means. He told me while it doesn’t sound logical, the first time you see it you’ll understand why some of the top culinary schools require students to pass exams in organic chemistry. The science behind blast chilling works. While other delivery foods can get mushy by the time you’re ready to eat, food from EatFirst is exactly as if it had come right off the stovetop when you take your first bite. This will be an exciting year to try and taste different meal-prep services as competition really starts to heat up. For travelers, the best services also offer unique local foods and flavors. Most companies are quite young, have not expanded beyond the city where they were started in, and still reflect the original vision of their founders.
Most of the healthy delivery services in New York require long-term subscriptions, including Portable Chef and Plated. Other services that do offer à la carte orders only ship one or two days a week, expecting customers to order prepared meals for the full week. These include Clean Eats meal- prep, which offers relatively inexpensive low-calorie meals. If your visit to New York aligns with Clean Eats meal-prep’s Sunday deliveries, try their 374 calorie dish called Noah’s Ark, an aptly decorated salmon dish drizzled with walnuts and a colorful mix of roasted vegetables ($10).
Another option is Provenance Meals (www.provenancemeals.com), which offers a popular five-day detox program with ten plant-based meals, ten shakes, five daily supplements, ten curated teas, and a blender bottle (only delivers to Manhattan on Mondays and Wednesdays, $350).
The calorie-conscious traveler in New York can also turn to Fresh Direct (www.freshdirect.com) and try their under 500 calorie prepared meals. Though not fully customizable or as home-cooked fresh as some of the leading services, this online grocery store offers low-calorie prepared meals such as a five oz. curried lentil, quinoa, chickpea, and kale super salad ($3.99) and a salmon with olives and saffron rice ($9.99). In 2016, Fresh Direct received a $189 million investment to expand its services. Their new FoodKick app offers à la carte entrées delivered in under an hour for select neighborhoods in Manhattan, with a menu that includes kale veggie burgers ($8.99) and a bistro chicken dinner for two with mashed potatoes or lentils bacon and onions, and roasted Brussels sprouts or haricots verts almondine ($25). The best feature of the Fresh Direct website is its sort function, which allows you to pinpoint menu items by calories, total fat, protein, and a variety of other nutrition facts. The company also has a relatively wide reach for a meal-prep company, and delivers to the Jersey Shore ($9.99 delivery fee) and the Hamptons ($15.99) delivery fee during the summer.
Another favorite, Munchery (www.munchery.com) expanded to New York in 2015, though it is still working out some kinks operating in a new city. This company, that received its Series C funding of $85 million from one of Uber’s early investors, is using new technologies like blast chillers not only to improve the quality of the food it delivers, but also lower costs. By centralizing cooking to giant high-tech ovens, they reach economies of scale by baking hundreds of chicken breasts at once with exact precision on temperature and humidity. Started in San Francisco by a Vietnamese immigrant, Munchery offers daily menus, often with Southeast Asian flavors. I recommend their vegan 460 calorie tofu rice bowl ($7.95). Munchery does not require a subscription, and delivers to most neighborhoods in New York. Also check out their menu when traveling to San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Seattle.
The culinary scene in our nation’s capital is getting more exciting every month, and 2017 will be the first year that Washington, D.C. has a city-specific Michelin Guide. Last year, Michelin awarded 12 D.C. restaurants with 15 stars. Unfortunately, this means that Rose’s Luxury’s notoriously long lines may not shorten in the near future. Add to this the higher demand than supply for high-quality freshly cooked meals.
With a large Ethiopian immigrant community, D.C. has offered relatively low-cost and filling Ethiopian delivery for many years now, along with the stereotypical delivery options of pizza and Chinese. At least in D.C., these options are not exactly haute cuisine. Neither do they help you reach your fitness goals for your next Fire Island vacation. Recognizing this gap in the market, former LivingSocial marketing executive Alan Clifford and Ian Costello founded Galley (www.galleyfoods.com), a meal-prep service that serves select neighborhoods in the greater Washington, D.C. area and Baltimore.
Galley offers meals between 600 and 800 calories for $13 to $16, including tax, delivery, and gratuity. They require no minimums, subscriptions, or other commitments. Each dish is composed of a protein with two sides, and their meat, poultry, and dairy are hormone-free.
According to Co-Founder Ian Costello, “We try to keep in touch with concierges with hotels around the city. If you’re a business traveler, it’s great to have Galley as an option: it’s healthy, it’s well- defined, it tastes like fine dining.”
Galley makes their food from scratch each day and offers a menu that changes daily. Though Galley does not blast chill their food, they do pack food in cool delivery bags so that meals can be delivered to your hotel and stay fresh until you want to eat it.
There’s a personal and local character to Galley that also stands out. They call their delivery staff “servers,” and have given back to local charities and schools such as Martha’s Table. They also specialize in kid’s lunchboxes. My favorite items on their menu are the Chesapeake Crab Cake with garlic celery seed aioli and Old Bay roasted potatos ($16) and the superfood salad with kale, blueberries, carrots, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, and pomegranate seeds ($8).