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Healthy meals, fast

What do you do when you love food, want to be healthy, and have an insanely busy schedule with little time for food prep?

Take advantage of one of the new wave of prepared meal services available in WNY.

These aren’t make-it-yourself meal kits (á la Blue Apron) or processed frozen dinners. They’re single-serving meals sold in to-go locations most often found in strip plazas and near fitness centers. Locally made from fresh foods, they are packed with healthy ingredients to emphasize clean eating and convenience.

These meal-prep businesses have popped up all over WNY to provide an alternative to highly processed fast food and pricier dining out (which is often doggie-bag substantial). While the main intent of this new crop of prepared meals is healthy convenience, the bonus, in many cases, is also weight management — strict portioning and balanced recipes are a cornerstone.

How it works

Most places are subscription-based, with set pricing for defined number of meals. Some services also offer "grab and go" options. And some are a hybrid of two: at BBG2GO in Hamburg, for example, you can pre-order meals by Friday for the following week with no minimum order and no long-term commitment.

Depending on where you order them, meals are fresh or frozen and require only a few minutes in the microwave to prepare.

Encouragement
with your meal

Lindsay Ofarrello opened 95 Nutrition three years ago to fill a gap she saw in the weight loss industry.

"Weight loss doesn’t have to be about starving yourself thin or skipping carbs," said Ofarrello. "I teach people how to eat through portion control, and not restriction."

Ofarrello and head chef — her mom — work with a staff of 20 to create a full

menu of meal options each week. Meals like "The 95 Street Brawler Taco" and "Buffalo Chicken Wing Pasta" are carefully portioned for males and females — the difference being quantity (and thus calorie count). The heat-and-eat packaging is clearly labeled with ingredients, nutritional breakdown and bonus motivational statements like "It only takes you believing in you to get this thing done."

Busy 20somethings Brittanee and Troy Wilder are 95 Nutrition customers. Self-professed foodies, they both like the convenience and quality of the cuisine, along with the weight loss that’s resulted.

"My husband lost 20 pounds and I’ve lost 11 pounds in under two months," said Brittanee Wilder. "I struggle with portion control, so this is right up my alley."

She says the meals are very filling and that the desserts satisfy her sweet tooth.

"The cookie dough balls are out of this world," said Wilder.

Ofarrello also appeals to clients who just don’t have the time to cook every night. Ali Gaston of West Seneca loves the convenience and the all-natural, no-additive commitment.

"I feel like I’m cheating on healthy food," said Gaston.

From corporate chef to healthy entrepreneur

Chef Pat Koch left the corporate restaurant world to launch Cheektowaga-based WTF Chef in 2014. His philosophy is that eating healthier is a lifestyle change, and his goal is not to have a client forever: he wants to teach them how to eat better and make healthier choices.

"People need to understand what happens when you put something in your mouth, and what it does to your body," said Koch, who is pursuing a master’s degree in dietetics, the study of nutrition. "While white rice and brown rice are both 37 grams of carbs per serving, your body processes them differently."

His company (the "WTF" stands for Wellness Through Food) offers a 5-day low-glycemic meal plan to get you started, followed by a fully customizable meal plan based on your goals (weight loss, muscle building or overall health) and food preferences.

It’s all about balance

Ashley Draper opened Balanced Body in January to fulfill a need she observed at the fitness center, Jada Blitz Training, she co-owns with her husband. Clients struggling to meet their goals needed to find "a better way of eating and understanding why your body needs carbs, fats and protein," she said. "There’s a balanced way to eat these nutrients."

Most of her clients order meals online and pick up their frozen meals twice a week. She also has a growing number of corporate clients, as more companies encourage healthy habits for their employees.

The price of
convenience

Prepared meals aren’t bloated by mark-up. The average meal runs around $5 per serving. Chef Pat Koch offers a higher-end program with "haute cuisine" for around $7 per meal.

Since consumers aren’t buying groceries, there’s no food waste — so it’s more of a shift in how you use your dining dollars…and in how you approach eating in general.

"Sustainable dieting is a lifestyle," said Draper of Balanced Body. "Fad diets help you reach goals fast, but are not sustainable for the rest of your life."

All told, it’s a small price to pay for a healthier you.

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