Eating healthy for busy execs just a click away
LACK of time is no excuse, with the recent launch of a slew of health food delivery services which cater to the business crowd.
Some days, you want a salad and you want it fast - without having to ponder over 40 possible topping permutations, and will that blue cheese dressing really go with that lemongrass chicken?
Fitness fanatic Phyllis Chua has been there, so she is keeping things simple at her year-old healthy salad delivery service Spinacas.
Buyers get a choice of only two sizes of salad, a regular at $11 and a petite at $9, with a fixed set of toppings such as baby spinach, pickled red cabbage, hard boiled egg, broccoli, cheese, nuts and a homemade dressing.
The only thing you pick is the protein component, with meats such as a fiery Moroccan spiced chicken cooked for 12 hours, pulled pork cooked in a cinnamon-tinged stock and then tossed in barbecue sauce, handmade pork and beef meatballs, vegetarian tofu patties and ratatouille. At least 100g of meat is included in each order, and they are served warm and packed separately.
Another feature at Spinacas: the salads are free of carbohydrates such as bread and pasta, and are suitable for those on the paleo diet.
It was an eating habit that Ms Chua had gotten used to after a sojourn in Spain last year. "I discovered that good food was a way of life; fresh, whole produce was easily accessible to everyone," she recalls. But after having hearty salads for lunch and dinner for two months in Europe, she tried - unsuccessfully - to re-create the same meal experience on her return to Singapore.
"Salads that were nutritious and hearty just didn't exist. Most of them were too protein-light and carb-heavy, and I would always be hungry by 3pm," she observes. So the former architect started making her own salads, always including more meat and cooking them in flavour-packed combinations. Friends started requesting them, and Spinacas - derived from the Spanish name for spinach - soon became a full-time occupation.
Orders have to be placed 24 hours in advance, and are delivered from 11am to 2pm daily on Ms Chua's red Vespa scooter. Customers can also order and pick up the salads from her commercial kitchen in Pearl's Hill Terrace, says Ms Chua, whose dream is to one day build a fleet of Vespas to expand her delivery network islandwide.
What are chicken rice and nasi lemak doing on the menu of a health food delivery service? Is this just denial or have our wishes come true?
The latter, it seems, is happily the case. That is because Foodmatters' founders, Alexandra Prabaharan and Cedric Chong, believe that healthy meals should be big on taste too. So, instead of padding out the menu of their health food delivery service with salads and more salads, they have tweaked the recipes behind some of our local hawker favourites to include them on the menu. The chicken rice, for instance, comprises oven-baked chicken and brown rice cooked in stock, while the nasi lemak is tossed in nutrient-rich coconut oil rather than coconut milk.
To truly serve the needs of its target working-professional crowd, month-old Foodmatters is run as a food subscription service, says Mr Chong. This means that customers commit to buying a fixed number of meals per month, and then pre-select the exact dates they want those meals delivered to their homes or offices using the site's online meal calendar, to avoid the hassle of having to pick and pay for their meals daily.
Meal plans start from four meals for $40 a month to 20 meals for $140 a month, or $7 a meal. Only lunch is served for now, and its delivery network serves only the central and town areas for now.
The site has 40 dishes in categories such as local, vegetarian, Western and Asian fusion, from which six options will be highlighted daily for subscribers to order. Besides salad bar staples such as hummus wraps and cous cous salads, the menu also spans local favourites such as chicken curry (served with chicken breast meat and thickened with a cashew nut paste and low-fat milk instead of coconut milk), nasi ulam and assam laksa.
Each item has its calorie count and fat, carbohydrate and protein content listed. Around five dishes are added and removed each month to give customers some variety.
"The heart and soul of the business is that we are a subscription service. Eating healthy once in a while will not make you healthier. We need to consistently eat healthy, and our service provides just that," says Mr Chong, who is a director of lifestyle and entertainment company Massive Collective.
Kuala Lumpur-based Ms Prabaharan is a certified nutritionist with the American Fitness Professionals and Associates and is mainly responsible for coming up with the recipes for the dishes. She used to run her own healthy lunch delivery and catering service Lunch2u in Malaysia before collaborating with Singapore-based Massive Collective on Foodmatters last year.
The duo are working on expanding the service to Kuala Lumpur in the coming months, with a more localised menu for the Malaysian market.
Launching next month
When was the last time you lamented about being so busy that you forgot to eat? Well, no longer, because the people behind new meal subscription programme Fit Three want to feed healthy meals directly to you - even if that means they have to waylay you on your routine gym visit.
Fit Three is the latest in a slew of health food delivery services to have been launched here in the last six months. But unlike the others, which target mainly corporate slaves chained to their desks in the CBD, Fit Three plans to launch its service by tying up with popular gyms and fitness studios.
The idea is that the outlets will serve as pick-up points where health food seekers can pick up their supply of pre-cooked healthy boxed meals for the rest of the week. Users typically sign up for a subscription through which they can pre-order three to 10 ready-to-eat meals weekly -for lunch and dinner - and get them delivered in two batches at designated gyms.
Drop-offs are tentatively scheduled to happen on Mondays and Thursdays, which means you can pick up up to six meals on a Monday, for lunch and dinners that last you through to Wednesday, and a maximum of four meals on Thursday, which will last you through to Friday.
"The healthy options you have today are day-to-day orders that you need to pick up and receive daily - we're looking to provide an even more convenient option than that," says co-founder Arthur de Corbier, who works in project management for a bank. His team comprises four other founders, who have mixed backgrounds in market research, information technology and product management. Three others work on Fit Three while one is a part-timer.
Fit Three's high-protein, high-carbohydrate but low-fat meals will span a range of Western, Mediterranean and Asian flavours, and will comprise free-range and antibiotic- and hormone-free meats and locally sourced ingredients as far as possible. Meals cost a flat fee of $12.50 each, "a higher price than others", Mr de Corbier admits, because each 500g meal will pack a substantial 180g to 200g of meats or seafood.
The recipes will be crafted by a stable of consultant chefs: Fit Three currently has a Spanish-trained local chef and a French-trained South African chef on board. Another feature is an interactive platform on which users can rate each chef's dishes and leave feedback.
"On most online ordering websites, the chef tends not to have any interaction with the customer, so he doesn't get any information on how well the meal was received. We want to build a link between the chefs and the final consumer, so we can modify the menu accordingly," says Mr de Corbier. The team will also look into designing meals for those with specific dietary requirements such as vegetarians, and those on paleo, gluten-free or dairy-free diets, and phase two of their expansion will include deliveries to homes.
As for keeping food fresh after receiving them in bulk, Mr de Corbier says that most dishes will be tested to keep for three to five days in the chiller, and will have their recommended shelf lives clearly labelled. Excess dishes can be frozen to be eaten at a later date. The team is also exploring the use of vacuum-sealed inert gas packaging to keep food fresher for longer.
Is $300 a lot to pay for a three-day juice cleanse? Yes. Is it cheaper to buy a $600 slow juicer and squeeze your own juice on a daily basis? Yes. Is it a pain to chop up a mountain of greens and fruit every day, feed them through the fiddly tube, constantly scraping out the fibrous remains so they don't jam your machine? Oh yes.
That probably explains why the mushrooming online juice cleanse purveyors seem to have few problems attracting new clients. It is not hard to be sold on the idea of detoxing your system with assorted fresh juice combinations made with the Norwalk juicer - the ultimate machine claiming to extract every drop of goodness out of everything from carrots to alfalfa, with a three-day shelf life to boot.
With basically the same juicer and range of greens and fruit, how do you pick one juice shop from another? The product is similar but it is the approach and services that differ.
Newest entrant Punch Detox is the Singapore offshoot of the Hong Kong-based outfit, and it boasts a breezy, fun and flexible approach to juicing. You can pick from the $300, three-day cleanses which get you a total of 18 500ml bottles of juice, or six bottles a day. If you are a newbie, pick the slightly more fruit-centric package which makes for easier drinking, or the slightly more hardcore package which emphasises greens more than fruit. Alternatively, you can just pick the juices you like at $100 for six bottles.
Drinking the stuff is easy, even at the second level, thanks to a combination of greens and green apple that is palatable, and because there is so much to drink, you are not likely to feel hungry. Any pangs you might feel would be more out of a habit to chew something solid.
One edge that Punch has over its competitors is its gazpuncho: a savoury, chunky gazpacho-like concoction that you can pour into a bowl and eat like soup. The jumble of tomato, cucumber, red pepper, garlic, olive oil and herbs tricks you into thinking you are having a meal. Well, that is the idea.
You also get encouraging e-mail from Punch with tips on how to get through the cleanse, written in a friendly, engaging manner. And even if you do cheat a little bit on the cleanse, there is nothing to feel bad about. It is just a way to get more greens into your diet, and while it is not cheap, you'd certainly appreciate the convenience. Especially when you try going back to your clunky slow juicer after that.
THE BUSINESS TIMES