Meal kits are transforming the way we eat at home.
The $5 billion industry makes cooking dinner easier and more creative by delivering fresh, pre-measured ingredients and step-by-step instructions, so even a kitchen newbie can prepare meals like a gourmet chef.
The choices are nearly endless. Companies like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Plated offer mouth-watering options ranging from blackened Cajun catfish and West African peanut chicken to sunchokes with egg noodles and warm cauliflower and kale salad.
But are they healthy?
It depends on what you choose, according to Caren Dobreff, Spectrum Health dietitian and blogger.
“Although the ingredients are fresh and good quality, you can still end up with something high in total fat, calories or sodium,” Dobreff said. “But if you’re looking for something nutritious, you can definitely find it.”
Find local inspiration
If you’re looking for nutritious meal ideas, look no further than executive chef manager Steve Dorey. He’s the wizard behind the scenes at Spectrum Health restaurants and cafeterias.
Many of the menu options use whole grains and plenty of vegetables. They include global cuisine entrees that you might not dare attempt on your own. And, of course, you can choose meals or adjust ingredients to meet your dietary needs.
Best of all: They give you a plan.
Food data company Food Genius says 80 percent of us don’t know what we’re having for dinner by 4 p.m., and that often leads to trouble in the form of pizza or fast food.
“Planning meals can become overwhelming and so repetitive,” Dobreff said. “Meal kits can be part of a healthy lifestyle because they really do solve a lot of problems. They’re definitely here to stay.”
Dorey has hosted several cooking demonstrations that feature mouth-watering selections that are transformed into food kits for hospital staff and visitors.
It’s a local twist on a national trend.
The kits feature fresh, ready-to-prepare ingredients, eco-friendly packaging, cooking instructions and educational information.
It’s all part of the Smart Choices initiative, which provides healthful menu options to Spectrum Health patients, staff and visitors.
“Today, about 60 percent of the menu items in our restaurants and cafes have the Smart Choice label,” Dorey said. “And we give our staff a discount, which really encourages healthy eating.”