Thanks to a fast-paced, work-centric single lifestyle (cue the violins), I know a thing or two about pre-made, calorie-controlled meals. Without them, I may never eat. Actually, let me clarify: I may never eat well — at home, anyway.
I’ve been ordering from Tru Meals, formerly Diet Gourmet, on and off for years. I have raided the refrigerators at My Fit Foods from time to time to stock my own fridge. Both services fit the bill, for the most part, providing fresh, already prepared healthy meals, many of which I wouldn’t make for myself even if I did cook at home more often.
But at a recent development in the chef prepared food aisle at Central Market has me cheating on my regular lovers.
First let me say that I used to work at Central Market — in the marketing department, no less. But before I ever earned a paycheck from HEB, I was a fan of the grocery store as much for its selection of the freshest un-prepared foods as for its plentiful chef-driven, gourmet-to-go options.
About two months ago, Central Market started offering dinners for one and dinners for two that ring up at less than 700 calories per serving. Think grilled salmon with orzo salad and sautéed spinach and kale (460 calories), honey-garlic flank steak with steamed mixed vegetables (460 calories), and turkey meatloaf with Parmesan mashed potatoes and green beans amandine (620 calories).
Anisha Mandol, business development manager for prepared foods, says they raided their existing library to find recipes that matched the less-than-700-calorie requirement. Their research showed people were more concerned about calories than fat grams or sodium. And, of course, the meals had to taste good.
“Flavor comes first,” she says. “Nothing will make that program if it doesn’t taste good. We never want to lose flavor when we take away calories.”
There are about 10 dinner-for-one options in all, including a cilantro-baked tilapia, Mexican grilled chicken with roasted and grilled veggies, and vegetable enchiladas. Each store gets to choose what to offer — at least five from the approved list. All stores (Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Houston and San Antonio) are participating.
Mandol says the response in the first week was so overwhelming that they are heading into phase two of development in the program. They are also looking at current initiatives, such as pan-Asian and curry offerings, to see which meals fall within the 700-calorie benchmark. And, yes, they intend to offer more vegetarian meals.
These new Central Market meals aren’t meant to compete with, say, a My Fit Foods, which offers more meals with smaller calorie counts, less fat and controlled sodium levels. But they do offer someone like me another tasty option for dinner on a busy night.