The Healthy Fast Food

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By now, you’ve most likely heard of “meal prepping” whether you’ve rolled up your sleeves and done it in your own kitchen or taken advantage of the convenience of a local meal prep business and ordered a pre-packaged meal that’s ready to go. You’ve also most likely seen advertising for meal kit delivery services, where individual meal ingredients are shipped directly to your doorstep to make cooking meals hassle-free.

These food options are primarily advertised to make healthy eating convenient and attainable for those with busy lifestyles or limited time to grocery shop and cook meals. Meal prep consumers choose this way of eating for a variety of reasons.

In 2007, the very first meal-kit delivery service, Middagsfrid, hit the market in Sweden. Since then, such services popularity has steadily increased, seeing the highest numbers in recent years, according to reviewchatter.com, a statistics website. As of 2016, there were more than 150 meal kit delivery services in the United States.

Last year, grocery chains like Shoprite and Walmart began offering their own meal kits at lower price points than Hellofresh and Home Chef, which are among the most popular choices. According to reviewchatter.com, meal kits sold in grocery stores now account for 60 percent of all meal kit user growth. About 14.3 million households purchased meal kits the last half of 2018, up 3.8 million households from 2017.

Generally, meal kit delivery options can range from $18 to $80 per week, depending on the type of service and number of meals, with single one-time deliveries being the least costly. While some consumers prefer a subscription service, those who would rather try meal kit delivery once or use it only once in a while will appreciate the noncommittal aspect of grocery store-offered meal kits, which can be picked up directly in-store. Locally, the RGV’s meal prep options can be found in various businesses, from grocery giant H-E-B to privately owned businesses like Beauty & Beast Cuisine or Fork to Fit, which specialize in fast healthy food options from meals and beverages to snacks and treats.

Carlos Hernandez, founder of Beauty and Beast Cuisine, along with his chef nutritionist wife and co-founder, Francesca, opened his first food prep business in Donna in 2015 after first testing the idea out of his home.

“At that time, I was a full-time fitness trainer,” Hernandez said. “I was training about 12 to 15 clients a day and I was really busy. And it just made perfect sense. I felt that Francesca’s way of eating was realistic and doable. I thought the Valley could totally take advantage of that. That was really the beginning.”

Since then, Beauty & Beast Cuisine has grown, spanning across seven locations throughout the Valley.

Hernandez said rather than focusing on just gym-goers, his goal was to have a menu expansive enough to attract customers of all backgrounds.

“We have over 60 options to choose from. We’re the only company that has a chef nutritionist and that’s 100 percent gluten-free, low sodium, and diabetic friendly,” Hernandez said.

For diabetic or sugar-conscious customers, Hernandez is proud to offer not only suitable meals for them, but desserts that won’t spike their blood sugar.

“One of our main attractions other than our meals is our Bunz Protein Donuts,” Hernandez said. “It took my wife almost a whole year to perfect that recipe. They’re even diabetic friendly. And we have over 30 flavors.”

Yolanda Garza Hake, a longtime customer, said she first heard Francesca Hernandez talking on the radio about her food being gluten free.

“I had just learned that my youngest daughter was highly sensitive to gluten,” Hake said. “So when they moved to Edinburg, I went and signed her up to get three meals a day. And I would deliver the meals to her in Kingsville throughout her entire college career, and we still get her food every week.”

Alex Velasco, co-owner and president of Fork to Fit, opened the meal prep business in McAllen in 2017 along with co-owner and business partner Jose M. Guerra. Their business now has two locations in McAllen.

As a personal trainer, Velasco saw a need for the business from his clients.

“My clients would complain about not having a convenient healthy food place to go to and they didn’t have time to cook, nor did they even want to think about what they could and couldn’t eat,” he said. “I would always talk to them about portion control and calorie intake. So when I was coming up with the idea, it was something I already did on the daily.”

At the time, Velasco was participating in fitness competitions and was used to eating protein-rich, health-conscious meals.

After the business was up and running, Velasco and Guerra noticed that their main consumer market was the busy professional.

“We see teachers, police officers, doctors, college students, you name it,” Velasco said. “We’re just super convenient for everyone. I think everybody chooses us because we put out food that doesn’t look like diet food. We want to give people real food, familiar meals that they like. So we’re giving them that, but keeping them clean.”

In addition to their array of meal options for different dietary needs, Fork to Fit also offers beverage options such as protein shakes, juice blends, protein coffee, and sweet treats like protein brownies, cookies, low-carb donuts, and chocolate peanut butter balls.

To learn more about Beauty & Beast cuisine, visit the website at rgv.fit or check out their Instagram page: @bbcuisine. To find out more about Fork to Fit, visit the website at forktofitkitchen.com to view their menu or place an order, visit owningforktofit.com to learn about franchising opportunities, or check out their Instagram: @forktofitkitchen.