Prepared dishes have come a long way since the Army introduced Meal, Ready to Eat in 1981
— Fred Holliss
Calgarians have been becoming a lot more heart smart and health aware over the last few years, and new meal options have arisen to match that change. If you are too busy to shop or cook, but still want to eat a healthy meal, you now have myriad choices. From personal chefs who will cook in your kitchen, through a service that delivers meals ready to cook, to companies offering ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat meals in a convenient package, we are now awash in options. We profile a few of them for you here.
Selina Stevens goes to her clients’ homes and prepares meals in their kitchens, and she’s very proud of the service she offers. Trained in food safety and bondable, she has clients that she cooks for on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Cooking family meals since she was ten years old, she ended up opening her own restaurant in Jamaica where she catered primarily to North American tastes. Moving back to Canada she got a catering Diploma and in 2014 started cooking for clients in their homes. Her business has grown through word of mouth, and she is now well established as a Personal Chef. She is sensitive to the reality that she goes into her clients’ homes when they are not there, and has access to the entire home and will not go into private areas unless asked to She also makes a point of leaving the kitchen cleaner than she finds it.
For a daily client she goes to their house three or four times a week and prepares an evening meal using whatever proteins the client has in the fridge or freezer. For weekly clients she will prepare several days worth of meals for three or four people, package them in glass containers, put them in the fridge and label them so that when the family comes home they know what’s what and they can pick and choose what they want to eat. And finally for the monthly clients she does batch cooking, and prepares several casseroles or a big batch of pasta sauce, maybe some energy balls or muffins. She will do grocery shopping as well. For her clients she can cook anything, and has clients who have extreme dietary restrictions. She can cater to gluten or dairy free diets, or paleo, families with mixed requirements, and even has one client who is Halal. She has a really personal touch and people even feel comfortable leaving their kids alone with her. If a stay at home mum has to pop out she’s been known to entertain their kids while cooking. This is meal preparation at the most personal level.
Nydia and her husband Brad were customers of Dashing Dishes, and they liked the company so much they bought it in July of 2009. Their service is unique in that they cater to those who still wish to cook their own meals, by assembling all the ingredients needed into a neat package complete with preparation instructions. Their menu changes every month, and is based on what’s fresh and available locally. They offer a variety of cuts of meat, vegetarian options, and will tailor their products to a customer’s specific needs, since each package is assembled individually to order. It provides busy families, couples, single parents, or even the elderly, a way to still have a home cooked meal, but they do the prep, the planning and the grocery shopping for you. You register for a date and the meals are prepared and delivered fresh that day. You then put them in your freezer then take them out, thaw them and cook them as needed.
They work with a local butcher who’s been in Calgary for over 30 years and supplies all the top restaurants and they focus on Alberta producers for their beef, chicken and pork. They work with North Sea Fish for seafood, and they try to stay as local as possible working with local farmers and suppliers so they can often offer high quality product at a lower price. They believe that when you’re working it’s hard to be constantly planning your grocery shopping and setting up meals, so they do that for you. A parent might want to make pistachio-crusted pork tenderloin on a Tuesday, and they can help you do that. It’s easy to fall into the rut of providing kids the meals that you know they’ll eat all the time, like macaroni and cheese, but kids have taste buds too, and it’s just a matter of exposing them to different ingredients. Dashing Dishes also want to encourage families to eat together, but their focus and their passion is really serving the busy parent because that’s where good nutrition and good health starts.
Fit Kitchen came about through customer demand, people were asking for portion controlled meals and meal plans. customers wanted healthy food, but they didn’t know how to plan it or prepare it. They wanted something structured to try to help them on their way. Fit Kitchen opened in Mackenzie Town two and half years ago, and offer meals in two categories. Lean meals, are weight-management, with lower calories but still a good protein, and lower carbs, for people that are looking to lose or maintain weight. Then there are performance meals for active lifestyles. You don’t have to be an athlete, but if you’re working a busy job, running around, going to the gym a lot, or doing sports, the core performance meals will be a higher carb, higher protein, higher calorie meal, but still healthy. They also suit people that don’t want to cook for themselves but want to eat healthy. Meals are pre-cooked and just have to be heated up – or not.
They have a set menu with about 50 or 60 items, split between the two categories. They’re separated into different coolers and everything’s labeled so you can see all the nutrition information. They also have gluten free and dairy free options, and they’re working on vegetarian items, but they have such a variety there’s usually something for most people. They also have two sizes of meals – small and large. With portion control many people have no idea, they look at the meal and say this is so small, but you’re getting your proper portion of protein, proper portion of vegetables, and proper portion of carbs. People’s perception is that meals should be Texas sized, so there’s a lot of education for our customers too, and their staff tries to teach people as much as they can. They work with a registered dietician and a nutritionist, who also do regular seminars with the staff to train them. Their mission statement is “we make healthy food taste great,” and while you might think you can’t have enchiladas or spaghetti and meatballs on a weight loss diet, they make those kinds of foods too.
Main Dish has been in business for 11 years. It started as just takeaway then evolved into more of a restaurant since people wanted to sit down and eat there. They make everything in house and try to source everything locally, not so much organic, but local. They work with GFS, their food supplier, to help in finding farmers they can work with, and literally have something for everyone. They have all kinds of gluten free options, and are nearly always able to find something or make something for their customers that works for them. Their customers are quite varied, from the old grandma and grandpas to young skateboarders, and everyone in between.
A distinguishing feature of the Main Dish is that they are known for sponsoring a lot of athletes, including Olympians. Because of that they get a lot of Flames players and Stampeders as customers, and we have a roster of athletes we sponsor every year. They get a food budget where they load up a gift card and they can come and get whatever they want. Main Dish have one location in Bridgeland with dine in or takeaway and offer a healthy eating alternative to most other restaurants. They have a lot of healthy options, with lots of lean choices, kind of like a regular restaurant but with healthy twists. They don’t do delivery, but are available for catering, especially when people are looking for something healthy for their office, or have dietary restrictions.
Made Foods firmly believe in using local, natural and properly sourced ingredients. They have close relationships with a number of different farmers that Executive Chef Andrea Harling has been working with for many years. They believe in using natural ingredients with no GMOs, no preservatives or additives, that have been farmed humanely and grown the natural way. Their prepared meals offer a selection of items from various categories – breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Customers are able to come in and grab a lunch or dinner for the day, or meals for the week, prepared fresh daily. The concept is that you don’t have to shop, prep, cook, or clean. It’s a one-stop option.
They have seven locations plus a food truck and are proactive about working within the community. They support local vendors where possible, and offer a number of different meals that would be considered gluten-aware or dairy-aware. You will find dishes that are low in sodium, or portion correct, but not nutritionally specific past that. Made Foods have a home delivery service and can also be found on SkipTheDishes and UberEATS. In addition, they’ve partnered with Spud.ca to service Canmore and Banff. They just launched a kids line, individually packaged meals suitable for going out for a day of activity, so you know that what you’re feeding your children is of the highest nutritional value. Made Foods aims to be a lifestyle, not a diet or fad. They believe by choosing to eat the right foods to fuel your body in the best way possible, by giving it the right nutrients and proteins and fibers, you can continue to help develop your body and mind throughout your life.
So there you have it, a variety of choice alternatives to roadside fast food. Or Army MREs for that matter. Sharing a focus on local produce and healthy options for all dietary styles, Calgary’s prepared meals scene is vibrant, healthy and growing. As are we!