Fast Food That's Good For You

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Fast food that's good for you: The Specialty Gourmet delivers healthy meals to your front door

The Calgary Herald
- By Karen van Kampen

The shrill alarm catapults me out of my cosy weekend slumber, into the cold shock of Monday morning. Yet, instead of diving into the shower, I whack the snooze button, lazing about for a few extra minutes.

When it's time to rise and shine, I shuffle to the kitchen, yanking open the fridge door. Other than a carton of milk, a few bottles of beer and some stragglers from last week's grocery shop, it's a culinary wasteland.

Usually, this situation would send me straight to the cafeteria at work, where I'd try to navigate my way through gigantic muffins, french fries and grilled cheese sandwiches in search of something healthy to eat. Not today.

My omelette with sauteed peppers and cheese is waiting for me on my front step. It's packed -- ready to reheat -- in a cooler, along with my lunch (a seafood salad) and dinner (chicken stir-fry with rice noodles).

I'm not the only one who woke this Monday morning to a cooler of goodies. Starting this week, Calgarians can have breakie, lunch and dinner delivered to their doorstep. The Specialty Gourmet, a Vancouver-based meal delivery service, has launched its business in the city.

There are three choices for every meal, and the menu follows a 28-day cycle, so your taste buds won't get bored. If you don't like something, just log onto thespecialtygourmet.com and click it off your meal plan forever.

There's the Healthy Living plan, which follows Canada's Food Guide, reducing fat and sodium in your diet to decrease the risk of heart disease. A sample menu includes yogurt, granola and fruit for breakfast, a cobb salad with chicken for lunch, and grilled salmon with saffron vinaigrette and mixed greens for dinner.

Clients can also sign up for the Zone plan, which follows the Zone diet of 40 per cent carbs, 30 per cent proteins and 30 per cent of fat in every meal. The theory is this diet plan allows you to achieve ideal insulin levels, resulting in your optimum weight. One menu includes blueberry pancakes, Mediterranean chicken and sesame-coated salmon with broccoli.

The cost? A total of $39.99 a day, for either menu plan.

Shane Popowich, an investment banker with CIBC, has been on the Zone program for two weeks as a test client and has signed up for two more. He wanted to eat better but says his 60-hour workweek made it all too easy to make bad food choices.

He often picks up lunch at the food court and grabs a burger and fries after work. And when he does get off work early, the kitchen is the last place Popowich wants to spend his time.

Coming off the food free-for-all of the holiday season, the 29-year-old signed up "to turn things around and get balanced."

His energy level has soared. "I'm never sluggish," he says. And while his aim wasn't to lose weight, the six-foot, 190-pound Popowich says he's noticed a difference around his waist.

"You're never stuffed, and you're never hungry," he says. If that happens, call customer service at The Specialty Gourmet to adjust your portions.

The convenience of the service is a huge selling point. Popowich handed out pamphlets to his fellow bankers at CIBC, "and it's a big hit."

"It's laid out for you," he says. "Your portions are set out."

If your healthy eating radar doesn't sound the alarm on trans fats or simple carbs, you might want to consider using The Specialty Gourmet as your food coach.

Some clients use the meal plans to turn their eating habits around and learn how to make healthy food choices, says Deanna Embury, who launched the company in 2002. (In trend-setting Los Angeles, a similar business called Zone Nation keeps starlets on track with its daily delivery service.)

The Specialty Gourmet is also ideal for those who have great ambitions on the weekend, shopping for healthy foods and loading up on produce, says Embury, the 32-year-old president of the company. Then Monday rolls around and there's no time to cook. They eat out and end up tossing all those veggies wilting in their fridge.

In Vancouver, 400 meals are cooked, packed and delivered every day under Barry Johnson, executive chef of Vancouver's Delta Hotel. In March 2004, The Specialty Gourmet expanded to Toronto. There, Occasions Catering makes and delivers 500 to 600 meals a day. This week, The Specialty Gourmet Alberta was launched, which is jointly owned by The Specialty Gourmet and Heather and John Merrett.

Heather, who worked as a tax accountant, put in long hours at the office, making it difficult to maintain a balanced diet. And, she admits, "I'm not a good cook."

An Internet search put her in touch with The Specialty Gourmet. Thinking of all the other hard-driving professionals in a similar position, she approached Embury to open the Alberta branch. In Calgary, Catering By Design provides the food.

Heather says the service is ideal for new moms trying to get back on track, or for parents of young kids who don't want what their little ones are eating.

Lawyers who have a big case coming up or accountants swamped at tax return time can sign up for a few weeks, she adds, going off the delivered meals until the next onslaught of late nights. My week-long vacation from the kitchen is over. Tomorrow morning, my alarm will waken me to my daily culinary grind.

I have loved the extra half-hour of sleep, the abundance of chopped fruit and veggies, and starting a Wednesday with huevos rancheros rather than my usual weekday museli.

In all honesty, I do love to cook and I have missed the visits to my local bakery, cheese shop and deli -- and the messy cook fests with my husband over a bottle of good wine.

But all that can wait one more day. There is that leftover Mediterranean chicken for Friday's lunch.

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