"Regardless of education level, culinary skill, or available cooking time, I've found that the eternal struggle for a family-friendly yet healthy meal can lead to burn out. I enjoy cooking, but every now and then I get a tad disgruntled about having to come up with something on a daily basis.
Enter Wellesley's Healthy Habits Kitchen. Located in a well-hidden hallway of an office building just off 128, this ready-made meals shop offers the perfect solutions to the eternal question. Owner Susan Schochet started the company in 2007 to fill a niche in the prepared-meals landscape. "Other companies were offering family-style meals, but no one was focusing on really healthy food," she explains. "I wanted to make eating healthy meals easy and convenient."
Customers can choose from an extensive menu of poultry, fish, meat, or vegetarian options, side dishes, and awesome cookie doughs; there are even choices that can be prepared in your slow-cooker. You can order a meal plan in advance, or stop into the kitchen for last-minute pre-thawed pickup on desperate nights (you know, school-to-music-to-soccer-to-holy-smokes-it's-dinnertime), with a minimum purchase of three meals.
Susan takes recipes from her family collection, magazines, and cooking shows, and works to make them as healthful as possible. After testing the recipes, they are reviewed by a nutritionist to ensure they meet HHK's menu requirements: rearranging and substituting the ingredients brings each serving in at less than 400 calories, 30% fat, and 800 mg of sodium.
Each pre-frozen kit comes in a "half order" (2-3 servings), or a "full order" (4-6 servings). My family of four (5 and 7-year old boys, a VERY hungry daddy, and not-as-hungry me) nearly polished off the large meal kits, with just a small lunchtime leftover on two of them. Susan admits that the calorie count will vary if the meal is serving "hearty eaters" vs. "healthy eaters," but I was reassured that even eating a larger-than-prescribed meal was still quite healthy. And as a veteran calorie-counter, having the exact nutritional count per serving was a huge relief over having to add up all the ingredients and then divide by number of servings, especially since my math skills are usually shot by dinnertime.
The meals our family tried -- Chicken Cacciatore, Tilapia Parmesan, and Fruited Chicken Curry Stew -- were delicious. While my palate found the salt a little lacking (as one would expect), and my control-freak tendencies led me to want to doctor the dishes a bit (substitute brown rice for the white included with the curry, add a little vino to the cacciatore sauce), that's the option you have with prepare-at-home meals. All the dicing, measuring, and even some of the saucing are already done for you, and the thawing and cooking directions are simple and straightforward, even for novices. HHK will also be flexible putting together combinations for those who don't like a particular ingredient, or for food allergies, although protein substitutions (pork for fish, for example) aren't allowed: the preparation times and directions are based on the protein of the original recipe. But there are enough options on the menu to please any palate. And my boys, who have previously turned up their noses at any type of curry, devoured the stew and were looking for seconds.
HHK offers a discount on meals if you come to their kitchen during assembly hours and assemble your own from their pre-chopped and pre-measured ingredients; for those who love to cook but hate to clean up (anyone else raising their hand?) it's a great option. And if you get a group of friends together, HHK will host a private party for up to fifteen guests in their lounge; each guest gets appetizers, dinner, and dessert that night (BYOB) and must purchase at least four meals, but again, all the prep and clean-up are done for you. Can anyone say "Mama's Night Out"?
With hors d'oeuvre options and holiday specials like "Everything But the Turkey" for Thanksgiving and a prix fixe Valentine's Day menu, Healthy Habits Kitchen might make themselves indispensable to today's busy families. The menu prices range from $15 for half orders to $30 for more expensive full orders, but that still computes to less than $6 per serving. And in my house, when some nights I'd pay nearly anything to have dinner already made, that would be a bargain -- and a healthy one at that."
DEAL ALERT: Ready to head over to Healthy Habits Kitchen? Purchase a meal and mention Boston Mamas and receive a free full side dish (up to a $7 value) of your choice. One free side per person; offer valid only for new customers through April 30.