A reported 30.3 million Americans had diabetes in 2015, according to the most recent numbers. Obesity, high blood pressure, lots of sodium and sugar, and, of course, a lack of fruits and vegetables are all culprits in the growing number of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Could the humble meal kit make a difference?
A lot of times, keeping chronic illness at bay requires a “lifestyle intervention” — that is, changes to a person’s physical activity and diet. And while that’s an easy sentence to write, it’s a lot harder to put into action, whether you’re following the doctor’s orders or just taking preventative steps.
Meal kits, meanwhile, are still undergoing their evolution from pricey, time-consuming subscriptions with flailing sales to attainable options perched on the shelves at grocery stores and drug stores. Now, many are asking if the medical field and the food industry could join forces to deliver meal kits that turn food into medicine.
There are a few different approaches already on the market:
Be Well Eats
The most obvious combination of food and medicine is in the form of doctor-recommended meal kits. Be Well Eats is one such company offering this. Celebrity chef Tricia Williams and NYC-based Dr. Frank Lipman teamed up to create all-organic meals that are grain free and dairy free, and focus on elements like fermented foods, healthy fats, and adaptogenic herbs. A team of certified nutritionists and holistic health coaches are also behind the operation. And while you still have to prep and cook the food yourself, if you’re looking for a way to turn your diet on its head and have a little cash to spare, this is probably one of the most straightforward kits out there.
Tovala Smart Oven and Subscription
Those investing in a Tovala smart oven and corresponding subscription kit don’t even need to set aside the typical 30 minutes for cooking. All meals arrive on your doorstep already prepared; you need only pop them in the internet-connected steam oven and scan the tray sleeve to give the oven instructions. Cooking time usually takes 10 to 20 minutes, according to Tovala’s site, and none of that time requires any actual effort from the user.
Tovala seems a sound bet for those who need clean, healthy meals but don’t have a lot of time for shopping and prepping, or for those who love the idea of clean eating but find the task of coming up with a meal plan daunting. The elderly or disabled could benefit, too, as it would mean easier access to healthier food on a regular basis. That said, you’re limiting your meal choice substantially by sticking only to Tovala, so this one’s perhaps best combined with another offering or approach.
Weight-loss Meal Kits
BistroMD targets long-term weight loss. Users first pick a plan based on their dietary needs. Plans include Standard, Heart Healthy, Gluten Free, Diabetic, and Menopause. Once your order is submitted, registered dietitians then customize your program, which you then edit and adjust through the BistroMD portal. Weight Watchers, too, offers meal kits for those looking to lose weight, and recently teamed up with California company FreshMeal to put said kits on store shelves.
Platejoy doesn’t ship food; instead, they offer a nutrition plan that’s designed to prevent diabetes, and which is covered by five Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance plans. Users first answer questions about the diet they’re aiming for (diabetic friendly, 30-day cleanse, etc.), allergies, and even the kind of grocery store they would prefer to shop at (Whole Foods versus Kroger, for example). Platejoy then provides meal planning tools and recipes that best fit the individual’s diet needs. The service costs $69 for six months or $99 for 12, which is a little steep for a meal-planning service but a pretty useful supplement to your weekly shopping and cooking routine, especially if you can get it covered by your insurance company. The plan syncs with Fitbit and can also send ingredient lists directly to your Instacart basket.
The Suggestic app, meanwhile, uses machine learning to find recipes and create daily meal plans based on a user’s dietary preferences and restrictions.
There are plenty more meal kits and planning tools out there that might count as medicine to a huge portion of the population. Purple Carrot offers vegan meal kits and recently got a shot of investment from Del Monte. Sun Basket is ideal for those with diet restrictions.
Not all of these players are on doctors’ radars as of yet, and meal kits are obviously not a replacement for drugs that treat more serious illnesses. But as preventing chronic illness becomes a greater priority and subscription food services become more commonplace, we’re bound to see more doctors recommending, if not prescribing, meal kits as medicine in the future.