Open the door to good health Fast food: People whose dietary needs outstrip their time or aptitude for cooking can now order meals sent in.

January 17, 1996|By Jana Sanchez Klein | Jana Sanchez Klein,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If you're Oprah, the solution to eating healthy meals at home when you're too busy to cook is to hire a personal chef (who later will make millions discussing your diet with the world). If you're not so well-heeled, however, it's not so easy.

Busy singles, two-career families, the elderly, new mothers and others in the Baltimore area who cannot conveniently shop and cook for themselves now have at least three options -- one home-grown, one with local distributors and one based in New York with courier deliveries -- for healthful meals at home.

"It's home cooking, but really healthy home cooking," says Roz Trieber, a local health educator and owner of Healthy Meals To-Go, a company that cooks and delivers healthful food to customers at home. Ms. Trieber began her company a year ago, after finding that many of her nutrition-consulting clients had difficulty changing their lifestyles and their diets. They simply did not have enough time to cook.

Healthy Meals To-Go is exactly what it sounds like. Legumes, grains and vegetables are the bases for many of the dishes, which are low-fat, low-sugar and low-salt. The 30-item menu includes soups, vegetarian entrees, poultry entrees and desserts. The food comes frozen in microwavable containers with the nutritional data right on the package. Entrees cost between $5.50 and $7 each. Ms. Trieber or her husband, Bernie, will deliver with a minimum order of $25.

Ms. Trieber is especially proud of her low-fat muffins and her soups. "I like to call my soups 'cassoulet' because they are so hearty and filling," she says. "Cassoulet" is the French one-pot meal based on beans, but in Ms. Trieber's version, you won't find its essential ingredient, confit of duck or goose.

Her focus is reducing the fat and animal products in all of her food. That's not surprising, coming from one of the authors of "Life After Schmaltz," a cookbook that provides traditional Jewish recipes with less fat.

Healthy Food To-Go customizes menus for people with food allergies or special diets, including kosher (dairy only), vegan (no animal products), vegetarian, lactose intolerant, diabetic and macrobiotic which is a form of vegetarianism based on Eastern philosophies of balance and health.

"I always start with two questions: What are your needs, and what do you like?" says Ms. Trieber. She has found herself poring through books, teaching herself new techniques and recipes when she didn't know how to cook the requested foods.

"She will experiment with it until she gets it the way she thinks it should be," says Albert Kash, 74, of Randallstown. Mr. Kash has digestive problems, and Ms. Trieber cooks macrobiotic foods with organic produce for him each week. "I do very well with that type of diet, and I like Roz's food," he says.

Ms. Trieber, who holds a master's degree in health education and teaches health at Towson State University, cautions against depriving the body in order to lose weight. She says many young women who are constantly dieting are actually unhealthy. "You've got to eat," she says. She says her food is not "diet, but healthy."

Hilton Davis doesn't see diet as a negative word. His Northern Virginia-based company, Diet-To-Go, prepares fresh, low-fat, low-calorie foods to be picked up at distributors in Baltimore. The company is a partnership between Mr. Davis and Tom Mott, former chef at the Tremont Hotel. Diet-To-Go offers breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. The plans are either 1,000, 1,500, or 1,800 calories a day with less than 30 percent of calories from fat.

"It's a no-brainer. It's what I need because my brain is packed with too many other things," says Debbie Katz of Owings Mills, an enthusiastic client. Ms. Katz constantly struggles to lose weight, she says. After making dinner for her family she is often too exhausted to make low-fat, low-calorie foods for herself. "The No. 1 factor is convenience, but the food is wonderful, too," she says.

Mr. Davis and Mr. Mott may call their food "diet," but it's not XTC skimpy. A Diet-to-Go dinner might include fish, rice, carrots and fruit, in a microwavable container. A week's worth of food is $84, and customers pick it up at four locations around town. Mr. Davis' company is growing. "I expect to have 15 distributors by next year in Baltimore," he says.

Cooking nutritious meals for her aging parents in the Midwest was the original goal of playwright and actress Gretchen Cryer. Her New York-based business, the Extended Family, now offers homey frozen meals by mail nationwide.

When Ms. Cryer's father suffered a stroke in 1987 and her mother injured her back lifting him from the floor, Ms. Cryer began sending frozen packages of homemade food via overnight mail services to keep them fed.

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