A healthy meal plan Image Credit: Pexels

Highlights

  • What do you mean by a meal plan?
  • How does it work?
  • What kind of food is it?
  • Is it worth the money you pay?
  • Who do these plans work for?
  • What about the kids?
  • Tips to make the most out of your meal plan
  • First-person account

Boxed and bagged and ready for you to grab and go, meal plans are turning into quite the trend in the UAE. The cooler bags have become ubiquitous, the plastic disposables a convenient must-have. But with prices meandering towards the late two grand is the trend really worth investing in? Is it cheaper to order out? Is it better to order in? We asked people who’ve tried and tested the plans, companies and even psychologists to calculate the real cost of these options. Here’s a look at the whys and why nots.

What do you mean by a meal plan? What exactly is on the table?

When you see the menu... Image Credit: Giphy

We are taking the practical approach to the menu: breakfast, known as ‘the most-important-meal-of-the-day’, has also become the most optional meal of the day. So we go with this: two healthy meals plus at least one snack. [Plans offered by these companies, of course, have a selection of breakfast and an AM snack as well.] This must be delivered at least five times a week – although you can subscribe to a week-long delivery system, too. A cheat meal a week keeps the munchies away though, believe some, and as long as you aren’t feeling too restricted, the odds of you diching your pre-packed nosh are minimal. “Most of Kcal’s clients stick to a 5-day meal plan and have their fun on the weekend, while we always encourage them to eat the same type of meals and follow the same type of diet while not on plan. If the client knows they can’t control themselves for 2-days off, then we always recommend the 6-day or 7-day plan,” explains Andreas L Borgmann, Founder and CEO of Kcal.

It’s delivered to your doorstep. There’s a cost involved here. You need to pay most companies a deposit Dh100-200, which is refundable, for your cooler bag. This insulated package comes complete with cutlery (replenished each day) and often a tea bag.

Costs vary, but these plans on average begin at Dh100/day. Companies offer packages that vary from the no-choice – pre-thought-out number of calories, no options – to the more gourmet style – allergies, intolerances, likes and dislikes are closely considered before they are put together.

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How does it work?

Slim'n Lite, a UAE-based meal plan delivery firm, nutritionist explains: “First of all when clients come they send their file with their name, delivery address. Then later, they start with me [the nutritionist] or dietician. So we go over their nutritional history, medical history, we do 24-hour food recall to see what is their food habits in general, their exercise, their allergies. Then we go do our body composition analysis test to see how much muscles, weight, total body water, how many calories you burn in a day and according to the person’s target, we personalise.”

You may not want to be completely honest about your food habits at this stage, but take a deep breath and go for it; you can only fix something when you know it’s broken; you can only tweak habits once you know they are unhealthy.

Be honest for best results. Image Credit: Pixabay

What kind of food is it?

Is this all that's available? Image Credit: Giphy

Meal choices are usually cyclical – depending on the firm and the type of plan you’ve picked. However, most offer a variety that encompasses some basic dishes that fall into the following categories: Asian, Arabic, continental. There are also options for vegans, vegetarians, those on Keto and those who train. For the company Theo’s Point, “The menus reflect an eclectic cuisine catering to the tastes and preferences of the multinational population of the UAE – Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Continental and Latin. Our dishes blend traditional recipes with innovative fusion dishes,” says a spokesperson in an email interview with Gulf News.


Is it worth the money you pay?

How much would you spend on a meal? Image Credit: Prasad Nair/Gulf News

Kcal’s Borgmann, when asked the question, referred Gulf News to a video that charts expenditure on a daily basis in terms of time, effort and energy, then pits it against the amount you’d pay towards a plan. The answer seems a given, to him: “We create time, both in terms of a healthier lifestyle “ longer life better life” but also to spend with friends and family when you do not need to shop and cook, clean,” he says.

Theo’s spokesperson has a more pragmatic point of view. The spokesperson explains that while they do have entire families enrolled in the programme, it does depend on some factors. “Ultimately, if we are talking about benefits and achieving balance for the entire family, everyone would agree that it’s worth it! However, it would depend on several factors, such as whether both parents work and don’t have time to cook for the family, and many other family circumstances.”


However….

Bored of no carbs? Image Credit: Giphy

There is however a caveat. For 30-year-old Irmak Aktas, it seemed like a no-brainer to get on a meal plan. She wanted to lose a few kilos and had this unhealthy habit of skipping meals. The result was low blood pressure and energy levels. A couple of months after the plan had yielded results, she was satisfied and when her office peers went on to another company’s meal plans she was happy to follow suit. “It’s kind of like a hassle, because you have to carry the bag everywhere; you cannot just go have [lunch or] dinner with your friends,” she explains. Plus, the regimented options were getting on her nerves. “I was bored,” she says blandly.

It's an issue 31-year-old Georges Kallab faced after a year of eating from a particular brand as well. “I think it’s expensive. Is it worth it? I’m not sure. I would recommend it if someone is really keen on losing weight and changing body completely. But someone who knows how to order, how to maintain [their weight], I wouldn’t,” he says.


Should I try it? Who do these plans work for?

Aamnah Husain – Counseling Psychologist in Dubai, says: “If you don't have the motivation, skills or time to cook for yourself, then meal plans may be a good alternative. Some find it more economical and nutritious than ordering in on a regular basis.”

Just remember: “If you socialise and eat out a lot or particular taste preferences, you may not end up utilising your meal plan.”

Dr Valeria Risoli, Clinical Psychologist at Dubai Physiotherapy & Family Medicine Clinic, explains: “This service is particularly helpful in a dynamic city like Dubai where people are very active and have little time to spend in the kitchen.”

“In my opinion, it is a great service that can help many people have healthier eating habits. It works for those people who don’t feel the need to be in control of what they cook so they prefer to rely on external services in order to have food ready every day.

“It works also for those who don’t consider food a priority in their life to spend to much time on. Those that think that food is just a need and not a pleasure so they prefer not to invest time or energy on it.”


What about the kids?

The spokesperson at Slim'n Lite says if you have a fussy child, this may be a great way to introduce her to new tastes and healthier eating habits as it gives structure and nutrition.

Will the kid like it? Image Credit: Pixabay

Tips, not tricks that work

• Make sure you spell out any allergies/intolerances that you may have so you don’t get saddled with an inedible pack.

• Eat from your pre-planned meal before you head out with friends or family – it’ll mean diching the cumbersome bag at home and less temptation to binge on whatever treat is calling out your name.

• If you need more monitoring – consultations with the dietician/nutritionist – speak up; a nominal fee may be charged but you’ll get the maximum benefit.

• Clothes/photographs are great indicators of progress. Are things fitting better or are they the same? Are you looking more toned in your photographs? If you can’t spot the difference in a couple of weeks, speak to your dietician about changing the plan up.


‘I lost 10kg in four months –in spite of holidays, illness and carbs,’ says mother of one

Forty-year-old Christine Peacock had a tough pregnancy with a restrictive diet about a year and a half ago. The result? When she could eat, after her baby was born, she went at it with a vengeance. “I [also] have very tasty food being made at home; my mum is with me after the baby was born; so it was very difficult to cook a separate diet for me, so I ended up eating just whatever the rest of the family was eating and that wasn’t really [helping her weight-loss].”

She recalled a meal plan she had done a few years ago, before being married, that helped her cultivate a better relationship with food. And so she decided to go shopping for menus once more. “I knew that going on a plan I don’t really need to worry about cooking or having someone at home cook separate meals for me. It comes in the morning and you just stick to that.”

“So I did shop around. The thing is the previous company that I had taken a plan from last time, I tried them again and the quality of the food wasn’t great. So I called around a few places. What made me try nu foods was the dietician; when I met her - it was more about fixing your relationship with food than about going on any crash diet. So I eat everything; I don’t feel restricted; I have carbs as well …the good thing for me is she even said you can snack, just make sure to do everything in moderation, which is something I really needed.”

“It’s been four months now and I’m just 300g away from losing 10kgs,” she says.

“It’s not been easy because there’s been travel and holidays and illness, but I’ve managed to - it’s slow and I’m not working out at all.”

Is it a lifestyle choice then? “Every month I say I’ll get off the plan and start cooking at home, but it’s just very convenient and the food is good as well so, I’m quite happy,” she says, laughing. Before she got pregnant, Peacock was 64kg. Before she began the meal plan she was 87.2.

Today, she is 77kg.


Why you shouldn’t ask me about my weight

‘Don’t tell me I’m fat.

Who died and made you the measure of my success? If I grow – be it in height or with love handles on either side – who are you to decide when I am done?’

But somewhere along the pathway, from brain to tongue, out came: well, see you later.

I have been seething since.

It has become an unfortunate running joke for people to ask me why I am growing in size: some try for the subtle ‘you’ve grown, haven’t you?’ while others go for the pointed, ‘are you pregnant?’

For those who ask or wonder…listen up.

Did you think I did not know? When the clothes I had began to strain at the seams, when lumps and bumps caused me to buy bigger jeans and then larger ones; when the mirror became so unforgiving that looking became not worth it. DID YOU THINK I DID NOT KNOW?

Fat-shaming never helped anybody. Just because in your head you are an anorexic pre-pubescent child with no hips and no curves, do you think everyone should reflect your reality? While my body could use work, it could do without wave upon wave of intrusive comments. Perhaps I don’t love every inch of me, perhaps I am critical – that’s ok. I live within me. What’s your excuse for having an opinion?

Perhaps I don’t love every inch of me, perhaps I am critical – that’s ok. I live within me. What’s your excuse for having an opinion?

- Karishma Nandkeolyar

Being married does not mean you are pregnant. Really now, why must a piece of paper mean you are ready to multiply? That you have turned into some kind of baby factory that’s always in the process of building a replica? If and when I shall procreate, if I do not tell you or ask you for advice, know this: it’s because I don’t want your opinion.

There are some obvious things I need to work on, including portion control. And of course I don’t like being winded while climbing stairs or finding discomfort while tugging at my shoe laces. I am grasping at straws of hope – perhaps a new year’s resolution can help. I eat when I’m happy, or sad, angry, or pretty much anything except asleep. And it’s time to change that.

It’s time for ME to change that, not you. Don’t tell me I’m fat.

[Hello and welcome to the blog of a person who loves food and is unfit. I’m trying out a meal plan for a couple of months, besides exercise and change in habits. It’s bound to be a frustrating journey – and I’m hoping one that’s worth it. ]