Out of the box: While the food in the boxes may look similar, each one is different in detail and customised keeping the requirements of individual clients in mind. Image Credit: XPRESS/Zarina Fernandes

Dubai: Thousands of well-heeled residents used to eating or ordering from fast-food outlets and restaurants are now turning to healthier nutrition services where dieticians and chefs work together to customise meals for them.

As buzzwords like calorie count and healthy eating at such ‘clinical and catering' services catch on, refuelling on the run is no longer about making do with takeaways from fast-food outlets or quick-fix meals ordered from neighbourhood restaurants.

Right Bite, Lively, Health Factory - and now Balance Café - there are at least four such nutrition services that operate in Dubai alone, supplying up to five nutrition-packed meals a day that cover everything from breakfast, lunch and dinner, to AM and PM snacks.

At monthly charges that could go up to Dh3,000 per head, the meal plans don't come cheap. But there are many takers as they are deemed healthy and hassle-free.

Sandra Gojkovic, Business Development Executive of Health Factory & Epicure Catering, said the 12,000 square foot kitchen in Al Quoz has served more than 4,000 customers over the past three years, with a current enrolment of "several hundred" individual and corporate clients.

The customer base is diverse and covers different nationalities, said Natalie Haddad, Founder of Right Bite, another large kitchen which works 24/7 in the same area. Without divulging the number of clients, she said they are catered to by over 100 staff, including 45 chefs, besides a fleet of 17 refrigerated vans that deliver meals to their doorstep from 5am to 10pm every day.

"Over 50 per cent of our clients are business executives who want to eat healthy or find it convenient to order from us. We also have entire families, students, pregnant women and people with health conditions like diabetes, blood pressure or heart problems," said Haddad.

While catering establishments bring to mind assembly-line processes churning out food in quick succession to a large, undifferentiated pool of clients, these nutrition services claim their meals are highly personal with special care taken to keep them healthy.

"There can be no conveyor-belt style, one-solution-fits-all way to meaningful health," said Sumit Kumar, Chef, Balance Café, whose meal plans are set to roll out.

Open boxes ready to be filled at a counter at Right Bite reveal the attention to detail. Every box of every dish carries a label that not only has information about the client, his/her age and location, but also specific remarks about his health condition and the ingredients that have to be added or omitted from the dish.

For example, many customers had opted for baked zatar fish, one of the dishes on the menu of the day when XPRESS visited the kitchen. But as the labels let on, each had a different specification: ‘allergic to garlic', ‘no artichoke', ‘not spicy', ‘no bellpepper', ‘no couscous, ‘add vegetable', ‘add rice' etc.

The menu, which changes every day, has a host of options that customers can choose from. Haddad pointed to a Saturday menu for lunch which includes at least five main dishes: chicken and whole wheat spaghetti with alfredo style sauce, riz bil lahem (rice with meat), baked tandoori fish with garlicky eggplant and potato, yakhnit bazilla (green peas and carrot stew with vermicelli rice) and chicken mortadella salad wrap (wholewheat tortilla stuffed with chicken mortadella, cucumber, lettuce, mushroom, carrot and cream cheese).

This comes with a side-dish like Spanish flat beans or vegetarian ratatouille salad, followed by a skinny dessert as an afternoon snack like apple tart, chocolate walnut bites or bagel chips with tomato salsa dip.

Sumptuous as the meals may sound, the calorie count is carefully factored. For example, at Health Factory, a package designed for a low metabolism client who needs to lose weight and stay in shape allows him 1,300 to 1,100Kcal per day. At Dh2,950 a month, it consists of three meals and two snacks throughout the day, all of which remain within the prescribed limit and help burn the excess fat in the body.

Chefs customise meals based on recommendations of dieticians with whom clients consult before choosing a meal plan. Regular follow-ups are also conducted to make necessary changes. (See Box: How It Works).

Dr Archana Ainapure, dietician at Health Factory, said, "Proper meal planning involves many considerations, such as meeting nutritional requirements, individual or family needs, economic factors, time and energy levels and availability of foods."

At Balance Café, an Ayurvedic lifestyle consultant makes recommendations with the same aim of achieving the right balance between different foods required by the body. "A healthy individual who is moderately to highly active, needs to consume a meal that is based on 55 to 60 per cent carbohydrates, 20 to 25 per cent protein and the remaining 15-20 per cent fats," said Kumar.

Healthy meal plans are also about regulating the right intake of salt, sugar or other micronutrients, said clinical dietician Hala Barghout at Lively. "Healthier meals contain less salt, less sugar and less saturated fats, besides other ingredients. That's why they are called healthy. They deliver higher energy levels and boost the body's immunity."

Besides the food preparation, special care is also taken to ensure that they are delivered in refrigerated vans and insulated cooler bags to ensure that the food remains healthy. All hot items are put into microwave safe boxes which can be instantly heated and consumed. Fresh and full cooler bags are delivered on a daily basis, with empty cooler bags from the previous day being returned.

Customers vouch for the punctuality and benefits of the meal plans. "The food is delicious and since I have a hectic schedule with lots of meetings around town, logistics like timing of delivery and packaging are important to me," noted Serge L., a customer of Health Factory, adding that the coordination with the dietician and the resulting calorie consumption plan had resulted in a weight loss of 19kg in five months.

A young couple based in Dubai said the whole-day meal plans from Right Bite made life simpler for them. "We don't have to shop for our kitchen, cook or clean up. We love the variety of ready-to-eat foods we get at our doorstep, and we know they are healthy for us."

Jessica, a 30-year-old sales executive who lives as a paying guest in Bur Dubai, said she switched to a healthy nutrition service last year after surviving on oily meals procured from a small-time restaurant for two years. "But I can afford only a lunch package. I wish they would bring down the costs," she said, without naming the nutrition service.

How It Works

Customers must first have a consultation with a dietician to plan a perfect diet as per their need. They then get to choose from dishes on a menu that changes every day of every week. The information is then passed on to the chefs who customise meals accordingly. While the initial consultation in most services is free, there is a fee for the follow-ups which may result in changes needed along the way.

Take your pick

There are four major such services operating from Dubai with different monthly packages varying from around Dh1,000 to Dh3,780 per head:

  • Right Bite: Meal plans include full package (breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner); AM package (breakfast, morning snack, lunch and afternoon snack); PM package (lunch, afternoon snack and dinner); Executive lunch package (lunch main entrée with a side-dish and afternoon snack) and One meal package (lunch or dinner main entrée with a side-dish) etc.
  • Lively: Full meal package (breakfast and morning drink, AM snack, lunch (appetiser and main meal), PM snack, and dinner (salad and main meal); Executive meal package or lunch package (appetiser, main dish, PM snack, fruit and bottle of water); Afternoon package (lunch, PM snack and dinner); Daylight package (breakfast, AM snack, appetiser with main dish (lunch) and PM snack etc.
  • Health Factory: Miracle (three meals and two snacks for those with low metabolism); Detox (28-day programme that helps rid you of toxins); Serenity (for busy folks, covers lunch and snacks); Titan (Meals rich in proteins and carbs for high metabolism, sports people); Baby Love (specially designed for pregnant women) etc.
  • Balance Café: Meal plans to be unveiled shortly.