Diet :: Dietitians Help Shoppers Create Fast, Affordable and Healthy Dinners

Billed as a lifesaver for families who crave the comfort of a sit-down dinner but lack the time to prepare it, meal assembly is a hot trend designed to make family meals easier. And with many stores employing, contracting and selling franchises to registered dietitians, customers can dish up knowing nutrition is on the menu.

?While it would be ideal to come home every day to a healthy home-cooked dinner, that?s not the reality for many busy people,? said registered dietitian and American Dietetic Association spokesperson Bethany Thayer. ?As long as customers are keeping nutrition in mind and checking ingredients, this is an excellent alternative to take-out.?

According to the Easy Meal Prep Association, there were 174 meal assembly stores in the beginning of 2005 and by the end of that year there were 561. Today there are just over 1,000 meal prep outlets in the US and the industry is expanding into Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and France.

?Meal assembly stores are a quick and easy choice for many people who don?t have the time or energy to fix a healthy dinner at the end of the day,? Thayer said.

Customers select dishes in advance by looking at online menus. When they arrive at the store, they travel from station to station, following recipes whose ingredients have been laid out. Meats and fish remain frozen until the time comes to leave. By the end of the session, a customer has prepared eight to16 dinners to take home and freeze. The whole experience usually costs less than $200 and each meal can feed four to six people, depending on portion sizes.

?Many of these stores are hiring registered dietitians so that customers don?t have to do as much nutrition research,? Thayer said. ?Whether they?re planning the menus, consulting with the staff chefs for healthier options or breaking down the nutrition information of each meal for the food labels, registered dietitians are helping this trend get healthy.?

Thayer urged meal prep store shoppers to ask about the nutrition content of the meals they purchase and look for a full list of ingredients. ?That?s especially important for people with food allergies,? Thayer said.

With approximately 65,000 members, the American Dietetic Association is the nation?s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. ADA serves the public by promoting optimal nutrition, health and well-being.

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