Can Delivery Make You Healthier?

#veggietacoREADY-TO-EAT OR READY-TO-COOK?

For many of us, when it comes to making good decisions about what to eat – not a lot of emphasis (or desire) seems to be placed on planning.

You could cook healthy, or you could eat out. But what if you hate the grocery store and restaurants? What if you are tired of eating out and want to cook from the comfort of your own home, but don’t want to have to make “too many” decisions?

Health, wellness and food are huge industries. Within these, delivery is not a new concept, nor is online shopping. Delivery of restaurant food is available via a number of providers, including Seamless, GrubHub, and some smaller startups such as Eat Club. Healthy meal delivery (e.g., Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating, Munchery) is also available, and at the price points we’re seeing with boxed delivery.  But straight delivery won’t provide with the connection to food that you get from cooking a meal in your own home.

Need to save the time it takes to do your own grocery shopping? Most local grocery stores will deliver or there are grocery delivery companies such as Fresh Direct in NYC , Peapod in Chicago, and Amazon Fresh, which has just expanded from Seattle to LA. Fresh produce boxes, such as Full Circle, and CSAs are generally local and good quality, yet limited in selection and access. Fresh produce delivery is also increasing, with startups such as Good Eggs. But what happens if this is still too much work for you? There are a number of companies that are betting on the ability to bridge the gap between your grocery store and your kitchen.

Specifically, over the past few years, there has been a boom in subscription boxes for all types of product, including food, are bringing fresh, ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat foods direct to your doorstep. Hate to research new products? There are boxes that will deliver new healthy snacks. Don’t want to have to measure out the ingredients or buy more than you need? There are boxed kits that include exactly what you need to make a dinner for 2 or 4, and no more.

But will these products truly compel you to cook, to connect with your food, to eat better?

#peppers #eggs #readytocook

READY-TO-COOK

With the two frontrunners having already received funding (Blue Apron recently with $5M in series B and Plated with $1.4M in seed), there are a number of “ready-to-cook” subscription boxes springing up on a seemingly almost daily basis. These boxes will provide you with exactly what you need to make a meal, but you have to plan ahead.

Current companies betting on ready-to-cook subscription boxes are Blue Apron (~$10/person), Plated (~$12/person), Hello Fresh (~$XX/person) and Chef Day (~$12/person), Munchberry, and Caviar. They all claim to cost less than purchasing at a grocery store, although I’m skeptical that they’re much less, they’re not too far off.

READY-TO-EAT

Similar to the Birchbox model of discovering new products (mostly cosmetics), there have been a number of food discovery kits related to snacks. Naturebox (~$20/mo) has led the way, securing $8.5M in series A funding last month. However, in the almost two years since they’ve launched, a number of similar companies have sprung up including Snack Box (~$24/mo), Graze (~$5/mo), Healthy Surprise (~$33/mo) and Vegan Cuts (~$20/mo).

#candied #spiced #walnuts

SOME USER PERSPECTIVE ON CHANGING BEHAVIORS

Although these products help reduce waste, confusion, subtitutions and a lot of need for intuition, what will be the key distinguishing factors?

To investigate these questions, I sat down with some foodie friends to try and draw some user insights. There weren’t too many complaints with the snack boxes. Most of the concerns developed around the ready-to-eat delivery boxes and questions of quality and timing.

TIMING: PLANNING AHEAD VS. I-WANT-IT-NOW

There is a behavioral disconnect. For many friends, the main painpoint solved by these ready-to-eat boxes was the time saved and reduced planning. They didn’t have to think too hard about what to cook, how to make it, or taking the time to buy and measure out the ingredients.

But they had to plan to order these boxes and figure out how the meals would fit into their schedule. Most felt that if the boxes were available the day of or a day in advance, they’d be more powerful. As it stands now, you have to order several days to a week in advance.

Because of the shelf-life, the ready-to-eat boxes were received better. Most felt that they would likely develop a habit of subcribing to the ready-to-eat boxes because they knew it wouldn’t go bad after too many days of neglect. The fresh boxes sounded great, but most of my friends travel enough to make it hard to commit to a full subscription.

QUALITY: DIY VS. I-TRUST-YOU

Quality was another major concern, stemming from a desire to control selection and general concerns about packaging.

My foodie friends love connecting with their food, knowing where their food has been sourced, and the joy of selecting the specific ingredients themselves. Virtual shopping, at least in the short term, won’t be able to replace the experience, but it can provide more insight into the sources and the stories behind the producers.

This aside, the other concern was how these ingredients, such as meat, fresh veggies, etc., can be shipped at the same temperature and without any risk of cross-contamination. Currently, all the ingredients come in the same box, although they’re usually sealed in separate pouches. Regardless, it seems odd to receive chicken at the same temperature as scallions.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Which features of these subscription boxes work for you and which don’t in the quest to be healthier?

Ultimately, as these companies grow, I’m interested to see how giants like Amazon and other delivery grocery companies will react and try to enter/dominate the space. Does this mean that these companies will succeed on brand?

How do you see these subscription box startups succeeding?

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Quantifying Food Habits with Quantified Self

#missionfigs #farmersmarket #wholefood

FINDING MORE MEANING

Escapism and boredom: These are just two of the many reasons I might find myself mindlessly eating. And I’m not alone.

Throwing in my constant daily distractions (including work, life, constant connectivity to media) I easily fall into patterns of mindlessly eating.  I may be stressed and eating to escape, or maybe I’m bored because I don’t have those five seconds of my day filled with something. Perhaps I’m simply so busy that I’ve postponed my decision making around what to eat until I’m starving and will consume whatever is in front of me. Regardless, without intentional thought, these patterns become bad habits that are increasingly harder for me to break or even identify.

How can we get hooked on more meaningful relationships with food?

HABITS & FOOD: A QUICK OVERVIEW

There is a lot of literature out there on habit cycles, habit formation, and hooking customers, but one of my favorites has been developed by Nir Eyal of NirandFar.com. The framework includes a trigger (internal/external), an action, a reward, and a commitment.

Tying these concepts to food, we can find insights into how habits play into the food consumption cycle. How do we create and break habits?

Let’s start with an example:
I’ve been working all day, trying to reach a deadline and I’m stressed (trigger). I want a piece of dark chocolate-covered salted caramel (a reward that has satisfied my stress in the past), but I can’t find any. I could go to the store to buy some, but it’s several blocks away – and I just don’t have the time (action) to spare to go there, eat my chocolate in the shadows like Gollum, and head back. I do recall seeing donuts in the kitchen this morning. Too far, but the apple on my desk just isn’t going to do it for me. I walk to the kitchen (action) and find only half of a cinnamon doughnut left.  I consume (action) the doughnut (reward). I promise myself (commitment) that I will buy an emergency sleeve of salted caramels tomorrow to keep in my desk so the next time I am stressed, I won’t end up less than fully satisfied.

Trigger
Triggers can be internal (such as hunger, emotions, memories) or external influences (emails, images, smells) that can slowly become internal with enough cycling through habit formation process.

Action
Action is based on two factors: Motivation and ability.

How much do you want to eat? How much skill or time do you have to achieve this? (Will you have to make a cake or is it being handed to you on a plate?)

Less friction is better: when an action is easier complete or the more you want to do it, the more likely you will. When it comes to eating, this can be the shopping, cooking, plating – anything that stands between your trigger and you actually consuming the desired reward: food.

Reward
A reward is the experience or physical object you receive that responds to/satisfies the trigger. For example, the actual piece of cake you eat may satisfy your emotional trigger of stress.

Commitment
This is some combination of time, data, effort, social capital or money you complete after you’ve received your reward. A commitment means you complete an action now that reduces the “friction to achieve reward” the next time around.

Interestingly, this makes you more likely to choose this reward the next time your trigger occurs – and may even increase frequency of the trigger occurring (playing with that internal/external trigger balancing act.)

An example could be grocery shopping now for the next time you think you’ll be hungry – or taking a cooking lesson so you can make something faster or closer to what you desired the last time you wanted to eat.

 #cherrytomatoes #fresh #wholefood

FINDING MORE MEANING IN FOOD THROUGH INTENTIONALITY

Breaking down potential bad habits around food is hard, especially when we may not even realize what’s happening. How might we even know where to start, what’s working and what’s not working?

The most effective way to do this is through self-tracking. Self-tracking allows you to identify your triggers, actions, rewards, and commitments tied up in your seemingly bad behavior so you can better predict, manage and even break bad habits. This can be done through journals, scales, photos, or any other type of media recording. The point is to capture the data, then reflect.

But food tracking isn’t such a new idea. We’ve all been taught to monitor what we eat, track our weight, keep food diaries, even obsessively count calories. In college, I drastically improved my health by tracking using excel and pulling data of everything I ate from USDA National Nutritient Database. (An exhaustive database of nutrition of various types of foods.) But it was hard–the ironic thing about self-tracking is that you have to create habits around self-tracking to effectively learn about the habits you wanted to know more about in the first place.  Several of my friends thought I had lost my mind.

Sounds fun, no?

Fortunately, there are two things making self-tracking easier to achieve: Quantified Self and technology. Quantified Self (“QS”) is a community-driven movement around the concept of self-tracking. You can track your emotions, physical activity, eating patterns and any other variable you choose over a number of different dimensions. The popularity of QS has helped create demand for a variety of tools, including self-reporting software and wearable hardware (on-the-body, e.g., pedometers) that are making self-tracking increasingly easy.

SOFTWARE TO INCREASE AWARENESS OF HABITS

There are a number of products on the market, some that track using GPS, some that make you enter, some that prompt you at specific times of day.

Moreover, many of these allow you to easily share your results with friend, providing additional reinforcement within your social network or with complete strangers. Duty to the tribe!

While there are many software that track your activity, sleep and other lifestyle components, many include or are dedicated to food and nutrition. Below is just a sample of some of these applications and why you might use them.

Why Use it? Name About
I want to set food and wellness goals for myself!

Fig A personal wellness guide for body and soul, Fig’s app lets you set goals and mark how many times you’ve achieved that goal in a given day, week, or other time period. This may include drinking eight glasses of water a day, exercising, connecting with family or even taking a deep breath. There is also a social element, letting you share and compare with friends.
My company wants me to track my health. Sprout Sprout is a corporate wellness solution, so you’ll have to get this through your company. Users can track their activity and find events based on shared interests. There is also a competitive element with features such as a leader board, to help you compete against fellow employees.
How “well” and why am I eating? The Eatery This app is less focused on calorie counting, but on overall how “well” you’re eating. Snap a photo of your food, rate it, then upload. People then vote on how healthy they think it is. You’ll get reports on the time of day you ate and how healthy it was rated.
I love food and I want to track what I eat. Evernote Food While Evernote Food doesn’t help you track your calories, per se, it can help you track everything about what you’re eating, where you’re eating it, and how to make it so you can look back at your eating in a more holistic manner.
I need a better way to compare nutrition when grocery shopping. Fooducate Fooducate takes the USDA database to the next level, offering exact breakdown of the nutrition and provides a “grade” of how healthy that item is. It also has a nice discovery section based on food type, to help you find new alternatives to your favorite, potentially less healthy snacks.ShopWell is another of many similar apps.
I want to know what chemicals are in my food. Chemical Cuisine or This app was created by Center for Science and Public Interest (CSPI) and helps you understand exactly what those ingredients are in your food.
I want to lose weight or just get in better shape. My Fitness Pal One of the superstars in the app arena, My Fitness Pal is a site (and has a suite of aps, such as Digifit) that combines tracking of what you eat, how you exercise and a social element that seems to be a recipe for weight loss success for many. They’ve expanded and have several pure aps and some tied to hardware devices.

HARDWARE  (On-the-Body)

For some of us, even having to take a photo of what we eat or turning on an application is too much hassle. That’s when hardware (i.e., wearable devices) might be a great option. Have you seen a friend wearing a bracelet that looks like a watch without a face, or a strange black box strapped to their shoe or clipped to their waistband?

There are a number of wearable products on the market, some that track using GPS, some that make you enter, some that prompt you at specific times of day. Even professional sports teams are harnessing the power of self-tracking and wearable devices to optimize their practice and performance. But to this point, not as many of them are able to track what you’re actually consuming and how your unique digestive system is processing the calories.

Below is a list of some of the current wearables (on-the-body hardware) that automatically track varying levels of physical activity and sleep and include corresponding apps for your smart phone that allow you to manually track food and other measures of wellness—even allowing you to compete with friends via social media. (Although, I’m not sure how much I want my friends to know about my bad habits.)

Co. Name Beyond Automatic Tracking of Activity & Sleep
Fitbit Manually track food via app. Waterproof (to track swimming)
Misfit Waterproof (to track swimming)
Jawbone Manually track food via app.  Water-resistant (Shower, not pool.)
WiThings Manually track food via partner apps.
Body Media Manually track food via app.  Water-resistant (Shower, not pool.)
Basis No food tracking via app.  Water-resistant (Shower, not pool.)

TRAIN INTUITION WITH DATA

Be it with software or hardware, because I have monitored my exact nutritional intake, exercise, and feelings for periods of time in the past, I am now better able to identify triggers, ballpark nutritional value, and make better lifestyle choices, without being a slave to numbers.

When it comes to QS and practical uses of data, I see one ultimate goal in obsessively tracking data, at least for a short period of time. It’s not to be compulsive in relying on numbers to make better decisions or change our habits, but to help us better understand the patterns of choices we make, the habits we have, to help us develop the intuition to make better choices in the future.

#missionfigs #farmersmarket #wholefood

When a Calorie Isn’t a Calorie

#strawberry #forest #wholefood**Note: I am not a nutrition expert, just an enthusiast. For application of the ideas discussed in this post, please consult your nutritionist or doctor.

I THOUGHT I KNEW WHAT A CALORIE WAS.

A calorie is not a calorie, as least, not the way we’ve come to know it. When I think back to health class in high school, I learned that a gram of protein, carbohydrate and fat have 4, 4, and 9 ‘calories’, respectively.  These numbers represent the average energy absorbed by my body when I digest one gram of each type of food.

From my many physics classes, I learned that one calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of on gram of water by one degree Celsius (and what we commonly refer to as a ‘calorie’ is actually a kilocalorie, or a thousand calories.)

So when it comes to taking care of myself, all I have to do to lose (or maintain) weight is to workout and diligently count calories and then I’ll be great, right?

Well, sort of. It’s true that what you put into your body plus what you burn is the ultimate equation for you to balance. In college, I lost a decent amount of weight by using my love of Excel and diving into the USDA nutrition database to record everything I ate, weighed or portioned out to measure exact calories when possible. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t eating too much—or too little. (Fortunately, now there are plenty of fitness tracking apps, such as MyFitnessPal.)

But what happens when what you think you’re putting in your body turns out to not be totally accurate?

#agaragar #whatsacalorie

THEN WHAT IS A CALORIE?

New studies, and some not-so-new studies, have shed a bit more light onto what we think we’re consuming. The short of it is that the average calorie counts of 4 and 9 were developed by chemist Wilbur Olin Atwater in the 19th century. There is one key factor to notice here: average.

Any two foods may be digested in various ways, even if they look the same. In fact, just because a food has the same grams of fat, protein and carbohydrates, it may actually be harder to digest resulting in a lower net calorie count than a seemingly comparable food. (E.g., in a study by the USDA, they found that almonds actually result in 129 net calories as opposed to the 170 reported on the label.) Aside from natural composition, how the food is treated and processed will affect the net calorie count.

Here are just a few factors that affect the net calorie count of food:

  • Digestion efficiency (evolved by food or your genetic ancestors)
  • Traditional cooking method (boiling, baking)
  • Modern cooking method (microwave)
  • Preservatives or other food treatments
  • Level of digestion-assisting bacteria in your stomach

DOES THIS MEAN I AM SCREWED?

No. My take** on this is that I will do three things to better understand how to optimize my calories eaten + calories burned equation:

(1) USE TRADITIONAL CALORIES AS A BALLPARK
Although the traditional calorie counts aren’t necessarily accurate, I can still use them to roughly estimate what you’re eating – and helps me have a better way to compare the potential “goodness” of various types of foods.

(2) EAT MORE WHOLE AND RAW FOODS
Clearly, cooking breaks food down to make it more easily digestible. Similarly, the more processed a food, the less energy that needs to be expended by my body in digestion, potentially resulting in higher actual net calorie count than expected.

(3) LISTEN TO MY BODY
Because each person may digest food differently, it’s important to be constantly learning and improving my relationship with food. What works best for my body? How do certain foods make me feel? What kind of energy do they give me?

Ultimately, it’s about feeling as healthy and happy as possible—and that means being true to my “eating self.”

#rainbow #carrots #wholefood

FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

If you’d like to read more, below are some studies and articles I suggest you explore.

Postprandial Energy Expenditure in Whole-Food and Processed-Food Meals: Implications for Daily Energy Expenditure. Sadie B. Barr and Jonathan C. Wright in Food & Nutrition Research, Vol. 54; 2010.

Discrepancy between the Atwater Factor Predicted and Empirically Measured Energy Values of Almonds in Human Diets. Janet A. Novotny, Sarah K. Gebauer and David J. Baer in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 96, No. 2, pages 296-301; August 1, 2012.

The Hidden Truth About Calories, Scientific American, August 2012.

The Survival of Cooking Skills

#peruvian #lime

WHY COOKING MATTERS

Last week, I was chatting with my friend about how he stays healthy. One of the main ways, aside from being intentional about what he eats, is cooking for himself. But his main stumbling block was getting to the point where he gets to the grocery store—or even his kitchen.

“I know that cooking my own meals is good for me, but I seem to forget how much I like the process until I am cooking until I’m actualy cooking. It’s very soothing, almost therapeutic. But, it’s funny, when I’m thinking about how much time it’s going to take me, that really stops me about 80% of the time from cooking—let alone making anyting meaningful.”

As I’ve spoken with more and more friends, the key to healthy eating (granted, for a specific sample set) is learning to cook. There is something in the intentionality of thinking through what you’re going to select and what truly goes into a meal that can then translate to decision making when you’re not cooking for yourself.

Translating this to impulsive or bad habits, if you better understand what goes into that bacon double cheeseburger, you may find less satisfaction in ordering it or be a more discerning in where you choose to eat one.

I’m not advocating that everyone stops to become a world-class chef, I think that’s unrealistic. I believe that cooking is going to become an increasingly specialized skill, just like knowing how to build your house or growing your own food has. However, there will always be a desire to connect at a deeper level with food, and that’s where learning classic techniques, like good knife skills, will be critical.

But as fewer and fewer people know these skills enough to pass them on, where will we be able to learn to cook for ourselves?

#mango #knife #wholefood

AN ONLINE SOLUTION

Beyond friends and family, there are professional places to learn in-person (local community college, culinary academies, culinary stores, etc.) but over the past few years, online education has exploded.

Not only is there increased quality and speed of video, storage and sharing leading to exponentially increasing content online, there is more general penetration of smart phones, making it easy to access classes anywhere, anytime. Assuming food preparation does become increasingly specialized, online education is going to be key in providing those who are the most talented and passionate about food with training and certification they may not have been able to access or afford.

How does this technology trend translate to cooking for the individual? There are a few key advantages with online, video-based culinary education, aside from the lower cost and easier access.

Unlike a television program, you have choice over what you’re going to learn. Some of the schools edit out excess content, such as chitter-chatter of the more talkative chefs. With video, you don’t have to wait for things you would in a real class, like the oven to pre-heat or the water to boil so the demonstration can begin. You also get a front seat with video features such as zoom or alternate angles – and many have live chat functions to ask questions. But the biggest advantage?  You can usually start, pause and re-start a video (class/course) as your schedule permits – often still getting to ask questions to live staff.

Here is a list of some of the most popular online cooking schools for you to check out. Some are more basic while others get into some rather advanced topics. Most offer free trials, but do your research and figure out which one will really help you connect with your food.

SELECTED ONLINE COOKING SCHOOLS

Rouxbe Online Cooking School
Cook Taste Eat
Feast
Chef Steps
America’s Test Kitchen
Epicurious Cooking School
Top Chef University

Alternative Farming

#seedlings #urbanfarming

Tito and I don’t have a backyard, but we do have a rather large patio. The first thing Tito announced when we moved in was that we were going to have a garden, an efficient, practical garden. (Flowers were later allowed for pollination, but only if they were edible.)

I select what we’re going to grow (within reason), help select pots, soil, composting bin, etc., and Tito magically makes everything grow. But what happens if you don’t have a Tito, accessible land (e.g., a backyard or community garden), a big patio, or any outdoor space at all?

If you value fresh herbs, flowers, fruits and veggies, you CAN grow and even compost (adventure level=high) for yourself, at home, indoors–even in tight spaces. This can be as simple as a pot for your windowsill or one that’s wall-mounted, but you can scale it up a notch with some of these more advanced, beautifully designed products.

fourcolumn-illustration-460x594 1_7windowfarmspump #hydroponic #whatgrowswell #windowfarms #urbanfarmingSaladJungleA

WINDOW FARMS

These amazing vertically-stacked, hydroponic gardens were launched by a Kickstarter campaign at the end last year. Prior to that, Window Farms showed people how to assemble these gardening systems using plastic bottles and a few other parts, but it took quite a bit of work and some McGyver-ing. Now, they’re beautiful and easy for almost anyone to put together. You can grow mostly smaller items, from salad greens and herbs to selected fruits and veggies–during any season. They start at around $200 for a single tower starter kit.

#urbanfarming #hydroponic #nanogardens

NANO GARDEN

Designed by Hyundai engineers, this hydroponic solution for growing vegetables, flowers and herbs in your kitchen in a footprint the size of your refrigerator. You won’t have to use pesticides or chemicals, or even sunlight for that matter (it has lighting built in.) You can also control how fast the plants grow – and the device lets you know when you provide water or nutrients! It supposedly also filters out unpleasant odors, but I’m yet to actually see one in person as they’re not yet available for purchase, as far as I can tell. In the meanwhile, there are two similar versions recently created by The Urban Cultivator (TM): one large and one smaller, similar to a wine-fridge,

#urbgarden #XavierCalluaud #urbanfarming #design

URB GARDEN

A clever name, this product (not yet available, but hackable) helps you grow herbs in tight spaces. It resembles cubby holes and integrates a fully-functional worm farm to help optimize the soil and act as a small indoor compost. It’s incredibly compact and has removable compartments to make it easier to switch out different plants.

HOW DO YOU EMBRACE URBAN FARMING?

What are some of the tricks you use or hacks you’ve created to bring farming to small spaces or city dwellings?

**Note: Photos of products are from respective companies’ or designers’ websites.

Optimize on Taste Preferences with Yummly Recipe Curator

Food can be an overwhelming topic to tackle when you’re trying to figure out what to eat, even if you know what you’re doing in the kitchen.

E.g., What do I have in my fridge? Tito only eats meat or very spicy food. Aastha is coming for dinner, she has a peanut allergy and she’s a vegetarian. I want something with coconut.

There are apps/sites that will help you figure out what to cook based on what you have, or you can go straight to the source of these apps, the multitudes of recipe sites and blogs, and try sifting through a million recipes yourself.

Another option is a recommendation from the curated web (e.g., Pinterest, Twitter.) Though these sites are playing an increasingly important part of what I’m willing to digest online, I currently find them more suited for inspiring me than helping me execute.

I recently came across Yummly, a recipe aggregation tool and recommendation engine. Yummly curates recipes for you from a number of sources on the web (and growing) by optimizing on your needs & tastes. It allows you to select recipes on a number of logical criteria that you control:

Ingredients
Holidays
Taste
Allergies
Diets
Nutrition
Time and Price
Courses
Cuisines
Sources

Each of these breakout further. For example, for “Taste,” you have the option of salty, savory, sweet, sour, spicy, and bitter. Proof of concept: Tito put in his preferences and the top two recipes he received were beef tacos and grilled flank steak with rosemary. If that’s not a proof point, I’m not sure what is.

Moving forward, I’m excited to see how Yummly grows, especially as they recently received funding.

What additional functions and features do you want to see from Yummly? I’m curious to see how they will tap the curated web; improve content, ratings & search guides; allow recipe submission or maybe even become a new platform for food? How will they control recipe quality? Could they become a new platform for recipes? Let me know what you think!