True story: A girlfriend of mine lost 12 pounds doing the Snap Kitchen 21-day challenge. Now, I want to lose 12 pounds, too, but I have to be honest when I say that the thought of eating healthy, pre-packaged foods for any length of time does not appeal.
"I eat with my eyes first," I told concept executive chef Matthew Reinhart and nutritionist Andrea Hinsdale of Snap Kitchen during a recent tasting event held to unveil items from their new spring menu. Our tasting started with snack items, such as house-made smoked salmon served on paleo, gluten-free crackers and something called "devily eggs."
A riff on traditional deviled eggs, the yolks had been substituted with hummus, upping the nutritional factor and reducing the calorie count to just 100 per four halves. I knew that they had done something different to the eggs, but it wasn't until someone told me that it was hummus did I put two and two together. The "devily eggs" were exactly the kind of thing I would eat if I were to embark on a 21-day challenge, and it was a promising start.
"We want to be a foodie haven that happens to be healthy," Daniel McGee, director of marking for Snap Kitchen, emphasized throughout the night.
"We're always innovating, redefining this category of food," Hinsdale explained. "We want people to know that they can have a portion-controlled, calorie-controlled food that should still be bright and fresh and flavorful. Restaurant-quality food that is carefully prepared and good for you. We want customers to not be able to make a bad decision."
Items like the cold-pressed juices make an excellent grab-and-go, and I quite enjoyed the two green juices on offer, an "Easy Greens" option, which mixed spinach, kale and cucumber with apple, lemon and lemongrass for a more palatable, sweeter taste, and a "Super Greens" option, made of romaine, parsley, cucumber, kale, lemon, spinach and celery. There were other options, like an "Antioxidant Blend" with beets, and "Far East Turmeric Blend" with pineapples and carrots, but I gravitated towards the green blends because they were the least sugary.
I really had a hard time getting over how some of the food items looked or tasted, however. A kale caesar salad was very good, something I'd order again because the healthy bits --the fact that it was sodium conscious, carb conscious, gluten free and vegetarian -- didn't dent its flavor profile. A gluten-free, 190-calorie per slice provencal flatbread was also decent on the flavor front, with a tangy stewed tomato topping, but the "bread" component -- made primarily of cauliflower -- was spongy and somewhat soggy, reminding me of a frozen dish that had been microwaved.
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A paleo-style chicken enchilada, one of their newest, best-selling items -- which had the benefit of being gluten-free and non-dairy -- was something I really wanted to like too, but again, I had to overcome how it looked. The faux-enchilada tortilla, which had been made with non-wheat flour ingredients, had a slightly green tinge to it, and was more like an overly thick crepe than a tortilla. I liked the dish a whole lot better when I unrolled the tortilla and ate just the chicken filling with the spicy jalapeño avocado sauce (their healthy version of salsa verde).
Asked his favorite item on the menu, Reinhart named the Malaysian curry. Served over a bed of brown rice, it was probably the best item of the night for me, the slightly sweet caramel brown-colored vegetable stew resembling ratatouille in composition and flavor. I could see myself eating that again.
But for many of the items, it was difficult for my brain to not recognize the fact that I was eating foods in which the gluten, dairy, fat, and sugar, have been substituted with almond flour, olive oil, coconut palm nectar, and other better-for-you items.
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The fact of it is, I'm used to eating full-of-flavor, no-holds-barred, use-whatever-ingredients-are-necessary to achieve optimal taste-type foods. I don't think I'll ever convince my palate that the trio of 450 calorie paleo chicken enchiladas taste the same as the cheese-laden, made-with-lard ones I might get at the nearest Tex-Mex joint.
I can, however, appreciate the health benefits of both calorie and portion control, and the fact that it would be infinitely easier to let Snap Kitchen do it for me, rather than try to experiment with these things at home. They have an R & D kitchen dedicated to doing just that, after all. And this is where the 21-day challenge comes in.
When you enroll in the 21-day challenge, you not only get a discount over the individual packaged items, you also get a complimentary one-on-one consultation with a registered nutritionist. The nutritionist can help design a menu based on your dietary restrictions and health goals, and can also steer you in the direction of the best (which for me would be tastiest) dishes on on the menu. For convenience, they can be picked up at any of six different Houston locations.
By the evening's end, I wasn't ready to commit to the 21-day challenge, but I was willing to try three days' worth of food. There were some misses, (the gluten-free peanut butter pancakes sounded great, but were pretty tasteless), but I plowed through a breakfast burrito called "Panchito's Burritos" with gusto, felt gratifyingly detoxified after drinking half a bottle of Super Greens juice for a snack, and enjoyed a lunch (just 380 calories!) of turkey spaghetti bolognese over gluten-free brown rice spaghetti noodles.