A Takeout Addict Tries Clean Eating

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It started with a favorite pair of white Rachel Comey jeans. Before the holidays, they buttoned; after the holidays, the top two buttons did not meet. I blame three different bûches de Noël.

I am also a reluctant cook. I will gladly bake a berry crisp or grill salmon for friends on a Saturday night, but the very idea of boiling quinoa or putting together a halfway decent salad on a weeknight depresses me. I end up turning, like so many city dwellers, to takeout.

But green curries and Cuban sandwiches were not going to get me into my clothes again, so I focused on delivery services offering healthy meals. For people like me who are too proud to say they’re dieting and too busy (and hungry) for a juice cleanse, the idea that you can have several meals packed full of leafy greens and healthy fats prepared and delivered to your door in a two-hour window seems like the answer to a problem. Though a really expensive one.

The first service I tried was Provenance Meals, whose website teases that it offers gluten-free and dairy-free foods, including something called Purple Forest Paleo Muffins (made with puréed beets, cacao and cherries) and a salad made with a whole grain I’ve never heard of — coix seeds — and I like to think of myself as up on ancient grains.

Breakfast was steel-cut oats with quince and cranberry. Could I make oatmeal myself? Yes. Do I like it better when someone makes it for me and tops it with various dried and stewed fruit? Yes! The following mornings I had mulberry ginger granola with Brazil nut milk and Mexican chocolate coconut yogurt. I awakened every day like a child on Christmas, so eager to eat something more exciting than toast.

I wasn’t as thrilled with the rest of the food. The kale chicken caesar with nutty herb croutons was easy to eat between meetings, but I’ve had better kale salads. The lemongrass ginger chicken soup was well suited for lunch on an overcast day, but not quite enough to keep me full until dinner, which was wild mushroom shepherd’s pie. At lunch on Day 3, I picked at my vegan caldo verde with focaccia (focaccia, for the record, doesn’t translate very well sans gluten), fed the rest to my dog and ate a toaster waffle.

Next up was Market. Kitchen. Table. I had seen its delivery bags around my Brooklyn neighborhood. This service doesn’t offer breakfast, but my first day’s lunch (eggplant salad with crumbled feta, roasted red peppers and arugula) and dinner (baked coconut shrimp with sweet chili kelp noodles) came with two snacks (trail mix and edamame hummus and carrots) and a dessert (banana cream pie chia pudding). I ate them at intervals while powering through deadlines and didn’t once think about cookies.

I liked the amount of food and the variety of ingredients but was confused by the food philosophy. Everything was surely packed with nutrients, but some items were gluten-free (raw Mexican brownies) while others were not (chocolate zucchini muffins); some meals were vegetarian (mushroom beet and bean burgers over greens with baked sweet potato fries and sriracha aioli), while others contained meat (chicken enchiladas with red pepper sauce and avocado crema). If gluten isn’t the enemy here, then may I at least have had a whole-wheat bun on my veggie burger?

And I started to miss hot food. All of the deliveries come cold and can be eaten as is, although items like veggie burgers or shrimp can be plucked off their beds of greens to be heated up.

Last up was Sakara Life, which counters leaving out a lot of fun stuff by being vegan, gluten- and dairy-free with its wild popularity with beautiful people on social media. It has a granola that comes with a bright-green nut milk tinted with spirulina that guarantees your photographs will get great play when you post them.

It’s also the company with the most lifestyle bells and whistles. Meals come with Beauty Water that contains rose and silica, a rooibos-based Detox Tea, a guide (“Get excited for greens”) and a stick of palo santo wood to burn. Included in my delivery was information on a new Level II program, which eliminates even more foods (nightshades, grains, nuts) and gives you broths for dinner. Masochists, I have found your new favorite way to detox!

Once again, breakfast was my favorite. I toasted the berry nut scone and slathered it with the homemade apple butter (made mostly with a blend of apples and coconut oil). The next day, while eating the chaga chai detox bowl (a creamy pudding spiked with trendy mushrooms) and topped with a buckwheat granola, I whispered “Oh, this is good” aloud, to myself.

I don’t go out of my way to order cold soups, but I gladly drank the honeydew gazpacho after a sweaty boot camp class. And Sakara’s niçoise had an “egg” molded from cashew and macadamia nuts that was so adorable I forgave the company for substituting adzuki bean tempeh for tuna.

After my meal delivery foray was up, my skin looked dewier, I think. I stopped feeling as if I needed a two-hour nap after lunch. My digestive system was, without being too descriptive, doing a spectacular job.

Not that I continued to live in my edenic state of clean living. I was all too excited to welcome cheese, wine and refined sugar back into my life, if in moderation. I never did manage to give up coffee for three days straight, but at least I drank it with almond milk.

Having these meals delivered was maybe the first time in my life I didn’t have an ambient concern about whether I was consuming enough vegetables. And eating a bowl of chickpeas and sweet potatoes felt a little like being at a spa, even if I was sitting at my kitchen table staring out at the rain.

Meal deliveries may never be a viable way to eat all the time, but they work as a reboot to the system. A slight one, that is: My pants are only one button closer to fitting.